Thursday, June 1, 2023

Can “u” solve it? Wordplay meets numberplay

Today’s puzzles celebrate the connections between mathematics and literature.

They also mark the publication of Once Upon a Prime, a terrific new book about these connections, by Sarah Hart, professor of maths at Birkbeck, University of London. (One of the puzzles below gives you the chance to win a copy.)

One subject covered in Once Upon a Prime is constrained writing – the art of applying mathematical rules to text – which provides the theme for today’s challenges.

1. Pop art

Below are five sentences with the vowels and spaces taken out. Your task is to reinsert the vowels and spaces to recreate the sentences. Each sentence uses one vowel only. The five vowels – A, E, I, O and U – each have a sentence. To make it easier, each sentence has the name of a pop star and a famous artist, and could feasibly be a headline in this newspaper.

a) C H R G T S V R M R S K T C H

b) D M B S T R C K L L S C F F S M N C H

c) L D Y G G B G S C H G L L

d) S N P D G G S H W S T W R T H K W R K S

e) W L L S M T H S G N S H S K L M T P R N T

2. Creative curbs

Each of the sentences below is written according to a different constraint, i.e. a mathematical rule such as, say, “all words the same length”, or “no ‘e’s’ allowed”. Can you deduce what each constraint is?

1) I do not know where family doctors acquired illegibly perplexing handwriting.

2) Pert Pete wrote “QWERTY”. Wry Rory wept. Quiet Tori quit.

3) Dennis, Nell, Edna, Leon, Anita, Rolf, Nora, Alice, Carol, Lora, Cecil, Aaron, Flora, Tina, Noel and Ellen sinned.

4) Shimmering, gleaming, glistening glow
Winter reigns, splendiferous snow!
Won’t this sight, this stainless scene,
Endlessly yield days supreme?
Eying ground, deep piled, delights
Skiers scaling garish heights.

(Note: these six lines are an excerpt from Winter Reigns, a poem written by Mary Younquist, the first woman to get a PhD in organic chemistry from MIT, and later editor of the US National Puzzler’s League newsletter. It hides a very simple constraint. )

3. Pilish, please (plus ’Pon Prime prize)

Pilish is a form of constrained writing in which the lengths of the words are determined by the mathematical constant pi, the number that begins 3.1415926535… (In other words, the first word must have 3 letters, the second word 1 letter, the third word 4 letters, the fourth 1, and so on.)

Perhaps the best known Pilish phrase is: How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics, attributed to the physicist Sir James Jeans. The most ambitious Pilish text is Mike Keith’s Cadaiec Cadenza, a narrative poem in the style of Edgar Allen Poe that runs for almost 100 lines.

I will send a copy of Once Upon a Prime to the reader who sends in the best sentence or two in Pilish to me here by 4pm UK today.

Sarah Hart, the book’s author, has agreed to judge the submissions and we will announce the winner at 5pm. You can write about anything, but extra points will be awarded for fluency, topicality and wit. Bes’ o’ luck!

FYI The first thirty digits of Pi are: 3.14159265358979323846264338327

I’ll be back at 5pm with the solutions to the puzzles and the winner of the competition.

PLEASE NO SPOILERS Instead write about anything you like without using the letter ‘e’.

Once Upon a Prime by Sarah Hart can be bought at the Guardian Bookshop and other online sellers.

I set a puzzle here every two weeks on a Monday. I’m always on the look-out for great puzzles. If you would like to suggest one, email me.

I give school talks about maths and puzzles (online and in person). If your school is interested please get in touch.

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