Archive for the 'Active' Category

Unsolved puzzles, open games, and questions still left on the table

Family Trees for Shakespeare’s Histories

Friday, September 19th, 2014

My monthly Shakespeare reading group is gearing up to do the history plays. For the next eight months, starting this Sunday, we’re going to be working our way through the two tetralogies.

Shakespeare, working in the late sixteenth century, was writing about his own country’s history spanning most of the fifteenth century. He could assume his audience was familiar with the stories and the characters to some degree. Our perspective, over four hundred years later and in another country, does not provide the same level of context.

Imagine we were watching a play about the American Civil War and characters made various passing references to “the president,” “Lincoln,” and “Honest Abe.” We would understand these are all the same person, no explanation needed. But someone unfamiliar with our history might get confused. In Shakespeare’s histories, characters refer to each other by last name, nickname, and title interchangeably, and their iconic status in English memory requires very little exposition. When we do actually get a first name, it’s usually one of the same six or seven names recycled endlessly throughout the generations, relying again on context for specificity.

Thus, in order to facilitate the readings, I have created a family tree for the Plantagenets that spans all eight plays. For each play, I have put together a version of the tree that shows the current state of the family as the action begins. It shows who’s living, who’s dead, who’s related to whom, who is actually in the play, and what names might be used to reference them. What’s more, it all fits on one page, so it makes a convenient handout for a reading.

It was quite a project, but now that I’m finished, it’s my pleasure to share the results with the Shakespeare Teacher community:

Whether these charts end up providing more clarity or only more confusion will remain to be seen. I’ll be field testing them with my group and may find a need to do a rewrite in eight months time. If anyone out there sees anything seriously wrong or just has a helpful suggestion, please leave a note in the comments so I can address it in the next round of revisions.

A few notes may be helpful. A shaded box means that the character is dead before the play begins. A bold-faced box means that the character appears in the current play. Each space represents the same character across all eight plays, but there are two characters (Anne Mortimer and Isabella Neville) that are duplicated on the chart because they married across family lines. These are represented by circled numbers.

For the most part, Shakespeare sticks with history as far as the genealogy and chronology are concerned, but where he breaks with history, I generally went with Shakespeare’s version. I did this because the purpose of the chart was to make the readings easier. So if Shakespeare, for example, refers to a character by a title he technically didn’t have yet, I used that title on my chart.

One major exception to this is the case of Edmund Mortimer. Historically, there were two different men named Edmund Mortimer in this story: Sir Edmund Mortimer, and his nephew Edmund, Earl of March. An Edmund Mortimer appears in Henry IV, Part One and an Edmund Mortimer appears in Henry VI, Part One. It appears that Shakespeare has conflated the two men into a single character, as he ascribes to the character biographical details from both men in both plays. I went with the more historically appropriate choice to put Sir Edmund in 1H4 and the Earl of March in 1H6, but you should know that when using these charts with those plays.

A lot of the information in these charts were taken from the plays themselves. But the charts also include a lot of historical information, and for that, I used other sources. I took advantage of the excellent genealogical tables in The Riverside Shakespeare (G. Blakemore Evans, ed.) as well as the Arden editions of Henry V (T.W. Craik, ed.) and Henry VI, Part Three (John D. Cox and Eric Rasmussen, eds.). I found The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s History Plays (Michael Hattaway, ed.) very helpful. I also consulted the official website of the British Monarchy, as well as other online sources as needed.


Conundrum: An Eventful 52

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

The following recap of 2013 has been redacted by overzealous Internet censors! Can you fill in the blanks to restore our memories of the year?

Here’s the catch: all of the missing words are in alphabetical order. Enjoy!

Was it only 52 weeks __(01)__ that we celebrated the arrival of 2013? A lot has happened since then. __(02)__ __(03)__ was __(04)__ from the same network as Mr. __(05)__ later would be. The __(06)__ story of the past 365 days might be that terrible __(07)__ in __(08)__. The __(09)__ of a mayoral __(10)__ ended when he was revealed to be using the name __(11)__ __(12)__. This may have been the most __(13)__ incident of 2013, unless you wish to give that __(14)__ honor to the family of __(15)__ __(16)__, whose __(17)__ member __(18)__ many by __(19)__ his more __(20)__ views, which many felt went too __(21)__. At the movies, the latest __(22)__ & __(23)__ film had a __(24)__ showing at the box office, though it did not __(25)__ as much __(26)__ as the latest __(27)__ __(28)__ film. In music, the artist born __(29)__ __(30)__ released a second LP with that name. Internationally, __(31)__ __(32)__ was removed from power, while domestically, we fought __(33)__ over __(34)__, the __(35)__ signature __(36)__. The __(37)__ __(38)__ it fiercely, and the __(39)__ itself certainly had some __(40)__ spots. In fact, the worst __(41)__ of 2013 may have been the __(42)__ it triggered, though just as __(43)__ was when Mr. __(44)__ __(45)__ out about the government’s __(46)__ on Americans as part of a secret __(47)__ program. In sports, we once again saw that nobody could __(48)__ from the __(49)__ like __(50)__ __(51)__. All in all, it was an eventful __(52)__.

Conundrum: Russian Roulette

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

In Russian Roulette, a six-chambered revolver is loaded with one round, the cylinder is spun to place the round in a random position, and participants take turns pointing the gun to their heads and pulling the trigger until one player loses.

Imagine you are playing this game (for whatever reason) with one other person, but do not wish to die.

1. Assume there is one round and the cylinder is spun only once, at the beginning of the game. Is it better to go first or second?

