Bursnell Teague and the Einstein Puzzle


Bursnell Teague

and the

Einstein Puzzle

A Logic Mystery

Tom Slakey

Bursnell Teague and the Einstein Puzzle


A Logic Mystery


By Tom Slakey


Copyright 2017 Tom Slakey


Shakespir Edition


For information, contact: Tom Slakey Press, [email protected], www.tomslakey.com.




First printing,

March 2017


Cover image of Atalaya Mountain seen from St. John’s College by Tom Slakey.

Cover design by Tom Slakey.


ISBN ___-_-_______-_-_ (Digital)


This book is available in print at most online retailers.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


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“A great book is a great evil.”



“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”

—Mark Twain.


“If I were rich I’d have the time that I lack

To sit in the synagogue and pray,

And maybe even a seat by the eastern wall,

And I’d discuss the holy books with the learned men several hours every day,

And that would be the sweetest thing of all.”

—Reb Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein.


“A book of verses underneath the bough,

A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou

Beside me singing in the wilderness,

Oh, wilderness were Paradise enow.”

—Rubaiyat, Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward Fitzgerald.


“To read the Latin and Greek authors in their original is a sublime luxury…I thank on my knees him who directed my early education for having in my possession this rich source of delight.”

—Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Joseph Priestly.







CHAPTER 1—Prospective

CHAPTER 2—Aphrodite

CHAPTER 3—The Particulars


CHAPTER 5—Unexpected help

CHAPTER 6—Sophomore music—strings

CHAPTER 7—Junior math—Two new sciences


CHAPTER 9—Sophomore math—Descartes and parabolas

CHAPTER 10—Freshman music—chorus

CHAPTER 11—Meal plans puzzle

CHAPTER 12—Meal plans puzzle solution

CHAPTER 13—The library


CHAPTER 15—A big firecracker

CHAPTER 16—Dinner

CHAPTER 17—Seminar—Kafka’s Metamorphosis

CHAPTER 18—Murder game


CHAPTER 20—A table and an ally

CHAPTER 21—Big loud boom—the ninth clue

CHAPTER 22—What’s in a name?


CHAPTER 23—Breakfast

CHAPTER 24—Freshman language tutorial: Plato’s Meno—the tenth clue

CHAPTER 25—Junior Lab, Millikan oil drop experiment

CHAPTER 26—Senior Math: Gödel’s proof

CHAPTER 27—Tunnels

CHAPTER 28—Bell tower

CHAPTER 29—Burs works on the zebra puzzle

CHAPTER 30—Zebra puzzle solution

CHAPTER 31—Lecture

CHAPTER 32—Coffee shop rock party

CHAPTER 33—Zebra clues in the Particulars’ puzzle


CHAPTER 34—Breakfast—the eleventh clue

CHAPTER 35—Spartan Madball—the twelfth clue

CHAPTER 36—Sophistry Contest

CHAPTER 37—Chesley—the thirteenth clue

CHAPTER 38—Saints John—the fourteenth clue

CHAPTER 39—Frogs—the fifteenth clue

CHAPTER 40—Reality auction

CHAPTER 41—Movie and waltz party

CHAPTER 42—Burning cow


CHAPTER 43—Near death at the water tower

CHAPTER 44—What Tyler said—the sixteenth clue

CHAPTER 45—The Particulars’ logic puzzle

CHAPTER 46—Solution of the Particulars’ puzzle

CHAPTER 47—Confronting the Particulars

CHAPTER 48—Epilogue: What is truth and what is fiction



CHAPTER 1—Prospective

“I’m a prospective student. My name is Bursnell Teague.” Bursnell felt a bit shy as he checked in at the reception area at the main switchboard of St. John’s College Santa Fe early on a Thursday morning in May. His general goal was just to keep a low profile, to have a quiet prospective weekend at the campus and find out what the college was like. Specifically, he hoped he could avoid tangling with the Particulars, a group of bullying students that had been seniors at his high school, Santa Fe Boarding School, and who were now juniors here.

The Sikh guard behind the desk seemed tough, but had a kind way of smiling with his eyes behind his beard and turban. “Yes, Mr. Teague, I have your information here.” He handed Bursnell a folder. “You’ll have a single room to yourself. There’s a map in the folder.”


“Mr. Teague—”

“—You can just call me Bursnell.”

“Actually, everyone around here is in the habit of referring to each other as Ms. and Mr. in class, and sometimes outside also. You’ll get used to it.”


“I was going to say, you picked a crazy weekend to be a prospective. We’re coming up on Reality weekend.”

“What’s Reality weekend?”

“It’s a weekend-long party, with all kinds of crazy events: the Senior Prank, the Real Olympics, Spartan Madball, and so on. It’s a chance for the students to really let their hair down. Sometimes it gets a bit crazy.”

“Sounds okay.” Privately, Bursnell thought that it might be a chance for him to kiss a tipsy college girl.

“I hope it won’t give you a bad impression of the campus. Normally it’s nothing like this.”

“Don’t worry, I understand, and I’ll be fine.”

“Okay, then. By the way, the dean left an urgent note for you to check in at her office right away when you arrived this morning. It’s right up those stairs and then to the right, in the building with the bell tower.”

Bursnell turned from the switchboard, took a few steps toward the glass doors, and stopped to admire the mural on the wall, depicting all fields of classical education, a red fire extinguisher looking almost lost in the brightly colored motifs surrounding it.

“Oh, Mr. Teague, the dean said it was quite urgent that you speak to her as soon as possible, please. She’s expecting you shortly after 8 a.m., that is, now.”

“Okay, okay, I’m going.” He would have to come back and study the mural more closely. For now, he walked out of the glass doors and onto the quad.

The summer monsoons had begun early that year, and Bursnell had to stand for a moment and savor the beauty of the wet pavement in the light rain, with the smell of ozone in the air. This was a rare morning rain; they were almost always in the afternoon. The fishpond looked beautiful, surrounded by juniper bushes, their scent carried to his nostrils on the light breeze. It felt like paradise on earth.

He could have stood there for hours just inhaling the juniper and ozone, but he knew he had to meet the dean, so he continued past the fish pond, and up the stairs.

Stairs didn’t make him tired now, as they had when he first came to the high desert. Santa Fe was at seven thousand feet. Denver was the mile-high city at 5,280 feet, but Santa Fe was at 7,000 feet, basically a two-thousand foot mountain stacked on top of Denver, a mile plus a mountain.

Bursnell felt good about being in better shape. The principal at his boarding school had predicted that he would become tall and skinny, which was half true: he had grown to average height, about 5’10”, and probably about average weight for his age, about 150 pounds. The main thing was that he had gotten in much better shape from frequent hiking. From Santa Fe Boarding School he regularly hiked up thousand-foot-high Monte Sol, two-thousand-foot high Atalaya, and when his school held their annual Oktoberfest field trip up at the Santa Fe Ski Basin parking lot at 10,000 feet, Bursnell would leave the group and hike up to the top of Lake Peak at 12,409 feet.

Bursnell glanced around for the bell tower. Yes, there it was. Like all of the buildings of St. John’s Santa Fe, it was built in the Territorial style, with squared beige plaster and white railings, not like the rounded adobe walls seen elsewhere in the town. Was it his imagination, or was there something a bit odd about the upper tier of the tower? A glint of amber light had caught the corner of his eye. Had it come from there? He stared. No, there was nothing.

Bursnell walked a bit anxiously up to the dean’s office. He felt just the tiniest bit nervous meeting the dean, who was second only to the president in authority at the College. It wasn’t quite like being called into the principal’s office at his boarding school. Not quite. What could the dean want? He knocked on the door of the dean’s office.

“Yes, come in,” said a woman’s voice.

Bursnell pushed open the door to see a stunning woman. Her hair was jet black with blue lights in it, curly and shoulder-length. Bursnell thought he had rarely seen so gorgeous a lady. “Hello, I’m Bursnell Teague.”

“Hello, Mr. Teague, you can call me dean Petras, Ms. Petras, or dean; any of those is fine.”

“Petras—that’s a Greek name, isn’t it? Oh, sorry, I hope that’s not too personal.”

“No, no problem. Yes, I’m from Greece, and it came in handy for studying Ancient Greek, as we do here: two years of Ancient Greek and two years of French. I was a student and then came back as a tutor—we call the professors tutors because of the eight-to-one student-to-teacher ratio—and then took a turn as dean.”

Bursnell said, “Er…forgive my curiosity, but…you wanted to see me?”

“Yes, I did. I’ll get right to the point. Have a seat.”

Bursnell saw that in front of the dean’s desk, a semicircle of six wooden chairs had been arranged. He took one of the chairs on the end of the semicircle, next to the desk.

The dean stared at her fingernails for a moment. “You see, I heard about you a couple of years ago from principal Garcia at your boarding school, when you solved that mystery about those students called the Particulars. By the way, just out of curiosity, would you have any idea why they are called that?”

Bursnell said, “Oh, people started calling them that because they had such particular tastes. Each liked a certain coffee and would drink only that and no other, and so on. Then they heard about the name and began referring to themselves and their little gang that way.”

“I see. Well, now those same students are causing trouble here.”

“Can you just suspend or expel them?”

“No, slow down and listen, please.”


“You see, here’s the situation. Every year the college receives a very large donation of money for displaying a life-size bronze statue of a naked woman—”

“—Wait, did I hear that right?”

“Yes, a life-size bronze statue of a standing naked woman. It weighs well over two hundred pounds. Years ago the students nicknamed her Aphrodite, for the goddess of love.”

“Er, is the statue good-looking?”

“Just like a male to ask that. Yes, in a way. The statue represents an idealized woman, even better looking than any flesh and blood woman could be, with a waist that is slimmer than a normal woman’s waist would be, breasts that are higher, a cute girlish face, and so on. But coming to the important point, the college receives a very large bequest every year on condition that the statue be displayed once a year. We don’t particularly want to display this nude statue, so what we do is display it once a year during the crazed beer bash called Reality Weekend, this coming weekend, as you probably know. Well, the statue has been stolen.”

CHAPTER 2—Aphrodite

Bursnell sat back in surprise. Here was another art theft, the other a painting, this time a statue. Did the dean want to consult him, as the principal of his boarding school had before?

The dean continued, “In fact, for years the students have had a tradition of stealing the statue and doing various pranks with it. They hide it in dorm rooms and unscrew the light bulbs so that their roommates get a scare. They paint it in day-glow colors and lay it out sunning on the boulders in the fishpond.”

Bursnell said, “I think I’ve heard of that kind of thing at other campuses.”

The dean said, “Right. The problem is that this time is different. This is the first time that there has been a ransom note.”

Bursnell was very surprised. “You definitely have my attention.”

“Good. Here’s the note.” The Dean handed Bursnell a slip of paper.


To the Dean:

We have the statue known as Aphrodite. We will return her if Bursnell Teague from Santa Fe Boarding School solves a logic puzzle that we will assign him. We understand he will arrive on campus as a prospective student this Thursday at 8 a.m. Arrange a meeting between yourself, him, and us, shortly thereafter in your office. We will communicate the rules of the puzzle to him at that time.

Mr. Teague should not receive help from anyone else with the logical aspect of the puzzle. If we hear that he is being helped, we will not return the statue. We expect that he will not be able to solve the puzzle by Sunday midnight, in which case we will not return the statue.

The Particulars


Bursnell looked up. “How did they know I’d be coming?”

“Oh, no secret there: Abelard Dumont has a work-study job in the admissions office.”

“I see. Well, this is not your typical ransom note. It has three unusual features.”

The Dean looked surprised. “Oh? What are those?”

Bursnell said, “First, instead of a cash ransom it asks for the solving of a puzzle. Second, it predicts that the solver won’t be able to solve it. Third, it’s signed. Normally criminals don’t give away who they are, but we know exactly who the Particulars are.”

The Dean sighed, “They feel they can give away who they are because students have been stealing this statue for decades with impunity. It’s possible that we have no problem, and that the Particulars may return the statue in time, just as students always have, but the last line is worrisome.”

Bursnell said, “Yes, it is.”

The Dean said, “Do you think you’ll be able to solve the puzzle?”

Bursnell said, “That depends. It’s possible to construct really hard logic puzzles. Those could be so difficult that they would be too much for me to solve at all, much less in the time frame of a few days. They are a tight-knit gang of five guys, and they have had it in for me ever since I got two of them punished. I think their goal in all this is to make me fail, to shame me, and make me responsible for the college’s losing that large annual donation that you mentioned. That is why there’s an even worse possibility out there: they may have constructed a puzzle that’s impossible to solve, which can be easily done by taking a solvable puzzle and removing some clues. In that case, it would be up to me to prove that it’s impossible, and that would usually be a much bigger task than solving the puzzle in the first place.”

The Dean said, “Well, let’s find out what the puzzle is, before we get too worried.”

Bursnell said, “I was hoping this would be a Particulars-free weekend. I don’t suppose there’s any way I can just refuse to solve the puzzle?”

The Dean looked sympathetic. “It doesn’t look like that from the note, as the college would just lose the donation. Sorry about that, I’m afraid we have to call on your services. Do you accept?”

Bursnell sighed. There was really no way out. “Okay, I’ll do it.”

The Dean looked relieved. “Thank you. The college is completely on your side, by the way. We see you as a good guy, and these Particulars as a bunch of self-centered, selfish, stuck up, bullying thugs. Even if you aren’t able to solve the puzzle, we won’t blame you for that, we’ll just be sad for ourselves. Just do your best. Now let’s see, is there anything else we need to talk about before we meet with the Particulars?”

Bursnell said, “Not that I can think of.”

The Dean nodded. In that case, I’ll bring them in.”

CHAPTER 3—The Particulars

The Dean stood up from her desk, opened a door at the side of the room, and said, “You may come in.”

The students known as the Particulars began to file in. First, Godfrey Higginbotham of the God complex, big and bullying. He sat next to Bursnell, then reached over and gave him a seemingly playful punch in the arm that actually hurt a lot. It was all Bursnell could do to keep from exclaiming in pain, but he managed not to.

The Dean said, “Be careful, Mr. Higginbotham. Words are usually not actionable, but physical contact is.”

The others began filing in and taking the remaining seats around the semicircle. Next to sit was Abelard Dumont. His vampire-like pale skin and straight black hair didn’t seem to match his mellow hippie faded jeans and huarache sandals. He stared at Bursnell with a lip curled into a hard sneer, matching his tough-guy poor kid upbringing on the streets of Paris. He was a small guy, poisonous, always trying to pick a fight. Bursnell remembered theorizing that Abelard lacked attention from his parents.

Behind Abelard came Baldron Blumenfeld. Baldron was still dressing in the Goth style, the most noticeable part of which was the blue hair and the spiked bracelets he wore around his wrists. Bursnell remembered thinking that Baldron wanted to look violent to scare people away, because in reality he was paranoid.

Then Chesley Jones, the best adjusted of the gang, well dressed in a casual way, with a sport coat, jeans, and a cowboy hat, looking relaxed and cool. Bursnell was always mystified why the good-looking Chesley would hang around with these oddballs.

Last, Hyperion King, the disheveled gambler, unshaven and with baggy clothes, took the chair across from Bursnell on the opposite side of the semicircle.

The Dean said, “Well, gentlemen, please give us the contest rules.”

They all waited in silence for a few seconds. The others all looked at Godfrey. It seemed that he was the leader of the gang.

Godfrey said, “You guys can’t do anything without me. It’s up to me to lead everything. Oh, well. Here are the rules.”

He took a piece of paper out of his pocket. “There are five of us Particulars. Each of us has unique things in his room. Each of us has painted his room a different color: blue, red, black, green, and orange. We all like playing retro video games, and each of us has a favorite retro video game console in his room. These are: Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, Wii, Nintendo 64, and Playstation 1. Each of us has a small poisonous pet. These are: deathstalker scorpion, assassin bug, coral snake, poison dart frog, and tarantula.”

The dean held up a hand. “This kind of pet is not allowed in the dorms.”

Baldron said, “It’s too late now; there are only a few days left in the school year.”

The dean said, “Well, I wish you had asked permission, but I suppose you’re right: it’s too late now. Don’t bring those pets back next year. You may continue, Godfrey.”

Godfrey said, “Each of has a poster of a favorite rock musician or group hanging on his wall. These are: Katy Perry, Nikki Minaj, Beyoncé, Selena Gomez, and Taylor Swift. Now here are clues. I’ll read them out slowly, giving you a chance to write them down.”


1. The guy in the blue room has the N64 video game console.

2. The guy in the orange room has a Taylor Swift poster hanging on the wall.

3. The center room contains the Sega Genesis console.

4. The Selena Gomez poster is next-door to the scorpion.

5. The assassin bug is next-door to Taylor Swift.

6. The Katy Perry poster owner has a PS1.

7. The Selena Gomez poster owner has a neighbor who has a Super Nintendo.”


Bursnell said, “This is reminding me of the Einstein puzzle.”

Godfrey’s head whipped around sharply. “What’s that you say?”

Bursnell became aware that all the Particulars were staring at him. Oh, nothing really, it just sounds like a five-by-five grid with neighbors, which reminded me of the Einstein puzzle, that’s all.”

Godfrey said, “So you’ve heard of the Einstein puzzle, composed when he was a boy by a man who is thought by some to be the smartest person of all time? The puzzle said to be so difficult that only two percent of the population can solve it?”

Bursnell said, “Yes, I have.”

Godfrey said, “Well, obviously you would be too stupid to solve it.”

Bursnell said, “On the contrary, I have solved it before.”

Abelard snorted, “On the contrary, on the contrary. You must think you’re big stuff, to use fancy language like that, huh, Bursnell?”

Godfrey sneered, “Anyway, if you solved it, you probably had help from the internet. As we know, there are many versions of it on the internet: the zebra puzzle, the fish version, what we might call the Blue Master version, and many more. So if we were to give you a puzzle based on the Einstein puzzle, you probably wouldn’t be able to solve it, right?”

Bursnell said, “No, it shouldn’t be too hard, assuming it’s a legitimately constructed puzzle. If it’s faulty, then instead of solving it, I’d have to prove it was impossible, which would be a lot harder.”

Godfrey stared at him for a moment, looking thoughtful. Then he seemed to come to a decision. “Finally, here are the questions:

• Who has the Beyoncé poster?

• Who has the PS1?

• Who has the scorpion?

• Who has the Super Nintendo?

• Who owns the coral snake?


It was Bursnell’s turn to stare. “Wait a minute, you’re not finished. You did give me another clue, which we can call number eight.”


8. There are five of everything: guys, pets, posters, consoles, and colored adjacent rooms in a line.


“However, I remember that in the versions of the Einstein Puzzle I’ve seen on the internet, there are sixteen clues, so there should absolutely be eight more.”

Godfrey laughed nastily. “That’s all you’re getting.”


Bursnell was stunned. This was a disaster. He saw how it was. If only he had kept his big mouth shut about knowing how to solve the Einstein puzzle, he’d have been home free. A few hours of hard thinking should have been enough to solve the puzzle. That would have been ample time to solve the puzzle by Sunday night at midnight, in order for the college to display the statue and get its donation.

Instead, he had really put his foot in it this time. “Look, guys, the puzzle as you’ve given it to me is obviously impossible. Versions of the Einstein puzzle always have sixteen clues. Those puzzles have the minimum number of clues to completely fill out a five by five grid, because that’s the way these puzzles are constructed. Therefore, the minimum number of clues to fill out a five-by-five grid is sixteen. You’ve given me eight clues. I need eight more. I’m sure you were going to give me those clues before I so impolitely, yes, rudely, interrupted. I’m sorry about that. I’m sincerely sorry for having interrupted. It was boorish, it wasn’t right, and I apologize. Now may I have the other eight clues you were going to give me, please?”

Godfrey curled his lip. “No.”

Bursnell said, “Look, I proved it. In a contest, I have to either solve the puzzle or prove it impossible. Well, I did that. Puzzles with a five by five grid need 16 clues minimum. You gave me eight. Therefore it’s impossible, Q.E.D., quod erat demonstrandum.”

Abelard sneered, “Bursnell, you talk like a book. How can you stand to be you? Aren’t you embarrassed? I wouldn’t be you for all the gold in Fort Knox. So what if it’s proved? I don’t care. And we don’t care, do we, guys? We’re not giving you any more clues.”

Bursnell said, “But you have to.”

Godfrey said, “No, we don’t.”

“Well, that’s not fair at all.”

Hyperion looked disgusted. “Who says life has to be fair? Just man up, Bursnell, don’t be such a wuss.”

Bursnell said, “Dean Petras? Can you please make these guys abide by some minimal rules of fairness?”

Dean Petras nodded. “Yes, guys, you have to be fair.”

Godfrey said, “Baldron, as our legal eagle, can you comment on this?”

Baldron spoke, a bit nervously, it seemed to Bursnell, but he knew that Baldron was just a nervous type. “We don’t have to be fair. All of our families are large donors to the school. We don’t really need these Bachelor’s degrees, and we could sue the school anyway if they tried to withhold them. The school has no power to force us to be fair or to do anything else.”

The dean said, “Chesley, you’ve been quiet, anything to say on all this?”

Chesley said, “It’s all beneath me. The problems of underclassmen are beneath me, and Bursnell’s not even that, he’s a stupid high school student. So I just don’t care.”

Bursnell said, “Well, the logic puzzle as it stands is impossible.”

