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QUERIES ON ORIENTAL SOURCES IN RECREATIONAL MATHEMATICS by Prof. David Singmaster

Last amended on 4 agosto 1996. I am working on a history of recreational mathematics. I have found a number of topics which have Chinese and Japanese connections which I am gathering here for convenience in correspondence. Separate letters deal with Middle Eastern questions, i.e. Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian, Arabic, Persian and Turkish, and with Russian questions. Most of the questions here relate to China, but there may be Japanese connections unsuspected by me and any oriental information on the topics would be of interest. Some of these concern situations where problems are known from China and Europe, but there are no Indian and Arabic sources known to me; that is, the apparent transmission from the Orient has a gap in it. For some topics, the usual transmission may be inadequate to explain the early history. For example, the cistern problem appears almost simultaneously in China and Alexandria. Hero(n)'s work gives two problems, both incorrectly solved, while the Chiu Chang Suan Ching (Jiu Zhang Suan Shu) gives a clear example with 5 pipes and several related problems. As another example, after 5C to 7C China, the Hundred Fowls problem is first known to appear in Europe, Egypt and India almost simultaneously in the late 9C. This is faster than any other example of transmission that we know of. Further, the problem is well developed in all three places, especially in Egypt where Abu Kamil gives a problem with five varieties of bird and says there are 2676 solutions. Tait's Counter Puzzle and the Chinese Rings are further examples where there is no sign of the usual transmission through India and the Arabs. There are also a few cases where transmission seems to have gone from Europe to the Orient - Tangrams and the Josephus Problem are examples where there is no sign of the usual transmission, and the transmission may well have gone to the East. I wonder if there was some transmission over the Silk Road or other central Asian trade routes which could have brought some information directly to Europe, bypassing the Indians and Arabs. If so, there may be some evidence for this in the folk cultures of the central Asians and Russians, but I can find nothing about this and would be delighted to hear from anyone who does know about this. The recreational questions are discussed more fully in my Sources or the Queries thereto. I am preparing the seventh preliminary edition of this. I have recently obtained: Marguerite Fawdry; Chinese Childhood; Pollock's Toy Theatres, London, 1977. This describes many toys and puzzles, but fairly sketchily and not always accurately. Pp. 182-183 give sources in Chinese (or Japanese) which I have not seen and I would appreciate any help in obtaining and translating these. In particular, she cites Liu Hsieh's Wen-hsin Tiao-lung for 3C puzzles and Dream of a Red Chamber, in which the hero solves metal puzzles. Stewart Culin; Korean Games, with Notes on the Corresponding Games of China and Japan; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1895, (Reprinted as: Games of the Orient; Tuttle, Rutland, Vermont, 1958. Reprinted under the original title, Dover and The Brooklyn Museum, 1991.) cites a 1714 (or 1712) Japanese book: Wa Kan san sai dzu e ("Japanese, Chinese, Three Powers picture collection"), published in Osaka. NIM GAMES. Nim is first described by C. L. Bouton in 1902. He claimed that it was widely played in America and was called Fan-Tan by the Chinese. He also later admitted that the identification with Fan-Tan was wrong. He later admitted that he coined the word Nim from the German word 'nimm', the imperative of take. Interestingly, Luo Jianjin and Siu Man-Keung tell me there is a Chinese character, nian, pronounced 'nim' in Cantonese, which means to pick up or take. However, there seems to be no historic connection between these words. Wythoff's Nim, described by Wythoff in 1907, has two piles and one can take any amount from one pile or the same amount from both piles. The English translation of A. P. Domoryad's Russian book on mathematical games says this 'is the Chinese national game of TSYANSHIDZI ("picking