The Universe in a Handkerchief

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I recently bought a copy of Martin Gardner’s The Universe in a Handkerchief (New York: Copernicus, 1996). (In a future blog post, I’ll describe in more detail how I bought it.) The book’s subtitle is “Lewis Carroll’s Mathematical Recreations, Games, Puzzles, and Word Plays.” I present here some items in the book that I found very interesting.

On pages 19–20 is the following poem supposedly written by Lewis Carroll:

I often wondered when I cursed,
Often feared where I would be—
Wondered where she’d yield her love,
When I yield, so will she.
I would her will be pitied!
Cursed be love! She pitied me …

What’s so amazing about the poem is not its content but its form. (Try reading the poem from top to bottom, then from left to right.)

On page 44 is an entry from Lewis Carroll’s diary (dated February 29, 1856):

I have been trying for the last two days to solve a problem in chances, given me by Pember, which is said to have raised much discussion in the college. It is an exceedingly complicated question, and I have not yet got near a solution.

Problem in the game of “Sympathy.” The game is this: two players lay out two separate packs in heaps of 3, (and one card over in each pack), turning each top card face upwards, so as to have 18 faces on each side. Those which correspond are paired off together, and the cards under them turned face up: (the simplest way would be, to lay all face up originally).

Required: the chance of the whole pack being paired off in this way.

I have not yet attempted to answer this problem; I have no idea yet how difficult it is.

I was quite surprised to learn that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll) had published a few papers in the journal Nature: one as Lewis Carroll (To Find the Day of the Week for any Given Date, Nature volume 35, page 517, 31 March 1887) and another as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Brief Method of Dividing a Given Number by 9 or 11, Nature volume 56, pages 565–566, 14 October 1897).

(While writing this blog post, I discovered the obituaries in Nature of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (the first paragraph of the article is here) and of Martin Gardner.)


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