Larry Evans on chess: Marcel Duchamp’s vexing problem
August 10, 2008

“There is no solution, because there is no problem,” quipped Marcel Duchamp. In a recent issue of The Sienese Shredder, Francis Neumann discussed this diagram composed by Duchamp for a New York exhibition in 1943.

Many years ago Neumann also submitted it to my column in Chess Life, offering a reward of $15 to anyone who either could solve it or prove there was no possible solution. “I have since subjected this problem to the most powerful computers and I am now convinced that Duchamp has given us, in effect, a problem with no solution.”

The position was accompanied by an image of a Cupid with a bow and arrow. “Closer examination revealed that something is printed on the opposite side of the paper: below Duchamp’s signature in red ink one can faintly read the words ‘White to Play and Win.’ To chess enthusiasts this phrase can mean only one thing: a problem to solve in which White is instructed to move first and eventually win the game,” continued Neumann.

Duchamp presents us with a hint of its solution: a Cupid aiming his arrow. Cupid is, of course, the mythological god of love and his arrow is usually aimed in the direction of an amorous target; a direct hit can cause the recipient to fall deeply and blindly in love.

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