The Mad House Puzzle

The Mad House Puzzle

Create May 06, 2012 / By Barry R. Clarke
The Mad House Puzzle

What type of person would own a house as crazy as this?

Many years ago, when I was a mathematics PhD student at the University College of Swansea, Wales, I made the mistake of taking lodgings in a rather dubious house. The landlady, as if in perpetual mourning, always wore a long black dress, walked around the house in a trance, and seemed not to have updated the carpets and furnishings in thirty years. I recall the day I first inspected the room. I was told that the previous tenant had left in such a hurry that he had left all his possessions behind. Indeed, outside in the back garden next to the refuse bins, I could see plastic bags crammed with clothes, as if he was not expected to return. Nevertheless, despite the unusual circumstances, I took the room, mainly because of its convenient location. A week into my tenancy, I noticed a strange rotting smell which I identified as originating from below the floor boards. Was this where the missing tenant had ended up? I began to wonder. So I pulled up the carpet but seeing that the boards were firmly nailed down I realised that it would have been impossible to investigate further without creating irreversible damage. A few days later the smell disappeared and with the pressing demands of University student life I soon forgot about it.

The mystery of the missing tenant was solved late one Saturday evening a fortnight later. My room was by the front door so I was aware of anyone who entered and left the house. This particular evening, just as I was lying in bed dreaming of palm tree beaches, I heard a key turn in the front door followed by a loud thud in the corridor outside my room, as if a heavy suitcase had been dropped. Footsteps ran to the back of the house, there was a loud knock on the front door, and then the sound of china shattering against a wall. Bleary eyed, I peered out of my door only to be confronted by the sight of a thirty-something woman wearing a white dress smeared in blood who, as if by way of apology for the commotion, exclaimed "This is what my husband did to me!".

It soon became clear what had happened. The previous tenant had been trapped in an unhappy marriage, had been having an affair with my landlady, and had taken my room to be near her. After unexpectedly reconciling with his wife, he returned to her in a hurry without taking his possessions. This particular evening, they seem to have had a violent row which resulted in his taking flight. Grabbing a suitcase of clothes, he ran back to my landlady's house, but realising that his wife was in hot pursuit, he abandoned his suitcase in the corridor and made a quick exit out of the back door. His wife burst in through the front door, entered the living room where my landlady kept her antique china, and started hurling it against the wall by way of revenge.

A few days later I moved out.

It was certainly a mad house and its recollection is the inspiration for this week's teaser.

Every day the postman passes the house shown below and wonders who might own it. The following is a list of attributes that could be ascribed to the house owner: (a) sad, (b) angry, (c) relaxed, (d) confused, (e) crazy. Which one is the most appropriate?


Previous Solution

The pieces can be rearranged as shown to produce a zero (zee-row). The American pronunciation of "Z" is "zee" and this is why "USA" was mentioned (it is pronounced "zed" in the UK), and another clue was the last line of the rhyme "The solution to which is a secret!" in which "secret" should be substituted with the rhyming word "row". Congratulations to Roger from Tanzania who came up with a commendable alternative solution "NULL".



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