Can you solve it? The queens of chess

Thanks to the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, chess is having a moment. Today’s three puzzles are in homage to world-class female players, both fictitious and real.

1. A quintet of queens.


In other words, the task is to find the ‘worst’ arrangement of the five queens, meaning the arrangement that leaves the largest number of squares unattacked. (FYI it’s more than 2.) For full marks, show me where you would put each queen.

You don’t need to understand chess to do this puzzle. All you need to do is understand how the queen moves, which is any distance horizontally, vertically or diagonally.

2. Four king hell.


In other words, you must dissect the board into four segments that all have the same shape, and each of which contains a king. Since there are 64 squares on the board, each segment must contains 16 squares. Hint: the orientation of each segment is different, and each segment touches a side of the board.

In The Queen’s Gambit, the character Beth Harmon is the best female chess player that ever lived. In real life, the best female player of all time is widely considered to be the Hungarian grandmaster, Judit Polgar, which brings us to the final puzzle (which is nothing to do with chess):

3. Magyar o’clock.

Below are four time expressions in Hungarian, followed by their expression in numerals.

Három perc múlva háromnegyed három: 2.42

Három perccel múlt háromnegyed három: 2.48

Négy perc múlva negyed három: 2.11

Négy perccel múlt négy: 4.04

How would a Hungarian say 3.03 and 3.19?

Puzzles 1 and 2 today are taken from Mathigon, a brilliant, free educational website whose annual online puzzle advent calendar begins tomorrow on this link. The site is an incredible resource, simple to use and navigate, beautifully designed, and full of amazing maths.

Puzzle 3 is from an old Russian book of language puzzles that I came across while researching my new book, The Language Lover’s Puzzle Book, a compendium of conundrums that includes many puzzles like this one, in which you must use logical nous and code-breaking skills in order to decipher an unfamiliar language or alphabet.

In my book, you will get to tackle languages from Cherokee to Swahili, and from Esperanto to the languages of Papua New Guinea. Not forgetting a grapple or two with English and its idiosyncrasies. You can read more about the types of puzzle in the book in this previous column. The Economist wrote that it is “Not just a puzzle collection, but an introduction to the science of distilling regularities from the weird ways in which languages behave.”


You can buy The Language Lover’s Puzzle Book at The Guardian Bookshop, or any other retailer. Dare I suggest that it would make a great Christmas gift?

NO SPOILERS. I’ll be back at 5pm UK time with the solutions.

I set a puzzle here every two weeks on a Monday. I’m always on the look-out for great puzzles. If you would like to suggest one, email me.


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