Category Archives: Nonsense

While “nonsense” is an uncommon synonym of “gimcrackery,” I use the two differently. “Nonsense” is restricted to my fantastical weirdness. “Gimcrackery,” more often, documents my (more or less truthful) struggle with the world.

183: the towel riddle

I was showering one day when I was hit with a paranoid thought. Said thought put down roots and blossomed into a full-blown riddle. When I told it to my DnD circle, they viciously put it through the wringer and helped me refine it quite a bit.

The riddle

After your workout, you go to the locker room for a shower. Your gym is generous and provides free towel service, so nobody who comes to this gym brings their own towel. Instead, there’s a common pile of towels for anyone to grab in the locker room. Common courtesy dictates that

  1. Towels have no owner until touched by a user.
  2. Once touched and taken from the pile, a towel logically belongs to the touchee and should be considered theirs.
  3. Towel users relinquish ownership of their towels by depositing them in the return bin (to be cleaned etc. etc.).
  4. Ownership is not transferable – touching an owned towel makes you a thief.

You grab a towel from the pile. This towel is now yours since you have touched it and removed it from the communal pile. You enter the shower, hanging up your towel on the peg just outside your stall. You shower up and finish. You reach for the peg, ready to dry off, but the person in the neighboring stall interrupts you.

“I’m sorry,” he or she ventures, “that’s my towel.”

“There must be some mistake,” you reply. “I definitely left my towel on this peg.”

The important meta-facts

The riddle-teller digresses here to lay down some truths not directly presented by the story.

  1. Neither you nor your neighbor are lying. Both of you are telling the truth in good faith. Neither of you is actively attempting to deceive the other.
  2. Neither you nor your neighbor are thieves, nor do either of you intend to become such.

The less important meta-facts

Here are some silly facts that try to pre-empt the more outlandish answers. (Hopefully they don’t just distract the riddle-hearer.)

  1. The towel pile cannot be annexed all at once – i.e. you cannot move the whole pile a centimeter and claim them all. Assume that nobody takes more than one towel from the pile per try to the gym.
  2. Leaving the gym trivially releases your ownership over any towels you’ve taken. Removing them from the gym makes you a thief, but assume nobody does that. Also, nobody lives at the gym to slowly take all the towels.
  3. The exact dimensions and number of shower stalls is mostly irrelevant – however, it may help to imagine both you and your neighbor as not having wall-side stalls.
  4. There is no intentional wordplay above. Only the dialogue between your neighbor and you has significance embedded in the wording, but it can still be rephrased validly in many ways.

The answer

My answer was that as you stepped in the shower, you hung your towel on the peg between you and your neighbor. However, your honest neighbor wasn’t there just yet – some other person (let’s call him or her Taylor) was showering in the adjoining stall. Taylor hopped into the shower, hanging his or her towel in line with your convention (depending if Taylor is on your right or your left – anyhow, Taylor hung his or her towel a whole stall away from you). However, once Taylor finished showering, Taylor mistakenly took your towel by mistake and went away.

At this point, your honest neighbor hopped into Taylor’s old stall. Seeing a towel hung up on the far peg, he or she chooses to hang his or her towel on the peg where your towel formerly hung. Therefore the towel is in fact your neighbor’s, and you did indeed leave your towel on that same peg. Unfortunately, you were inadvertently about to make a thief of yourself (but the dialogue stops just short of that).

Someone ventured a better answer, actually, which requires far less explaining: your towel fell off the peg just before your honest neighbor stepped into the adjoining stall. The same result applies.

J39M

Headcanon: the lazy private aboard The Supremacy

I sauntered to my post, coffee in my right hand and briefing in the left. At a full fifteen minutes early, I was in no hurry, though my pace quickened imperceptibly when I saw that there was no-one for me to relieve. My eyes roved over the schedule and found his name. I would snitch on him to the captain later.

I didn’t blame him, though – it had been a very slow day after D’Qar. The loss of the Fulminatrix and Captain Canady had been as much a shock as a fluke. The Supremacy had faced down far more imposing enemies than a lone unladen cruiser like the Raddus. Hux was often an awkward man, but his sterling record in the field was unimpeachable.

Maybe I wouldn’t rat out my predecessor. I just wanted the day to end. I flipped a few pages through to check on the Raddus. She had precious little fuel left, enough for just a few hours at sublight or an extremely short hop (1 or 2 systems, if that) at light. It was Hux’s assessment that there was no point in even marshaling 2 destroyers ahead to pinch her off. Sooner or later we would have caught up, and then we would resume the same old song and dance, totally outgunning the Raddus without any chance for her escape.

Of course, that point was moot now that we knew the Resistance game. I glanced out the viewport. The distance shelling was on. That decloaking scan was entirely worthwhile; I could see the Resistance transports popping like Coruscanti kettle corn. I imagined that maybe 5 of them (very pessimistically speaking) might escape onto Crait. The ground battle then might take…

The Raddus changed course. Hux’s voice echoed distantly through the deck, barely registering green as he ordered no attention given to the empty cruiser. It was only a silly ploy. I pressed to speak. “Orders, Captain?”