stones")'. I have only seen this in English translation, so the original Chinese word is hard to determine. Prof. Siu could not work out what the Chinese was. Winning Ways says it is called Chinese Nim or Tsyan-shizi. Is there any evidence for any games of this kind in China? MORRIS GAMES. On p. 12 of Fawdry is a scene, apparently from the Hundred Sons scroll of the Ming period, in which some children appear to be playing on a Twelve Men's Morris board. In Culin's Korean Games, p. 102, section 80: Kon-tjil - merrells is a description of the usual Nine Men's Morris. He states the Chinese name is Sm-k'i (Three Chess) and continues: "I am told by a Chinese merchant that this game was invented by Chao Kw'ang-yin (917-975), founder of the Sung dynasty." This is the only indication of an oriental source of these games that I have seen. SNAKES AND LADDERS. The only paper that I have seen on this traces it back to medieval India. However, Fawdry, p. 183, cites Nagao Tatsuzo's Shina Minzoku-shi [Manners and Customs of the Chinese], Tokyo, 1940-1942, for a 7C Chinese version of the game called Sheng-kuan T'u [The Game of Promotion] and this game is also described by Bell and Cornelius. SQUARING THE SQUARE. There is a paper of relevance by Michio Abe; On the problem to cover simply and without gap the inside of a square with a finite number of squares which are all different from one another [in Japanese]; Proc. Phys.-Math. Soc. Japan 4 (1932) 359-366. I have not been able to locate a copy of this. Can anyone supply a photocopy? TAIT'S COUNTER PUZZLE. The problem is to shift a row of black and white markers from BBBBWWWW to BWBWBWBW, moving two counters as a pair. P. G. Tait describes it in 1884, but T. Hayashi reports that it appears in a book of Genjun Nakane in 1743. Does the problem appear in China? Can anyone supply a copy of Nakane or similar early Japanese occurrences? FOX AND GEESE, ETC. These are board games with asymmetric forces. Fox and Geese is supposed to be medieval, even 1st millennium, but Murray's History of Chess cites a North Asian version of Bouge-Skodra (Boar's Chess). Are there any early Chinese forms? Culin cites a Japanese version called Yasasukari Musashi from Wa Kan san sai dzu e of 1712. TANGRAMS. These are traditionally associated with China of several thousand years ago, but the earliest books are from the early 19C and appear in the west and in China at about the same time. Indeed the word 'tangram' appears to be a 19C American invention (probably by Sam Loyd). A slightly different form of the game appears in Japan in a booklet by Ganreiken in 1742. Takagi says the author's real name is unknown, but Slocum & Botermans say it was probably Fan Chu Sen. There is an Utamaro woodcut of 1780 showing some form of the game (not yet seen by me). I have seen a 1786 print - Interior of an Edo House, from The Edo Sparrows or Chattering Guide - that may show the game. Needham says there are some early Chinese books, and van der Waals' historical chapter in Elffers' book Tangram cites a number with the following titles. Ch'i Ch'iao ch'u pien ho-pi. >1820. Ch'i Ch'iao hsin p'u. 1815 and later. Ch'i Ch'iao pan. c1820. Ch'i Ch'iao t'u ho-pi. Introduction by Sang-Hsi Ko. 1813 and later. I would like to see some of these or photocopies of them. I would also be interested in seeing antique versions of the game itself. The only historical antecedent is the 'Loculus of Archimedes', a 14 piece puzzle known from about -3C to 6C in the Greek world. Could it have travelled to China? I found a plastic version of the Loculus on sale in Xian, made in Liaoning province. I wrote to the manufacturer to get more, but have had no reply. For the 10th International Puzzle Party, Naoki Takashima sent a reproduction of a 1881 Japanese edition of an 1803 Chinese book on Tangrams which he says is the earliest known Tangram book. Jean-Claude Martzloff found some some drawings of tangram-like puzzles from a 1727 booklet Wakoku Chie-kurabe, reproduced in Akira Hirayama's Tzai Sgaku Monogatari Heibonsha of 1973. Takagi has kindly sent his reprint of this booklet, but I am unsure as to the author, etc. Can anyone provide more details? Hirayama's book might be interesting to see. SIX-PIECE BURR = CHINESE CROSS. This is a puzzle comprising