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Bewildering Stories

Special Challenge 726

Midnight Engineering

Readers take everything literally unless they know to do otherwise.
Bewildering Stories motto

Descriptions in poetry and prose sometimes raise problems in physics, architecture, or other fields. At least some readers are bound to notice them and wonder, “Didn’t the editors see that?” Yes, they did. Two of them send a series of questions.

In Mike Acker’s “Midnight Thief,” a would-be suicide plans to hang himself:

Joyful, almost gleeful,
he eyes the iron’s electrical cord,
his rope, appropriately black,
a cheap drugstore item
that will do the job at hand.

He cuts the length he needs
with a chef’s sharpened knife,
whooshing through it
like a samurai sword.
Not too long and not too short.

He has already found his branch;
the sturdy, wooden, shower curtain rod.
More towards the left, he reasons,
to ensure more strength.

  1. Estimate the height of the shower-curtain rod. How short must the man be in order to hang himself from it?

  2. Assume, generously, that the curtain rod is about 2 metres in length (about 6½ feet). Now, estimate the man’s weight.

    1. What kind of wood must the curtain rod be made of, and how thick must it be in order to support the man’s weight at any point along its length?
    2. What kind of end supports must the curtain rod have?
    3. What finish should be applied to the wood in order to protect it from mold and rot in the damp conditions of a washroom?
  3. To hang himself, the man selects a cord from an iron. How long is the average electrical cord attached to this kind of laundry implement? Will it be long enough to fashion a noose as well as a knot to attach it to the curtain rod?

  4. What kind of “chef’s knife” can cut through the insulation and wiring of an electrical cord, especially with a “whoosh”? Could even a “samurai sword” do it? What electrician’s tool would make the task less laborious? Why does the man not simply use a length of clothesline?

  5. At the end: “His head pushes through / the darkness as had // happened once before, long ago.” Which do you think is more likely:

    1. The man expects to be reincarnated.
    2. A previous suicide attempt failed.
  6. The man does not jump off a bridge, shoot himself, or commit suicide in any other conventional way. Rather, he uses a kitchen knife, a length of electrical cord from a household implement, and the curtain rod in his bathroom. In what way might those items be clues to his motivation?


Responses welcome!

date Copyright August 14, 2017 by Bewildering Stories
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