2. Assume there is one round and the cylinder is spun after each player’s turn. Is it better to go first or second?

3. Assume there are two rounds in random position and the cylinder is spun only once, at the beginning of the game. Is it better to go first or second?

4. Assume there are two rounds in random position. The first player shoots an empty chamber. You have the option of shooting the gun as is, or spinning the cylinder first. Which do you choose?

5. Assume there are two rounds in a random position – but you are told that the two rounds are in consecutive chambers. The first player shoots an empty chamber. You have the option of shooting the gun as is, or spinning the cylinder first. Which do you choose?

6. Assume there are two rounds in a random position – but you are told that the two rounds are in consecutive chambers. The cylinder is spun only once, at the beginning of the game. Is it better to go first or second?

These are pure probability questions, for entertainment purposes only. Shakespeare Teacher in no way condones the use of firearms in this manner.

Conundrum: The Big Picture II

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

In a normal “Pic Tac Toe” puzzle, there are nine pictures in a 3×3 grid, like Tic-Tac-Toe. In each of the three rows, three columns, and two diagonals, there is a common theme that unites the three pictures. The challenge is to find the eight themes.

In a “3D Pic Tac Toe” puzzle, there are 27 pictures in a 3×3×3 grid, like a Rubik’s Cube. In each of the nine rows, nine columns, nine pillars, eighteen lateral diagonals, and four cross-cube diagonals, there is a common theme that unites the three pictures. The challenge is to find the 49 themes.

A “Big Picture” puzzle is just like a “3D Pic Tac Toe” puzzle, except that each of the 49 themes will be a movie. Each of the three images in that theme will picture at least one actor who was in that movie.

Imagine stacking the three levels below on top of one another. For reference, and notation guidelines, check out my last Big Picture puzzle, including the comments. The rules here are identical to that puzzle.

Looking at that puzzle will also help identify the actors in Image B5; tragically underused in that puzzle, it now plays a more central role. Although many of the same actors appear in both puzzles, none of the 49 movies in the solution to this puzzle is the same as any of the 49 movies in the previous puzzle’s solution.

In Image B3, you will use the actors who voiced the animated characters shown, but none of the movies in the solution is animated, a documentary, or Robert Altman’s The Player.

You can click on each image to see a larger version:

Top Level – Level A

Middle Level – Level B

Bottom Level – Level C

Please post whatever you come up with in the comments section.


UPDATE: See comments for correct themes provided by Lee (12), Neel Mehta (20), and JBenz (11). The following 6 themes remain unsolved:



Lateral Diagonals


Your Move: Conundrum

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

The Shakespeare Teacher is out. It’s your move.

Today’s challenge is based on the most recent Conundrum, which was a logic problem called Poker Game 2.

The answer is the Queen of Spades and the Six of Spades.

Your challenge is to select the five cards on the board to make that answer correct. Everything else about the problem will stay the same.

First person to post a correct entry (by March 10) is the winner.

UPDATE: I’ll leave this challenge active a little longer if anyone wants to try it.

Conundrum: Five for Five

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

Last week’s Conundrum about kings named Henry reminded me of a Shakespeare final I gave about five years ago. This was for an advanced graduate course on Shakespeare, and I actually decided to give the final exam as a takehome. What’s more, the first five questions were True or False. Surprisingly, only two students got all five questions right. Sounds like quite a Conundrum to me…


1. Twelfth Night is named after a holiday in December.

2. Gloucester (in King Lear) has two sons; the bastard one is named Edmund.

3. Katherine of Valois was wife to Henry V, mother to Henry VI, and grandmother to Henry VII.

4. Based on evidence in Hamlet, it is reasonable to assume that Shakespeare may have read at least some of the writings of Sigmund Freud.

5. The title of The Merchant of Venice refers to a Jewish merchant named Shylock.

I should point out that the five questions combined were ten percent of an exam that was ten percent of the final grade, so these questions alone were not enough to affect anyone’s final grade. I don’t believe in trying to trick students, but I felt that a takehome exam deserved a little extra bite. The rest of the exam was short answer and essay and was very straightforward.

Can anyone answer all five questions correctly?

Conundrum: 1-D Shakespeare Crossword

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

Most crossword puzzles are two-dimensional. They have across and down clues.

This puzzle is one-dimensional. It has forward and backward clues. And all of the answers have to do with Shakespeare.

There’s not much space here, but imagine a horizontal row of 39 squares.

There are no black squares. All answers should be run together one after another with no spaces.

Post whatever you come up with. Feel free to use the comments section of this post to collaborate. The final answer will be a string of 39 letters that can be read in both directions.


Forward (Left to Right)

1 – 8: Hamlet’s home

9 – 12: Briefly betrothed to Edward IV

13 – 16: The smallest fairy?

17 – 20: “A Lover’s Complaint”

21 – 26: Speaker of “If music be the food of love, play on”

27 – 32: Does Macbeth see one before him?

33 – 39: Twelfth Night‘s Antonio once wore one (2 words)

Backward (Right to Left)

39 – 38: Scotland setting in Macbeth-like film

37 – 32: He is as constant as the northern star

31 – 29: Lear’s Fool will give you two crowns for one of these

28 – 23: The love of Venus

22 – 18: He loved Rosaline first

17 – 14: Companion to Hal and Falstaff at the Boar’s Head

13 – 11: What a piece of work it is!

10 – 5: He knows a bank where the wild thyme blows

4 – 1: Tempest setting

UPDATE: See comments for a big hint by Duane.