The dean said, “I’m sorry, Bursnell, but I still have to ask you to try.”

CHAPTER 5—Unexpected help

Bursnell’s mind reeled with the unfairness of it. What could he do?

“Dean, don’t you understand logic at all?”

The dean’s voice was like the crack of a whip. “Bursnell, you’re being very rude.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be. I just meant to say that impossible is impossible. You can’t ask someone to try to do the impossible. Fermat’s Last Theorem took 358 years for a mathematician to prove, but it wasn’t impossible. Squaring the circle is impossible. Perpetual motion is impossible. If you prove something is impossible, then you stop wasting time trying to do it.”

Baldron was looking uncomfortable. “Well, there is another way to solve the puzzle. Just make it like a scavenger hunt.”

Godfrey hissed, “Shut up, Baldron.”

Bursnell said, “What do you mean by scavenger hunt?”

Baldron said, “Just go around the campus asking people if they know anything.”

Godfrey said, “Quit helping him.”

Baldron said, “Come on, Godfrey, you know that nobody on campus knows us. I hate to say it, but we don’t really have friends other than each other. No one has ever been inside our wing of the dorms, much less inside our rooms, except for Chesley’s girlfriends.”

Chesley said, “That’s right, and I always kept my room dark, because my, er, pet might scare the girl.”

Godfrey said, “Well, I want us all to keep our shades pulled down all the time, so no one can see inside our rooms and see what color our walls are, okay? Can I get agreement from all of you on that?”

The others all responded, “Sure.”

Godfrey said, “I guess Baldron’s right, no one knows what’s in our rooms. And there’s no way for him to find out, as long as we don’t tell him, so do we all agree to tell him nothing?” He looked around at his friends.

They all responded, “Yes.”

CHAPTER 6—Sophomore music—strings

As Bursnell left the meeting with the dean and the Particulars, he felt very discouraged. Godfrey and his buddies had made it clear that it was going to be very difficult to find any information on what was in their rooms.

Well, he was scheduled to attend some classes, the first one at 9 a.m., coming right up. He looked at the map and schedule he’d been given by the guard. Here it was, room 210 in the Evans Science Lab, across from the Dean’s office. Sophomore Music, his schedule said. In the Sophomore year, the students had Music instead of Lab. This could be interesting. He was a little early. He walked through the open door.

Bursnell saw that this room had a long picture window with an outstanding view of the Sangre De Cristo or Blood of Christ mountains, so called because they turn red at sunset. Under the window he saw a number of high black lab tables. A number of students were sitting on high stools at the lab tables. Several conversations had been going on, but when they saw him, they stopped talking.

Bursnell cleared his throat. “My name is Bursnell Teague. I’m a prospective student. I just want to announce that I’m trying to find out what the Particulars have in their rooms, so please pass it around that if anyone knows anything and can tell me, I’d be grateful.”

A beautiful brunette girl said, “Why do you want to know?”

Bursnell swallowed to wet his dry mouth. “It’s a long story. Kind of a scavenger hunt contest between me and them. And if you ask them, they’ll say not to tell me, so…maybe best not to ask them.”

The girl had long black hair halfway down her back, neither straight nor curly but an in-between wavy.

Bursnell thought that was the best of both worlds, the ideal way for a girl’s hair to be. Her face was amazingly lovely, with high cheekbones, and her body was stunning. He thought she was drop-dead gorgeous.

The girl said, “Well, there’s no love lost between me and them. I don’t like those guys. I don’t really know you, but chances are you’re better than those jerks. So I’m on your side. How about it, folks?”

There were several murmurs of assent.

Bursnell felt a surge of hope. “That’s great, thanks! What’s your name?”

“Sharon Brandeis.”

“Thank you, Sharon.”

The tutor came in and the class began. Bursnell was paired up with Sharon. As it turned out, this music tutorial did involve a lab activity of sorts. They took a taut string tightened over two blocks and plucked it, producing a musical note. Then they put another block halfway along and plucked one side. This gave the same note an octave higher. They tried one third of the way along, and got the fifth. Bursnell found all this completely fascinating. He began to understand that music had a scientific and mathematical basis. The hour and a half flew by.

As the class was dispersing, Bursnell called out, “Does anyone know anything they can tell me about the Particulars’ rooms? By the way, the Dean is backing me on this.”

One of the students, a tanned broad-shouldered guy with a long blond ponytail whom Bursnell had heard the other students calling Tyler, said, “Wait a minute, that changes things. I don’t like the Particulars, but I’m not going to get them in trouble with the Dean.” There were murmurs of assent.

Bursnell said, “Wait, no,” but it was too late. Everyone was turning away and leaving.

CHAPTER 7—Junior math—Two new sciences

Bursnell felt awful. He had done it again. Every time he seemed to be making progress, he had to go and put his big foot in his mouth and mess it up. Open mouth, insert foot, that was his specialty. Well, he just had to keep on trying to pick himself back up. It was time for the next class.

He looked at his class schedule. Up next was Junior Math. The Particulars were Juniors, so if he wanted to make an announcement he should try to do it before any of them arrived, if they were in the class.

He made his way across the walkway to the neighboring building, found his next classroom, and walked through the door. He looked around the room. Many students, but no Particulars yet.

As they had in the previous class, the students fell silent. Normally he would have preferred that they keep talking and allow him to blend in unnoticed, but this did give him an opening to make his announcement, so he supposed he ought to be grateful. “I’m Bursnell Teague, a prospective. Please let me know if you know anything about the contents of the Particular’s rooms, because we have a contest going. And please pass the word. Thanks!”

The students began talking among themselves, probably about what he had said, Bursnell figured. Well, that was okay. He noticed that Abelard had come in and taken a seat near the door.

The tutor came in and the tutorial began. In Bursnell’s excitement a week ago about the upcoming prospective visit, he had read the readings ahead. This class was Junior Math: Galileo’s Two New Sciences.

The tutor cleared his throat and the class quieted. “Folks, this is Mr. Teague, a prospective student. Mr. Teague, I don’t suppose you happened to read the reading beforehand?”

Bursnell said, “Yes, I did.”

The tutor looked pleased. “Do you have any impressions you’d care to share with the class?”

Bursnell thought for a moment. “I thought it was fascinating how larger animals need to have proportionately thicker bones, whereas ants only need very skinny legs.”

Abelard scowled and chimed in, “To me that is completely obvious and boring.”

The tutor said, “Mr. Teague is quite right. That is a key point in the book, with implications from athletics to entomology to airplane manufacture to nanotechnology. Now I have a question for the class.”

Bursnell felt a flush of pleasure at the support from the tutor. Maybe that would raise his standing a bit in the eyes of the students, and help him in the contest with the Particulars.

The discussion moved on. Bursnell found it fascinating. Some students were scientific types and able to contribute from that skill set, whereas others less scientific were very gifted in discussion and making strong contributions to this math class from a literary point of view. Bursnell saw many different types of intelligence on display.

When the class ended, Abelard stepped out, and Bursnell asked, “Does anyone have anything to tell me?”

Bursnell heard someone clearing their throat prior to speaking, but just then Abelard stepped angrily back into the classroom and said, “I hope no one is telling this moron anything. He’s trying to get us in trouble with the dean.”

The students turned away and left. Bursnell wished he had seen the student who had been about to speak, but he hadn’t. This new way that the Particulars were spinning the story, getting them in trouble with the dean, was making his task very tough. There was a saying that a good lie could make its way around the world before the truth could get its boots on. Well, the Particulars were telling a good lie. And the truth was much too complicated to explain in a quick sound bite, so the lie was going to keep winning every time.


Bursnell jogged down to the dining hall, hoping to get to lunch ahead of any of the Particulars, so that he could make an announcement without them there to disrupt it. Then he realized that this wouldn’t work, because he would want to wait until most of the students arrived anyway. So he got in line, got his food, and sat down at a table of mostly young-looking students, although one of them appeared to be about sixty. They were in earnest discussion about a Platonic dialogue, and looked up and nodded as Bursnell sat down, then continued talking.

An intellectual-looking girl student with long kinky brown hair and black-rimmed glasses turned to him, saying in a friendly way, “I haven’t seen you around before.”

Bursnell swallowed. This girl was no one’s idea of a beauty. She had nondescript messy brown hair, dark eyebrows, and those black-rimmed glasses. She obviously did nothing with her appearance. And yet, there was something extremely feminine about her. He wanted to take her in his arms, just feel the emotion pouring from one to the other as though they were one person, one ball of feeling somehow, coterminous, no, he couldn’t describe it, he could only feel it, and oh man, could he feel it.

He gulped. “I’m a prospective. My name’s Bursnell.”

“Oh. I’m Wendy. These are—she pointed—Sarah, Cassidy, and Tyler.”

Bursnell thought that they appeared to be of different ages. Sarah had wavy auburn hair and appeared mature and serious. Cassidy and Tyler were tanned and had darkish-blonde hair, as though it had been bleached by the sun, Tyler’s in a long ponytail.

Bursnell asked, “What classes are you in?”

Cassidy answered. “Wendy’s a freshman, Tyler and I are sophomores, and Sarah’s a senior.”

Bursnell said, “So people of different classes sit together in the dining hall?”

Sarah said, “Yes, three years ago I read the same books Wendy is reading now, so there’s always plenty to talk about no matter whom you’re sitting with.”

Bursnell couldn’t restrain his curiosity on one point. “Cassidy, where did you and Tyler get those great tans?”

Tyler said, “We’re both ski instructors up at the Santa Fe Ski Basin. Snow lasts up there from late November to early April. It keeps us tanned through the winter.”

Wendy said, “Well, Bursnell, welcome to the campus. How do you like it so far?”

“I really like it a lot,” said Bursnell, “but don’t let me interrupt your conversation any more than I already have; I can just listen.”

The students continued talking.

Sarah said, “I wonder what the senior seminar question will be tonight? Mr. Turner has an opening question that he sometimes likes to ask: ‘Is it true?’ He can’t ask that tonight with The Metamorphosis.”

Wendy said, “Well, Kafka is included in the syllabus by the instruction committee in some years, and sometimes not. Plato is always in the schedule. I heard that a tutor used to say, ‘Plato may have written the book, but I’ve read it 40 times!’ How’s that for chutzpah?”

Cassidy said, “To squelch an overly talkative student, I heard a tutor say, ‘No one has ever thought that.’ If I were the student, I would definitely get the message.”

Tyler said, “A tutor said to me, ‘Mr. Berman always gives the impression of patiently enduring the St. John’s program.’ He really leaned on the ‘patiently enduring.’ It’s too bad, because maybe I do give that impression. I love it here, but I suppose I give off a melancholy vibe.”

Bursnell asked, “Say, is there a way to make an announcement?”

Wendy said, “Sure, you just ring the glasses. Do you want to make one now?”

Bursnell felt a bit shy about making an announcement in front of most of the student body, but he said, “Yes, please.”

Wendy put two glasses near each other, and began to rattle a spoon between the two. The rest of the table followed, then the entire dining hall for a few seconds.

Bursnell stood up. “I have an announcement.”

Tyler said, “Don’t say that, just make the announcement.”

Godfrey and Abelard stood up at their tables and said “Don’t listen to him. He’s trying to get us in trouble with the dean.”

A tall, lean-jawed, athletic-looking student stood up who seemed to exude a quiet strength. He said, “Come on, Mr. Higginbotham, let’s let him have his say, then you can have yours.”

Bursnell heard Cassidy say quietly to Wendy, “Ooh, that Josh is dreamy.”

Bursnell cleared his throat. “Actually, the Particulars are trying to shame me. They are holding Aphrodite hostage”—here there were a couple of snickers around the room—“until I solve a puzzle they have set me about what is in their rooms. I’d appreciated anything anyone can tell me about the contents of their rooms. Thank you.” He sat down.

Godfrey stepped forward. “That’s all wrong. Yes, we have Aphrodite at the moment, just as students have been stealing her for years, and we’ll give her back. This Bursnell Teague wants to prove that we have illegal things in our rooms, like poisonous pets, to get us in trouble. He has an old grudge from when we were at boarding school together.”

Bursnell stood up. “The Particulars admitted to me and the dean that they have a coral snake, an assassin bug, a tarantula, a deathstalker scorpion, and poison dart frogs in their rooms. The dean has said it’s not okay for next year, but that it’s too late to worry about this year. The puzzle they have set me involves saying which room has what Particular, what poison pet, what paint color, what poster, and what video game console. If I don’t solve the puzzle, the college loses the annual donation they get for displaying Aphrodite, which is a substantial amount of money. The Particulars want to get me in trouble for losing the college that money, when it’s really they who are causing it. However, they are impervious to shame, so I’m forced to solve the puzzle so that the college can get the money.” He sat down.

Godfrey laughed. “All lies, but artfully near the truth. This is all about proving that we have dangerous pets, so that we can be expelled. If he gets enough roundabout information on other things, he can prove who has which pet in a roundabout logical way that we’ve seen him use before, when he tried to get a couple of us in trouble at the boarding school. Just please don’t listen to him or tell him anything about us or our rooms. Thanks.” He sat down.

The dining hall erupted in small conversations.

Bursnell thought to himself that Godfrey’s sound bite had been a lot simpler, and that most people would believe the simpler explanation. This was a disaster.

CHAPTER 9—Sophomore math—Descartes and parabolas

Bursnell felt discouraged. Things really didn’t seem to be going his way. The Particulars were winning the battle of public opinion. What could he do now? Should he just give up?

He turned to the left and looked out west across the valley toward the Jemez mountains, then faced north across his table again and saw the beautiful ski basin mountains in the distance. There was Aspen Peak, and Lake Peak. He didn’t know the name of the mountain to the right of Lake Peak, the one on which the aspen trees made a horse’s head formation. Santa Fe Baldy was not visible from here, though you could see it from out by the opera house.

What an unusual place that opera house was. Operas only in the summer, with a roof mostly open to the rain and chilly nights, so that it was wise to wear warm clothes and bring a blanket. Out here in the high desert, the temperature dropped rapidly after sunset. Yet the weather was a fitting backdrop to the operas. He had seen Mozart’s Don Giovanni with a light rain falling in the evening chill, and it had torn at his heartstrings with a force that could not be withstood.

Strange about the mountains. They looked so different from down here from what they were when you were on top of them. Aspen Peak was wysiwyg, what you see is what you get: a rounded peak covered with aspen trees, so that when you got on top of it there was no view. Santa Fe Baldy was different. From the opera house you saw a round peak, but when you got on top of it, the back half was missing, so that it was a kind of half dome shape, although of course much less dramatic than Yosemite’s Half Dome.

Lake Peak was also like this: as he faced it out the window of the dining hall, it appeared broad, yet when you got on top of it, the western side was a cliff running down to a rock scree dropping a thousand feet into a lake, deadly dangerous if you fell. The top of the peak was tiny, about the size of a tabletop. From the dining hall he only saw the rounded shoulder blocking the pointy peak. He also saw the horse’s head, visible from down here, but invisible when you got up close to it. There was a lesson in that. Sometimes you couldn’t see the forest for the trees, and sometimes you couldn’t see the trees for the forest. Sometimes you had to step away from the information, and sometimes you had to step closer to it.

Thinking about the opera house and the mountains and the summer thunderstorms, he decided that no matter what, this place, St. John’s, was worth saving. He would do what he could to find Aphrodite and save the large donation to the school.

He began paying attention to the conversation of the students at the table around him. He had thoroughly studied the list of what books are read in what year, and he realized that there must be quite a mix of students at this one table, maybe from all four years of the program, and one graduate student studying Eastern Classics such as Zen Buddhism. He decided that it was a great feature of the campus that students from any year could join in a discussion and have things to contribute to it.

Well, it was time for his next class. He checked his schedule: Sophomore Math. The reading was Descartes’ Geometry. This should be interesting. He got up from the table, turned in his tray, and made his way up to the classroom.

He came in the door, made his usual announcement, and sat down.

The class began. Bursnell found the material fascinating. The reading and discussion were about using the points on a graph to draw a parabola. Burnsell had a sudden insight. He knew he shouldn’t join in the discussion. He was only supposed to listen. Yet he couldn’t contain himself. “Excuse me, I have an insight. It is this: all parabolas are the same shape. They are only different sizes.”

Cassidy responded, “No, that’s clearly not true, because some are very flat, whereas some are very skinny. Take y equals four x squared, that would be very skinny, whereas y equals one fourth x squared would be very wide and flat.”

Bursnell said, “No, we’re only looking at a smaller part of the parabola y equals one fourth x squared. If we calculated out to large values of it, it would look tall and skinny like the other. The key is that both pass through a point where y equals x. Y equals four x squared passes through the point (1/4,1/4), whereas y equals one fourth x squared passes through the point (4,4).”

Tyler said, “But it would be true of hyperbolas too: we’re either looking at a very small flat piece or a very large skinny piece.”

Bursnell said, “Not so. You can’t name a point that will be common—”

“—Mr. Teague,” the tutor interrupted, “I’m sorry, but this is not making sense to anyone, and we need to get back to the discussion. Since you’re a prospective, please just listen for the duration of the class and don’t talk.”

Bursnell consoled himself by thinking about a quote from Isaac Asimov, “The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” He said no more.

CHAPTER 10—Freshman music—chorus

Bursnell felt sad. He had lost face in the eyes of these students, who didn’t understand what he was saying, and would think him not only an imbecile but an interrupting, discussion-hogging imbecile as well. That would not help him find the statue.

He could see it now. These students would tell their friends. A rumor would spread across the campus. “Can you believe it? We had a prospective student who hogged the discussion in Sophomore Math tutorial about some crazy idea he had. Something about all parabolas being the same shape. What was his name? Bush League, or something like that. What a nut case!”

He felt a lump in his throat, and for a few minutes had a hard time concentrating on the discussion. Well, from his point of view there was no doubt this school was the right college for him, because he was finding these classes totally fascinating. Now if he could just keep his mouth shut in class while he was a prospective, so that they would accept him as a student! Also, he had to avoid seeming obnoxious, so that students would give him information to help him find the statue. It was a delicate balance, actually. He resolved to try to stay more present to the situation around him, and to try to be more aware of the thoughts and feelings of others.

The class broke up. Now what was his next class? He consulted his notes. Freshman Chorus. That sounded interesting. His instructions said that he had to make his way to a large room upstairs in the Peterson Center, the large building that housed the switchboard at one end, coffee shop in the middle, and cafeteria at the other end. He passed by a green lawn with a willow tree on his left, an unusual feature in this desert. Bursnell decided it had been put there for folks homesick for greenery, yet the desert itself had become beautiful to him, and he knew that less than an hour’s drive away up at the ski basin there was all the Alpine greenery you could want, at least in summer. That was part of the beauty of Santa Fe: the contrast of greenery with the desert.

Without descending to the ground floor of the Peterson Center, he was able to use a path that stayed up above the fishpond and come in at the second floor, use the restroom, then make his way down the hall. He stopped for a moment to admire the view south out the large picture windows. He knew that the mighty Rocky Mountains came down from Canada, and their last foothills ended at Santa Fe. Then there were sixty miles of flat plain down to the Sandia Mountains above Albuquerque. He could see that flat plain spread out before him. Well, comparatively flat. The plain was interrupted by a few high conical hills, and there was also the slope of La Bajada Hill. He had heard that in the old days a Model T going from Albuquerque to Santa Fe used to have to back up La Bajada, because reverse was the car’s lowest gear.

He stepped into the large Great Hall, a beautiful room with a wooden parquet floor. He had arrived before the tutor, and there were about four students there, so he stepped up on the stage, and said loudly, “May I have your attention, please!”

A few students looked over, but then resumed their conversations. Bursnell said more loudly, “Your attention, please!” The students just spoke louder in order to drown him out.

This was quite discouraging. Well, if raising his voice made them raise theirs, he’d try lowering his. He began speaking quietly. After a few moments, many of the students became quiet from curiosity to hear what he was saying. Some shushed their neighbors. Bursnell thought to himself that shushing can sometimes be noisier than the original hubbub itself. In any case, the crowd began to quiet down, and Bursnell began. “Raise your hand if you have heard my announcement already.”

About a third of the students raised their hands.

“In that case, just briefly.” He gave a brief version of his announcement. “If any of you have anything to tell me, just come and see me soon, please. Thank you.” He looked out over the faces. No one looked as if they had anything to tell him. He stepped down from the stage, feeling disappointed that no one seemed to have anything to tell him.

The tutor (a Mr. Gordon, according to Bursnell’s schedule) arrived and the class began.

Mr. Gordon was a kindly-looking man, with wrinkles around the corners of his eyes that showed when he smiled, which seemed to be often. “Mr. Teague, please sing your lowest note.”

Bursnell felt put on the spot. “I don’t know what it is.”

“That’s okay, just sing something lowish and walk down from there until you can’t go down any more.

Bursnell did.

The kindly Mr. Gordon said, “Now go up to your highest note.”

Bursnell produced an ugly squeak. His voice had been breaking lately, often giving him embarrassment.

Mr. Gordon appeared to be making a valiant effort not to wince. “The students are divided into four sections: sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses. Let’s put you with the basses, over there.” He pointed to the back quadrant of the large room, far from the stage, on the side with the balcony looking up to the ski basin mountains. He handed Bursnell a booklet of music, opening it to the first page. “See this line with what looks sort of like a backwards C with a colon? That’s the bass clef. The bass part is the lower one in that line. Just try to follow along, and see how you do.”

