It’s pretty rare that I read a book front to back in a single day, unless I am bed-ridden (Roald Dahl’s The BFG was read when I had chicken-pox as a kid) or otherwise incapacitated.  Even planes, which offer an ideal opportunity for reading, have many distractions which seem to get in the way – there’s always at least one film that I am happy to sit through, along with music and the aeroplane food, of which I’m a big fan.

However, yesterday was an exception.  I bought The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon at around 3pm yesterday, after some better than average reviews from a couple of friends and some recent comparisons of myself to the main character by Simon Bond.

What a wonderful book!  The way in which it is written is fantastic, and the traits of the main character are lovable and to a large degree understandable.

Just for the record, I set yesterday’s teaser about Plymouth, Florida and Lebanon, Missouri before reading the book.  The answer is that these are the only two towns in the USA whose zip codes are powers of two (32768 and 65536 respectively – these being the 15th and 16th powers).  I’m still to research the logic behind US zip codes, but I can’t find a 16384 anywhere.  One day I’ll visit these places as some form of pilgrimage.

When the main character in the book gets stressed, he calculates the powers of two (or the cubes) of sequential cardinal numbers in his head.  I used to do this too, but here’s the main difference.  I can get to two to the 23 (8,388,608) without too much bother or the need for paper.  He can get to the 45th power (35,184,372,088,832) without any bother – twice the number of digits!  It reminds me of the puzzle about putting a grain of rice on the first square of a chess-board and doubling the number on each square until you reach the end of the board – the final square would have 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 grains.  (He doesn’t say how far he can go with the cubes, but I struggle after 10.)  I’m surprised, btw, that on google, a search for "Plymouth, Florida" and "Lebanon, Missouri" doesn’t yield any results.  Has no one else observed this?  I guess not.

I’m sure that the varying performance here is largely down to the amount of other stuff that clogs up our brains, which acts as interference.  I had the closing ceremony of the Olympics on in the background while I did my calculations, and I was unable to filter this out completely.  I also found that at some of the more difficult calculations, my mind wandered on to other topics, including the very topic of interference causing a slow-down.  This is probably a reason for having cubes in offices as opposed to going open-plan.  I think the need for communication and cross-fertilisation (I hate that phrase) of ideas interferes with this ideal, and it’s important to have a balance between the two – spaces to work in isolation and places to feed (not canteens).  I’m yet to see this implemented successfully.

I’m also a big fan of The Monty Hall Problem.  A game-show contestant has three doors from which to pick one; behind one of these is a car and behind each of the other two is a goat.  He chooses a door, and the host reveals a goat behind one of the doors not selected.  He then offers the contestant the option of changing their choice or sticking with their original.  The puzzle lies in the fact that human intuition suggests that changing or not changing has no impact on the chances of winning the car.  It’s 50/50, right?  But the maths shows that by switching doors, you are twice (66.7%) as likely to win the car than if you had stuck (33.3%).  I love that.

His numbering of the chapters using prime numbers only is poetic (and resonant), and his description of his non-belief in God is very logical (and appealing).

I recommend the book to anyone who has that kind of bent (Alan, Enda, Darach, Bal), and many who don’t.  I’m not a good reader, but if I can polish it off in a few hours, anyone can.


4 Responses to “tCIotDitNT”

  1. Mark on August 31st, 2004 06:14

    I hope the medical cover is good over there mate. sounds like you are having quite a serious relapse. time to up the dose.

  2. My name is "Mum" (see Peter Kay!!) on August 31st, 2004 13:45

    You weren’t a kid when you contracted Chicken Pox, you were 17 and in first year 6th. The first book you read was “Where Eagles Dare” by Alistair Maclean and you appear not to have stopped reading since. Prior to that it was required reading for school or the Beano Annual!

  3. simon on August 31st, 2004 22:58


  4. My name is "Dad" on September 1st, 2004 21:57

    If this is the product of unemployment, then “Gawd help America” should become the National Anthem. Check your medical cover for shrink treatment!
    Rumour has it that I was half responsible for you. Hope it was the other half!

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