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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
Mathenauts: Tales of Mathematical Wonder - Rudy Von B. Rucker, Greg Bear, Gregory Benford The Biggest Lie

"And so, gentlemen," concluded the man with dark glasses who insisted on calling himself Smith, "we have a problem. We know the formula is hidden under one of the squares of the chessboard. But we don't know which."

The twelve experts, assembled at short notice in the underground bunker, shifted uncomfortably and tried not to look at each other. Suddenly Griswold spoke up.

"Let me see if I have understood correctly," he said. "The late Professor claimed to have found a safe method for voyaging to other dimensions. He wrote it down just before his unfortunate demise, and we urgently need to find it."

Everyone nodded. The matter was evidently of vital importance; trillions of dollars had now been spent on extra-dimensional travel, but the results so far were, to say the least, unimpressive. Most of the luckless dimesionauts never returned. The few that did were inverted, reversed, shrunken, topologically deformed... not one had lived longer than a few minutes. But the country that first solved the puzzle would reap an unbelievable reward.

And now, the eccentric Professor Malakhov claimed to have found an answer. Unfortunately, he had suffered a fatal heart attack a few minutes later. He had just had time to communicate a few words to a colleague, and then it had all been over.

"So tell me again," continued Griswold, "exactly what it was he said."

"Well," replied Smith, "he didn't exactly say it. He was on a Skype connection."

A four-star general waved his hand impatiently.

"Makes no difference. Give us the message."

Smith looked down at the sheet of paper in front of him. "It's short. 'Chessboard. The biggest lie.' That's it."

"He hid it in his chessboard?" asked the general incredulously.

"Yes," said Smith. "There is a system of miniature secret drawers, one on each square."

"Well," said the general, "I suggest we search all the drawers. That will hardly take long."

"Ah," said Smith. "Unfortunately, the chessboard is rigged so that any attempt to open the wrong drawer will destroy the message. As will X-rays, neutron activation, and all other methods of trying to analyze the object's structure. We need to guess which square is correct, and right now we have one chance in 64 of doing that."

"What could he have meant by 'the biggest lie'?" asked a famous psychologist.

"We have of course thought about that a great deal," said Smith. "We think it may be a reference to a chess opening, perhaps one which involves an element of bluff. Our current best guess, based on information from a number of chess Grandmasters, is that the right square is b3."

"Wait," said Griswold. "Let me see the message myself."

Smith passed over the sheet of paper.

"If I am not mistaken," said Griswold, after studying it carefully, "Professor Malakhov was an algebraist?"

"That is correct," said Smith.

"Well," said Griswold, "in that case it is obvious. The message is under the black king."

Before anyone could stop him, he had reached over, picked it up, and pressed the concealed switch underneath. A little door opened, revealing a black micromemory card.

With a cry of relief, Smith picked it up and inserted it into the reader. It was immediately obvious that they had found the answer.

"But how did you know?" he asked Griswold incredulously.

Griswold looked smug.

"Malakhov was one of those people who never uses capital letters when typing," he said. "The message didn't say 'the biggest lie'. It said 'The biggest Lie' - evidently E₈, the largest exceptional Lie algebra. So the correct square was e8, the one the black king starts on."

Smith sighed. "Are all the stories in the book like this?" he asked faintly.

"No," said Griswold. "But some of them are nearly as bad."