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A Tangled Tale found me at this year’s Belgrade Book Fair and won me over as much with the fact that it was written by Lewis Carroll as with the note above the title: “Here’s some lower mathematics.” If it said just math or higher math, I wouldn’t have dared. 😉

Until this book, I’d only heard of and read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by this author. I liked A Tangled Tale‘s preface where it says that Lewis Carroll published one tangled tale after another in a monthly magazine some 150 years ago, and inserted a riddle or two into each tale, “like the medicine so dexterously, but ineffectually, concealed in the jam of our early childhood”. He called each anecdote a Knot and expected his readers to at least attempt to untangle it. He received letters with answers and explanations of how they reached the results, and then he’d comment on each letter in the following issue of the paper.

Such a great idea to keep the readers’ minds busy with a bit more than simply a narrative and plot, though narratives such as his — with wonderfully wacky characters and playfully unusual language — are challenging enough to untangle even without the math.

I have to admit that out of 10 knots I successfully solved only 4 or 5. I didn’t have the patience to decode the other problems’ set-up and decided to simply enjoy the story and read Mr. Carroll’s replies to letters. I can only imagine his harsh reaction to my lazy reading. His letters to readers are perhaps even more interesting than the mathematical problems, because they are full of cruel humor and sharp logic.

Here’s an example of a problem I solved, so you can see whether it’s something that would interest you enough to look for the book and give it a try:

How much did Clara’s lunch that consisted of one glass lemonade, one sandwich and one biscuit cost, if her previous lunches cost the following amount:

  • one lemonade, three sandwiches and seven biscuits cost one shilling and two pennies
  • one lemonade, four sandwiches and ten biscuits cost one shilling and five pennies.

If math is not your thing and over the years your brain became even lazier than mine for solving riddles, you might enjoy the book for its witty characters whose unusual appearance, demeanor, language and accounts echo the well-known and loved characters from Alice: The Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, Queen of Hearts, White Rabbit, etc. They are never out of style, which is something that candy bar makers are aware of as well, as I found out by accident recently in a Chicago bookstore — “Eat Me” candy bar that, besides teeth, employs gray cells as well:


Eat Me bar