Mr. Gordon began playing the grand piano, and the students began singing. Bursnell found that by listening to the other basses around him singing and looking at the music, he was actually able to follow along somewhat, and even begin to sing a bit. It was actually a joy. Singing a harmony part seemed to stimulate a pleasure center in his brain, similar to the enjoyment he got from solving a logic puzzle. It reminded him of the book The Young Unicorns by Madeleine L’Engle, where people are manipulated by stimulating certain centers of their brains. What a terrific book that was.

He had read about the left brain and right brain. Scientists had observed people with skull damage, and had learned that certain skills resided in the left hemisphere of the brain, while others resided in the right hemisphere. The theory went that the left half dealt with logic, accuracy, numbers, analytical skills, reason, practicality, strategy, control, science, and the realistic. The right half of the brain dealt with intuition, love, poetry, freedom, passion, the vivid, creativity, yearning, and peace. He was aware that there were many exceptions to all this, that it wasn’t cut and dried or black and white, and that it was a theory that many people loved to hate anyway. Yet for him, life was all about the division between the left and right brain. He felt that he was strong in the left-brain skills and weak in the right-brain ones.

Bursnell felt insecure in his opinions about squishy subjects like literature and philosophy, the subject matter of the class called seminar at St. John’s, and fled to the certainty that he found in math and the sciences, yet he felt that St. John’s would help give him balance. Also he had just begun to hear that certainty even in the sciences is questionable, from books about quantum physics, like The Dancing Wu Li Masters, for example.

Bursnell became aware that everyone was looking at him. “Sorry?”

Mr. Gordon said, “I asked if you’re doing okay with the music.”

Bursnell said, “Oh, yes, quite well thanks. Sorry, my thoughts had drifted there for a minute, but I find that I can sing the bass part even with the other parts going. There’s a tendency to get pulled onto the melody, which I guess is the soprano part, but I am able to stay on the bass, especially with all these other basses around me. And I find that singing the harmony part is a real pleasure—”

Mr. Gordon held up his hand, smiling. “Okay, good. Moving on, then.” And he began playing the next song.

Bursnell realized he had been talking too much, and felt chagrined. Again, this would make the students disinclined to help him.

The class ended. This was the last class of the afternoon, so he waited to see if anyone came over to talk to him. One by one, the students all drifted away, until he was the only one left in the large parquet-floored Great Hall.

CHAPTER 11—Meal plans puzzle

Bursnell felt discouraged. He had had zero success today, zero clues. The Particulars had given him eight clues. He had four days (Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday) to find eight more clues, and so far in all this long Thursday he had found none. He’d have to improve his rate from zero clues per day to an absolute minimum of two per day, or he was not going to succeed in solving the puzzle by Sunday night. And even then, of course, the clues would have to be not just any clues, but exactly the ones needed to solve the puzzle.

What was worse, he was getting serious announcement fatigue. He considered himself a shy person, and this situation, having to make announcements to large groups of students older than himself, well, he just couldn’t take it anymore. He decided to go see the dean.

Stepping out of the parquet-floored great hall into the white floor of the upstairs hallway, he turned left and went east along the hall, then down the stairs to the right, out the door and along the concrete walkway toward the administration building. Again he had an odd impression of a brief flash of light from the bell tower, as though the sun had momentarily glinted off of something shiny. It must be the bell, he supposed. He went into the building, and then knocked on the door of the dean’s office.

“Come in.”

“Hello, dean, do you have a moment, please?”

“Certainly, what’s up?”

“Well, I have two things to say. The first is that I’m feeling exhausted. Four classes today, and then we still have seminar tonight. I’m not sure I can hack it as a student here.”

“Oh, Bursnell, that’s easy. It’s only because you’re a prospective that we let you see four tutorials in a day, to give you a chance to see many of the classes. As a student, you would have one or two classes a day, and then lots of time to read and prepare for them.”

“Dean, that’s a relief, thank you.”

“You said you had two things to say. What’s the second?”

“I wanted to let you know, I don’t think I can keep on making these announcements. I just can’t take it anymore.”

“Wait, you’ve been making announcements?”

“Of course, I felt that I had to.”

“When have you made them?”

“Before every class I was in, and at lunchtime.”

“Bursnell, that’s really good. I’m amazed.”

“Well, there was no other way I could have a chance of getting any clues.”

“I see that. I’m sorry, that hadn’t even occurred to me.”

“Well, I’m too shy and I just can’t do it anymore.”

“I’ll tell you what—I’ll make any remaining announcements.”

“Dean, that would be great, thanks very much.”

“How many more announcements are needed, do you think, Bursnell?”

“Well, let’s see. What kinds of meal plans are there?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean…hmm, let’s see. Dean, how are you at logic puzzles?”

“Okay, I guess. I did well enough in logic when I was a student here.”

“Well, suppose I give you a simple puzzle. Setting aside the meal plans the college actually offers, let’s consider the plans the college could theoretically offer. There are three meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Maybe there are only two plans, all or nothing: prepay to eat any time all year, or prepay no meals and pay as you go. Or there may be other plans like lunch and dinner only. This puzzle falls in the domains of logic, statistics, and probability. Care to try it? We could write it this way.” He wrote on the board.


Puzzle: Enumerate all the possible meal plans including breakfast, lunch, and dinner, from none to all with every possibility in between.

CHAPTER 12—Meal plans puzzle solution

The dean said, “Well, let’s see, I would say that the possibilities are: no meals, dinner, lunch dinner, breakfast lunch dinner, so four plans.”

“Take your time.”

“Hmm. How about no meals, breakfast, lunch, dinner, all meals, so five plans.”

“Remember, we’re not talking about the plans they actually offer, but the ones they could theoretically offer.”

“How about no meals, breakfast, lunch, dinner, lunch dinner, breakfast lunch dinner, so that’s six plans.”

“Is that your final answer?”


“My answer is this. I go from smallest to largest in an ordered way.” Bursnell wrote on the board.


Possible meal plans (there are eight):










The dean said, “I like how you did that. Nicely organized.”

Bursnell felt a jolt of pleasure at the dean’s compliment. “Now, what meal plans does the dining hall actually offer?”

“I think it’s no meals, dinner, lunch dinner, breakfast lunch dinner, so four plans.”

Bursnell said, “In that case, I think we need an announcement before one occurrence of each meal, to catch people from every type of meal plan. I took care of making an announcement at lunch, today. We still need one before tonight’s dinner, and one before tomorrow’s breakfast. That does it for the meals. Then one before tomorrow night’s lecture would be good. Dinner, breakfast, lecture. That’s everything. Do you mind making all those announcements?”

“No, that’s no problem, I’m happy to do it. Is there anything special you’d like me to say?”

“Well, every time I stand up and make an announcement, the Particulars try to discredit it. They say I’m lying, that I stole the painting at the Boarding School and they turned me in, whereas it really happened the other way around: they stole it and I turned them in. Could you just explain the current situation, and then give that back story?”

“Well, I’ll have to think about whether I can name names. The Particulars’ families are large donors to the school.”

“Okay, so can you just say that someone stole the painting, that Bursnell caught the thief, and that the current Aphrodite kidnapping is a prank gone wrong.”

“Sure, I can do that, and I may be able to say more; I’ll think about it.”

“Then can you meet me at the dining hall today at six p.m., please?”

“Absolutely, happy to do it. By the way, how are you coming along with getting clues? Has anyone volunteered information?”

“No, I’m exactly where I was when the Particulars gave me their partial list of clues. I need to be acquiring clues at the rate of several a day, because some of them may not be the ones I need. Having zero additional clues at this point isn’t good.”

The dean’s face fell. “I see. Well, let’s hope that my announcements will help. See you at six.”


CHAPTER 13—The library

Bursnell headed out of the dean’s office and over to the library, installing himself at one of the internet stations. His plan was to find a copy of the Einstein puzzle online. He would solve that one as a practice run toward solving the version presented by the Particulars. He couldn’t be sure that his version would track exactly with the Particulars’ version, which would have made things easier, but it would at least give some general help.

He googled Einstein puzzle, and got many versions, as Godfrey had said. He tried googling zebra puzzle, found a good article on Wikipedia, and decided to use a version from the 1962 issue of Life International. He copied down the puzzle for solving later.

Bursnell couldn’t remember which version of the puzzle he had solved before. In any case, he felt pretty sure that by solving this zebra puzzle, he would be solving a puzzle that was just as hard as other versions of the Einstein puzzle, and equivalent to them.

Come to think of it, he seemed to remember solving the puzzle without using the usual large grid, and using only a chart like this. He would try that again. He had everything he needed to solve it right here on this page. He would tackle it when he got a chance. He had some time before he was supposed to meet the dean at dinner. Should he work on the zebra puzzle now?

He had the feeling that a good idea was at the edge of his consciousness, then it was gone.


Bursnell felt frustrated. He felt sure he had been about to have a good idea.

Let’s see, he thought to himself. He had been thinking about the passover seder question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” He could change that to, “What is it about this puzzle that is different from other puzzles?”

Well, you might say that the main characteristic of the Einstein puzzle, also called the Five Neighbors puzzle, is who lives next to whom. Not that this made the puzzle different from all other puzzles, but it was the defining characteristic of the puzzle, and the central pivot of difficulty on which the puzzle turned.

Suddenly the good idea he had almost had before came back. It might just work…He would try it.

He emptied his backpack, put it on, locked his dorm room, and went out to his bicycle, which he had ridden from the Santa Fe Boarding School to St. John’s. He unlocked the bicycle, climbed on, and made his way down to Cordova Street. Sure enough, here was the gun store he had sometimes passed by. He wasn’t here for a gun, but there might be something else that he could buy at this store that would help him.

He locked his bike outside the store, walked in the door, and went up to the counter. “Do you sell M-80s?”

The burly individual behind the counter had a leather vest, snakes tattooed around his bulging biceps, spiked wrist bracelets, and a nose ring. He said, “M-80s have been illegal since 1966.”

Bursnell was disappointed. “Oh, I didn’t know that. Well, do you by any chance sell them anyway?”

The counterman looked annoyed. “No, we don’t. Look, kid, M-80s are legal in Canada, but even there, no one would sell them to a kid as young as you.”

Bursnell felt a lump in his throat. “Okay, thank you, sir.” He turned and walked out the door of the shop.

CHAPTER 15—A big firecracker

Bursnell felt very disappointed. His idea had seemed like a good one, yet it seemed as though there was no way to implement it, if no one would sell him an M-80.

Well, no point wasting further thought on this.

He spun the combination lock on his bicycle four times to the right.

Then he decided to slow down a bit and think about the problem one more time. Sometimes when something seemed impossible, you were making a wrong assumption, or asking the wrong question. He had asked the counterman whether he could buy an M-80. In fact, that was the wrong question.

He went back into the store and up to the counter. “Excuse me, sir.”

“Yes, what is it now?”

“Well, suppose I just wanted to make a really loud bang. Could I buy something that would do that?”

“Sure, that you can do. Come this way.” The counterman lifted the counter, came out, and then led Bursnell to a shelf of fireworks. He took a rocket from the shelf and passed it to Bursnell. “Just buy this rocket.”

Bursnell thought a bit more. “Actually, I don’t even need it to go up in the air. What I really want is to just to make a loud boom at ground level, to cause some people to look out of their windows.”

“Okay, for that, buy this loud boomer firecracker.” The counterman handed Bursnell a large firecracker. “All it does is go boom very loudly.”

Bursnell took the firecracker gratefully. “That sounds perfect.”

They went back to the counter and Bursnell paid for the firecracker.

The counterman looked at him carefully. “Have you had much experience with fireworks?”

Bursnell said, “No, sir.”

The counterman said, “Well, be very careful when you light it. Just light the end of the fuse until you see it start to burn, then get thirty feet away and put your hands over your ears. If it doesn’t seem to be going off, do not go back and check it. Lots of accidents happen that way. That’s a one-minute fuse, so I’d say if it doesn’t go off, wait five minutes, then go pour a bucket of sand over the firecracker to smother the fire, then wait another two minutes. If that fuse has partly burned and gone out, come back and I’ll give you another one for free. Don’t try to light it with a fuse any shorter than the one that’s on it now. Have you got all that?”

Bursnell said, “Yes, sir.”

The counterman gave him a cigarette lighter, adjusted it for him, and gave him a lesson in using it.

Bursnell said, “Say, thanks for all the good advice. For a scary-looking guy, you’re actually nice.”

The counterman glowered. “Kid, get outta here, before I break your arm.”

Bursnell wasn’t fooled. This guy had a heart of gold. He walked out smiling.

CHAPTER 16—Dinner

Bursnell arrived at the dining hall a couple of minutes before six, and took his place in the queue, about 10th in line. The dean arrived shortly afterward, and joined Bursnell. The students suggested that they move to the front of the line, but the dean was happy to wait. She seemed to be popular, even though she had a reputation for being stern and tough when necessary. Other students in the queue chatted casually and happily with the dean, and the couple of minutes passed quickly until the dining hall doors opened and they filed into the cafeteria and filled their trays with food. The dean took a central table and invited Bursnell and some other students to join her. Bursnell was happy to listen to the dean and the students, who were having a conversation about famous pranks from past years. It had become traditional to have a prank at the annual lectures by Mortimer Adler, a famous Great Books scholar, and the dean had many stories from those days.

The dean was animated, her black eyes flashing. “I remember a prank where the seniors occupied the back rows of the sloping auditorium in Annapolis and rolled BBs down, the BBs pinging off of the legs of the stadium seats and collecting against the stage, turning the auditorium into a giant pinball or pachinko machine. There was another prank where Adler was interrupted by the curtain behind him rising on a tableau of students representing the painting The School of Athens, with Aristotle missing. Raphael goes around repeating, “Where’s Aristotle?” He then finds Adler, and leads him to Aristotle’s place in the painting. Very clever!” She looked at her watch. “It’s 6:30. How about it, Bursnell, does this seem like a good time?”

“Well, there’s no one left in line, the dining hall seems about as full as it’s going to get, and we don’t want people leaving. Yes, I would say this is a good time.”

“Then can I have you folks clink your glasses, please?” the dean asked the students at the table, who began tapping their glasses with their spoons. The same happened at other tables, until the hall was filled with clinking.

The dean stood up, and the hall quieted.

“Folks, you have probably heard a couple of announcements on this topic, so I’m sorry to bore you again, but this is important, and I need to make sure you hear about it. For one thing, Bursnell Teague deserves credit for having the courage to make announcements, more courage than I would have had as a prospective student.”

“About authority: I don’t want to boss anyone around on this, and there’s a tendency to resent authority, so I hope you’ll set that aside. Instead, I want to speak as an authority in the sense of truth. You have been hearing some things that weren’t true, and I want to correct those.”

“Many years ago, the college received a bequest of a large amount of money every year on condition that the statue of Aphrodite be displayed once a year. For various reasons, the administration chose to display the statue during Reality weekend. The statue is often kidnapped as a prank, and returned in time for Reality weekend, in time to collect the bequest. This year, the kidnappers have insisted that they will only give the statue back if Mr. Teague here solves a logic puzzle. The kidnappers are the students known as the Particulars. I have spoken with them, and they are sticking to their position. They don’t mind costing the college this year’s large bequest. They seem impervious to public opinion, and impervious to shame.”

“You may have heard some distortions of the truth from them. They were at the same boarding school as Mr. Teague. While there, two of them stole an expensive painting. Mr. Teague did some clever detective work and recovered the painting, and those two were punished. Their attempt at revenge is to make Mr. Teague be the cause of the college’s losing the large bequest, by his failure to solve a logic puzzle. Unfortunately, we have no leverage over them, because their academic work is satisfactory, and their families are all large donors to St. John’s, well above their tuition. I have spoken with the families, and they are disinclined to help us on this. Our only course of action to recover the bequest seems to be for Mr. Teague to solve the logic puzzle. The logic puzzle concerns the contents of the Particulars’ rooms. They gave him eight clues out of a necessary sixteen. Therefore, we need your help to supply Mr. Teague with any information you have on the contents of the Particulars’ rooms. Thank you.”

CHAPTER 17—Seminar—Kafka’s Metamorphosis

Bursnell went back to his dorm room, brushed his teeth, and flopped down on his bed. He wanted to tackle the logic puzzle, because it was so important to the school, but he was also tempted to read the short story The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka before seminar, so that he would understand the discussion. Maybe he could just glance at the story a bit. He opened the book, which he had borrowed from the library.


Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams to find that he had been transformed into a giant cockroach.


Bursnell looked up from the page. What a way to open. He found himself fascinated from the start. In spite of having greater confidence with logic and science than with the creative realms, he enjoyed very imaginative fiction. He knew that his father Ladislaw Teague was an immensely practical man who read mostly non-fiction, but if Ladislaw ever read any fiction, then he liked it to be completely realistic. Bursnell, on the other hand, loved to travel out of this world with the most far-flung stories of magic, science fiction, and fantasy.

He continued reading, and became completely absorbed.

He read the last sentence, and it was like waking from a dream. He glanced at the clock. Where had the time gone? He had just enough time—he hurried down to seminar and took a seat in one of the wooden chairs that seemed to be everywhere on the campus. The senior next to him was a slender, gorgeous blonde. He usually favored brunettes, but this one could have drawn him over to the light side, if she weren’t a senior and out of his league. He leaned over to her. “Hello, I’m Bursnell, a prospective.”

“Hi, I’m McKenzie.” She shook his hand.

“I just wanted to ask about these chairs. I see them everywhere on campus: the dean’s office, the cafeteria, the classrooms. Does the college have a deal with the manufacturer or something?”

“No idea about that. These are Clore chairs, made by a company called Clore. We call them ‘The Johnnie Chair.’ Freshmen like to use them as examples in seminars on Plato’s forms, the eidos of chair.”

“Interesting, thanks!”

Bursnell swore that this time at least, he would just listen to the class and not say a word. He was interested to note that unlike the tutorials, there were actually two tutors present at seminar, one at each end of the table. One of the tutors began things with a question, asking the question, “Is it true?”

The students thought for a bit, and then the discussion began.

The lean-jawed Josh, so admired by Cassidy, said, “Obviously not. No one has ever heard of a person being transformed into a giant cockroach.”

A student (Bursnell remembered that her name was Ashley) said, “Ah, but another way of looking at it is, are there lessons and universal truths to be found in the story.” And the discussion was off and running.

After a while, it morphed into a discussion of whether reading an imaginative story like this was worthwhile. A couple of students felt that it was a waste of time.

Again the discussion changed shape, now to talking about why this was considered one of the great works of western literature.

And then to whether the events of the story symbolized anything.

And what the story meant.

And whether the story in fact had any meaning.

And whether it would be okay if it didn’t have meaning, and didn’t symbolize anything directly.

The tutors were mostly holding back, definitely not in lecture mode, just letting the students discover things in the text for themselves, guiding the discussion skillfully from time to time, toning down a student who was talking far too much, encouraging another who seemed almost too shy to enter the discussion, and whose point was getting dumped on by the others.

Bursnell was completely impressed at the quality of the discussion. In his opinion, Josh, Ashley, Sarah, and a couple of others were being nothing short of brilliant. He felt that he wasn’t very skilled at this kind of discussion yet. Nevertheless, he supposed that it was a skill that he needed to shore up, and that maybe by the time he was a senior, he could participate in a discussion as these students were doing.

He also felt the respect in which seminar was held at St. John’s, above the tutorials. It was that right brain versus left brain thing again. Most schools taught to the left brain: scientific knowledge. St. John’s was one of very few that leaned more heavily toward the right brain: intuition, love, poetry, freedom, passion, creativity, literature, philosophy. Seminar was the great right-brained capstone of St. John’s. Students who were good at seminar were admired by their peers. They got more dates, just as the football team captain and homecoming queen got more at another school. He wanted to become good at seminar one day.

The two hours went by quickly. At least for this one class, he had succeeded in keeping his big mouth shut. Maybe his being silent would cause someone to come to him with a clue. He waited.

The class ended, and the students filed out. Still no clues.

CHAPTER 18—Murder game

Bursnell felt discouraged. Talking and making announcements hadn’t helped. Being quiet hadn’t helped. It seemed that there was nothing he could do to make anyone give him clues. All he could do was wait. It was really frustrating.

So where could he go from here?

An idea occurred to him. He was finding the auditing of the classes to be mind-opening in the extreme. Maybe if he just kept on attending classes and listening, he might achieve some kind of thinking out of the box that would help him solve the puzzle.

He was thinking about getting undressed and taking a shower, when there was a knock on his door.

Fearful of the Particulars, he called out, “Who’s there?”

A girl’s voice answered, “This is Sharon, from Biology, remember? We’re going to play a game called The Murder Game, and we wondered if you’d like to join.”

Bursnell came out, locking his door behind him. “Sure, sounds great, thanks!”

“These are my friends Tyler and Rachel.”

“I’ve already met Tyler. Nice to meet you, Rachel.”

Rachel was a petite brunette, with just the cutest little-girl face you could possibly imagine. Tyler and Rachel were draped all over each other, obviously boyfriend and girlfriend. Bursnell decided he could have gotten very interested in Rachel if she hadn’t had a boyfriend.

On the other hand, Sharon was not only gorgeous, but was also nice to him. He decided he really liked her, just plain had a crush on her, even though he had only known her a day. Hey, he mentally quoted, “Who ever loved that loved not at first sight,” right? That was from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. “So how do you play this game?”

