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The Host's Puzzle


Perhaps no puzzle of the whole collection caused more jollity or was found more entertaining than that produced by the Host of the "Tabard," who accompanied the party all the way. He called the pilgrims together and spoke as follows: "My merry masters all, now that it be my turn to give your brains a twist, I will show ye a little piece of craft that will try your wits to their full bent. And yet methinks it is but a simple matter when the doing of it is made clear. Here be a cask of fine London ale, and in my hands do I hold two measures—one of five pints, and the other of three pints. Pray show how it is possible for me to put a true pint into each of the measures." Of course, no other vessel or article is to be used, and no marking of the measures is allowed. It is a knotty little problem and a fascinating one. A good many persons to-day will find it by no means an easy task. Yet it can be done.


The puzzle propounded by the jovial host of the "Tabard" Inn of Southwark had proved more popular than any other of the whole collection. "I see, my merry masters," he cried, "that I have sorely twisted thy brains by my little piece of craft. Yet it is but a simple matter for me to put a true pint of fine old ale in each of these two measures, albeit one is of five pints and the other of three pints, without using any other measure whatever."

The host of the "Tabard" Inn thereupon proceeded to explain to the pilgrims how this apparently impossible task could be done. He first filled the 5-pint and 3-pint measures, and then, turning the tap, allowed the barrel to run to waste—a proceeding against which the company protested; but the wily man showed that he was aware that the cask did not contain much more than eight pints of ale. The contents, however, do not affect the solution of the puzzle. He then closed the tap and emptied the 3-pint into the barrel; filled the 3-pint from the 5-pint; emptied the 3-pint into the barrel; transferred the two pints from the 5-pint to the 3-pint; filled the 5-pint from the barrel, leaving one pint now in the barrel; filled 3-pint from 5-pint; allowed the company to drink the contents of the 3-pint; filled the 3-pint from the 5-pint, leaving one pint now in the 5-pint; drank the contents of the 3-pint; and finally drew off one pint from the barrel into the 3-pint. He had thus obtained the required one pint of ale in each measure, to the great astonishment of the admiring crowd of pilgrims.

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