If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Brain Teaser

In my teens, I had a book which made me laugh a lot. It was called Funny Ha Ha and Funny Peculiar, by Denys Parsons (Pan Books, 1965). Each left-hand page was a collection of misprints and clangers from a variety of newspapers and other published sources. The right-hand pages were items of bizarre fascination - a kind of pre-internet WTF? collection. One of the right-hand items was a brain teaser from the Sunday Times (no idea of the publication date, but there is an internal clue which dates it roughly), which has stuck in the memory like a particularly stubborn bit of peanut butter to the roof of the mouth. It was entitled "The Omnibombulator".

Of course, one day last year, for no reason at all, the word 'omnibombulator' shook itself free from its shelf in the bat-cave of my memory and flew out into the daylight of my consciousness. And I had to find the book again. The book has been long out of print, of course, but there was an Amazon seller who had a copy, average readable condition, for the princely sum of one penny. I invested.

A lot of the humour seems feeble these days, when the TV schedules seem full of bloomers and bloopers, and humour like this is available on an industrial scale at the click of a mouse. But there were some that stood the test of time and raised a genuine laugh. (I may post a few of the better ones over the next few days.) And there, on page 153, was the Omnibombulator. I'm going to print it here and hang the copyright lawyers - if they throw me in jail, I'll go down laughing. I'll post the answer in a few days (if I can work it out). The TOMCC are meeting for Sunday lunch at The Sloop in Porthgain, and that could make for a long afternoon, so it won't be tomorrow. There's no rideout, so I am taking Anna in the car. Should be fun.

Good luck with the puzzle.

The Omnibombulator

This unusual instrument is operated by selecting one of the four switch positions A, B, C, D and turning the power on. The effects are:

Position A: The pratching valve glows and the queech obulates
Position B: The queech obulates and the urfer curls up, but the rumption does not get hot
Position C: The sneeveling rod turns clockwise, the pratching valve glows and the queech fails to obulate
Position D: The troglodyser gives off hydrogen but the urfer does not curl up.

Whenever the pratching valve glows, the rumption gets hot. Unless the sneeveling rod turns clockwise, the queech cannot obulate, but if the sneeveling rod is turning clockwise the troglodyser will not emit hydrogen. If the urfer does not curl up, you may be sure that the rumption is not getting hot.

In order to get milk chocolate from the machine, you must ensure (a) that the sneeveling rod is turning clockwise AND (b) that if the troglodyser is not emitting hydrogen, the queech is not obulating. Which switch position would you select?

If, tiring of chocolate, you wish to receive the Third Programme, you must take care (a) that the rumption does not get hot AND (b) either that the urfer doesn't curl and the queech doesn't obulate or that the pratching valve glows and the troglodyser fails to emit hydrogen. Which switch position?

Note for young people: The Third Programme was launched in 1946 and renamed Radio 3 in 1967.

Edit: further investigation reveals that the original newspaper clipping referred to the puzzle as Brain Teaser 44, and answers had to be submitted by Friday 26 January. Taking the dates of the Third Programme as the limits of possible publication, this narrows the year down to either 1951 or 1962. Thanks to Cloud Chamber 161 for the calculations, and to Potty Puzzles for the additional information, although his date for the first publication (1933) must be wrong, unless ther reference to the Third Programme was a lucky shot 13 years before the station was launched.

UPDATE: This post seems to be attracting some attention a month after it was posted. To save you trawling through piles of my incoherent ramblings, you will find the solution here.


  1. So confused, wow I am not smart.

  2. It's easier than it looks. Pencil and paper help a lot.

  3. "Pencil and paper help a lot."

    Show this to young people today and they'll lose a hell of a lot of time Googling 'pratching valve' and 'queech'... ;)

  4. Good point, Julia.

    They won't get very far ...

  5. Funnily enough, I had the same book when I was of skool age - although I remember this particular part of it not at all (at the time I was far more entertained by paperback compilations of the Two Ronnies scripts...)

    It might be easier to wait until you publish the answer and claim that's what I thought all along, but in the interests of honesty
    *** spoiler alert ***
    I reckon c and d.
    I also reckon you don't want to have a relaxing smoke whilst listening to the radio, since (if I've worked it out right) the only thing the machine is doing at that point is generating hydrogen.

  6. Good try, Endo - but is it good enough? We shall see. I solved it (actually, once I had the method it only took a few minutes) and confirmed it with the only other Internetizen that I could find that knew of the puzzle, so I am reasonably sure i can give the right answer. I'll post the answer tomorrow. And you are right about the dangers of listening to the Third Programme - all it's doing at that point is farting flammable gas.

    As you do.


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