She smiled at him, causing Bursnell’s heart to leap. “We call it the Murder Game. Have you ever heard of it, or of Cutthroat Mafia, or Murder in the Dark, or Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Well, it’s similar to those games, but it’s our simplified version. Probably closest to Cutthroat Mafia.” Sharon explained the rules to Bursnell, and he caught on quickly as they walked down to the Evans Science Lab, Room 101, where many students had already assembled. Including Sharon and himself, Bursnell counted 20 students. Bursnell noticed that all five of the Particulars were in the crowd of players. Sharon pointed out the students to him. In addition to the ones he had met or heard of already, there were Isabel, Zack, Xavier, Maya, and Fatima.

A pack of 20 cards was assembled and shuffled, containing four face cards representing the murderers. Each student took a card, which they glanced at without showing anyone and put in a pocket. Bursnell had drawn the eight of clubs, so he was one of the normal townspeople, not a murderer. The students began to disperse and wander the halls, stairways, and classrooms of the building. The lights were turned off.

Bursnell figured that he should not cling to Sharon’s apron strings, but be independent. He decided to make his way up to the second floor. He was just coming up the stairs, his eyes just coming above floor level, when in the faint light from the outside windows he saw five students go into room 210, but then only one student came out: Abelard Dumont. Bursnell remained very still. If Abelard headed for the stairs, Bursnell would have to run for the sanctuary area, Room 101 and thirty feet from it. Abelard didn’t see him, turned the other way, and went down the hallway.

Bursnell crested the stairs, went into room 210, saw four students standing there, and said, “Are you dead?”

The students answered, “Yes.”

Bursnell shouted, “Murder!” The call was repeated down the halls, and the lights came on. Bursnell and the four corpses made their way down to room 101, where they found all the other students already gathered.

Bursnell said, “I found these stiffs in room 210, and I know who killed them. I saw Abelard and these four go into room 210. I could see all the exits from the room. Only Abelard came out. I went and asked these folks if they were dead, and they were. Case closed.”

(The corpses were looking carefully expressionless, as they were supposed to, so as not to give anything away.)

Sharon said, “Well, what about it, people, shall we lynch Abelard, see his card, and find out whether Bursnell is right?”

Baldron raised a hand. “Ahem. I would counsel against it. We have only Bursnell’s word against Abelard’s, isn’t that right, Abelard? Did you murder these four?”

Abelard said, “No way, I was down in the basement. It’s pitch dark there, with no light from outside windows, so maybe no one saw me.”

Baldron said, “What I say is this: it’s not fair that Abelard should have to leave the game so early, with hardly a chance to play.”

Godfrey said, “This Bursnell kid has had it in for the five of us ever since he wanted to join our gang in boarding school and we said no. Then he stole a painting and we caught him and turned him in.”

Bursnell said, “They’re the ones—“

“—Ever since,” Godfrey overrode him, “he has just tried to do anything against us that he can, including making up this lie about Abelard to get him out of the game.”

Chesley just looked amused.

Baldron said, “Okay, can we take this as decided: we won’t vote Abelard out at this time, but will wait for a better case against him, where it’s not just his word against another person’s?”

The other students murmured their assent, and the game recommenced. The students filed out the door, and moved beyond the safe zone 30 feet from the door of Room 101.


Bursnell felt quite frustrated that he knew the murderer but could not persuade the other students. He waited for the five Particulars to go out the door, and began following them at a discreet distance. They gathered close together and spoke in low tones. Someone turned out the lights. Bursnell continued following. The Particulars stayed together, going up the west stairs to the second floor, along to the far end, back down to the first floor, and back along the first floor hallway. As they neared the west end, three Particulars including Abelard stayed between Bursnell and the safe zone, while two peeled off and went up to the second floor. Bursnell saw what they were doing, very clever. They would send the two along the second floor, then back down to the first floor to come up behind him in a pincer movement, then Abelard would tap him on the shoulder and say, “You’re dead.”

Bursnell was about to hurry back down the first floor hallway to hide, when a cry of “Murder!” went up and the lights came on, representing daylight and extending the safe zone to everywhere. He made his way into classroom 101, where a few of the students had gathered.

Bursnell said, “While we wait for folks to gather, I’ll draw a map of the building on the board that might be useful to us.”


Evans Science Lab


As Bursnell finished drawing and the last student came in, Abelard said, “That is way too complicated. We’ve played this game many times, and we’ve never needed a map like that.” He began erasing the map.

Bursnell was hurt. He adjusted quickly. “Okay, well, how about a simpler map like this,” and he quickly drew a simpler map on a board on the opposite wall.


Evans Science Lab


Abelard said, “We’ve never needed any map, Little Nell.”

Bursnell said, “Well, I’ll leave it up in case it’s any use.”

Abelard said, “No, thanks, Nelly.” and erased that map as well.

The rest of the students had gathered.

Bursnell said, “I have a couple more ideas for this game. We could designate some weapon cards, like the ones in the board game Clue: wrench, lead pipe, revolver, candlestick, knife, rope, dumbbell, trophy, poison. We could also introduce a character called The Riddler. Murderers tell the Riddler things, then the Riddler’s function is just to give mysterious clues like, “The murderer of Sarah has an initial in the first half of the alphabet. Those things could make the game more like a logic puzzle. Raise your hand if you want to add some rules like that.”

No hands went up.

Sharon said, “Bursnell, you get points for imaginativeness, but those ideas don’t seem fully fleshed out enough for us to try them tonight. Maybe another time.”

Hyperion said, “Where’s the corpse?”

Sharon said, “I saw Xavier try to murder Zack, in room 106, where I was hiding behind a cabinet. Xavier put his hand on Zack’s shoulder and said something. Zack pulled out his card and showed it to Xavier, and then they both went out the door. That must mean that Zack is a murderer too. It was dark, but I’m quite sure it was Xavier and Zack, because I recognized their silhouettes, as well as their voices. So let’s lynch Xavier and Zack. Everyone okay with that?”

There was a general murmur of agreement. Xavier and Zack were made to show their cards. A Jack and a King: Murderers!

The handsome Josh said, “Great work, Sharon! So that’s four villagers dead, two murderers executed, twelve villagers and two murderers left.”

Bursnell said, “I have something to mention—“

“—Oh, shut up, Teague,” Abelard said.

Josh said, “No, let him speak.”

Bursnell said, “I’ve noticed that the Particulars seem to be playing this game together. They go around together, operating as a unit of five people. I think they have shown each other their cards. I think that at least one of them is a murderer, but he is not killing the others. Instead, the others are helping the murderer or murderers. Is it against the rules for them to collude like this?”

Josh said, “Well, let’s see. If this is so, it’s a slight drag for the villagers, because it means that several folks who would be on the side of the villagers are on the side of the murderers.”

Sharon said, “That’s true, but a good strategy for villagers would be to show each other their cards and be able to eliminate each other as murderers, to help in deducing who the murderers are. So I think it should be okay.”

Josh said, “Besides, our goal is to keep the rules as simple as possible, so let’s not add a rule against collusion.”

Abelard said, “Yeah, take that, Turdsmell.”

Sharon said, “Abelard, let’s get beyond junior high school.”

Bursnell had heard that insult before, and let it go. “I would still urge us to lynch Abelard.”

Josh said, “If he is really a murderer, then he’s a known threat. People can stay away from him. If the number of villagers gets small, we can lynch him then.”

CHAPTER 20—A table and an ally

Bursnell was frustrated at the students’ refusal to listen to him. Why did he always have to be a social pariah? At the boarding school, it was just that he was different, but it still hurt. Here at St. John’s, he knew he was surrounded by students who were as smart as students anywhere. He supposed that he just needed to improve his speaking skills. Also, once he was a regular student and not just a prospective, things would get better, he was sure.

The villagers dispersed once again, and the lights went out, symbolizing the falling of night.

Bursnell decided to remain behind in room 101 and draw two more tables on the board, by the faint light from outside the room. The first table was the simplest map yet. The second was a list of names. At the beginning of the game, Sharon had told him the name of every student there, and he was able to remember most of them and fill in the table.

Bursnell went out into the darkened hallway, but had taken only a few steps when the cry of “Murder!” went up. He came back into the room and turned up the lights.

The students filed back in.

Bursnell said, “I have one more idea.”

There was a chorus of “Not again,” but Josh, who seemed to be a leader of sorts, said, “No, let him speak.”

Godfrey said, “Yes, maybe if we give him enough rope, he’ll hang himself.”

Bursnell ignored that. “My idea is to use Hyperion’s skill at reading people.”

Hyperion’s jaw dropped. “How did you know about that? I haven’t told anyone about that, not even my closest friends.”

Bursnell said, “Don’t worry about it; like you, I just know things sometimes. So here’s how it can work. We write the place where the body was found, second floor west, or 2w for short. Then we go through and ask each person where they were at the time of the murder. We only need to record the people that were near the murder. A murderer may try to lie and say they were somewhere else, and Hyperion may realize that they are lying.”

Hyperion said, “I like this a lot. Let’s try it.”

Bursnell pointed to his charts on the board on the back wall, which no one had noticed. “It’s not necessary to use tables, but if we wanted to, we could use these.”


Evans Science Lab




“As you can see, I’ve begun filling in the table. For the first murder, McKenzie, Rachel, Tyler, and Wendy were corpses found on the 2nd floor west, and people there at the time were Abelard, Baldron, Bursnell, Chesley, Godfrey, and Hyperion. For the second time the lights came on I’m filling in Zack and Xavier as murderers.”

Abelard began walking toward the back of the room to erase the tables from the board.

The larger Hyperion blocked his way. “Don’t erase those tables. And don’t erase them when the lights go out either, or I’ll know you did it and I will hurt you. So Particulars, I’m still with you, but for the duration of this game, I’m with Bursnell. I want to use my people-reading skills. And hey, Bursnell, nice idea with the table.”

Bursnell swallowed. “Er, thanks, just a work in progress, feel free to improve it.”

The villagers dispersed once again, and night fell. Bursnell decided to challenge fear by walking through the pitch-black basement hallway. He went down the west stairs and into complete darkness. There were no classrooms here, just locked storage rooms, so the hall was in effect just a blank hallway with no obstructions. It was a question of feeling one’s way along the walls in absolute blackness, listening for the slightest sound. Bursnell found it a very scary challenge. A couple of times he thought of just retreating to the west stairs and going back up, but then he decided he would like the achievement of making it all the way from one end of the hallway to the other in the pitch darkness. As he neared what he figured might be about the middle of the hallway, he heard voices talking in low tones. He carefully approached closer. It sounded like…yes, it was Josh and Abelard.

Josh was saying, “I think we should take out Bursnell. He’s actually pretty smart.”

Bursnell was electrified. So Josh was a murderer! No wonder he had argued against lynching Abelard.

Abelard said, “I’ve been trying to. He’s a slippery little devil.”

Josh said, “I got two on the first floor, how about you?”

Abelard said, “Me too.”

Bursnell didn’t need to hear any more. He retreated down the black hallway, shouted “Murder!” and ran up the stairs into the safe zone.

There were other calls of “Murder!” from elsewhere in the building. The students gathered, bringing their discovered corpses with them.

Bursnell raised his hand.

Josh ignored him. “Everyone tell where you found your corpses.”

Sharon said, “I found two on the second floor.”

Two other students found two each on the first floor.

Bursnell was waving his hand. Finally he gave up and shouted, “Abelard and Josh are the murderers. I overheard them talking in the basement hallway.”

Josh said, “You’ve only known me an hour, I don’t see how you can recognize my voice. I wasn’t in the basement. How about you, Abelard?”

Abelard said, “Nope, me neither. Don’t listen to Bursnell. He’s just a prospective.”

Bursnell said, “Come on, people, we’re getting the killers handed to us on a silver platter. All we have to do is lynch these two, and we villagers win. Let the murderers go on another killing spree, and they could be the victors.”

But he could not convince the other students. Next round, Bursnell was killed along with Sharon and two others, and the round after that, the murderers succeeded in killing everyone. Hyperion’s people-reading skills were hampered by feeling that he couldn’t give away Abelard. The murderers turned out to be Abelard and Josh, exactly as Bursnell had said.

Bursnell asked the students, “Hey everyone, what I really care about is hearing about what the Particulars have in their rooms. Has my naming the murderers helped with that, helped me gain some street cred?”

Maya said, “Speaking for myself, and maybe for others, sure, you were right, Bursnell, but I’m just getting tired of your hogging every conversation. And it’s too bad you couldn’t convince us of your argument. You backed down too easily, and so we villagers all got killed. So no, I’m not more inclined to tell you anything I might know about the Particulars and their rooms.”

Several students nodded agreement, and there were murmurs of assent.

CHAPTER 21—Big loud boom—the ninth clue

Bursnell thanked Sharon for inviting him to the game, but as the students dispersed, he felt lousy. He was frustrated that he had known the murderers, but had been unable to convince the other students. It was like politics: it was one thing to know the truth, and it was another thing to be able to convince people of it. It was especially frustrating that the villagers seemed to blame him for not having convinced them. And they had come out and said that that they weren’t inclined to help him with the puzzle. It was very discouraging.

It was almost midnight of his first day, and he still had found no clues, whereas with eight clues to go between now and Sunday night, he needed to find two clues per day, and they would have to be exactly the right ones, so probably more than that.

Well, he still had the one idea up his sleeve. He left the Evans Science Lab and followed the Particulars out into the moonlit darkness of the Santa Fe night, but as they headed up the path to the upper dorms, he sat on the ground behind the classroom building. He saw the Particulars go up the stairs and turn right to go into their dorm, J dorm. He watched the windows of their rooms, which all faced west toward him. As expected, they all had their shades drawn. He saw lights go on behind every one of the five rooms, only a sliver on both sides of each shade, not enough to tell the color of the room.

He got out the firecracker, and walked out into the sandy area between classrooms and dorms. As his friend in the gun store had told him, he dug a little pit in the sand for the big firecracker. Although it seemed to be a windless night, this would keep any stray zephyr of a breeze from blowing out the fuse. He lit the fuse and backed quickly thirty yards away against the classroom building, checking his watch because of the one-minute fuse. As the end of the minute approached, he watched the windows of the Particulars carefully. The firecracker went off with a loud boom.

As Bursnell had hoped, two of the shades opened a little so the students could peer out to see what the noise was. He heard an indistinct shout from J dorm, probably “Keep your shades closed,” and the shades immediately went down. He had just had time to see that the red room was immediately to the right of the blue room. He did not see where those rooms were in the line. All he had seen was that the blue and red were neighbors and that the red was to the right of the blue. The ninth clue!

CHAPTER 22—What’s in a name?

As Bursnell waited for sleep, he thought about his name. Even though he had heard it before, Abelard’s insults tonight, calling him “Nelly” and “Turdsmell,” had really gotten on his last nerve.

There were some positives to the name “Bursnell”. It was his mother’s maiden name, the last name of his mother’s father. His parents had given him the name thinking that it would be rare. Unlike the millions of Johns, Pauls, and Georges out there, their son would be more like a Ringo. It was the early days of the internet, but they foresaw a time when searching for “Bursnell Teague” on the internet would return very few results, and bubble their son right to the top of them. Also, using a last name as a first name seemed to be something that was done by wealthy families, not that his family was wealthy.

Come to think of it, some of the Particulars had quite odd names: Godfrey Higginbotham, Hyperion King, and Baldron Blumenfeld. And there were many other people with unusual names out there. Englebert Humperdink, Ephraim Zimbalist Jr., Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, Barack Obama. Names with repetition in them were especially odd, like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Boutros Boutros Ghali.

But the negatives of the name Bursnell were really getting him down. It was so easy to tease him, to make up mocking versions of the name. The name didn’t have any masculinity to it. And it didn’t seem to yield any good nicknames. Burr. Buzz. Barry. Burn. Burl. Burs. Maybe Burs was okay.

He decided then and there, as he fell asleep, that he would go by Burs.

It might be too late to get people to use his nickname on this prospective visit, or it might not. He would start now. He swore to himself that from now on, when anyone addressed him or referred to him as Bursnell, he would say, “You know, I prefer to go by my nickname, Burs,” or, “My friends call me Burs.”


CHAPTER 23—Breakfast

Bursnell—no, Burs—went through the breakfast line at the cafeteria, serving himself pancakes with syrup, scrambled eggs with salsa, sausage, and two glasses of orange juice. He sat at a table by himself and was soon joined by the dean. This would be the second-to-last announcement. Then the very last announcement would be at tonight’s lecture.

The dean asked, “Have you had any responses to our announcements? Any clues yet?”

“No responses to announcements. I did get one clue. The Particulars opened their shades a little last night and I managed to see a couple of room colors, which should be useful. It’s the first new clue beyond the ones that the Particulars gave.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Let’s hope it’s the beginning of many more.”

Burs said fervently, “I sure hope so. Say, dean, just to let you know, I prefer to go by my nickname, Burs.”

The dean said, “Is that just to your friends, or to everyone?”


“Well, sure, Burs. I only wish you had told me before I made announcements referring to you as Bursnell. I’m glad you let me know.”

The dean made her announcement, using his name as Burs. There was no appreciable reaction from the students to the announcement.

“Thanks, dean.”

“You’re welcome, no problem.”

They finished eating, and Burs made his way to his first class, which was Freshman Language.

CHAPTER 24—Freshman language tutorial: Plato’s Meno—the tenth clue

Burs sat in a Johnnie chair at the long and wide light-colored wooden table. Yes, he thought to himself, the dean was right: it was too bad he hadn’t been announced as Burs. In fact, it was too bad he hadn’t made the decision to be called Burs before arriving on campus. Maybe the students would be more inclined to give information to a Burs than to a Bursnell. Well, he was changing to Burs now. Maybe it would make a difference, causing the students to give him more clues.

The tutor began things by having the students take turns translating a line or so of Plato’s Meno. They had the Ancient Greek text in front of them. Burs could see his neighbor Xavier’s book, which looked like this:



Burs could just barely figure out from the strange letters that the first speaker was Meno, and the second was Socrates. He found it impressive that the students could read Ancient Greek this well at the end of a year of classroom study. Living in a country was a better way to learn, if you were lucky enough to have that experience. Actually, he himself had learned several languages, even some with different alphabets, from having lived in other countries.

When his turn came, Xavier translated his text as, “Not to me at least at any rate oh Socrates.”

Wendy said, “Remember, Xavier, you don’t have to translate every word. Instead you can ignore a lot of these little particles, and just translate it more freely, giving something like, ‘I disagree, Socrates.’”

The class continued translating. Burs was fascinated at the idea of being able to look at what had been written in the original language, 400 years before Christ. Even more important would be to read the New Testament in the original Greek, unbiased by any translator.

He knew the first two years of language tutorial were Ancient Greek, and the last two years were French. He had heard that St. John’s students used to study a different language each year: Greek, Latin, French, and German. With his language talents, he would have enjoyed that, but he supposed it did make sense to focus on two languages and really do a good job with them.

Out of the blue, Xavier leaned over and said quietly, “I know you’re looking for information on the rooms of the Particulars. Well, I happen to know that Baldron Blumenfeld’s room is black. I overheard one of his Particular buddies teasing him about it, and Baldron defending black as fitting perfectly with his goth style.”

Burs said excitedly, “Thanks very much, Xavier! That is really helpful!”

Xavier said, “Shh, I don’t want it to get out that I helped you.”

Still, Burs felt elated. The tenth clue! Now he had ten clues out of sixteen. Six more clues could end the scavenger hunt part of the puzzle. Assuming they were the right six clues, and that was a big assumption, he would have enough to begin the second phase of the problem: the logical deductions.

This day was beginning very well. Now if it would only continue well.

The class finished, and Burs made his way to his next tutorial, Junior Lab.

CHAPTER 25—Junior Lab, Millikan oil drop experiment

Burs sat fascinated in the Junior Lab tutorial. The classroom was another one in the Evans Science Lab. He sat on a stool watching Fatima and Isabel (both of whom he knew from the murder game) perform the experiment. The two suspended a tiny oil drop in a magnetic field. Then they were able to give the oil drop tiny amounts of electric charge, and watch how the position of the oil drop changed. They found that the positions of the oil drop changed in small whole-number increments. The experiment proved that a change in the oil drop’s position of one increment meant that exactly one electron had been attached to the drop. One electron! Burs was absolutely fascinated. He hadn’t seen one electron, but he had seen the effect of one electron, and known that exactly one electron had been added to the oil drop. Absolutely amazing.

Burs now understood the Latin saying that ran around the great seal of St. John’s College: “Facio Liberos ex Liberis Libris Libraque:” “I make great people out of children by means of books and a balance.” The balance represented the lab tutorials. They truly were experimental science, the same as science labs at other universities. Except that here they had not only the lab experiments, but also discussions of them, and such discussions were not found until graduate school at other universities.

Come to think of it, balance could be taken as having another meaning: the balance between the scientific left brain and the creative right brain.

And here was still another meaning: Hadn’t he heard someone at one of the meals talking about a quote from Plato, “Virtue is the mean,” the mean between two extremes? That was like a balance also, a balanced view that fell between two extreme views.

It was fascinating the way things fit together here. He began to envision a great tapestry of threads weaving together throughout the St. John’s Program, up and down the centuries, across the subjects.

Abruptly he awoke from his reverie, realizing that the students were leaving the classroom, and that it was time for his next tutorial: Senior Math.

