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December 31, 2006

Puzzle #11

Posted by John Baez

Happy New Year! Here’s a little puzzle to start the year off…

When was the toothpick invented?

What happened to puzzle #10? It went like this:

Q: What is the slogan of the Unity party, which did so well in the 1999 Russian parliamentary elections?

A: “Masculinity”. This party supports the war on Chechnya and the policies of Putin.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, Tuesday December 21, 1999, page A16.

However, a Russian correspondent informs me that this is baloney — a mistranslation of the actual slogan. Unfortunately I can’t find his email now. So:

Does anyone know the real slogan, of which this is supposedly a mistranslation?

Posted at December 31, 2006 10:54 PM UTC

TrackBack URL for this Entry:   http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/cgi-bin/MT-3.0/dxy-tb.fcgi/1093

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Re: Puzzle #11

I don’t know. It is certainly quite old.

But what I have found out is that it can be deadly dangerous!

The tyrant Agathocles was killed in 289 BC through a slowly working poison, which a favorite slave gave to him in a toothpick. (via wikipedia)

Christine

Posted by: Christine Dantas on January 1, 2007 11:45 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #11

Killed by a poisoned toothpick! Ouch!

Very interesting. I’ll just say that the toothpick was invented long, long before the incident you mention.

Posted by: John Baez on January 2, 2007 9:11 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Nonhumans use toothpicks; Re: Puzzle #11

The false assumption is that toothpick manufacture and usage began with human beings.

See:
A Functional Definition of Primate Tool-Making
Abraham Gruber
Man, New Series, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Dec., 1969), pp. 573-579
doi:10.2307/2798196

“… For example, a rock may be picked up by an ape but it is usually discarded fairly quickly. Now a toothpick or a napkin may be used only once, admittedly, …”

Posted by: Jonathan Vos Post on January 3, 2007 6:19 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #11

Does anyone know the real slogan, of which this is supposedly a mistranslation?

The real slogan is “mujestvo” (in latin transcription), which can be translated as “fortitude”. Not exactly again but close enough. There is another russian word “mujestvennost” which means “masculinity”. Obviously both words have common root; this is why it is so easy to mistranslate. Have a Happy New Year!

Posted by: michael on January 2, 2007 6:20 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #11

Mujestvo versus mujestvennost! Okay, that explains it. The Los Angeles Times should hire someone who knows Russian better.

Thanks for the info, Michael. Happy New Year!

Posted by: John Baez on January 2, 2007 9:06 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #11

Jonathan vos Post wrote:

The false assumption is that toothpick manufacture and usage began with human beings.

Right! Here was my original answer to the puzzle:

Q: When was the toothpick invented?

A: At least 1.7 million years ago. A molar from Tanzania’s Olduvai gorge, somewhere between 2.1 million and 1.7 million years old, bears unmistakable evidence of having been repeatedly probed by a sharp piece of wood or bone. The tooth in question belongs to either Homo habilis or early Homo erectus. Similar grooves have been found in the teeth of other homimids, including Neanderthals, but they have not been found in the more primitive Australopithecus or in primates such as chimpanzees.

Source: Random Samples, ed. Constance Holden, Science 288 (28 April 2000), 607.

However, I later read that other primates use twigs as primitive toothpicks.

Posted by: John Baez on January 3, 2007 7:15 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #11

There was comment on an earlier puzzle about which puzzles cannot be solved by a Google search. This one (toothpicks) comes close but I wonder whether, without reference to my blog (the URL of which I deliberately won’t give), anyone can answer the following question (which, by the way, I hope has even less relevance to the readers of this site than toothpicks) with or without Google:

In which 20th century “whodunnit?” does a cuckolded mathematical philosopher appear as a major player?

Posted by: Chris Hobbs on January 4, 2007 5:50 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #11

One candidate, found partially with the aid of Google, might be “The N-Plus-1th Degree” (1968) by Stephen Barr.

Posted by: Blake Stacey on January 4, 2007 6:06 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #11

In which 20th century “whodunnit?” does a cuckolded mathematical philosopher appear as a major player?

Dürrenmatt’s The Physicists is maybe not exactly what you’d call a “whodunnit” - but it comes close. The major player is not exactly a mathematical philosopher - but he comes quite close. Not sure if you’d call him cuckolded - but it comes close to that.

Posted by: urs on January 4, 2007 6:59 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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