This week’s poser: Dr Watson’s ménage à trois

ALMOST THERE |  ISSUE TEN

It appears dear old Watson has been at it again...

The following is an unpublished extract from Dr Watson’s journal, dated March 1889:

‘Stumped by another of those delightful little puzzles, Watson?’

Holmes and I had just enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and had turned our attention to the morning papers.

‘I don’t know what you mean, Holmes,’ I responded with some irritation.

Come, come, my dear fellow, you can’t fool me! I’m afraid the signs are quite unmistakable.

‘Signs?’

‘Why of course. Your morning perusal of the Manchester Guardian always follows what can best be described as a pre-determined course: the latest news from Lords, followed by an examination of the lamentable exploits of the criminal fraternity, then the Court Circular, the editorial, the classified advertisements and finally the obituaries. However on this occasion I perceive that your attention is repeatedly being drawn elsewhere, to the bottom left hand corner of page seven, to be precise. Each visit is accompanied by a pensive frown, a perplexed rub of the nose and then a furtive glance in my direction before you move on. But after a brief stay in one of your more familiar haunts you are drawn inexorably back to page seven. Only a singular attraction could deflect you from your usual trajectory, and since I cannot conceive you have suddenly developed an interest in the price fluctuations of zinc and copper on the New York stock exchange, there can be but one solution.’

‘Your deductions are quite correct,’ I conceded with a chuckle.

‘Then please enlighten me regarding your troublesome puzzle. Since the unmasking of the Bexley Heath Strangler—the circumstances of which I trust will never be submitted for publication—my brains have had scant little stimulation.’

I proceeded to read out the problem as follows:

 

The Ménage à Trois.

There are three people sitting in a drawing room, Horace, Maud and William. Horace is married, William is not. Horace is looking at Maud, whilst Maud is looking at William. To the question, ‘Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?’ would the correct answer be:

ja) most certainly;

b) certainly not, or

c) one cannot say for certain.

 

Holmes burst out laughing. ‘My dear Watson- the solution is as plain as the nose on your face! Why, I’ll wager Mrs Hudson would be able to tell you.’

‘Mrs Hudson?’ I cried.* ‘Never in a month of Sundays!’

‘Well there’s a simple method of testing my hypothesis,’ he replied with a mischievous glint in his eye and reached for the bell pull.

‘Steady on, Holmes! No need to distract the poor woman from her labours.’

‘As you wish, Watson. But enough of these trivialities. I have a pressing engagement this morning. Mycroft has arranged a meeting with the Governor General of Eastern Rumelia on what, it seems, is a matter of some urgency. I take it you will accompany me?’

I shook my head. ‘I cannot, I’m afraid. I promised I’d spare Anstruther a few hours. Another bout of whooping cough doing the rounds.’

 

Shortly after Holmes had left Mrs Hudson came in to clear away the breakfast things. I decided to put my friend’s opinion regarding her powers of deduction to the test. The outcome proved to be astonishing and was to cause me no little consternation…

Are you, like poor Dr Watson, confounded by this devisish conundrum? If so, you can find the solution here:

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/mar/28/did-you-solve-it-the-logic-question-almost-everyone-gets-wrong

* I had intended to write, in imitation of Conan Doyle’s style, ‘Mrs Hudson?’ I ejaculated, but I suspect you’d take it the wrong way...

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