As he walked to the next class, he reflected that on the plus side, he had the feeling that the mind-expanding effects of St. John’s were causing new ideas to be about to burst into being at the edge of his consciousness. On the minus side, there continued to be no new clues.

CHAPTER 26—Senior Math: Gödel’s proof

Having no more clues was a drag, but gradually his mood changed, because Senior Math tutorial turned out to be amazing. Burs had read a book called The Dancing Wu Li Masters, so he knew that modern physics was paradoxical in many ways. That book drew comparisons between quantum physics and the eastern philosophy for which St. John’s provided a fascinating-sounding Master’s program.

Even in science and in the west, modern physics was bizarre. For example, the Schrödinger’s cat paradox: that a cat could be simultaneously alive and dead, as long as it remains unobserved.

Burs had read a little about non-Euclidean geometry: that you can posit that parallel lines diverge at infinity or meet at infinity, giving different geometries. He looked forward to studying these geometries more in depth in Senior Math when he came back to St. John’s. Also in Senior Math they read Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, which promised to be completely mind-blowing.

Let’s see, Burs thought to himself. From reading the four-year syllabus, he had a general idea of how the program would feel. Freshman and sophomore years were about giving sense and order to the world. Junior year began to forge into new areas of human thought, and senior year was an eye-opening explosion into modernism and going beyond the previous limits of the human mind.

No matter what, he thought to himself, you always had math and logic. You could draw bizarre conclusions in quantum physics and relativity, but you needed math and logic to do so. At least there was some unshakeable rock on which humankind could build the house of its thought. Sure, maybe the lines of geometry were infinitely thin, and therefore like nothing in the real world, but that was how math worked: you made up the rules, and then as long as you followed those rules, you could build an artificial mathematical world from them, and all would fit and work.

He gradually became aware of what the students were discussing, Gödel’s Proof. It seemed that Gödel had proved, mathematically, that no system could be both complete and consistent. As Gödel (and Burs thought to himself that it sounded a bit like girdle) had said, take any system, for example, one of the simplest systems, the whole numbers. You started by making some postulates, then proving theorems. Gödel had said, no, proven, that you could either build theorems that could not be proved by the given postulates, or you could find postulates that contradicted each other. No system, not even math, could be both complete and consistent. Burs found that profoundly disturbing.

CHAPTER 27—Tunnels

Burs walked from the Senior Math tutorial to his room in the upper dorms feeling troubled. It wasn’t just the lack of clues, it was the idea in the last class that the entire system of logic, his beloved logic, was not solid. It remained to be seen to what extent logic was undermined. Maybe it was like Newtonian mechanics, that worked on the small human scale, but became problematic in the vast distances of space. In any case, the St. John’s program was going to be absolutely fascinating. And sometimes it was going to be hard to take. He mostly welcomed the challenge. He also realized that sometimes he would just have to understand that the program, encompassing as it did all of the thought of the Western world, was bigger than one Burs Teague.

He had now attended all the tutorials he was going to attend, and out of all those classes, he had had only had one student, Xavier, give him a clue. What a failure.

The other thing that he had hoped might come to pass from the tutorials was that he would learn something about thinking “outside the box,” as the cliché went. That hadn’t happened.

Or had it? Maybe he just hadn’t really tried. He would try now.

Let’s see, he thought. Maybe he was making an assumption somewhere. He had to solve the logic puzzle in order to get back the statue. Well, in fact, that wasn’t strictly correct. What if he could find the statue without solving the puzzle? Yes, that would work, but how to do that?

The Particulars lived in the dorms. They wouldn’t keep the statue in their dorm rooms, for fear of a search. They didn’t know people in town. The statue would need a large rentable storage locker, and moving it down there would be a pain. He thought that there was a strong probability that the statue was hidden on campus somewhere.

Well, how about the tunnels? He had heard that there were tunnels running under all of the upper dorms connecting each one to the others in a large figure eight. Could the Particulars have hidden Aphrodite in the tunnels?

Burs decided to explore the tunnels, but doing it alone seemed creepy. Maybe he could find someone to accompany him. He knew that Cassidy was downstairs in his dorm. He went to her door and knocked. “Would you care to explore the tunnels with me?”

“Those dusty tunnels? No way!”

Burs went back upstairs and knocked on Xavier’s door. He and Xavier had been on opposite sides in the murder game, but Xavier seemed to know it was just a game, and had given him a piece of information in Greek class. The door opened. “I’m going to explore the tunnels. Care to come along?”

“Why do you want to explore the tunnels?”

“I’m looking for Aphrodite, and thought she might be down there.”

“Sure, I’ll go with you. I’m always up for an adventure.”

“I don’t even know where to get into the tunnels, do you?”

Xavier looked pleased that he knew the answer. “You get in from the bathtub room downstairs in each dorm.”

“How about flashlights?”

Again Xavier looked happy. “We can borrow a couple from the emergency kit in the common room in A dorm.” They did so, and then went downstairs and into the bathtub room. They shut the bathroom door, opened the metal hatch, turned on their flashlights, and climbed into the tunnels.

Xavier said, “You go ahead and take the lead. Which way do you want to go?”

“It doesn’t matter. I just wanted to go around the whole circuit. We may as well start toward C dorm, which I figure would be this way.” They did so.

Burs said, “Man, this isn’t much fun.”

The tunnel was maybe three feet high, which gave enough room to crawl along on hands and knees.

Xavier said, “Yeah, it’s low and cramped. Hey, you know what would make this better? I have two long skateboards in my room. Let’s go get them.” They went back to Xavier’s room in B dorm, got the skateboards, and then went down through the B dorm bathroom, lay flat on the skateboards, and began to push themselves along with their hands.

“Hey Xavier, thanks, man. This is much better.”

They went around the entire figure 8 of tunnels. Nowhere was there an opening that would admit a statue the size of Aphrodite.

Burs thanked Xavier for helping him explore the tunnels, and went back to his room.

CHAPTER 28—Bell tower

Burs was a bit disappointed that the tunnels had yielded nothing, but really it had been too easy a solution.

There was something else that had been nagging at the back of his mind. He remembered it now. A couple of times he had been walking between the Peterson Center and the administration building when a glint of light had caught the corner of his eye, coming from the bell tower. What if the Particulars had simply stuck the statue up there, laying her down flat on the high floor of the open tower a few stories up? She would be invisible from the ground…

It was almost five o’clock, closing time. He hoped the dean was still in. He set off running for the administration building, and knocked on the dean’s door.

The dean opened it with her briefcase in hand, obviously ready to leave for the day. “What’s going on, Bursnell, er, Burs?”

He was panting. “I think the statue may be up in the bell tower. Can we get buildings and grounds to get a ladder and look?”

The dean quickly reopened her door and picked up the phone. “John, sorry, this is right at the end of the day, but we want to look in the bell tower. Could you please bring a long ladder over there? Oh, good, I’ll meet you there soon.”

She relocked her door and walked with Bursnell up a stairway and out onto the roof of the administration building.

John from buildings and grounds approached the building from below with a long ladder, which he leaned against the roof, climbed up to the roof, pulled up, extended, and leaned against the second high story of the bell tower.

Burs said, “Would you mind if I go up first? I’d like to see if my theory is right.”

The dean said, “Are you sure you’ll be safe? I’m worried about liability.”

Burs said, “I promise I’ll be completely safe, and besides, I signed a liability waiver for this prospective weekend.”

The dean said, “Well, alright, but I’ll have John go up behind you on the ladder to back you up.”

Burs said, “I’m okay with that.” He started up the ladder with John following close behind. As Burs reached the upper floor of the tower, he took a deep breath. Would he see the statue? He eased his eye above the high deck. No statue!

And yet…His eye picked up tiny flakes of bronze-colored metal on the concrete floor. So the statue had been here after all! “John, could you do me a favor and wait on the ladder, please?”

John’s response was immediate. “Sure, kid.”

Burs climbed over the railing and carefully stood in a place where he had seen no bronze flakes. He then collected flakes from three places on the concrete floor, putting them in the little plastic ziploc bags he routinely carried, labeling the bags, and marking the places on the floor with chalk.

He came down the ladder and talked to the dean. “The statue was there, but they must have moved it somewhere else, maybe even last night.”

“Burs, it’s too bad, but I have to say I’m impressed. Obviously your cleverness extends beyond logic puzzles.”

“Thank you, dean.”

CHAPTER 29—Burs works on the zebra puzzle

Burs made his way back to his room. He felt mostly frustration that the statue had just eluded them, mixed with pleasure at the dean’s compliment, and a slight feeling of triumph at having found where the statue had been hidden. In any case, now he had two ways to succeed: either solve the logic puzzle, or figure out the statue’s new hiding place.

Burs decided that since he had some time before lecture, he might as well work on the zebra puzzle. He got out the notes he had made at the library.


The zebra puzzle:

1. There are five houses.

2. The Englishman lives in the red house.

3. The Spaniard owns the dog.

4. Coffee is drunk in the green house.

5. The Ukrainian drinks tea.

6. The green house is immediately to the right of the ivory house.

7. The Old Gold smoker owns snails.

8. Kools are smoked in the yellow house.

9. Milk is drunk in the middle house.

10. The Norwegian lives in the first house.

11. The man who smokes Chesterfields lives in the house next to the man with the fox.

12. Kools are smoked in the house next to the house where the horse is kept.

13. The Lucky Strike smoker drinks orange juice.

14. The Japanese smokes Parliaments.

15. The Norwegian lives next to the blue house.

Now, who drinks water? Who owns the zebra?

Note that each of the five houses is painted a different color, and their inhabitants are of different national extractions, own different pets, drink different beverages and smoke different brands of American cigarettes. One other thing: in statement 6, right means your right.

— Life International, December 17, 1962


Zebra Puzzle


Burs knew that he had enough information right here to solve the puzzle.

CHAPTER 30—Zebra puzzle solution

Burs began solving the zebra puzzle. He decided to try it just by using the small 6×6 chart, rather than the larger grid method that he often used for logic puzzles.

First, he decided that even though Life Magazine had said there were 15 clues, he considered that the note at the bottom could really be considered clue number 16, so it was really a 16-clue puzzle. Also, he felt that the first clue should really be not “There are five houses,” but “There are five houses next to each other in a row,” because if the five houses were in a circle, or with houses in between them, or scattered throughout a neighborhood, the puzzle wouldn’t work.

He remembered from having solved a similar puzzle before that one of the first difficulties is that “first house” could mean house number 1 or house number 5, but that you could just assume that you’re standing across the street from the row of houses, and that the first house is the one at the left end of the row as you look at them.

He began writing out his solution of the puzzle as he solved it.


From clue 10, the Norwegian lives in house number 1, so Norwegian can be filled in beside Nationality in the 1 column.


House 1 = Norwegian.


Now clue 15 says the Norwegian lives next to the blue house, so house 2 has to be the blue house.


House 2 = blue.


The Norwegian’s house therefore cannot be blue, nor can it be red, where the Englishman lives (clue 2), or green or ivory, which are next to each other (clue 6). So the Norwegian’s house, house 1, must be yellow.


House 1 = yellow.


From clue 8, we know that Kools are smoked in the yellow house. And from clue 9, we know that milk is drunk in the middle house.


House 1 = Kools.

House 3 = milk.


From clue 12, Kools are next to the horse, so the horse must be in house 2.


House 2 = horse.


House 2 = horse


Up to this point it was clear. Now things began to get more complicated.

Take clues 4 and 6. Coffee is drunk in the green house, which is just to the right of the ivory house. That gives two possibilities. Call them Possibility A and Possibility B.


Possibility A: 3=ivory, 4=green


Possibility B: 4=ivory, 5=green


Take possibility A. The red house with the Englishman must be house 5. The tea-drinking Ukrainian must be in house 2. The orange juice drinking Lucky Strike smoker must be in house 5.


Possibility A


Now we have possibility A-1: Suppose that the Parliament-smoking Japanese is in house 3. Then the Spaniard with the dog must be in house 4. Then there is no place for the Old Gold smoker with snails, so A-1 must be wrong.

The other possibility is A-2: that the Parliament-smoking Japanese is in house 4. Now the Spaniard with the dog must be in house 3. Again there is no place for the Old Gold smoker with snails, so A-2 must be wrong. Since neither A-1 nor A-2 is possible, possibility A is not possible, and possibility B must be true.


Possibility B again


First, we now know with certainty that the Englishman’s red house must be in the middle. Now we have possibility B-1, that the tea-drinking Ukrainian is in house 2, and possibility B-2, that the tea-drinking Ukrainian is in house 4. Suppose B-2, that the tea-drinking Ukrainian is in house 4. Then the orange juice-drinking Lucky Strike smoker must be in house 2. The Parliament-smoking Japanese must then be in house 5, but that leaves nowhere for the Spaniard with the dog. This contradiction means that the only possibility left is B-1, so we now know with certainty that the tea-drinking Ukrainian is in house 2.


Possibility B fuller


Next we can see that the orange juice-drinking Lucky Strike smoker can only be in house 4. Then the Parliament-smoking Japanese can only be in house 5. The Spaniard with the dog must be in house 4. The Chesterfield smoker must be in house 2. The Old Gold smoker with the snails must be in house 3. The fox must be in house 1. The zebra must be in house 5, and the water is drunk in house 1.


Possibility B filled


Let’s see, Burs thought to himself, what were the questions? Who drinks the water? The Norwegian. Who owns the zebra? The Japanese.

He read through the clues one more time to make sure that his solution fulfilled every one of them, which it did. He had solved the puzzle!

CHAPTER 31—Lecture

Burs felt good about solving the puzzle. He hadn’t lost his touch, as long as he had enough clues. Not enough clues was the problem in the case of the Particulars’ puzzle. Well, he would keep trying to get more, and hope for the best. In the meantime, it was time for lecture.

He made his way down to the great hall, the large parquet-floored room where the freshman chorus had been held. Unlike the wooden Clore Johnnie chairs of the classrooms, the auditorium was filled with rows of beige plastic seats on metal legs. He took a seat near the back, to watch the whole room.

Sharon sat next to him. “Hi, Burs.”

Burs was delighted. “Hi, Sharon.”

“Do you know much about St. John’s lectures?”

“No, like what?”

“Well,” she said, “at typical colleges and universities most classes are lectures, but at St. John’s, most classes are discussions, and the exception is the once-a-week lecture. The question period afterward is especially interesting. You’ll see.”

The lecture began. Burs had read a blurb saying that the lecturer was a visiting professor from a top university, one of the world’s leading authorities on deconstructionism. Burs was able to follow for a while, and then began to zone out a bit toward the end, surely his fault and not the lecturer’s, he thought.

There was polite applause.

Sharon said to him, “Now watch the question period. This is often where it gets really interesting.”

The first to raise his hand was a kid named Zack whom Burs recognized from the murder game, very small and slight of frame, with a high-pitched voice. Burs thought to himself that compared to Zack, he felt like a mature big man on campus.

Zack said to the visiting professor, “I saw the point you’re making when I read the book, but I just thought it meant that I didn’t understand the author well enough.”

The visiting professor appeared flabbergasted and dumbstruck. He had no response, and moved on to the next question. The same sort of thing went on. Other students and professors continued to question the lecturer. It was clear that the students and tutors were not at all intimidated by important people. The lecturer, on the other hand, appeared to be completely unused to opposition.

The question period ended.

Burs said, “Why is it that the St. John’s students are so unafraid of arguments from authority, and so unimpressed by important people?”

Sharon said, “I think it’s because of having two tutors in Seminar. Neither one can be the authority over the other, so no one is the authority. It’s more expensive to run the school this way, but when you see these lectures and question periods, you understand why it’s worth it. Whether the rest of the academic world knows and accepts it or not, we blow them away.”

“That’s great to hear.”

“Burs, do you think you’ll come here to school?”

“If they’ll have me, absolutely.”

“Oh, I think they’ll have you. Don’t get a big head, but you’re very smart in many ways, and St. John’s is just the place where you could make up ground in any areas where you might be deficient.”

“Thanks, I think.”

“Yes, it was a compliment. You’re welcome.”

CHAPTER 32—Coffee shop rock party

Burs and Sharon went down to the coffee shop, a pleasant room on the ground floor of the Peterson Center with a shiny brick floor, white pillars, and windows on three sides, although at this time of night it was dark outside. Burs could see that the wooden tables and Johnnie chairs that he had usually seen filling this room had been pushed to the periphery. There were still some chairs here and there around the floor.

A rock party had begun. There was a row of four chairs next to each other near the hallway. Sharon’s friends Rachel and Tyler were sitting in two of the chairs, and Sharon and Burs took the other two. Suddenly the athletic Josh came running straight toward them, jumped and turned a flip in midair above them, and ran out into the hallway.

“Wow, Sharon, what the heck was that?”

She leaned closer to be heard above the pounding rock music. “I would call it exuberance.”

Burs found her breath in his ear ticklish. “I like this room.”

“You should see the coffee shop at the Annapolis campus, where I was last year.”

“Oh? What’s that like?”

“Unlike this high-ceilinged room, it’s a low room in the basement of McDowell—of their bell tower building. It has a low cave-like feeling, with lots of subcaves. Even though this coffee shop is a prettier room, I like the Annapolis one better, because it has so much character.”

“Which campus do you like better?”

“I like both. Each has its advantages. Some student coined phrases comparing the two: Santa Fe is ‘laid-back mellow burnt-outness,’ and Annapolis is ‘desperate artless boozing.’ But I have to say that for me, you can’t beat this high desert town of Santa Fe. I’ll spend the next two years here and try to move back here later after I establish a career. Say, Burs, would you like to go to your room?”

“Um, why?”

“Well, maybe we could…ah…play a game.”

“What game?”

“We can do anything you want.” She turned her head, put her hand on his arm, and looked straight into his eyes. “Anything.”

“Well, a game would be fun, Sharon, but I should probably work on a logic puzzle for the dean.” He stood up.

“Suit yourself. See ya.”

“See ya.” He walked up to his room in the upper dorms and began to work on the logic puzzle.

CHAPTER 33—Zebra clues in the Particulars’ puzzle

Burs had enjoyed the lecture. He would have liked to play a game with Sharon, but had felt that he should work on the logic puzzle. Specifically, he should try comparing the few clues he had with the zebra puzzle, just in case the answers miraculously fell out. He made two lists. He had previously decided to add a clue number eight corresponding to clue number sixteen of the zebra puzzle: There are five of everything: guys, pets, posters, consoles, and colored adjacent rooms in a line. He set up a chart to compare the two lists of clues.


Chart to compare lists of clues


Wow, this was difficult. The one thing he had to go on was the central pivot of the logic puzzle, the adjacency, the neighbor aspect in clues Zebra-6 and Particulars-10.

Zebra puzzle: The green house is immediately to the right of the ivory house.

Particulars’ puzzle: The red room is immediately to the right of the blue room.

In reality, it was unlikely that the information he had gotten from the loud firecracker would correspond to clue number 6 in the zebra puzzle.

Could he assume anything? Logically speaking, no, but since the Particulars were human, they would probably make it a bit easy on themselves by making equivalent things equivalent.

So he would assume that at least the house numbers could be taken as corresponding to the rooms of the Particulars in a line.

He might as well try assuming that The Particulars had substituted colors for colors. They might have substituted ivory for blue, but not ivory for scorpion. Or so he would assume.

He might as well try assuming that pets were pets.

He might as well assume that the Particulars were the nationalities. Something about that felt right. The nationality was a person, and the Particular was a person. The other things were attributes of the person, or that’s how it felt from a human-centric point of view.

It was too bad he didn’t have any idea of the first room, the leftmost room. That piece of information made it possible to make a start on the zebra puzzle.

He decided that he had no idea whether drinks or smokes corresponded to video game consoles or posters, so he would set aside for the moment any clues with those things in them.

He would consider any clues with only houses/rooms, colors, nationalities/particulars, pets.


Reduced chart


The clues told to him by the Particulars stood a better chance of matching the puzzle, but unfortunately, they all contained pets or posters. The clues he had discovered might or might not match the clues from the other puzzle.

If by some miracle it happened to correspond, the clue “Baldron’s room is black” would probably correspond to “The Englishman lives in the red house.”

Similarly, he could try making the unlikely assumption that “The red room is immediately to the right of the blue” corresponded to “the green house is immediately to the right of the ivory house.”

He entered those Particulars values into the Zebra chart:


Comparison of Zebra and Particulars puzzles


He could now suppose two cases:

Case A: Drinks=posters, and smokes=consoles.

Case B: Drinks=consoles, and smokes=posters.

However, the whole thing was built on assumption after assumption. Maybe someone with more energy could go on from here. For him, it was too much. There was even the assumption that the Particulars had based their logic puzzle on the zebra version of the Einstein puzzle, whereas they might have based it on a number of other versions.

The main key to solving the zebra puzzle was clue 6, “The green house is immediately to the right of the ivory house.”

Even before that, the clue that really let him get started on the zebra puzzle was clue 10, “The Norwegian lives in the first house.” Maybe if he could find out who lived in the first room at the left end of the row looking up at the rooms from below, as he had viewed the rooms when setting the loud firework, he could get a better start.

When doing logic puzzles, as in math and science, you couldn’t just spin out speculation endlessly: you needed at least some solid facts to begin building from.

He decided that trying to go from what he had was simply too much. He needed more clues. He would give up on this effort to match the Zebra puzzle to the Particulars’ puzzle, wait until he got more clues, and probably try solving the Particulars’ puzzle in the usual straightforward way.