The captain paused a few seconds before answering. He was having a slow day, too. “Attend your post. Have a finger on the shields for our partition, but hold for now.”

Thump, thump. I could see more transports being gunned down. I supposed Hux was saving the ghostly Raddus for last. Knowing that it was abandoned made it look gaunt and sad. Hux had been right not to put all that pressure on them to force a confrontation while they still held their main cruiser: that would have been irksome in the extreme. I took my hands off the controls and sat back to watch the fireworks.

Suddenly, Hux’s voice cut through all the hubbub on deck and all flashed red. “Concentrate all fire on that cruiser, NOW!

Our partition suddenly flooded with crosstalk. I fumbled with the receiver controls, trying to remember the dedicated channel for our command on this partition. I looked outside. The Raddus was now pointed squarely at us. This was silly – did they even have any gunners left on board?

I spun the dial. Suddenly I caught my captain’s voice and stopped, backing up a few channels.

“Gravity, gravity! Project external wells now, private!”

My blood ran cold. The powerful external gravity wells on the Supremacy were used to drag lesser ships out of lightspeed. The Raddus was the only ship big enough to interact with the Supremacy‘s substantial mass shadow in hyperspace. While the rest of our destroyers did not cast mass shadows, they were all arranged behind and around the Supremacy. If the Raddus collided with our mass shadow, it would eject an enormous debris field in normal space –

I keyed in the sequence to start the external wells. In my haste, I flubbed the initialization. I rekeyed as fast as I was able. The Raddus seemed to lean forward.

The other partitions were calling in now on the cross-channels – their wells were now up and running – while I sweated. Another flub. I frantically rekeyed as the Raddus suddenly vanished –

Branches shed mints

Were it another in your stead,
Afire, ablaze, beholden to Faust.
Yet Gloria, Gloria – amen –
Sing wider still to all.

Trust never what sulks ahead,
Nor admit contentious sound.
Now wary of all glum,
Now carillon bells together call.

Luminous in the seabed,
Feeble in the lighthouse.
But sonorous in the sanatorium –
and reverent in the hall.

J39M

I appreciate blunt friends

I have as of late been moaning and whining incessantly at 2 very blunt friends of mine. The moaning and whining arises from a personal crisis that requires honesty and pragmatism to quell (and possibly address). Some friends I confided in erred on the side of consideration and immediate kindness. I appreciate that – but the wounds within continue festering.

The bluntness is like a sudden splash of cold water, like the shock you get when you drop off the boat thinking that Hawaiian water is warm. In ordinary conversation, it might seem like “well, not really what I was looking for,” but it is a necessary thing that I ultimately look fondly back at.

Bruce rattled the fence as he clambered up. He lithely made his way down, turning right at the corner peach tree, continuing to the grimy bathroom window, and hanging a final left into the homeward stretch.

Bruce stopped. Home was supposed to be here, just off the fence. This was not home.

He paused. He turned in place (an impressive feat even with his feline grace) and retraced his steps – right, past a spotless bathroom window, and left at the apricot tree. Bruce’s nose perked up. He had passed here only moments before, but none of his scent lingered. It was as though he had never been here.

Unnerved, he turned again, one paw slipping audibly on the usually steady fence. Right at the lemon tree, past the blank wall, and left to the home fence. Nothing. A nondescript backyard, not very tidily swept – definitely not Bruce’s home.

Bruce did not turn around again. He continued down the fence. If he was lost, he could always find his way home from the neighborhood streets he knew best. He passed the four-way at the juncture of houses and continued on, eager to hop off the fence.

But the street was not ahead. He came instead to another four-way fence meet-up. Bruce turned left. He must have been accidentally running parallel to the street.

Five fence intersections later, Bruce was still lost and increasingly unsure why all the houses here formed a perfect grid with no egress to the street. Stranger still was the unnatural calm. There were far fewer crickets than August usually provided. Every single house was dark, even though it was scarcely an hour after sundown. Bruce hadn’t run into another living thing – not even a pesky dog to taunt.

Bruce bent and made to drop off the fence.

He froze immediately and couldn’t move. Waves of foreboding crashed over him. The yard, sparsely planted and somewhat unkempt, leered malevolently at him. Bruce knew that he absolutely could not stray from the safety of the fence.

Bruce slowly straightened up.

Meow. A plaintive and confused sound escaped him.

Meow. Bruce just wanted to get home.

Meow. Bruce was scared.

Meow. Bruce was lost.

Meow.

The unending grid of cold houses stretched unimaginably far in all directions.

“How glad I am!”

Peter was excited to visit someplace new. He milled around more excitedly than usual, bumping up against all his classmates. Down the ramp he galloped, taking in all the fresh smells and sounds. The road to the unfamiliar building was narrow and fenced closely. Peter squinted and saw someone sitting in the grass beyond the path, outside the enclosed confines in which he was walking.

“Hello!” said Peter.

“Hello,” came the distant reply.

“My name is Peter,” said Peter, “who are you?”

“I am Paul.”

