|[Publisher's note to Holmes fans: Fear not; the solution to last issue's Strange Case of the Confederation of Neutral States will appear in the Winter 1998 Adjustment issue of The Pouch.]|
Holmes had scarcely set foot inside the Calhamer Club, where I was enjoying a glass of brandy at the bar with his brother, when Augustus Fotheringay bounced across to us: "Sherlock! Mycroft! I had almost given up hope for our game when Cuthbert left after one year. John, let us now continue immediately! All player's units are in supply centres, I have yet to set sail, and your position is none too bad. Now, with the Holmes brothers to join us, we have seven players!"
The three of us winced at the enthusiasm and false familiarity of the aristocrat. Trying to diffuse the situation quickly, I turned to Holmes to explain, but, unusually, Mycroft spoke first.
"Dr Watson has been describing this singular game to me," he began. "It is a standard game, played by all the tournament rules of the Club. At a glance, he says that the board looks like Spring 1901. The board has the same unit types in the same provinces as in the starting position, and all powers own the supply centres on which their units rest. The neutral centres remain neutral. But on closer inspection, one finds that the unit colours are wrong! Spring of 1904 has just passed, and only three of the powers still retain ownership of their own homeland."
"A curious situation, indeed," said my friend. "But I am afraid I have not the time to join your game. Good day to you, Lord Fotheringay." And with that, he turned and left.
At Baker Street later that evening, I raised the subject of the game and asked why Holmes had excused himself from what I had considered an interesting and puzzling game, without even having so much as seen the board.
"I cannot waste my time with such contrived positions," Holmes began.
"But surely, Holmes, your brother did not tell you the full history of the game. I do not believe that it was even mentioned which four of the seven powers had shuffled into each other's home centres."
"I cannot understand how people can overlook the obvious! Apart from some trivial details, the complete history of the game should be obvious to the trained observer and logician," said Holmes. "For example, when I arrived at the bar, you sat with a half-smoked cigar and a quarter-full glass of brandy, talking with Mycroft. Clearly, you had been at the bar for more than fifteen minutes and so, as the game was run under strict tournament rules -- which means fifteen minutes per turn -- you must have defaulted: all your units must have held in Spring of 1904."
I was rather taken aback by Holmes' deduction. I was not proud of having missed a turn, albeit prompted by the arrival of one of the club's more noxious members and the departure of Rev. Cuthbert Codlington.
"You will have noticed that Fotheringay's shoes were damp, yet it had only recently begun to rain. He could not have been at the club for more than half an hour and so he himself could only have started play in Fall of 1903.
"Both Mycroft and I were needed to make seven; thus, the remaining three players and yourself must have started the game as a foursome, with Rev. Codlington joining only for 1903. Those were my essential observations, and the rest is simple logic."
Acquainted as I was with the facts of the game, I was reluctant to further quiz Holmes. His brother had also been able to reconstruct the game, although I had told Mycroft which power I was playing, which must have helped.
How Mycroft could reconstruct the whole game is a mystery to me -- it was all I could do to remember it! And Holmes did the same without even knowing which power I was playing: all he knew was that Mycroft could do it, which meant that the problem had but a single solution once the power I played was disclosed.
How much of the game can you reproduce?
Mail your answer to The Pouch. (If you need
a little help, the good doctor has made available the comment he made to
Mycroft at the bar, revealing the power that
Dr Watson played.)
-- Dr. John H. Watson
via Graeme Ackland
If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, and clicking on the mail address above does not work for you, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.