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Listener No 4457: Polo by Apt

Posted by Dave Hennings on 21 Jul 2017

A new setter this week with a puzzle about a sport of which I know nothing… except its played with horses and a polo stick. Here we had mostly normal clues, with just fourteen containing a misprint in the definition; the name of an observation would be given by the incorrect letters. (It puzzled my why the editors felt that incorrect had to be in italics… we’re big boys and girls! [Are you? See later. Ed.])

Anyway, the first clue 7ac Work with extremely eminent ladies? (6) made me realise that Apt has the same sense of humour as I do, and TOILET got slotted in. The only clue that held me up a bit in the north-west corner was 2dn where WIS about PER gave the blades WIPERS.

After that, the north-east corner came together quickly, together with an equally amusing clue at 5dn: Brush behind ears when waiting (8) with ears as a misprint for cars to give TAILBACK.

I wondered if there was going to be a particularly humorous clue in each quadrant. I wasn’t disappointed. Short composition that’s heard to go “dah-dah-dah”? (7) gave MORCEAU at 24dn (sounds like Morse O — — —), and Commons Kew redeveloped lack borders of elderflower (6) at 34dn gave CLARKE (reference to Ken Clarke, MP).

The grid was completed fairly quickly: about two hours, I think. The fourteen misprints revealed Howstadter’s Law! Hmmm… looks like that should be Hofstadter’s Law, and a quick check of 16ac showed that I’d noted the correct W of worth, rather than the incorrect F of forth. [Told you. Ed.]

I’m afraid that it needed some googling to find the appropriate quotation since the Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations isn’t in my library. “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.” This needed to be entered around the grid as “It will take longer than you think, even when you take into account that it will take longer than you think.

(One of my pet hates on a golf course that I’ve not played before is when someone says of a hole “It plays longer than you think.” To which I would like to reply “How long do you think I think it plays, then?” Normally, I just say “Thanks.”)

Back to Apt, and further investigation reveals that Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which provides the original quotation, was followed by I Am a Strange Loop where, according to Wiki, Hofstadter “demonstrates how the properties of self-referential systems, demonstrated most famously in Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, can be used to describe the unique properties of minds.” For me, it just explained the title and the shape of the perimeter of the grid!

So many thanks to Apt for an enjoyable puzzle. If anyone has a spare copy of the ODSQ, I’d be happy to relieve them of it… sounds like fun.


One Response to “Listener No 4457: Polo by Apt”

  1. Emzi said

    Hofstadter’s Law featured in Radio4’s Quote Unquote in 2016.

    The first reference, however (in the programme’s associated Newsletter (NL), ed.25.2, April 2016), was by one Peter Heffernan of Christchurch, New Zealand of an alleged prior statement of essentially the same idea in 1973 by Arthur Samuel: “Everything takes longer than expected even if you allow for the fact that everything takes longer than expected.”. Heffernan claims to have been part of a small group at Stanford University to whom this was said. Hofstadter’s father was a professor at Stanford and he grew up there, so it seems plausible that the idea filtered through to him, unrecollected, from Samuel.

    However, as related in NL ed.25.4, October 2016, on having the matter put to him by Marion Bock, Hofstadter insisted I certainly did not get my law from Arthur Samuel, although admire him greatly, and indeed in GEB [Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid], I talk at some length about his famous checkers-playing computer program. (I never met Professor Samuel, regrettably). [..] I still am proud of having thought it up, and so it slightly annoys me to have it suggested (and by a very credible source) that someone else actually said it first (or said something essentially equivalent to it), which implies or suggests that I somehow borrowed it (or stole it) from an earlier source. Nothing of the sort. I made it up, lock, stock, and barrel..)”, but finally admits that “…there is still the faint possibility that Professor Samuel thought the law up entirely independently of me (possibly earlier than I did, or possibly later). Who knows?”.

    Hofstadter certainly formulated it most elegantly as his eponymous, recursive “law”. He actually presents it in GEB (1979) at the end of a consideration of recursion in chess-playing software. Ironically, 2016 was also the year when a spectacular breach of the “law” occurred when Deepmind unleashed software (AlphaGo) which could beat the best humans at the ancient strategy game of Go, the great goal for AI researchers after chess had fallen — something which had been expected by those working on Go programs to take at least another ten years.

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