The Scribbler was an indifferent scholar. One of the ways he exercised his mind while su er- ing through calculus and Spenser’s “Faerie Queene” was to toy with the chess puzzle known as the “knight’s tour.”
The knight moves in an L-shape on a chess board of 64 squares — two squares in any direction and one to the side. A player begins at the knight’s position and tries to move to every square on the board without ever touching any square twice.
Using intuition, not mathematics, the Scribbler played with this puzzle periodically throughout high school and college. His longest tour covered 63 of 64 squares.
Big deal. The Scribbler might as well have spent his time staring out a window. He did not know that the problem of the knight’s tour was solved hundreds of years ago. He did not know that by the end of the 20th century, mathematicians and computers had calculated billions of possible knight’s tours.
All of this is to introduce a fascinating tidbit of local history conveyed to the Scribbler recently by Franklin & Marshall geosciences Professor Emeritus Roger Thomas. It turns out that Samuel S. Haldeman, Lancaster County’s brilliant scientist and linguist, wrote about the knight’s tour in a little book called “Tours of a Chess Knight” in 1864.
C.H. Hart refers to this book in an 1881 biography of Haldeman. To relax from “severe mental strain,” Hart said, Haldeman explained “how to perform by dictation and without seeing the chessboard, the problem of the Knight’s Tour.” The book contains 114 diagrams.
This exercise was child’s play for Haldeman who, largely through self-study, became expert in zoology, linguistics, archaeology, geology, chemistry and natural history. He corresponded with Charles Darwin and other notables.
Haldeman was born in 1812 in the large house at Bainbridge that is undergoing a decadeslong renovation. He built his own home at the base of Chickies Rock. There he died of a heart attack in 1880. Parts of the home’s foundation remain.
The Dec. 19 Scribbler column asked if anyone has photos of the old toy train displays at the Farmers Supply Store at 137 E. King St. It turns out that the Train Collectors Association’s National Toy Train Library at Strasburg has 22 photos of various layouts.
In 1992, John Krill, a member of the library committee, copied the originals owned by Farmers Supply.
Krill has supplied this interesting background on the train displays:
“Beginning in 1940, as a competitive marketing ploy to attract customers from the Watt & Shand Department Store, which had Santa Claus, Farmers Supply added a Christmas toy train layout. Each year, a new layout was made showcasing the latest in toy train products. The last layout was about 1963.”
Barney McGrann, son of John McGrann, one of the original owners of Farmers Supply, says he believes only Lionel O-27 gauge trains were included in the displays, which he helped create.
"My father would never let me purchase any trains, train equipment or Plasticville kits until after Christmas,” he says. “He didn’t want me buying something and thereby denying a customer an item.”
Fox hunting clubs
Ginny Gibble, of Lancaster Township, says she was amused to see a picture of fox hunting in England printed by LNP on Dec. 27, the day after the Scribbler wrote a column about Second Christmas. She says such a picture could have been taken closer to home. Lancaster County has two fox hunting clubs: Andrews Bridge Foxhounds and River Hills Foxhounds.
“Foxhunting is my sport,” she writes, “so I was surprised that LNP did not feature one of our own Second Christmas hunting photos.”
Jack Brubaker, retired from the LNP staff, writes “The Scribbler” column every Wednesday. He welcomes comments and contributions at firstname.lastname@example.org.