(Peter Turchi’s ver­sion of the Four Pris­on­ers Prob­lem)

Pasatiempo - - RAMDOM ACTS -

Four writ­ers, close friends, have each com­pleted their first books and are in­vited to meet a fa­mous and in­flu­en­tial edi­tor. She’s read all their work and was sur­prised to find that she ad­mires it all equally. Af­ter meet­ing them, she re­al­izes that if she pub­lishes any one or two of th­ese writ­ers, their friend­ship will suf­fer ter­ri­bly. So the edi­tor presents them with a puz­zle.

The edi­tor sends the first writer to an­other room. She in­structs the other three to ar­range their chairs in a line so that each writer can only see the writer(s) in front. No peek­ing. (And there are no mir­rors in the of­fice.) Then she ex­plains that she’s go­ing to give each writer — in­clud­ing the one in the other room — a book to bal­ance on his or her head. Two have red cov­ers, two have black cov­ers. The writ­ers can’t see the books on their own heads, and the writer in the other room can’t see or be seen by the other three. The writ­ers can’t talk (or pass notes, send texts, use hand sig­nals — you get the point).

The deal: If the first writer who speaks can tell the edi­tor the color of the cover on his or her own head, she’ll pub­lish all four of their books. If the first writer who speaks is wrong, she won’t pub­lish any of them.

You need to know: the four writ­ers, un­like a lot of writ­ers, are per­fectly log­i­cal; and they know each other well enough to trust one an­other to re­spond log­i­cally.

Turn the page for the an­swer.

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