It was only as he was going to sleep that it occurred to him what Sharon might have meant by ‘We can do anything.’” He slapped himself, hard. Why was he such a moron when it came to girls?


CHAPTER 34—Breakfast—the eleventh clue

Burs woke up Saturday morning with what was unfortunately becoming a frequent thing with him, a mopey and melancholy state of mind. He was kicking himself about not picking up on Sharon’s invitation of last night. And he was discouraged about the logic puzzle. On the other hand, he was quite curious and a little nervous about what the Reality weekend might be like.

He dressed, shaved off the few hairs that had begun to sprout on his lip and chin, and made his way down to the dining hall for breakfast.

Having helped himself to pancakes and scrambled eggs, he approached a table where Wendy was sitting. “Mind if I join you?”

“Sure, go ahead. Say, Burs, before anyone else comes along, I’ve been meaning to tell you, but don’t tell anyone that I told you anything. If you’re looking up from mid-campus at the rooms of the Particulars in J dorm in the upper dorms, Godfrey has the first room on the left.”

“How do you know?”

“Well, I was visiting someone up there one time—”


“None of your business! Do you want to hear this or not?”

“Sorry, please go ahead.”

“Okay, then. I saw Godfrey come out of that first room, right at the entrance. It makes sense to me that being the leader of the gang, he would take the room with the shortest walk.”

“How do you know he wasn’t visiting one of the other Particulars?”

“I saw him lock the door behind him.”

“Well, that’s pretty conclusive.” Bursnell was delighted. The eleventh clue! He took a pen from his pocket, made a note on a napkin, and put both in his pocket. “I could imagine a scenario where one of the others loaned him their key, but it’s not likely. Great info, and I would jump for joy, but I know I should play it cool, so I’ll just—”


Xavier and Zack approached the table and sat down.

Burs said, “Hi guys. So what’s this Reality I keep hearing about?”

Xavier said, “We don’t really know. As freshmen, this will be our first one. We’ve heard about some things. In Annapolis they have the Battle of Salamis, which was a real naval battle in Ancient Greece about 480 BC, but at St. John’s Annapolis it’s some kind of battle out in the creek with canoes and watermelons. The name is funny because it is spelled the same as the sausage. Also in Annapolis for years the students would have a parade through the streets of town, because the downtown is an easy walk from campus, but apparently the parades got a bit too crazy and were stopped.”

Zack piped up in his high voice, “On both campuses there is the Real Olympics, with various wacky sporting events. We’re interested to see what they are.”

Wendy said, “And tonight there’s a waltz party, as there is about once every three weeks here at St. John’s. Will you come and dance a dance with me, Burs?”

“I don’t know how.”

“It’s easy. They have a little class on waltzes and polkas an hour before dinner. I can meet you there and help show you how.”

“Okay, I’ll be there.” Very nice of Wendy, he thought, and he really liked her style, black-rimmed glasses and all.

Xavier looked at his watch. “You know what I’m looking forward to? Spartan Madball.”

Burs must have looked inquisitive, because Xavier said, “It’s a game with almost no rules. It’s the seniors and freshmen against the juniors and sophomores. There’s one soccer ball, although I’ve heard they sometimes play it with a huge ball the size of a small car, and you just have to get it through the opponents’ goal. There are no boundary lines. I hear that people in Annapolis have even run with the ball through town! Hey, I’ll see you guys down at the soccer field. It’s almost time.”

CHAPTER 35—Spartan Madball—the twelfth clue

Burs stood on the soccer field with Wendy and Zack. This game sounded barbaric. Was it called Spartan because it was minimalist in its rules, or Spartan because it was a game for tough people? Maybe both.

The soccer field was milling with a huge crowd of students. A whistle blew and a soccer ball was tossed high in the air into the middle of the crowd.

Burs saw the athletic Tyler grab the ball and begin running with it toward the enemy goal. He tossed it to Chesley, who put on an amazing burst of speed to the other side of the field, where there were less people. The two of them began passing it back and forth to each other, working it out into the arroyo around the back of the goal, because it didn’t matter which way it went through the goal.

Burs saw the very athletic Josh wrench the ball from Tyler, then be surrounded by a large crowd of students. Josh was like a superman. He had the fierce lean strong jaw of the old Dick Tracy character in the funny papers. Come to think of it, Burs thought, the Dick Tracy jaw was true of his own father Ladislaw Teague also.

The crowd surrounding Josh began to move. Amazingly, he broke free of the crowd and began to run down the field, back toward the other goal. Again he was surrounded by a mob of students. Miraculously, he simply held on to the ball and appeared to drag the crowd with him through the goal.

Burs said to Wendy, “What an absolute beast of a guy.”

Wendy said, “Yes, and handsome, good in seminar, and a leader. A lot of girls have a crush on him.”

Burs asked, “How about you?”

Wendy said, “I admit that he would be attractive to a lot of people, but he wouldn’t be right for me, because I’m pretty unattractive.”

Burs said, “Now hold on, you don’t spend a lot of time on your appearance, but you have a natural beauty, there’s something very special about you, and you’re extremely feminine.”

“Wait a minute, Burs, are you saying you like me?”

Burs turned red and gulped. “Um…how about that Josh, he’s really good at this game, huh?”

After a few more rounds, in spite of a goal by the juniors and sophomores, it was clear that because of Josh, the seniors and freshmen were unstoppable. If they ever got the ball, all they had to do was get it to Josh and it was a guaranteed goal.

Burs asked Zack, “Doesn’t Josh get tired?”

Zack said, “What I’ve heard is that he often runs up Monte Sol, the 1000-foot hill right behind campus. Sometimes he runs up Atalaya, the 2000-foot high mountain on our doorstep. There’s a race up Monte Sol every year, and every year he has won it. I guess that compared to running up those monstrous hills, Spartan Madball is child’s play.”

Burs said, “Seems like he might make a good Navy Seal.”

Zack said, “I think he’s considering it.”

The match was called, with the seniors and freshmen, Josh’s team, as winners.

Wendy wanted to find and congratulate Josh, which gave Burs a slight pang of jealousy, because she had agreed to dance a dance with him that evening, but he realized that was silly. She wasn’t his girlfriend.

He and Zack decided to watch the next event at the soccer field, the Real Olympics. Burs could see that it consisted of various goofy events similar to the kinds of things you might have at a children’s fair, such as a three-legged race, only with a classical twist. Burs could see that at another time, he would have found them hilarious, but he didn’t feel in the mood.

After watching the Real Olympics to its finish, he and Zack set out for the Peterson Center for the next event, the sophistry contest.

“Say, Zack, I must admit I’m a bit envious of Josh’s athletic ability, and the way a lot of girls have crushes on him.”

“Me too, Burs, me too. And since you reveal that weakness to me, I’ll tell you something. Abelard has a Wii gaming console.”

“Wow, how do you know that?”

“He likes to tease and bully me because I’m small and weak. He’s a smallish guy himself, but he’s bigger and stronger than I am. He has said to me that he keeps fit using a Wii, and why can’t I do the same.”

Burs jotted a quick note on the napkin from his pocket. The twelfth clue! “Zack, this is terrific, thanks, man.”

“No problem, dude.”

CHAPTER 36—Sophistry Contest

Burs got out his napkin and said, “Say, Zack, any ideas on how I can get people to give up information on the Particulars?”

Zack said, “Sure, my ideas are these: First, get people alone, one on one. They’ll never answer in a crowd, for fear it might get back to the Particulars. Second, subtly compliment them. A way of doing this is just to ask them a question about the St. John’s program, treating them like an expert. Third, listen. Listening is such an underrated skill, one that can open doors for anyone. Fourth, squelch your ego, and remember that it’s not about you. Make it about them, not about you. Fifth, be willing to show your own weakness to people, but remember to keep the focus off of yourself. The weakness thing worked with me, but might not with most. Sixth, don’t talk too much, don’t interrupt, listen instead. To sum up, get people alone with you, ask them about St. John’s, and listen. How’s that?”

Burs shook his head from side to side, continuing to jot notes. “Damn good. Zack, you’re a freshman. What the Hell are you going to be like when you’re a senior?”

“Almost like a tutor, I hope. So my plan is to do the Eastern Classics MA, then go away and get a PHD in Philosophy, and then hire on as a tutor here.”

“Good plan. You have my vote.”

They arrived at the sophistry contest, which was in the sunny patio enclosed by the two arms of the Peterson Center.

Burs said, “Say, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all the good information and advice you’ve given me. Now I think I’ll circulate and try to put your ideas to good use.” Burs moved around the outside of the crowd, looking for someone he could talk to one on one. He saw Chesley standing alone, and approached him.

“Hi, Chesley.”


Burs decided this wasn’t the time to ask to be called Burs. “Look, you can tell me to go away if you like, but I just wondered if you could give me any tips on dealing with girls. You seem to be kind of an expert. I think it’s more than just good looks, am I right?”

“You’re pretty smart, Bursnell. Yes, I can give you a couple of tips. The best thing you can do is see the movie ‘The Tao of Steve,’ which was filmed right here at St. John’s Santa Fe. The protagonist has three secrets for dealing with girls: First, be desireless, second, do something excellent in her presence, and third, retreat. It won’t make sense until you see the movie.”

“Okay, I’ll see it.”

“The basic idea is to stop putting pressure on girls, wait for them to come to you, and notice when they are coming to you.”

“All right, I’ll keep all that in mind.”

“Bursnell, you’re not such a bad sort. Kind of immature, but you’re young, and I think you’ll get there. I’m sorry my friends have it in for you.”

“Thanks, man.”

“In fact, don’t tell the other Particulars, but I’m kind of feeling like I’m on your side. I’d almost be willing to tell you where the statue is.”

Burs couldn’t resist showing off his knowledge. “So where did they move it after the bell tower?”

“Wait—you knew about that?”

“Yes, I figured it out.”

“Wow, I’m impressed. Only trouble is, the others began to mistrust me and Hyperion, so later that night the five of us moved the statue down from the bell tower, and Hyperion and I don’t know where the other three put it after that.”

CHAPTER 37—Chesley—the thirteenth clue

Burs was very disappointed. He had thought Chesley was on the point of telling him where the statue was, and then it turned out he didn’t know. “Bummer.”


“Well, in that case, would you be willing to tell me one factoid about your room?”

“Maybe. I’m still trying to stay friends with those guys. I suppose I could probably tell you just one thing without the others knowing that I helped you. How about this: go ahead and ask me a question, and I’ll see if I think I can answer it.”

“Well, I have no info on posters. What poster do you have?”

“Okay, I’ll tell you just that one thing, but don’t tell anyone I told you.”


“My poster is Nikki Minaj. She’s the most savagely female of all the stars. That raging yin needs a yang!”

Bursnell was delighted. The thirteenth clue! He saw Abelard approaching. “Hey, quiet, here comes Abelard.”

“What are you two talking about?”

“I’ve just been telling this pipsqueak that he has no chance of solving our puzzle.”

“Damn right he doesn’t.”

Burs said, “I don’t need to stand here and listen to this.” He moved away.

He saw Godfrey standing alone, and considered talking to him. It was unlikely that he could get anything out of his most implacable enemy. On the other hand, he had nothing to lose.

He approached Godfrey. “Hi, Godfrey.”

Godfrey just rolled his eyes up toward the sky.

Burs tried again. “Just to let you know, I figured out your first hiding place for the statue: the bell tower. Maybe I don’t even have to figure out the logic puzzle, but can just jump straight to where the statue is hidden.”

Godfrey lowered his eyes to Burs, looking down his nose in a haughty way. “No, you’ll never find it. I’ll have you know, I’m an amateur magician. I could hide the statue outdoors in plain sight in the middle of campus, and no one would ever see it. I’m not saying I have done that, but I could. Anyway, you’ll never find it.”

Burs said, “We’ll see,” and walked away.

The sophistry contest was now in full swing. At any normal time, being a fan of logic, Burs would have found a contest of unsound deceptive reasoning fascinating, but his recent conversations were too important, and he had to take notes on what he had learned. He went into the hallway of the Peterson Center and sat on a flat green vinyl bench.

He hadn’t felt right about taking notes on what Chesley was saying, and now he found that all he could remember of the advice was the name of the film: The Tao of Steve. He would have to try to see that some time.

Oh, and the fact that Chesley had a Nikki Minaj poster. That was huge!

He got out his list of the clues and made notes on it, assessing his progress so far.


Particulars’ puzzle

Clues told by Particulars:

1. The guy in the blue room has the N64 video game console.

2. The guy in the orange room has a Taylor Swift poster hanging on the wall.

3. The center room contains the Sega Genesis console.

4. Selena Gomez is next-door to the scorpion.

5. The assassin bug is next to Taylor Swift.

6. The Katy Perry poster owner has a PS1.

7. The Selena Gomez poster owner has a neighbor who has a Super Nintendo.


• Who has the Beyoncé poster?

• Who has the PS1?

• Who has the scorpion?

• Who has the Super Nintendo?

• Who owns the coral snake?

Clues discovered:

8. There are five of everything, in a row.

9. The red room is immediately to the right of the blue.

10. Baldron’s room is black.

11. Godfrey has the first room on the left.

12. Abelard has a Wii gaming console.

13. Chesley has a Nikki Minaj poster.

CHAPTER 38—Saints John—the fourteenth clue

He was actually making very good progress. Three more clues to go. Assuming they were the right clues, of course. Last night he had been thinking that he should have at least 16 clues before even trying to solve the puzzle, and that he would try solving it straightforwardly, instead of trying to imitate the zebra puzzle or any other version. He reaffirmed that decision now. He folded up the paper, put it in his pocket, and went down the hall and out toward the fish pond.

He was surprised to see some students setting up a large wood and cloth figure of a cow next to the fish pond, with a beer keg for its udder. The cow was huge, about two stories high!

Burs could hear an argument going on, and approached to hear what was being said. Godfrey, Abelard, and Baldron were arguing loudly with the students setting up the cow, saying that it should not be anywhere near the fishpond. The reason they gave was that it might fall in the pond and harm the large koi fish. Burs was struck by the thought that this was the first time he could ever remember being in agreement with these three characters.

The Particulars argued strongly and loudly that the cow be moved to a completely different area of the campus, but the other students were adamant that the figure be here in this central location. In the end, the two groups compromised and agreed to move it a bit further from the fishpond, near the Ptolemy Stone.

Burs didn’t want to drink beer himself right at this moment. He had found that even one beer lowered his chess ability greatly, and he wanted to try to work the logic puzzle this afternoon. There was a time and place for relaxation, and for him, this wasn’t it. On the other hand, maybe the beer could loosen the other students’ tongues, and make them willing to give him clues. He might as well also try Zack’s method of asking them questions to make them feel like experts.

He spotted Sarah standing alone at the edge of the crowd. “Hi, Sarah.”

“Burs. What’s up?”

“I have a question for you, if you don’t mind.”

“Fire away.”

“Why is the college called St. John’s if it has no religious affiliation?”

“Strange, isn’t it? I’ve heard that the college was founded on the feast of St. John the Evangelist, December 27th, and that that is why it is called St. John’s College. Some say that in the early days of the college, it was affiliated with the Freemasons, who have associations with both St. John the Evangelist, whose feast marks mid-winter, and St. John the Baptist, patron of stonemasons, whose feast marks mid-summer. So in a way, you could think of it as Saints John College. I like that explanation.”

Burs said, “That’s fascinating, a bit Foucauld’s Pendulum-ish.”

“Oh, so you’ve read that amazing book? Burs, you really have hidden depths.”

“Thanks! Say, I don’t suppose you know anything about the Particulars’ rooms?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Godfrey’s neighbor has a green room.”

“No offense, but how can you possibly know that?”

“I overheard him talking to one of his Particular buddies, but I don’t know who it was. Godfrey was saying that green was a stupid color, and that no neighbor of his should have a green room.”

Bursnell laughed happily. The fourteenth clue! “Excellent, that’s definitive, and sounds just like Godfrey. Thanks very much!”

He moved off around the outside of the crowd, skirting the fishpond, looking for someone he could talk to one on one. He saw Hyperion standing alone, and approached him.

“Hi, Hyperion.”


“Thanks for backing me up in the murder game.”

“No problem, but how did you know I have people-reading skills?”

“I heard you’re a gambler, so it seemed logical.”

“Ah. Well done.”

“Say, I don’t suppose you’d be willing to tell me something about your room.”

“No, I don’t feel I can do that. I want to stay friends with the other Particulars, because we all have one year left here at St. John’s, and because we’ll probably stay friends after that. Just between you and me, I’m sorry my friends are so against you. But no, I can’t tell you anything. Good luck.”


CHAPTER 39—Frogs—the fifteenth clue

Burs was very disappointed. After Chesley had told him something, he had expected that Hyperion might also. If his expectations hadn’t been raised, he’d have been fine, but as it was, he felt discouraged. He had to keep trying anyway.

Burs had begun to draw a distinction in his mind, seeing Chesley and Hyperion as somewhat reformed, and reasonably good guys. He was beginning to think of Abelard, Godfrey, and Baldron as the Three Bad Eggs.

He moved away from Hyperion, began to circle the crowd, and was surprised when Isabel tapped him on the shoulder.

“I overheard you talking to Hyperion, and I know something about his room.”

“Oh really? What?”

“He keeps frogs.”

“How do you know that?”

“Several months ago I heard him talking about it.”

“Just to confirm, do you remember anything about the frogs?”

“Yes, I remember he said the frogs are tiny, in neon-bright colors, and they shoot poison darts.”

Bursnell could hardly contain his excitement. The fifteenth clue! “Good memory! That’s a great description of poison dart frogs. Thanks very, very much. This has really helped me.”

Burs continued around the room, applying Zack’s method: he found person after person alone, asked them questions, treated them like an expert, asked them about the Particulars’ rooms, and kept coming up blank. He needed only one more clue to start solving the puzzle, but it seemed that the well had run dry.

CHAPTER 40—Reality auction

Burs felt discouraged, but resolved to keep trying.

Tyler came out of the glass doors of the Peterson center, approached the crowd, put his fingers in his mouth, and whistled loudly. “The Reality Auction is now beginning in the cafeteria.”

Most of the crowd moved in that direction, and Bursnell followed.

In the cafeteria, McKenzie had a gavel and was acting as auctioneer. “I have here a complete set of the Great Books of the Western World, 54 volumes, in good condition. Bidding starts at a hundred dollars. What am I bid? One hundred twenty. One hundred forty. One hundred fifty. Going, going, gone, sold for one hundred fifty dollars.”

Burs walked up to Xavier. “Say, Xavier, how does this work? Is it a charity auction? Who do the items come from, and who does the money go to?”

Xavier said, “I’ve heard that the money from the auction is used by the senior class to throw a party or parties. The items are donated by students.”

Burs said, “I see, thanks.”

Many of the items donated were quite odd or unusual. In fact, Burs thought, the Particulars’ strange pets might have fit in as auction items, if they weren’t being kept secret.

The oddest auction item came when a pretty girl auctioned a date with herself, which made Burs feel strange. He had thought of himself as wanting to get a date with a girl, but paying for it seemed somehow wrong, as well as shameful in front of all these people. No one else seemed willing to take her up on the offer either. Finally a coalition of four guys agreed to her minimum bid, but then she backed out, saying that one person made sense but not four.

Burs said, “Xavier, I find the idea of this girl’s selling a date with herself a bit strange. Man, the high-spirited hijinks these young college kids get into can be too much.”

“Burs, you sound like an old fogy.”

“Well, I’m not usually, but sometimes people go too far.”

“True. I agree that this last auction item may have been in slightly bad taste.”

Burs continued around the room gently and skillfully grilling people, but it seemed that there was no more information to be had.

CHAPTER 41—Movie and waltz party

Burs felt frustrated by the complete blockage to his progress on the puzzle, and just plain tired. He went back to his room and lay down for a nap. He got up in time to meet Wendy at the waltz class, about which he felt nervous.

“1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3” said the instructor, stepping side to side.

Wendy echoed that as she showed him how to move his feet. “At first you go side to side, but then when you got the hang of it, you can make the side-to-side motion into a circular motion. Yes, that’s right, well done, Burs.”

Burs had never thought of himself as much of an athlete, maybe because he was younger than most of the kids in his grade, but he seemed to get the hang of waltzing fairly well.

Then to dinner, where he listened to some conversations that didn’t interest him, and then came back to his room, brushed his teeth, and decided he might as well go to the movie.

He made his way up to the Great Hall, and took a seat near the front of the room.

Sharon sat next to him. “Burs, brace yourself. Josh Florentino chooses the movies, and he likes to pick some strange ones.”

First there was a 21-minute black-and-white surrealist film called The Andalusian Dog. At a certain point, there was a very disturbing scene, and Burs heard a lot of noise behind him. He looked around to see that half of the audience members, including Sharon, were streaming out the exit doors. He kept watching the movie. When the film ended, a large number of people who had been waiting out in the hallway came back in.

Sharon sat next to him again. “So you were able to sit through that? I guess you’re pretty tough-minded.”

Burs flushed with pleasure, and a bit of embarrassment. “Thanks. I just kept telling myself, ‘It’s only a movie; it isn’t real.”

“Sure looked real to me. Anyway, I give you points for a kind of mental strength.”

“Thanks. I guess the next film is about to begin.”