six square rods with notches that assemble into a kind of star with two rods along each of the three axes in space. The first known reference is in a Berlin catalogue of 1790 and then in a Nuremberg toy catalogue of 1801 where it is called 'The small Devil's claw'. One of the next references is 1860 where it is called 'The Chinese Cross'. This is one of the puzzles that appears in 19C 'Sunday Chests' which were collections of ivory puzzles from China. Is there any Oriental history of this or similar assembly puzzles, or indeed of the Sunday Chests? DEAD DOGS AND TRICK PONIES. There is a pattern of overlapping bodies and heads so that the same head can be viewed as part of several bodies. Examples are known from medieval Persia (Rza Abbasi, (1587-1628)) and Edo period Japan (17C - 19C). There are said to be other examples from India and/or China. I would like to know of early examples. MOIR PATTERNS. This technique derives from China, and was introduced into France in 1754. I'd like to know more about its Chinese history. ROUND PEG IN SQUARE HOLE OR VICE VERSA. The late 16C poet Wang Tao-K'un mentions 'square handles ... into the round sockets'. Are there other early references to this idea, in China or elsewhere? THE JOSEPHUS OR SURVIVOR PROBLEM. This is the problem of counting out every k-th person from a circle. It was a common medieval European problem in the form where half of a group is to be eliminated. The usual form involved 15 Christians and 15 Turks on a ship in a storm. The captain announces that half of the passengers must go overboard and one of them says that everyone should get in a circle and be counted off by 9s. Cardan suggested that this might be the way in which Josephus survived. It appears in the Japanese literature as early as 1627, with 15 children and 15 stepchildren counted by 10s, but with one child (the 15th) skipped, until only one is left. Ahrens cites some indications that it may go back to the 11C in Japan and believes that the problem arose independently in Japan. Takagi has sent me an article by Shimodaira (source and date not given) on the recreational problems in Jing_ki, but this doesn't indicate the date of the second edition which first contained these problems. Shimodaira states the Japanese name of the problem, Mamakodate, first occurs in the essay Tsurezuregusa by Kenk_ Yoshida (1283-1350), but it's not clear if the problem itself is given there. Shimodaira gives the problem in the form where the 15th stepchild protests that he is about to be eliminated and the stepmother agrees to restart from him. Ahrens says that Jing_ki has the stepmother doing this by accident and the bit about the 15th stepchild first occurs in Miyake Kenry_, 1795. Is there any Chinese material on this problem? I have recently seen an article which claims an Irish origin of the problem, c800, and which gives early medieval forms called the Ludus Sancti Petri. It is often thought to derive from the Roman practice of decimation. Murray's History of Chess mentions 10 diagrams of this in an Arabic chess MS of c1370, possibly referring to a c1350 work. Murray asserts the problem is of Arabic origin. Wakoku Chie-kurabe shows a version with 8 and 8 counted by 8s, such that either group can be the group counted out first!, depending on where one starts. A TRAVELLING MERCHANT PROBLEM or THE MONKEY AND THE COCONUTS. A merchant travels to three fairs. At each, he doubles his money and spends 1000. At the end he has no money left. How much did he have? An alternative formulation has a man carrying apples who has to pass three porters, each of whom takes half the apples and half an apple more. If the final amount is given, the problem is determinate and readily solved. Such problems already appear in the Chiu Chang Suan Ching (Jiu Zhang Suan Shu) and later in Mahavira, Sridhara, Bhaskara and Zhu Shijie's Siyuan Yujian. If the final amount is not given, the problem is indeterminate and much more interesting and is known as The Monkey and the Coconuts Problem from a 1927 version. The only indeterminate examples known prior to 1725 are in Mahavira. Are there other Chinese examples, either determinate or indeterminate? CISTERN PROBLEM. One pipe fills a cistern in 2 days, another in 3 days, how long for both