Missing Pawns

White to play and mate in 4 moves.

Remark: The position on the diagram is one which occurs in actual play.

Notice that the black queen and the black king have switched positions. However, this can happen only if some pawns have been moved. Therefore we can conclude that the bottom row on the diagram is actually the 8th row of the chessboard. All black and all white pieces have reached their respective opposite sides of the board.

Now White’s first move is Kb8-d7. The only moves black can play are with the knights. If Black plays Kb1-a3, Kb1-c3 or Kg1-h3, white mates in 2 more moves – Kd7-c5 and Kc5-d3. If Black moves Kg1-f3, then after Kd7-c5 Black can delay the mate by playing Kf3-e5. However, after the white queen takes it with Qxe5, Kc5-d3 is unavoidable.

Mate No Matter What

If White is to play, can he always mate Black in 2 moves, regardless of the moves played before?

The first thing to notice is that since the last move was made by Black, either the king or the rook was moved and therefore Black cannot castle anymore. Now White plays Qa1 and no matter what is Black’s next move, Qh8 gives check-mate.

Ping Pong Ball

Your last ping pong ball falls down into a narrow pipe embedded in concrete one foot deep. How can you get it out undamaged if all you have is your tennis paddle, your your shoe-laces, keys, wallet and a plastic water bottle, which does not fit into the pipe?

Using the plastic bottle, pour water into the pipe so that the ball will rise up.

Running Dog

Two people – Mick and Goof, 100 meters apart, start walking towards each other with constant speeds of 2m/s. At the same time Mick’s dog starts running back and fourth between them with constant speed of 6m/s until Mick and Goof meet. How much distance does the dog cover in total?

Mick and Goof will meet after 100/(2 + 2) = 25 seconds. Therefore the dog will run for 25 seconds and will cover 6 x 25 = 150 meters in total.


Four grasshoppers start at the ends of a square in the plane. Every second one of them jumps over another one and lands on its other side at the same distance. Can the grasshoppers after finitely many jumps end up at the vertices of a bigger square?

The answer is NO. In order to show this, assume they can and consider their reverse movement. Now the grasshoppers start at the vertices of some square, say with unit length sides, and end up at the vertices of a smaller square. Create a lattice in the plane using the starting unit square. It is easy to see that the grasshoppers at all times will land on vertices of this lattice. However, it is easy to see that every square with vertices coinciding with the lattice’s vertices has sides of length at least one. Therefore the assumption is wrong.

Missionaries, Cannibals

Three missionaries and three cannibals must cross a river with a boat which can carry at most two people at a time. However, if on one of the two banks of the river the missionaries get outnumbered by the cannibals, they will get eaten. How can all 6 men cross the river without anybody gets eaten?

Remark: The boat cannot cross the river with no people on board.

Label the missionaries M1, M2, M3 and the cannibals C1, C2, C3. Then:

1. M1 and C1 cross the river, M1 comes back.
2. C2 and C3 cross the river, C2 comes back.
3. M1 and M2 cross the river, M1 and C1 come back.
4. M1 and M3 cross the river, C3 comes back.
5. C1 and C2 cross the river, C1 comes back.
6. C1 and C3 cross the river.

Now, everyone is on the other side.

Friends and Enemies

Show that in each group of 6 people, there are either 3 who know each other, or 3 who do not know each other.

Let’s call the people A, B, C, D, E, F. Person A either knows at least 3 among B, C, D, E, F, or does not know at least 3 among B, C, D, E, F.

Assume the first possibility – A knows B, C, D. If B and C know each other, C and D know each other, or B and D know each other, then we find a group of 3 people who know each other. Otherwise, B, C, and D form a group in which no-one knows the others.

If A doesn’t know at least 3 among B, C, D, E, F, the arguments are the same.

Burn the Ropes

You have two ropes and a lighter. Each of the ropes burns out in exactly 60 minutes, but not at a uniform rate – it is possible for example that half of a rope burns out in 40 minutes and the other half in just 20. How can you measure exactly 45 minutes using the ropes and the lighter?

First, you light up both ends of the first rope and one of the ends of the second rope. Exactly 30 minutes later the first rope will burn out completely and then you have to light up the other end of the second rope. It will take 15 more minutes for the second rope also to burn out completely, for a total of 30 + 15 = 45 minutes.