Tales from the Before Time, Part the Next

Or, One of the Ways I Knew I was a Novelist and not a Mathematician.

(Other than, you know, the fact that I sucked at basic arithmetic.)

It was the logic puzzles — the kind that feature islands occupied only by liars and truth-tellers, or by sane and insane vampires and non-vampires; or streets of varicolored houses occupied by persons of various nationalities who own zebras, smoke cigarettes, and drink tea; or all the variations on the one about the man with the drawer full of black and white socks who wants to know how many times he has to pull out a sock from the drawer if he wants to find a pair of matching socks in the dark.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t work them; I usually could, if I put my mind to it and followed out all the lines.  (Though I mostly found the process not entertaining enough to be worth the trouble.)  It was that I kept getting distracted.

Who on earth, I would wonder, keeps a zebra for a pet, anyway — and what do the other people on the street think about it?  And how does day-to-day social and economic life function on all those strangely-populated islands?  (If a liar and a truth-teller get married, how do they raise the kids?  And if they have four kids, do they get one liar, one truth-teller, and two kids who sometimes lie and sometimes tell the truth?)  And for heaven’s sake, why doesn’t the guy with the drawer full of mismatched socks go ahead and turn on the light?

Those aren’t the sort of questions that logicians and mathematicians ask; but they are very much the sort of questions that are going to occur to novelists and other storytellers.

I know why he only has black socks and white socks in his sock drawer — he’s in the Navy, and those are his uniform socks. And maybe he’s dressing in the dark because he doesn’t want to wake up his significant other. But I’m still at a loss as to why he hasn’t done the normal Navy thing and rolled his pairs of socks up into tidy little balls, so that all he has to do is make at most two dips into the drawer.

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