The next film was an old 29-minute black-and-white French movie called La Jetée. Burs found it fascinatingly atmospheric and sad. As the movie ended and the credits rolled, he said to Sharon, “Say, that movie reminded me of something, but I can’t think what.”

Sharon said, “I read that La Jetée is considered by some the greatest short movie of all time. The Terry Gilliam movie 12 Monkeys was based on it.”

Burs said, “That’s what it was reminding me of! I love Gilliam’s films, especially Brazil. That story of a guy caught in a huge government machine speaks to me for some reason.”

Sharon said, “Me too, and in that movie I like the steampunk-esque way we start from Britain of a few decades ago and shoot forward in a different direction to reach a time somewhat like our own, but different.”

“Yes, that’s great.” Are you going to the waltz party?


“May I have a dance with you?”


“Shall we make our way down there?”

“Yes, let’s.”

They walked down to the cafeteria. The tables and chairs had been shoved together around the perimeter of the room, leaving almost the entire room in the middle cleared for dancing. The beautiful strains of a Strauss Waltz were playing, and couples were twirling. Burs took Sharon’s hand and they moved out onto the floor and began to dance. He found that he could move his feet fairly little and just keep Sharon and himself spinning in smooth circles, a half turn every three steps, while they moved around the perimeter of the room. At first he was looking around to avoid crashing into people, but eventually he found that he could just look into Sharon’s eyes and watch with his peripheral vision. What a smooth and beautiful experience, like a foretaste of heaven. “Sharon, thanks very much, that was great.”

“Burs, you did very well. You’ve either waltzed before—“


“—or you’re a natural at waltzing.”

“Thanks. It’s a beautiful dance.”

“Well, Burs, I should dance with some other people, but I hope you’ll find me later for a couple more waltzes this evening.”

“Sure, Sharon.” He moved off, found Wendy, and danced with her.

“Burs, somehow you’ve really locked in the waltz since we tried it this afternoon. It’s a pleasure dancing with you. Feel free to find me for a dance any time this evening.”

“Thanks, Wendy.”

“Oh,” she said as the next song began, “this next one is a polka. Let’s try it. See, the step is similar to the waltz, but with an extra beat thrown in, so that it’s in 4/4 time rather than 3/4.” She showed him.

Burs was able to imitate what she was doing. “I think I get the hang of it. Here we go.” And off they went, in circles around the floor as with the waltz, but with a bouncier polka rhythm that was fun in its own way.

“Say Burs,” she said as they kept dancing, “do you know about epicycles?”

“No, what’s that?”

“It’s a classical astronomy thing, an early theory of why the planets appear to speed up and slow down in the sky. Ptolemy and Copernicus believed that the planets moved around on small circles called epicycles, whose centers moved around a large circle called a deferent. It’s similar to the waltz and polka, where we move in small circles around a large circle. I’m sure it must occur to every St. John’s student who comes to a waltz party.”

“Cool! I like how the program finds echoes outside itself. Life imitates art, or maybe that’s not quite right.”

“No,” she said, “I think that is right. Life imitates art, math, science, language, philosophy, history, and so on, and the St. John’s program is a place to see the connections of ideas through all the fields of knowledge and up and down the millenia.”

“Nicely said.”

The dance ended, and a very different sort of dance began.

“Wow, Wendy, what is this dance?”

“This is West Coast Swing. Match my steps: 1 2 3, 1 2 3, rock-rock, or slow, slow, quick-quick.”

Burs tried, but he didn’t catch on right away to this one as he had to the waltz and polka. “Let’s sit this one out. I’m having trouble with it. I feel like there’s something counterintuitive about it.”

“Yes, it’s in 4/4 time with a six-beat pattern of steps, a bit strange. Sure, let’s sit.”

They sat in chairs on the sidelines.

Burs was amazed at the moves some of the dancers were doing. “Gosh, this dance is amazing. Look at those two tying each other in a knot with their arms. It’s like Twister on the dance floor. Hey Wendy, look at that!”

Josh had flipped Sarah over his head and back and then under and between his legs.

Burs said, “I guess both Josh and Sarah have to be very skilled to dance like that.”

“Yes, I don’t think they learned that here, although I suppose it’s possible. Either before St. John’s or in the summers, they may have taken advanced dance classes.”

“Well, in any case, it’s spectacular. I’d love to learn to dance like that.”

Wendy said, “Me too. Well, I should move on and dance with a few more people. Ping me again in a bit.”

“Will do.”

Burs danced until the party ended at 1 a.m., very much enjoying holding girls with his arm behind their waists while he gazed into their eyes and spun in perfect epicycles, forgetting about statues and logic puzzles, and giving himself up completely to the pleasure of dancing.

CHAPTER 42—Burning cow

As the party ended, Tyler came in and announced that they would be a burning the figure of the cow out by the fishpond. Most of the students trooped out there, Burs following.

As Burs arrived, he noticed another heated argument between the Three Bad Eggs and the rest of the students.

Godfrey said, “Look, if the cow is set on fire, burning pieces of it may blow into the fishpond and harm the fish.”

Burs was surprised to find himself once again mentally on the side of Godfrey, although he didn’t say anything.

Tyler said, “No, it’s safe. People have been burning things for years. Santa Fe has been burning Zozobra every year since 1924. The Burning Man festival has been going since 1986. We’re just doing the same.”

Baldron said, “It’s not safe, and it’s highly illegal. We’re in a dry desert, and a fire could run out of control.”

Tyler said, “If the fire gets out of control, we’ll just push it into the fishpond and put it out.”

Abelard said, “That’s exactly what we’re talking about. You can’t do that, because it would kill the fish.”

Tyler said, “Let’s have a show of hands. Those against burning the cow.” Four hands went up, from the Bad Eggs and Burs.

Abelard said, “You’re just trying to make points with us.”

Burs said, “No, I agree with protecting the fish.”

Tyler said, “Those in favor of burning the statue.” Dozens of hands went up. “The ayes have it.”

Godfrey, Abelard, and Baldron hurried away, almost at a run. What were they up to, Burs wondered.

Tyler lit the cow on fire. Burs had to admit that it made quite a spectacle. Then the fire began to look a bit out of control, and burning embers did indeed begin to blow around a bit.

Suddenly the Bad Eggs reappeared, carrying two fire extinguishers apiece that they had borrowed from the dorms, and put out the blaze.

Burs felt relieved, and he was sure others probably felt relieved as well. He went down to his room and got ready for sleep. As he was drifting off, he was struck again by the oddity of the behavior of Godfrey, Abelard, and Baldron. In every other aspect of life, he would have said that they cared only about themselves. Did they really care about the fish? It seemed unlikely. Maybe they had some other motivation for not wanting a figure burned near the fishpond. For the life of him, Burs couldn’t think what that might be. He drifted off to sleep still wondering about it.


CHAPTER 43—Near death at the water tower

Burs awoke feeling a bit down. He reflected that maybe even without alcohol, there was a hangover of sorts, because the great highs of the evening of dancing were followed by resuming the grind of normal life next morning. Also, he had hoped that in the long afternoon and evening someone would approach him with a last clue, but it hadn’t happened. He decided that after breakfast he might take a quick one-hour hike up Monte Sol to clear his mind.

He dressed and went up to breakfast. He approached a table where Sharon was sitting alone. “Mind if I be sharin’ a meal with Sharon?” he said jokingly.

“Burs, it’s a silly pun that I’ve heard before, and it’s not nice to joke about people’s names.”

“Sorry about that. Mind if I join you?”

“Yes, if you can keep the bad puns in check.”

He sat down and began to eat. “Okay, I’ll stifle myself.”

“Does that mean you think I’m keeping you from being fully yourself?”

“No, actually I was just sort of citing All in the Family, where Archie Bunker says ‘Edith, stifle yourself.’”

“Burs, these quotations seem almost as bad as the puns.”

“‘I’m confused.’ That’s from the movie Moonstruck.”

“No, Burs, how can you call that a citation? Those words probably occur in any number of films.”

“Ah, but never more memorably than in Moonstruck, where the old man has every reason to be confused, and says plaintively that he is. It’s a classic line.”

“So you’re a big quoter.”

“Yes, I am, I love to quote. I could envision a TV game show where people did nothing but quote, or where they could communicate only in citations.”

“But sometimes your quotations don’t even relate to the conversation.”

“Yes, I admit it, just so long as there are a couple of words in what someone says that also occur in a citation, then I can hardly resist giving the citation.”

“Do you see how others could find that a bit annoying?”

“I suppose so.”

Sharon had finished her breakfast.

Burs finished his. They stood up and went to drop off their beige plastic trays.

Burs said, “I think I’ll take a hike up Monte Sol. Care to come along?”

Sharon slid her tray along. “Too strenuous for me. Enjoy!”

Burs made his way over to where Wendy was sitting. “I’m hiking up Monte Sol. Wanna join me?”


“Do you need to change shoes or anything?”

“No, these running shoes will be fine.”

They headed up through the upper dorms, then up the hill to the right, passing near the water tower, a large wide cylinder about the size of a small house.

Burs felt curious about the water tower. “There’s a ladder running up the side. Let’s climb up it.”


Wendy went first. “Hey, I thought there would be a padlock on this hatch, but there’s not.” She climbed out onto the top of the water tower.

Burs came up to the hatch. He opened it. There was enough light from the open hatch for him to see into the cistern. “It’s empty. Let’s go down inside.” He climbed down the ladder inside. “The air feels dusty, and it’s a little hard to breathe.”

Wendy followed him down. She reached down with her hand and touched the floor of the cistern. “Hey, there’s a thick layer of dust on the bottom.”

Burs felt for himself. “Wow, you’re right. Maybe it was dust in the water that slowly precipitated out.”

Wendy stood right in the center of the cistern and sang a note. It echoed strongly off of the walls. “That’s neat! I’m standing right in the center, and I can hear the echo strongly because it’s coming off of all of the walls.”

Burs was amazed. “Cool!” He stood in the center, back to back with Wendy. He tried some higher and lower notes. “Hey, check this out: notice how certain pitches echo much more strongly? This pitch”—he sang a note—“and this one, an octave higher”—he sang another note.

Wendy said, “I guess the cistern has a frequency, as though it were a giant organ pipe.”

“You’re right! I hadn’t thought about it, but that has to be right.”

The hatch above them closed, leaving them in darkness.

Wendy screamed, the scream echoing strongly in the closed space.

A crack of light appeared. Abelard’s voice said, “We’re locking you in.”

Burs called, “Abelard, don’t do this, it’s murder!”

Abelard said, “I don’t care! Quick, find a stick to put through this hole, and then we’ll get a padlock.” There were sounds of a scuffle outside.

Burs climbed up the ladder and pushed on the hatch. There was weight on it. It seemed that Abelard was probably sitting on the hatch.

Burs heaved with all his might, toppling Abelard off the hatch. Burs quickly climbed out, leaving the hatch open, and began wrestling Abelard on top of the water tower.

Burs yelled, “Wendy, get out and run away!”

Wendy climbed out and ran down to the campus for help.

Burs was a fairly even match with Abelard. He threw him aside on the top of the tower and fairly ran down the steps of the ladder to the ground. He saw that two fights were going on there. Hyperion and Baldron were wrestling, and Chesley and Godfrey were punching each other. Apparently the three Bad Eggs had wanted to lock him and Wendy in the water tower, but Hyperion and Chesley had actually fought to stop it. Thank God for that, or he and Wendy could have suffocated!

As Abelard began descending the ladder, Burs ran down the hill. As he approached the upper dorms, he saw Wendy and the dean coming up accompanied by two Sikh security guards and several students. By the time they got to the cistern, the Particulars had vanished into the piñon trees.

Burs reflected that the good little Christmas tree-like piñons that grew wild around Santa Fe and provided delicious pine nuts had turned traitor and hidden the Particulars. He decided not to voice that thought.

The dean said, “Don’t worry. Wendy told me that Abelard, Godfrey, and Baldron tried to lock you in the water tower, but that Chesley and Hyperion fought to prevent it. I’ll just call them one by one into my office and get their stories. The three bad ones will probably say they just thought it was a prank. I’ll make them see that it could easily have turned deadly. There need to be some very serious consequences for them. Oh, and Burs, I hear you were going to hike up Monte Sol. I’m thinking it’s probably best to stay near groups of people while those three are out for your blood.”

CHAPTER 44—What Tyler said—the sixteenth clue

Burs felt strange. He noticed that his hands were shaking.

Wendy said, “Burs, let’s go to your room and talk.”


Once they arrived in the room, Wendy said, “Come here”, and drew him toward the bed. They lay down next to the white-painted cinder block wall. She put her arms around Burs and cried into his chest. He tried to kiss her.

She shook her head. “No, that’s not what I mean. I just want to be held right now. We almost died up there. It’s very emotional for me, and I just need to get over it.”

There was a knock on the door. Burs got up. “Who’s there?”

“It’s Tyler, Tyler Berman.”

“Are the Particulars with you?”

“No, it’s just me and Rachel.”

Burs felt he could hear the ring of sincerity in Tyler’s voice. He opened the door.

“Burs, I heard what happened up at the water tower. I know I said I wouldn’t help you. I have resisted telling you this, because I didn’t want to rat on the Particulars, but after hearing about the water tower… I think I may have something to tell, even though it may not be worth anything. It’s an odd bit of information, not about a room or a person, but maybe it could be of help.”

“Okay, what is it?”

“Well, early in the year I remember overhearing one of the Particulars talking, although I didn’t know who it was. He said that his tarantula had escaped its aquarium and was climbing up his Beyoncé poster. I remember it for two reasons: it was amazing that the tarantula could climb up glass. He said that this type of tarantula, a zebra tarantula, shoots silk out of its feet, so that it can even climb up the vertical glass of an aquarium. Secondly, I remember the guy’s description of how freaky it looked to see this huge hairy spider crawling up the gorgeous leg of Beyoncé. So the point is: whoever has the tarantula has the Beyoncé poster.”

Burs was overjoyed. The sixteenth clue! “Hey man, I can’t tell you how much this means to me. It gives me the minimum number of clues I need. Now I just have to see if they are the right ones. Sorry, Tyler, I have to work now.” He let Tyler and Rachel out. “Wendy, you can stay, but I have to work, so you can watch and join in if you like.”

Wendy seemed a little miffed, but said, “Okay.”

He pulled up two wooden Johnnie chairs to the butcher board-topped desk, offered one to Wendy, got out some graph paper, and turned on the black elbowed desk lamp.

CHAPTER 45—The Particulars’ logic puzzle

Burs began working with the clues he had. He wrote out the list in a simpler form:


1. Blue room = N64 console.

2. Orange room = Taylor Swift poster.

3. Center room = Sega Genesis console.

4. Selena Gomez is next-door to the scorpion.

5. Assassin bug is next-door to Taylor Swift.

6. Katy Perry poster = PS1 console.

7. Selena Gomez is next-door to Super Nintendo.

8. There are five of everything: guys, pets, posters, consoles, and colored adjacent rooms in a line.

9. The red room is immediately to the right of the blue.

10. Baldron’s room is black.

11. Godfrey = first room on the left.

12. Abelard = Wii console.

13. Chesley = Nikki Minaj poster.

14. Godfrey is next to the green room.

15. Hyperion = frogs.

16. Beyoncé poster = tarantula.


• Who has the Beyoncé poster?

• Who has the PS1?

• Who has the scorpion?

• Who has the Super Nintendo?

• Who owns the coral snake?


He then made a chart for the clues:


Particulars puzzle


He decided that with just this information, he would try solving the logic puzzle.

CHAPTER 46—Solution of the Particulars’ puzzle

Burs began working with the clues he had.

From clue 3, he could fill in the Genesis under Game console in column 3.

He heard a loud “Ahem” behind him.

“Oh, sorry, Wendy, I was focusing so hard I kind of forgot you were there.”

“Clearly. Not cool, Burs. Do you think it’s okay to treat people like they don’t exist? Why don’t you explain what you’re doing, and then I can follow along, maybe check your work, and just possibly contribute something?”

“Okay. So see how clue 3 lets me fill in Genesis under room 3 in the Game console row?”

“Yes, I see that.”

“So now from clue 11, I can fill in Godfrey under room 1.”

“Okay, and check this out: from clue 14, room 2 has to be green, because it’s Godfrey’s only neighbor.”

“Very good, Wendy! You can definitely help me. Let’s just read through the clues over and over, looking at the chart until something jumps out. Actually, I like to visualize the clues as puzzle pieces that fit into the chart.”

“Okay, I’ll do that.”

Burs read the list of clues and thought. “Here’s something. Clue 9 means either 3-blue-4-red, or 4-blue-5-red. Blue-red has to be—”

“—Yes, I get it, no need to mansplain it.”

Burs wondered why women had to be so touchy. “Okay, but from clue 1, blue can’t be room 3, because that already has the Genesis console, so blue has to be room 4, and red room 5. Redrum—never mind.”

“No, I get it, I’d say it’s a ‘shining’ example of logic.”

“Ha ha! Nice reference, Wendy!”

“And don’t forget to put the N64 in the blue room.”

“Very good! So we have this.” He filled in the table.


Particulars puzzle, 6 cells filled


Burs said, “I’ll do this carefully, but I think that in this case every one of the clues we’ve used has been squeezed completely dry, and we can remove them. That gives this list of remaining clues.”

2. Orange room = Taylor Swift poster.

4. Selena Gomez is next-door to the scorpion.

5. The assassin bug is next-door to Taylor Swift.

6. The Katy Perry poster = PS1 console.

7. The Selena Gomez poster is next-door to Super Nintendo.

8. There are five of everything, in a row.

10. Baldron’s room = black.

12. Abelard = Wii console.

13. Chesley = Nikki Minaj poster.

15. Hyperion = frogs.

16. Beyoncé poster = tarantula.


Wendy sat up straight. “From clue 10, Baldron’s room is black, therefore it has to be room 3.”

“Very good, so room 1 must be the last remaining room color, orange. I can’t believe Godfrey was dissing his neighbor’s green room, when his own is orange. What a nut job!”

Burs filled in the table cells with the words black, Baldron, and orange.

Wendy said, “Oh, and from clue 2, the orange room has the Taylor Swift poster. And from clue 5, the assassin bug would be in room 2.”

Burs filled in the chart and rewrote the list of clues.


Particulars puzzle, 11 filled


4. Selena Gomez is next-door to the scorpion.

6. The Katy Perry poster = PS1 console.

7. The Selena Gomez poster is next-door to Super Nintendo.

12. Abelard = Wii console.

13. Chesley = Nikki Minaj poster.

15. Hyperion = frogs.

16. Beyoncé poster = tarantula.


They thought for a while. Wendy slumped in her chair. “This business of next-door is hard to deal with.”

Burs stretched. “Yes, you’re right. It’s one of the things that make this puzzle tricky. Let’s skip clues 4 and 7 for the moment.”

Wendy asked, “So how do you proceed now?”

Burs scratched his chin. “Let’s take clue 6 and picture it as a puzzle piece, with Katy Perry below and PS1 in the cell above. See how that can only fit in columns 2 or 5?”

“Yes, but that doesn’t narrow it down to one.”

“Well, let’s try with the other clues. Clue 12 tells us Abelard-Wii is in either room 2 or 5. Clue 13 says Chesley-Minaj is in room 2, 4, or 5. Clue 15 has Hyperion-frogs in either room 4 or 5.”

Wendy held her head in her hands. “We’re nowhere.”

“Not quite. Let’s look at the clues that have two possibilities, not three. Those are clues 6, 12, and 15. 6 is Katy Perry-PS1. 12 is Abelard-Wii. 15 is Hyperion-frogs. Among those, we have two consoles, one poster, two people, and one pet. So because we have more information on people and consoles, we could try a clue that combines people and consoles, clue 12.”

“Wow, nice, Burs.”

“Yeah, it’s like the deeper magic from before the dawn of time.”

“Come again?”

“Oh, it’s just a quote, from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis.”

“Yes, I’ve read that book, and liked it, but can’t quote from it. What did you mean by the reference?”

“Oh, I suppose it doesn’t really apply, I just like to cite cool phrases. I’ve been told my quoting is annoying.”

“Well, yes, a bit.”

“I guess what I really meant by deeper magic is that it’s the secret sauce.”

“Okay. So what now?”

“Well, for some odd reason my instinct is telling me to use clue 15 instead. Let’s take clue 15 and put Hyperion and frogs in their two possible locations, rooms 4 and 5, and see what conclusions fall out. Let’s say that Possibility A is Hyperion-frogs in room 4, and Possibility B is Hyperion-frogs in room 5. We’ll try Possibility A first.”


Particulars possibility A—Hyperion-frogs is in room 4, 13 filled


They both stared at the clues.

4. Selena Gomez is next-door to the scorpion.

6. The Katy Perry poster = PS1 console.

7. The Selena Gomez poster is next-door to Super Nintendo.

12. Abelard = Wii console.

13. Chesley = Nikki Minaj poster.

16. Beyoncé poster = tarantula.


Wendy said, “Rats. I just ran through the clues and they all give at least two possibilities.”

Burs said, “Yes, it’s an added challenge, but let’s go another layer deeper.”

Wendy said, “Burs, it’s too hard. I heard this puzzle was composed by Einstein, the smartest man of all time. I think it’s just too much for us.”

