Monday, Monday…

Various connotations for an alliterative Monday morning come to mind! One is that great song “Monday, Monday” by The Mamas and Papas (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=iIo8_bMFwxs or https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-TFddCrHlPY) I remember driving to back in the 60s, sometimes from my home in Tottenham into central London in the days when you could park free in the old Covent Garden, near King’s College in the Strand.

But today must be Morbid Monday as I scan the Obituary column in today’s Telegraph. I read with a little sadness but some amusement the coverage of Peter Skellern. It states that for a few years in the 80s he had a creative partnership with Richard Stilgoe, and one of their songs was “Joyce the Librarian”, who had never been kissed but had a liaison with a regular reader, and ended up like one of his library books – two weeks overdue.

Further down the page is the (appropriately enough, late) news of the February 6th death of Raymond Smullyan, a mathematician, logician, and sometime magician and pianist whom I remember from one or two of his mystifying (mathematical) publications from my time as a research student in the late 60s. I still have his arcane book “Theory of Formal Systems” which I think I acquired from attending a summer school at Prof Chris Zeeman’s Maths department in Warwick, where my bestie Maths pal, David Fallows was an MSc student, after our first degrees at King’s.

Smullyan’s obituary (pictured here) mentions one of many logic problems he published over the years, including in several high-end puzzle books. It presents you with three gods A, B and C, who, in no particular order, are called Truth, False and Random. True always tells the truth, False always speaks falsely and whether Random speaks truly or falsely is a random matter.

Your task is to determine the identities of A, B and C by asking three yes-no questions, each one of which is addressed to only one God, although you may ask the same God more than one question.

The Gods understand English, but their answers are given in their own language; their words for “yes” and “no” are “da” and “ja” although you don’t know which is which.

There are online solutions for this, but give it a try first, before looking. (This is my return shot, Tom, for the polynomial question you set me!)

There is a simpler problem of this kind: you are at a fork in the road, and there is a person there from the local community, which comprises people who either always tell the truth or always lie. You may ask just one question to the person there to establish which way to go to your desired destination, but you don’t know if you are speaking to a truth teller or an inveterate liar. What would you ask?

Well, today’s obituaries have inculcated more than just the usual regret! Mostly, in reading obituaries (as I have tended to do for many years) I have been inspired by the many achievements of those who have been their subject. Over their lifespans, so many people have achieved so much!

I hope my interlocutor, when the time comes, can be creative in this respect!

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