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17 March 2000

Harry Potter's Puzzle

Near the end of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Hogwarts' students Harry and Hermione are trapped in a room with both exits blocked by magic fire. There are seven bottles on a table. One is a potion to go forward, and another takes you back. The other bottles hold either wine or poison. There's also a note with clues, which I've reproduced below. "This isn't magic -- it's logic!" Hermione quickly finds the two potions they need, but I was disappointed. She can see the size of the bottles, but we can't. Was Hermione lucky, or was her logic really enough to solve the puzzle?

Harry and Hermione are trapped. There's a table with a row of seven different-sized bottles (not in order), and the following note:

Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind,
Two of us will help you, whichever you would find,

One among us seven will let you move ahead,
Another will transport the drinker back instead,

Two among our number hold only nettle wine,
Three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line.

Choose, unless you wish to stay here forevermore,
To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four:

First, however slyly the poison tries to hide
You will always find some on nettle wine's left side;

Second, different are those who stand at either end,
But if you would move onward, neither is your friend;

Third, as you see clearly, all are different size,
Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides;

Fourth, the second left and the second on the right
Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.

Spoiler ahead! Just cross out every second letter in each word below to read Hermione's correct answer. But how did Hermione figure this, and which bottle (1 - 7) is the smallest?

Txhdew pqoytuihonnl itnf tdhsef srmpaklflsevsztq bvobtntulmer wyiyljlp tqaakfes thhgeumk fdoqrbwmakrsdg, arnfdg tjhwep rridgjhktsmbonshtz bbottrthljek wdisljlp tyatkkex tfhaebmp bmawcgky.


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