“No, we can handle it. My eye is falling on those Selena Gomez clues that we were neglecting. See, Selena can’t be in room 3 or 5, because she’s next door to the scorpion, so she has to be in room 2 or 4. Let’s branch those. So we would have: two sub-possibilities, A-1 and A-2, for whether Selena is in room 2 or room 4.

Wendy said, “Burs, it’s just beyond me, I can’t do it.”

Burs said, “Wendy, we have to do it. There’s a very large donation for the college riding on this.” He wrote out the chart.


Particulars possibility A1—Hyperion-frogs is in room 4 and Selena is in room 2, 14 filled


Burs said, “Okay, let’s see where we get.”


4. Selena Gomez is next-door to the scorpion.

6. The Katy Perry poster = PS1 console.

7. The Selena Gomez poster is next-door to Super Nintendo.

12. Abelard = Wii console.

13. Chesley = Nikki Minaj poster.

16. Beyoncé poster = tarantula.


Wendy said, “So from clue 6, Katy Perry and the PS1 have to be in room 5.”

“Yes, very good, I’ll fill that in.”

“And from clue 7, room 1 has to have the Super Nintendo.”

“Slow down, I can hardly keep up with you.”

Wendy said, “And from clue 12, Abelard and the Wii are in room 2.”


Particulars possibility A1—Hyperion-frogs is in room 4 and Selena is in room 2, 19 filled


Burs said, “Which puts Chesley and Nikki Minaj—uh-oh. Chesley can’t be in room 5, because there’s a Katy Perry poster there.”

Wendy said, “What does that mean?”

Burs said, “It means that A-1 is not possible.”

Wendy said, “Well, maybe if we played around with it a bit more.”

Burs said, “No, not so. There are possibilities A-1, A-2, and B. We took A-1 to its logical conclusion, every step following necessarily from the previous ones. It is absolutely ruled out. So now let’s try possibility A-2, whose only difference from A-1 is that the Selena Gomez poster is in room 4.”

Wendy said, “Okay.”


Particulars possibility A2—Hyperion-frogs is in room 4, and Selena is in room 4, 14 filled


4. Selena Gomez is next-door to the scorpion.

6. The Katy Perry poster = PS1 console.

7. The Selena Gomez poster is next-door to Super Nintendo.

12. Abelard = Wii console.

13. Chesley = Nikki Minaj poster.

16. Beyoncé poster = tarantula.


Burs said, “From clue 7, the Super Nintendo is in room 5. Must be.”

Wendy said, “And from clue 12, Abelard and the Wii can only be in room 2.”

Burs said, “And from clue 13, Chesley and the Nikki Minaj must absolutely be in room 5.”


Possibility A2: Hyperion-frogs is in room 4, and Selena is in room 4, 19 filled


Wendy said, “But now clue 6, Katy Perry and the PS1, is totally impossible, so we know that possibility A-2 is absolutely ruled out, leaving only possibility B.

Burs said, “Exactly. You have graduated to the next level in the solving of logic puzzles. Well done! Now let’s take a look at Possibility B, which has really now become Necessity B.” He erased the wrong conclusions from the chart and rewrote the list of remaining clues.


Necessity B: Hyperion-frogs is in room 5, 13 filled


4. Selena Gomez is next-door to the scorpion.

6. The Katy Perry poster = PS1 console.

7. The Selena Gomez poster is next-door to Super Nintendo.

12. Abelard = Wii console.

13. Chesley = Nikki Minaj poster.

15. Hyperion = frogs.

16. Beyoncé poster = tarantula.


Burs said, “From clue 12, Abelard and the Wii can only be in room 2.” I’ll just fill in the chart as we discover things.

Wendy said, “From clue 13, Chesley and Minaj must be in room 4.”

Burs said, “Good. And from clue 16, Beyoncé and the tarantula have to be in room 3.”

Wendy said, “From clue 6, Katy Perry and the PS1 are forced to be in room 5.”

Burs said, “And from clue 7, Selena has to be in room 2.”

Wendy said, “And from clue 4, the scorpion must be in room 1.”

Burs said, “Leaving the coral snake for room 4.”


Particulars puzzle solved


Wendy said, “Couldn’t we have just come straight to this result if we had tried possibility B first?”

Burs said, “Yes, I think we could have, but we did it by process of elimination, which I like. In a way, it makes me feel more certain of our result.”

“More certain? I thought logic gave 100% certainty.”

“Yes, it does, assuming each step is proved carefully. If you go too fast or are careless, it’s possible to make mistakes. By doing the puzzle the way we did, we also made sure it wasn’t a ‘cook,’ a puzzle with more than one solution.”

“Oh, I see.”

“We should check our work in any case. Let’s run through the clues.”

They ran through the 16 clues. Everything worked. They had succeeded in solving the puzzle!

CHAPTER 47—Confronting the Particulars

Burs felt great about solving the puzzle. He stood up, drew Wendy to her feet, and hugged her briefly. “Thanks for your excellent help.”

She took his hands, drew him toward her, and said, “Let’s celebrate!”

Burs said, “We have to get with the dean right away.” He took out his cell phone and called the dean.

“Dean Petras? I have solved the puzzle.” He heard an ‘Ahem’ behind him. “We have solved the puzzle.”


“Wendy and I.”

“Burs, just in case the Particulars have issues, it’s better to pretend you did it entirely yourself. I’m sure Wendy will understand.”

“Okay.” He turned to Wendy. “To the Particulars, I have to pretend I did it myself.”

Wendy said, “Sure, that’s fine, I was just teasing you.”

He turned back to the phone. “Can you meet me in your office?”

The dean said, “I’ll try to get the Particulars there immediately, let’s say half an hour from now, at 11 a.m. If I can’t reach them on their cell phones, I’ll send a security guard to their rooms. If you don’t hear from me to change the time, meet me in my office at 11 a.m.”

“Will do. He rang off.”

Burs said, “We have the answers to the five questions.” He wrote them on the paper.

• Who has the Beyoncé poster? Baldron.

• Who has the PS1? Hyperion.

• Who has the scorpion? Godfrey.

• Who has the Super Nintendo? Godfrey.

• Who owns the coral snake? Chesley.

He put the solution papers together in some semblance of order. “I like your idea of a celebration. Maybe later we can go for a coffee or something.”

“Burs, in astronomical terms, I would call that retrograde motion.”


“Oh, never mind. Anyway, that sounds fine. Call me later, or look me up in Polyhymnia 12 and let me know how things went.”

“Polyhymnia 12?”

“The lower dorms are named after the nine muses, hadn’t you heard?”

“No, but I get it now. See you later.” She put her hand on the doorknob.

Burs said, “Wait a minute. I’d rather you came with me to the dean’s office. That way there’s at least a witness if the Particulars start beating me up. Well, maybe not Hyperion and Chesley. Anyway, if a fight starts.”

Wendy said, “Okay, I’ll come with you.”

They made their way to the dean’s office.

The dean was behind her desk. Burs put Wendy at the end of the semicircle next to the dean’s desk, with himself next.

The Particulars trooped in and seated themselves, Abelard drawing up another chair.

Godfrey pointed at Wendy. “What’s she doing here?”

Burs said, “She’s my bodyguard, or at least my witness. I figured I shouldn’t walk around alone after the water tower.”

The dean said, “That’s an extremely serious matter that I will deal with in good time. Leaving it aside for the moment, Burs, what do you have for us?”

Burs said, “I have solved the puzzle.”

Godfrey appeared shocked. “Okay, then what are the answers?”

Burs said, “Here they are.”

• Who has the Beyoncé poster? Baldron.

• Who has the PS1? Hyperion.

• Who has the scorpion? Godfrey.

• Who has the Super Nintendo? Godfrey.

• Who owns the coral snake? Chesley.

Godfrey again appeared stunned. He looked accusingly at Hyperion and Chesley. “Did you two help him?”

Hyperion answered, “No.”

A split second later, Chesley answered, “No.”

Burs saw Hyperion take a surprised glance at Chesley. Hyperion’s lie-detecting radar was apparently working well, but he said nothing.

Godfrey thought for a minute, and then appeared to make up his mind. “Well, the answers are wrong.”

Chesley said, “Oh, come on, Godfrey, those are correct and you know it.”

Abelard said, “No, they’re wrong.”

The dean said, “Well, I guess we’ll just have to go down to your rooms and see.”

Godfrey said, “Okay, fine, the answers are right.”

The dean said, “So where is the statue?”

Godfrey thought for a moment. “We’re not saying.”

The dean said, “But you agreed that if Burs solved the puzzle, you would turn over the statue.”

Godfrey said, “Well, tough, we won’t. He looked hard at Baldron and Abelard, who nodded.”

Hyperion looked uncomfortable. “Dean, Chesley and I would tell you if we could, but the other three moved it somewhere we don’t know about.”

The dean said, “Godfrey, Baldron, and Abelard, I’ll give you one last chance. Turn over the statue or I will expel you.”

Godfrey said, “We refuse to turn it over, right, guys?”

Baldron and Abelard nodded.

The dean said, “There is only a short time left in the school year, but if you will not give back the statue, then you may consider yourselves as expelled as of this moment. I’d like your rooms cleared by tomorrow evening, or first thing Tuesday morning at the latest.”

The three trooped out of the room.

The remaining group looked at each other with somber expressions. Slowly they left.

As Burs and Wendy left, he said to her, “I have one more thing I’d like to try. Do you have a laptop with internet access?”

She said, “Yes, sure.”

They went to her room.

Burs said, “Let’s see. Godfrey said something to me about hiding the statue. He riffled through his notes. “Yes, here it is. He said these things.

 He’s an amateur magician.

 He could hide the statue.

 Outdoors.

 In plain sight.

 In the middle of campus.

 Not saying he did it, but he could.

Wendy said, “That last line makes me think that not only could he do it, he did do it. And we may as well assume so, anyway.”

Burs said, “I like it. So let’s assume he hid the statue outdoors in the middle of campus. I’m not sure what ‘in plain sight’ means, but we can leave that aside. Can you search for me on the internet for terms like magic, magician, hiding things, outdoors, in plain sight, stuff like that?

Wendy said, “Sure.”

Burs said, “Give me a minute. I want to think.” He lay on the bed and closed his eyes.

Very soon Wendy said, “This searching isn’t really working so far. How are you coming along?”

Burs said, “That wasn’t very long.”

Wendy said, “Sixty seconds exactly. I’d rather think about this together, how about that?”

Burs said, “Okay. I’m thinking about that phrase ‘outdoors in the middle of campus.’ Where does that sound like to you?”

Wendy said, “Indoors in the middle of campus could be the switchboard, but outdoors in the middle of campus? To me that says the fishpond.”

Burs said, “Excellent, I like that.”

Wendy said, “Do you think the statue is lying on its back in the fishpond, submerged?”

Burs said, “I don’t think even Godfrey would want to risk corroding a bronze statue by submerging it in water. Also the pond is so shallow that I think the statue would be very visible in the water. Instead, I was thinking about a book on magic that I read as a boy, where they described a trick for hiding things under a three-legged table using mirrors. The table has one leg in front, then mirrors running back from that leg to back legs, with curtains coming forward from the back legs. The mirrors reflect the curtains and make it look like all you can see under the table is curtains, that is, that there’s nothing under the table. So let’s go take a look at the fishpond.”

They walked to the fishpond.

Burs said, “See that skinny evergreen tree in the corner of the pond? That would be a perfect place for the mirrors I was talking about. Run the mirrors back from the tree trunk to the beige stucco walls. All people can see is the reflection of the wall, so they think they are just seeing wall. The branches start about six feet above the water, and they extend thickly to the walls. I’ll bet there are mirrors there, and that the statue is standing between them. Now let’s move away in case the Particulars can see us.” They moved inside the Peterson Center and continued to watch the fishpond.

He called the dean. “Dean, can you meet us at the switchboard right away?”

“Sure, I’ll be right there. I never left campus.”

Burs hung up, and said to Wendy. “She’ll be right down. Anything happening?”

Wendy said, “Uh-oh, here come the Particulars.”

The three bad eggs had come through the door at the far end of the Peterson Center hallway, had seen Wendy and Burs looking at the fishpond, and were approaching at a run.

Burs ran to the Sikh guard at the switchboard. “Can you leave your switchboard duty and help us please?”

The guard came out, radioing for backup.

Godfrey stopped in front of Burs. “What are you two looking at?”


Godfrey turned to Abelard. “Quick, run and borrow Hyperion’s car.”

“If he’ll let me.”

Godfrey said, “Tell him it’s for moving.”

Abelard ran off.

The dean appeared. “So, Burs, what’s going on?”

“Dean, I think the statue is hidden in the fishpond behind that tree.”

“That skinny tree? But anyone would see it!”

“No, it’s a magic trick using mirrors.”

They walked out to the fishpond.

Abelard pulled up at the circle in Hyperion’s car, parked, and then came up to the group.

Godfrey looked as though he was thinking of fighting, but then he appeared to think better of it and resign himself to the situation.

Burs waded into the pond. Once he stepped in front of the mirror, the others could see his reflection in it.

Burs said, “This was brilliantly done. There are two vertical mirrors, each running from the trunk of the tree out to the beige stucco wall. Each mirror makes people think they see the stucco wall behind the tree, when really they are seeing the reflection of the stucco wall beside the tree. People don’t approach near enough to the mirror to notice it because of the fishpond. The mirror is a little taller than the skinny, branchless trunk. The bottom of the mirror is in the water, and its top is in the thick branches of the evergreen tree. Oh, look at this: at the intersection of the mirror with the wall they put this fake vine. Genius!”

Burs took hold of the mirror and moved it aside, setting it on the bottom of the fishpond and leaning it against the wall. Standing on a rock, a gleaming life-size bronze statue of a naked woman was revealed. “Aprodite! There you are!”

A number of students had gathered to watch.

Burs called out to them, “Could two of you guys help me, please?”

Josh and Tyler stepped into the pond and helped Burs carry Aphrodite to the edge.

Burs said, “What now, dean?”

The dean looked at her watch. “It’s almost noon. Bring Aphrodite over to the Ptolemy stone. Now set her on the west side of the stone, nearest the Peterson Center, and let’s have everyone gather around behind her. Then wait for me.”

While the students arranged themselves, the dean went to the switchboard and borrowed a piece of white paper and a sharpie. She wrote the date and time on it, gave it to Tyler to hold, and came back around the front of the Ptolemy stone.

Josh, stand back so your shadow isn’t falling on the stone. Oh, nuts, the sun just went behind a cloud.”

She took a couple of photos anyway.

The sun came out.

The dean took several more photos.

Burs said to Wendy, “What’s up with this Ptolemy stone?”

Wendy said, “It shows how high the sun is in the sky at noon, so you can actually pretty much tell the date from it. I think the dean is using it as extra evidence that we are displaying the statue today. Actually I studied this last year and maybe I didn’t fully understand it, but I think Eratosthenes used two of these in cities at two different latitudes to measure the size of the earth, the first person to do so, absolutely brilliant.”

The dean did something with her cell phone. “Okay, I have texted a photo to the donor family of us displaying the statue. I think the donation is safe for this year. Mr. Singh, please lock that statue up really securely. I’m afraid that with this year’s close call, we can’t carelessly let the students steal it for fun anymore.”

The guard said, “Yes, dean, I’ll do that.”

The dean announced to the dozen or so students gathered there, “I want you all to know what a hero Burs Teague is for saving the college a large donation today. Burs, I can promise you a tuition discount. I also want to work on some kind of Key to the Campus or Freedom of the Campus ceremony.”

Burs felt his face flushing. “That’s okay, dean, I’ll accept a tuition discount, but a ceremony would make me embarrassed to show my face among the students. Thanks anyway. I’m just happy to have been of help.”

Wendy said, “This may not be appropriate, but…” She drew his face down to hers and kissed him.

Burs thought to himself, so I got to kiss a college girl after all. He felt very happy.

CHAPTER 48—Epilogue: What is truth and what is fiction

While the story purports to take place during the era of cell phones, thus in the first decades of the 21st century, some events in the story are modified from things that happened at various times during the history of St. John’s. Other events are purely fictional.

All characters in the book are fictional.

A prospective student would not have visited campus on Reality Weekend, and yet this is necessary for the plot, because it is when the statue of Aphrodite was displayed.

At St. John’s Santa Fe, there really was a life-sized statue of a naked woman called Aphrodite or Bountiful Harvest, which used to be kidnapped by the students. Unlike her description in this story, the statue was not good-looking. For more details on what happened to the statue, people should ask around on campus.

I vaguely seem to remember hearing rumors in the late 1970s that the college received money on condition that the statue be displayed once a year, and decided to display the statue during Reality Weekend. Those rumors could be completely false, or pure speculation on someone’s part. They were the seed of the idea for this book.

The Tao of Steve is a film from the year 2000 (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0234853/) that takes place partly on the St. John’s campus, and partly in and around the town of Santa Fe. While the film is not Citizen Kane, I like and recommend it.

I was sitting with other students in a line of chairs at a coffee shop rock party in about 1980 when a tall student whose name I remember but won’t mention impressed me greatly by running toward us, turning a forward flip in the air over us, and running out.

Hiding the statue in the upper story of the bell tower would probably have worked. During my time on campus, students painted Aphrodite with day-glow colors and pulled her up to that upper level with climbing ropes, where she stood for a time. Laying the statue flat in the upper story of the bell tower might have hidden her, especially if white boards had been placed around the bottom of that story of the tower.

There is no suitable tree in the fishpond. The magic trick described would not work in the fishpond, because the back of it is a waterfall of boulders. The trick would work if there were no waterfall, if there were a tree like the one described, and if the walls came to a corner instead of being smoothly rounded.

The Einstein Puzzle (or Five Neighbors Puzzle) exists, but the authorship of it is debatable. Some say it was composed by Einstein when he was a boy, others attribute it to Lewis Carroll, and others say neither of them composed it. Several different versions of it exist, including (now) the Particulars’ puzzle. Early in the book, Burs solves the zebra puzzle version. Later he and Wendy solve the Particulars’ puzzle, which is based on what we might call the Blue Master version.

It is said that the Einstein Puzzle can only be solved by two percent of the population. This is simply an estimate. Suffice it to say that if you solve it, you have done something very difficult, and with the caveat that it doesn’t imply skill in any other area, why not go ahead and consider yourself to be in the top two percent of the population, at least as far as this very narrow specialty of logic puzzles goes?

None of the tutorials is correct as to subject matter at the end of the year. In particular, in freshman language tutorial, the students in the story are studying a passage from Plato’s Meno. They would not be studying that passage at the end of the year, nor would Xavier translate it so primitively. I had him translate it as “Not to me at least at any rate oh Socrates,” hoping to strike a chord of memory in alumni, who may remember the way our translations sounded at the beginning of the year.

The college’s question periods after lectures really do amaze visiting authorities, just as described.

About the story of why St. John’s is called that when it has no religious affiliation: The likeliest story is that the college was founded on the Feast of St. John the Evangelist (apparently with George Washington, a Freemason, in attendance), and was named St. John’s for that reason. Wikipedia has “There was some association with the Freemasons early in the college’s history, leading to speculation that it was named after Saint John the Evangelist” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._John’s_College_(Annapolis/Santa_Fe)). Also “Freemasons historically celebrate two feasts of Saint John. The feast of John the Baptist falls on 24 June, and that of John the Evangelist on 27 December, roughly marking mid-summer and mid-winter” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._John’s_Day,_Masonic_feast).

I crawled some way along the tunnels under the upper dorms, but didn’t make it all the way around them. There may be an opening that would admit Aphrodite, but I don’t know of one. I can’t remember whether the floor of the tunnels was smooth or gravelly, but if there is gravel, it would obviously make skateboarding impossible.

I was in the undergraduate class of 1981, spending my first year in Annapolis and the next three in Santa Fe, which times I look back on as some of the best of my life.

I hope that I have not sold short what I believe to be an absolutely superlative college, the finest great books program in the United States, and one of the best educations to be had anywhere in the world.

Bursnell Teague and the Einstein Puzzle

Bursnell Teague and the Einstein Puzzle is the second in this series of young adult mysteries about a teenage detective named Bursnell Teague. A couple of years have gone by, and Bursnell is spending the weekend as a prospective student at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A statue has been stolen from the college, setting up a mystery in which Bursnell must solve a logic puzzle, as happened in the previous story (Bursnell Teague and the Particulars). Bursnell is up against the same villains (The Particulars) as before. These stories are an entirely new type of mystery, the only mysteries that are truly solvable by the reader, because in each the mystery is based on a logic puzzle. Mr. Slakey has invented a new mystery sub-genre. A must-read for any mystery collector. This mystery is gripping and perfectly readable whether or not one wants to tackle the logic puzzle built into it. The differences between this book and the last are that this one is much longer, contains more logic puzzles, and the puzzles are much harder. The central “Einstein Puzzle” on which this mystery is based is said to be so difficult that only two percent of the population can solve it, a nice challenge. This book is a paean to St. John’s College and to Santa Fe, New Mexico, both of which the author clearly loves. It is great reading for any fan of mysteries, anyone who loves both (right-brain) reading and (left-brain) puzzles, and anyone who wants to hear more about college life. Suppose you are a high school student in the throes of applying to colleges. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to read about what the college visit (prospective weekend) might be like? This book shows that, and it is difficult to find any other book that does.

  • Author: Tom Slakey
  • Published: 2017-03-08 23:35:25
  • Words: 35492
Bursnell Teague and the Einstein Puzzle Bursnell Teague and the Einstein Puzzle