The Story Of The Two Maidens

Figure 15

[Page 150] A party of five horsemen set out to carry off two maidens who were, however, defended by their two brothers, one on either hand. Fig. 15 shows four hollows in the sand, with counters representing the horsemen in No. 1, the maidens in No.3, and the brothers in Nos. 2 and 4.

Figure 16

The horsemen decide to attack. This is done by picking up the counters from "house" No. 1 and distributing them, counter-clockwise, as in the puzzle of the Hare. When this move is brought to a standstill by the fall of the last counter into an empty house, the state of affairs is found to be as in Fig. 16. It will be observed that the attack has failed. The brothers still stand between the marauders, and their prey.

Figure 17

At this point, the horsemen are reinforced by five others (Fig. 17) and decide to attack again. This attack is carried out in the same manner as before, but at the end of the counter-scattering the same formation as in Fig. 17 reappears. Again the attack has failed. Further reinforcements now appear, bringing the number of the raiders up to twenty, so that they re-attack with some confidence.

Figure 18

The result, however, is another failure. The formation of Fig. 18 reappears after the move is completed.

Mere weight of numbers being of no avail, the raiding party consults two fikis, on foot, who happen to come along, and these agree to join them (Fig. 19), promising speedy success.

Figure 19

The attack is now made again, in the same manner as before, and very quickly produces the distribution of counters shown in Fig. 20. It will be seen that the promise of the fikis has been completely fulfilled. Houses 1 and 3 each contain ten of the horsemen and one of the maidens, while houses 2 and 4 each contain one [Page 151] of the brothers guarded by one of the fikis.

Figure 20

The ingenuity of this puzzle seems to raise a presumption of foreign origin, for one can hardly imagine one of our normal Arabs discovering it. It does not, however, seem to be commonly known in Omdurman, for when I wished to refresh my memory of its details, for purposes of this paper, I had to wait until an Arab from the far west happened to come in with animals, before I could get the information I wanted.

This man, by way of digression, was an old acquaintance, a sedentary Arab in origin, but long ago turned nomad, a choice which he defended to me by the apophthegm "The town says to you 'Bring!'; the desert says to you ‘Take!'" That was eleven years ago, since when increasing wealth in herds has justified his policy.

Last update January 6, 2010