Puzzling,very puzzling...

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Still trying to figure it out:Marcel Berlins

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Marcel Berlins is not the easiest man to keep up with. Always boyishly animated, one moment he displays all the logical organisation to be expected of a former legal correspondent of The Times who has presented Radio 4's Law in Action for the past 12 years. Seconds later, his eyes light up and he's hack in a secret world of mind-blowing mystery.
By his own admission, Berlins is far more interested in the ingenuity of the puzzle than he is in solving it. And a lifetime's addiction is about to come bubbling to the surface as he embarks on the first installment of a five-part Radio 4 series, Puzzling Passions. Before his odyssey is over, the French-born, South Africa-trained lawyer will have delved into such fiendish devices as the labyrinth of Greek mythology where the Minotaur was held and the ancient Egyptian maze that had one passage for men and, beneath it, another for crocodiles. He will ponder mathematical puzzle. ("Did you know that it was only in the 15th century that the Arabs invented the concept of zero [Ref: Audio MEMOREXc9022A {Square on the Pythagoras};TDKc9055B{Nothing}],which gave rise to a whole new range of puzzles?"), enter into the minds of cryptic crossword setters and take an addict's eye view of the Rubik cube - and the schoolboy who a wrote a book on how to solve it.
He'll also recall the treasure hunt for a buried golden statue of a hare which turned the launch of Kit Williams's book, Masquerade into a national obsession, not to mention Edwardian crime writer E Phillips Oppenheim - known as "the king of the railway timetable" because of the accuracy with which he constructed clues and problems out of its details.
"Puzzles are not particularly confined to any one culture or gender - although the cryptic crossword is essentially an Anglo-Saxon pastime - but what they all have in common is the urge of one person, the puzzle-maker, to outwit his victim and the responder's wish to find a way through to the mind of the maker and to solve it," says Berlins, clearly warming to his theme. "I've always been keen on crime books and review them as a freelance.John Dickson Carr's books I particularly enjoyed. His detective stories [such as The Curse of the Bronze Lamp and The Hollow Man] are very puzzle-orientated, specialising in sleight of hand and the art of omission. The answer is nearly always to do with the reader being diverted into missing what should have been obvious. But in the end you have to admit that everything is there to enable you to work it out for yourself"
Just as everything necessary is invariably present in the devilish quiz with which Berlins confronts readers of The Guardian every Saturday. Unfortunately, that doesn't make them any easier for mere mortals to solve. Try this recent example for size. What links: a) Tokyo; b) a literary nightingale; c) the predecessor of a drop of golden sun and d) a dictionary. Give up? The common denominator is, of course, an anagram. The answers: a) Tokyo was formerly called Edo; b) Keats's Ode to a Nightingale; c) "Doe, a deer, a female deer, ray, a drop of golden sun" (from The Sound of Music); and OED, as in Oxford English Dictionary. Rubik's Cube"Puzzling used to be confined to people who thought they were quite clever but nowadays it has little to do with intelligence and not much to do with knowledge either," he insists, with a modesty that is only just credible. "All you need is some quirky thing which isn't quite right in the brain that allows you to see something that other people can't." William Greaves


"I've had a passion for puzzles since childhood,which is odd because I never was much good at them,and I'm still not,but I spent hours mixing up the letters of my name in the still vain attempt to extract a witty sentence,and desperately trying to ascertain Mary's age if she's half as old as John will be if he's 3 times...etc etc,or fiddling endlessly with little tiles that refuse to form patterns. But even in my ineptitude I remain fascinated by the existence of all these puzzles. Who makes them up for one thing? And why? They lead nowhere,their solutions contribute nothing to any wider sphere of life,they don't do much to expand the horizon's of those that do them,in fact they're pretty much a waste of time.But I think it's their very pointlessness that's the point."

"What I've discovered in my trawl through numbers puzzles is that most of them are also puzzles of logic.The person with maths can reach the answer by using algebra and number theory,but there's often another way.I confess that I quickly turn the page when confronted with a puzzle which can only be solved by working out an elaborate formula,life's too short for N 2/Y3 times 11/65 where g = f-k. I prefer using a dash of logic a touch of lateral thinking,and a small helping of cunning.
To me the wonderful aspect of all these numbers and logic puzzles is their total uselessness.Fermat's Last Theorem hasn't advanced the cause of humankind one little bit,puzzles are meant to be fun-not useful,well,except of course that it was largely mathematicians and geniuses of logic that cracked the German codes and enabled us to win the war."