“Paul, what are you doing there? Why are you outside the boundaries that we trust and know to be safe?”

“Because it’s not my lot to be there, Peter.”

“What rubbish, Paul. It’s safe in here. You get fed, you won’t get sick, and you won’t be exposed to the elements. How glad I am not to be you, Paul!”

Paul made no reply, watching as Peter rambled his way into the building. Through a grimy window, he glimpsed the path transitioning into a conveyor, feeding an enormous machine.

“Paul, you will someday grow old, grow sick, or grow weak – and then you will die in any number of ways before your time! How glad I am not to be you, Paul!” Peter trotted to the end of the path and stopped walking as the conveyor took up his motion.

The machine belched black smoke out its top and gushed red waves out the bottom, moaning and groaning like a vengeful spirit. Peter did not notice his that his classmates were one by one entering the machine but not obviously emerging from it.

“Paul, life is good like this! How glad I am not to be you, Paul!” Shadow fell over Peter as he was swept whole into the machine.

“How glad I am not to be you, Paul!” and Peter said no more.

Paul made no reply, bowing his head.

158

We the people jointly accept a death tax of 30.000 people per year on the road (NHTSA 2015). That means that by the time you tear your eyes away from the device reading this, someone will have died in a traffic accident somewhere in the US. We don’t have the means to fix this right now, so we live with it and don’t think about it.

What happens when we throw flying cars into the mix? The motions of driving are regulated by virtue of roads being essentially one-dimensional. If we give the controls to anyone who can wave a license at you, what then? If such a disturbing percentage of our population has trouble staying on a road, how can we expect them to safely operate something that can traverse (and fail) in all 3 dimensions? (Failure will mostly involve a downward trajectory. You do not come to a stop in the air like you stop on the road if your vehicle fails. You fall, and woe betide anything in the way of your landing.)

My worry is that we will shrug and accept it. Suppose just 20 people per year get guillotined, crushed, or crashed by flying car incidents. Do we shrug and consign the report to the bottom corner of the paper? Do we accept that death has just become that much more random?

Suppose some hotshot startup creates a true transporter (I.E. one that doesn’t have the swampman problem) and makes it viable for private use. Everyone can operate one from the comfort of their home. The catch is that seriously improper misoperation will lead to an explosion that can take out two city blocks (not unreasonable for a transporter, I think). You don’t want your gin-bottle neighbor to have something like that, do you?

No death is acceptable. If we believe that willfully opening up new avenues to unexpected termination is a substantially different evil from ignoring the deaths that currently plague us (and yes, we need to work on those too), then we should oppose the freeform development of flying cars until the state and federal governments can work together to strongly regulate this dangerous and negatively disruptive industry.

“Hi,” he said, shaking my hand. “I’m Pablo Hidalgo.”

I grinned. “And I’m John Williams.”

He didn’t react. He stared blankly at me, still vacantly pumping our hands up and down.

“No, really,” I said, “no joking, who are you?”

“Pablo” sighed and motioned for me to sit. I did, still studying the old man behind the desk. This wasn’t Pablo – a few short years ago, Pablo had been so alive, zipping around the Twitterverse in an unending quest to straighten the Star Wars canon. Here I beheld a tired, thinly stretched, and graying old man who could have passed for a Jedi in exile.

“Did you orchestrate this?” Would-be Pablo held up the printed cue faintly.

“Yes.” I was more confused than peeved. Scoring was hard work, and this was the first time I had been referred to the story department on matters of music. It shaped up like a pointless dent in my schedule for wholly unmusical reasons. “Is something the matter?”

“You indicate that this cue,” said Pablo weakly, “incorporates a men’s choir.”

“Yes.”

Pablo sighed. “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’ll have to rethink this. If you’ve built anything in particular around the sound of a men’s choir, that’s also out.”

I wasn’t shocked, but my annoyance now overtook my confusion. “Just a minute, please. What about a men’s choir is so objectionable that the story group has to step in to interfere with the scoring process?”

Pablo didn’t answer. He lay his forearms on the table, wrapping both hands wearily around a bright green mug.

“I’d really like an answer, ‘Pablo,’ because that is a lot to ask.”

I suddenly noticed the veins in Pablo’s forearms. They stood out vividly as though they had been stenciled in with magic marker. He was straining – and he was gripping his fluorescent mug pretty hard.

“Is this about that silly Sno – ”

CRASH. I flinched. The mug had shattered from between Pablo’s hands. A gash in his palm pulsed heavily, and blood began to dribble out.

“You’re bleeding, my god, you’re bleeding. Are you okay? Where’s your first aid kit?”

“Stop.” Pablo hadn’t moved.

“You’re bleeding!”

“Just.” Pablo was still sitting ramrod-straight. “Just. Please.” He didn’t sound hurt, just wearier than ever. Maybe that was shock. “Please redo this cue.” He looked me in the eye. “And please don’t try using a men’s choir again.” The cut in his hand was slowly pooling blood among the ceramic shards of his former mug.

I bolted out the door. I had passed a first-aid kit next to the hand sanitizer on my way in.