Puzzle time


Facebook is a strange place for all sorts of reasons – some good, some less so. You can, for example, find out which 18th century politician, Renaissance painter, or Jane Austen character you most resemble just by answering a few questions. Really useful, eh? Other questions help you decide whether you’re a porcupine, a swallow-tailed butterfly, or a haddock. Some ask you to combine the name of a relative with the make of car you drive to reveal what you’d be called if you were in a Quentin Tarantino movie. And they’re all part of the daily reality of millions of people.


One of those transmigrations happened to me recently when, by giving the wrong answer to a puzzle, instead of remaining the small wooden grotesque which my mugshot identified me as, I had to become a llama for a day. I asked my nephew, Joe, to draw the animal for me and he did a great job so that, for those 24 hours, I was, in fact, quite attractive.

Another part of the punishment was that I had to explain why I’d come over all South American camelid, and that meant repeating the challenge as part of my own feed. The upside of that was that it triggered far more comments than usual so it seems that Bill Kirton, pillar of the community and writer of high quality literature, is far less interesting than Bill Kirton, llama.

Anyway, in the course of mentioning that fact, I suggested I might concoct some puzzles of my own. I don’t mean those in which men have to row wolves, foxes, chickens, goats, sacks of grain and the latest iphone across a river one at a time without any of those still on the banks eating one another or stealing the man’s bank account details. They’re too easy. I prefer the type which only have an answer when the responder provides one that fits.

As writers and readers, we use words to create our worlds, our truths. Faced with extremes of any sort, including absurdity, our impulse is to explain them, bring them under control, impose some order, try to make them make sense. And that’s exactly what the sort of puzzles I’m talking about demand of us. The writer provides the text, the reader analyses it and gives it coherence. So here’s an example of the sort of thing I mean. All you have to do is tell me what’s going on in this scenario.

A man is carrying a yellow box very carefully. He walks up to a cottage door and knocks. The door is answered by a teenage girl with dreadlocks. Over her scruffy clothes she’s wearing a spotless white apron. She keeps her hands behind her back as they talk.
‘Is Marie-Louise in?’ says the man, ‘I brought this for her’.
‘Let’s see,’ says the girl.
The man opens the box and holds it towards her. She looks inside. It’s empty.
‘They’re all asleep,’ she says. ‘You can’t come in.’
She closes the door. The man takes off his shoes, puts them inside the box, leaves it on the doorstep, and walks away.

A hat

I’m offering two of my ebooks as prizes: one for what I judge to be the most inventive, entertaining (or some other adjective) explanation; the other to the person whose name will be picked out of a hat (see picture). So if there’s only one response, that person will get two books, two responders will get one each, and if there are no responses at all, I’ll cry, sulk a lot, drop-kick puppies and kittens over fences and join UKIP because I hate everybody.