"Sherlock Holmes may have been,may still be the best known detective ever,but I'm afraid not many of his deductions stand up to close scrutiny,logical or scientific."
- Marcel Berlins in "Puzzling Passions"


"For two years,I lived in the secret world of codes and codebreakers. My fascination of the subject began with my love of puzzles.Secret codes are where puzzles meet politics,deciding the outcome of battles,and toppling governments.The story of codes is all about an intellectual arms race,that has culminated in sophisticated science,involving esoteric maths, satellites and supercomputers."
"Code breaking was the ultimate puzzle and puzzles were something Babbage felt compelled to solve."
- Simon Singh in "The Science of Secrecy" (Author of Fermat's Last Theorem, The Code Book,The Science of Secrecy )

Having lobbed in his bombshell, he seems to have decided to sit on the sidelines, enjoying the ensuing chaos. "What I have come up with is an intriguing puzzle," he says. "I want people to think."- Humphrey Maris (The man who dropped a bombshell on Quantum Field Theory)

"Yes,I would say..I consider it as a puzzle and everybody tries to get a little piece of the puzzle and get that right and then put it together with say John (Fry)'s piece of puzzle, you know, and we try to put the picture." - Rolf Landau, Physcist, speaking on antimatter and the asymmetry of the universe.

My comment: I find it absolutely astonishing that a presenter of a Radio 4 Programme,an Ex-lawyer knows nothing about the history of mathematics or why puzzles arise or who creates them. The astonishing ignorance Mr Berlins displays of his chosen subject indicates either a complete lack of research or  his overlooking of a massive sphere of human endeavor.As Simon Singh correctly says puzzles have been at the heart of many serious and deeply reflective problems for mankind.Far from being pointless and having no impact on human life,the complete reverse is true as Simon Singh shows in his book on the solving of Fermat's Last Theorem by Andrew Wiles. What Marcel's fascination displays is a curious view of mathematics,that of the uninformed layperson,wondering from whence all these wonders arise,it's from mathematics Mr Berlins,something you obviously know nothing about. Solutions to MENSA puzzles are often childishly simple once one knows the generic formula for the case at hand.I know that if I am ever in the dock I will make sure that no lawyer of Marcel's abilities is taken on to defend me.Such chronic ignorance should have been ended at high school,or University. Perhaps Marcel was one of those who said "I'll never need mathematics when I grow up".Puzzles and enigmas are what created superstitious and magical symbolism from mathematics.The by product of serious mathematical investigation can be a game,as in Roger Penrose's tiles, which are use in his books as a way of showing how consciousness works, but also gave rise to a game.THIS is how it happens Marcel,didn't you know? What puzzles me is how Mr Berlins came to host this programme when he clearly doesn't know what he's talking about.
His second comment above displays that revulsion of mathematics and the ignorance of why it is done and why a formulae is a better methodology.The process of generalising is what cracks all forms of the same puzzle.Note that the formula he quotes is NOT even a real formula,because he doesn't know how to create a real one. Marcel seems to be one of those of the other of the Two Cultures who haughtily and snootily dismiss what they don't understand as being irrelevant or in some demeaning the challenge to the human mind,when in fact his way is the lazy unchallenging way.As John Maddox recounts and Carol Vorderman ,there seems to be a group of people for whom this subject is a constant mystery and as Marcel himself said in his programme if one does not catch on to maths early the whole notion becomes a foreign land that is populated by seeming masters of esoterica that the layperson looks upon with scorn, derision,jealousy and sour grapes.
One would have thought that solving puzzles was very much applicable to the law,which presumably we should take to be something whose solutions have an impact on wider spheres of life.Given Mr Berlins view,the process of law as the solution to a puzzle is a waste of time,perhaps this is why so many feel cheated in court by lawyers who don't seem to give a damn about the outcome,but then the pointlessness is the whole point according to Marcel.Try telling that to those laypersons finding themselves at the hands of the process of law.Perhaps Marcel's derision stems from Louis Blom-Cooper's (much noticed) observation in "The Commission-6"that science deals with probability and the law needs certainty, and lawyers like politicians,wonder why it is science can never deliver a "verdict".Stephen Jay Gould takes up this difference which he calls a "puzzle of discipline",perhaps Marcel thinks the whole of moral philosophy is waste of time too,and echoes Popper's view of falsification rather than validation,where Kuhn thought that science changed by paradigm shift (personally I side with Kuhn).
Maybe next time Mr Berlins presents Law In Action,he could address these points,I'd listen in,but one might easily dismiss the pontifications of an uninformed ex-lawyer as having no impact on the wider spheres of human life,and I wouldn't wish to waste my time.



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Email:Radio Times   30 September - 6 October 2000 File Info: Created 30/8/2010 Updated 29/2/2016 Page Address: http://leebor2.100webspace.net/Zymic/puzzle.html