together? The earliest examples known are in the Chiu Chang Suan Ching (Jiu Zhang Suan Shu), Hero(n)'s Peri Metron, the Bakhshali MS and The Greek Anthology. It is popular in India from about 850. Are there other early Chinese examples? I have recently found that the equivalent assembly problems which occur in the Chiu Chang Suan Ching (Jiu Zhang Suan Shu) also occur in Old Babylonian. THE CHINESE RINGS and other WIRE PUZZLES. Ch'ung-En Y's Ingenious Ring Puzzle Book calls this 'Nine Interlocked-Rings Puzzle' and says it was well known during the Sung (Song), but I have not seen any such material and Needham does not cite any. On pp. 70-72, Fawdry cites The Stratagem of Interlocking Rings, a Chinese musical drama of c1300 - can anyone provide more information about this? The first European mention is in Cardan (1550). Gardner reports that there are 17C Japanese haiku about it and that it is used in Japanese heraldry - can anyone supply examples? Are there other examples of wire puzzles in China before about 1890 when they become common in Europe? Many of the common string and ring puzzles appeared in Sunday Chests in the 19C. Fawdry, pp. 70-71 illustrates one such, but claims it is 18C, which seems unlikely since it contains a tangram, and p. 74 shows a French chest and she identifies several string and wire puzzles as being Chinese. String and wire puzzles are popular in modern India and Pakistan. Stewart Culin; Korean Games; pp. 31-32, says there are many Japanese ring puzzles, called Chiye No Wa, and shows one which seems to be 10 rings linked in a chain - possibly the simple type of puzzle ring?? MAGIC SQUARES. These are certainly Chinese in origin. Needham, Ho Peng Yoke, Camman and Lam cite a number of books which are not available in translations. These are the following. Hsu Yo (Xu Yue). Shushu Jiyi. I Wei Ch'ien Tso Tu. c1C. Ta Tai Li Chi. c80. Chap 67: Ming Thang. Or: Chap. 8, p. 43 of Szu-pu ts'ung-k'an edition, Shanghai, 1919-1922. Ts'ai Yuan-Ting. c1160. (He is cited by an author, quoting Needham, but I can't find him in Needham.) I would be interested in seeing these and any similar early Chinese material. Li Yan & Du Shiran's Chinese Mathematics - A Concise History, section 5.6 (and other books) describes 6 x 6 magic squares on iron tablets, using Arabic numerals, found at Xian in 1956. Can anyone give more details on these? These are apparently in the new museum in Xian. THE HUNDRED FOWLS PROBLEM. A man buys 100 fowls for 100 cash - cocks cost 5, hens 3 and chicks 1/3. How many of each did he buy? This first appears in Zhang Qiujian's Zhang Qiujian Suan Jing. Libbrecht gives a long discussion of this topic, but there may be other material. THE CHINESE REMAINDER THEOREM. This appears in Sun Zi's Sun Zi Suan Jing, but I have no other Chinese references until Qin Jiushao's Shushu Jiuzhang of 1247. CONJUNCTION OF PLANETS. This is an extension of the above. Sun Zi gives a problem where sisters visit home every 5, 4, 3 days - when do they all come together? I have very little on this topic as a recreational problem. ALL CRETANS ARE LIARS, ETC. In the History of the Warring States, c-2C, is the story of the Elixir of Death, which is also said to have occurred to Tung-Fang So, -2C. Are there any other Oriental versions of paradoxical statements or situations? OVERTAKING AND MEETING PROBLEMS. The earliest examples I know are in the Chiu Chang Suan Ching (Jiu Zhang Suan Shu), the Bakhshali MS, Zhang Qiujian's Zhang Qiujian Suan Jing, then in India and Europe. I would be interested in other early Chinese examples. BINARY DIVINATION. In the booklet by Shimodaira sent by Takagi, there is some discussion of 'metsukeji' (magic cards), one version of which are the binary divination cards which he says were known in Japan in the 14C or earlier. If so, this would considerably precede my earliest known example of Luca Pacioli, c1500. Actually it is not surprising to find these in the Orient as the logical binary arrangement of the I Ching hexagrams was done by Shao Yung, c1060. Can anyone send details and/or copies of early versions? It would be nice to have some modern examples. In Wakoku Chie-Kurabe, I cannot make out what is happening on pp. 6 & 24. David Singmaster

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