combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 04 Number 04 Fall ©Oct 2006

The Intelligent Design Awards

The Darwin Awards are given to those who contribute most to the gene pool by removing any possibility of their ever contributing to it by killing themselves in the stupidest possible way. The Intelligent Design (ID) awards are given to those who do precisely the opposite – they survive, unarmed and by wit alone, some homicidal assault – rather like a chess player, hopelessly behind in material, forcing a stalemate. So to qualify for an ID trophy, a defenseless contestant must somehow survive an overwhelming menace.

But showing is better than telling. To involve you directly you will be placed, in character, into some foreboding historical setting from which you must extricate yourself by wit alone.

To make sure that each death threat comes alive, each predicament is presented as a test, very like a chess problem, for which you know at the outset that a solution exists. So match wits with the champions of ages past. There is no time limit, but one false move, and it is checkmate, checkmate forever.

ID1: Discovered Checkmate

Presenting Problem:

You are a gifted astrologer in the court of the king of France, Louis XI (1461-83). You repeatedly foretell the exact dates of the deaths of court aristocrats. But King Louis has finally had enough and corners you in your room. He is accompanied by three large, fully armed knights.

"Perhaps, monsieur" says Louis smilingly, "you can predict the date of your own death."

Say something to save yourself.

Actual Solution:

"I will die three days before your majesty."

ID2: Achieving the Eighth Rank

Presenting Problem:

You are the 4th century Greek philosopher Anaximenes. You have accompanied Alexander the Great on his campaign against the Persians during which Lampsacus, your Macedonian hometown, is captured. Alexander, knowing that you will plead for mercy, grants you an audience but cuts you off.

"I swear by the Styx I will not grant your request."

Save your hometown from destruction.

Actual Solution:

"I merely wanted to ask you to destroy Lampsacus."

ID3: Zugzwang

Presenting Problem:

You are an intelligent, first century Christian mother whose husband has been killed in an Imperial pogrom. Your almost grown son is determined to follow his father to martyrdom the next morning.

Stop him.

Actual Solution:

Hide his clothes.

This is another example illustrating what Asians have known for centuries. A need to avoid embarrassment or a loss of face is stronger in an individual than his instinct for self preservation. This technique will be used by another winner below.

ID4: Double Check

Presenting Problem:

You are Voltaire (1694-1778), the French Enlightenment writer and philosopher. You have been exiled to England where anti-French feelings are running high. A mob corners you crying: "Hang him! Hang the Frog!"

Say something that will not only change their minds but will also have them buying you dinner.

Actual Solution:

"Men of England! You wish to kill me because I am a Frenchman. Am I not punished enough in not being born an Englishman? Will you punish me twice?"

ID5: The Quiet Move

Presenting Problem:

You are Arthur Wellington (1769-1852), the victor at Waterloo. You are sitting at your desk when a madman rushes in shouting: "I'm going to kill you!"


Actual Solution:

Without looking up from the work on your desk, impatiently ask: "Does it have to be today?"

The lunatic reacts with confusion.

"Good, a little later on then. I'm busy at the moment."

The disturbed assassin leaves.

ID6: Accepting a Draw

Presenting Problem:

You are Rudolph Virchow (1821-1902), a pathologist and statesman. You have been challenged to a duel by the Chancellor of Germany, Otto Bismarck, and you don't know how to shoot, but according to the code duello, you have the choice of weapons.

What will be your choice of weapon?

Actual Solution:

Select two sausages, one infected with germs and the other not. Propose that Bismark eat the sausage of his choice and that you will eat the other.

Bismarck declined. This ploy has come to be known as The Virchow Maneuver.

ID7: 0-0-0

Presenting Problem:

Andrew Johnson (1808-75), later to become Lincoln's vice-president and the 17th president of the United States, is pulled out of a Greenville bound train, while he was serving as a senator from Tennessee, by an angry mob in (where else?) Lynchburg, Virginia, that's been driven to a murderous rage by his opposition to secession.

You are a kindly, clever, old woman looking on during this riot.

Say something that will save him.

Actual Solution:

"His neighbors at Greenville have made arrangements to hang their senator on his arrival. Virginians have no right to deprive them of that privilege."

ID8: King's Gambit

Presenting Problem:

You are Alfonso XIII, King of Spain from 1886 to 1931, and you have frustrated many assassins. One day a murderer armed with a pistol jumps in front of your horse, not a yard away, and he prepares to fire at point blank range.

How would you save your own life?

Actual Solution:

"I set my horse's head [note the knight sacrifice] straight at him, and rode into him as he fired. Polo comes in handy on these occasions."

ID9: Orangutan Opening

Presenting Problem:

You are the 19th century English surgeon, Humphrey Howarth. Despite the fact that you are a terrible marksman, you accept a challenge by a duelist so experienced that he always buys a one-way rail ticket to the field of honor since he can always use his opponent's for the return journey.

What can you do to save your own life?

Actual Solution:

Howarth courageously accepted and appeared punctually on the appointed field of honor – but stark naked. The surgeon explained that infection occurs if unsanitary cloth is propelled into the body. The expert marksman left in disgust. Howarth was the only man to ever survive the marksman's challenge.

ID10: Chinese Checkers

Presenting Problem:

In the 1969 film, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, there is a three-way gunfight in a graveyard near the end of the show. The camera spins you around for five minutes – an eternity in a film – until you finally come to understand what you must avoid, what is sheer suicide.

What must you NOT do to stay alive in this gunfight?

Actual Solution:

Do not be the first to draw your handgun.

How did you do? Less than a perfect score perhaps? Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, there is no room for error in an Intelligent Design test.

But if you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled; for you are in Elysium, and you are already dead! – Maximus Decimus Meridius, Gladiator.

[editorial note: we regret to inform you that this is the last composition by David Choate that we will be able to publish due to his untimely death on 25 July 2006. The loss of his wit and wisdom, courage and courtesy is already felt by his family and friends, his colleagues and students, his readership and our staff ... we miss his insights and encouragement very much. He was good people! /s/Ed]

by David Choate
... who was a professor of mathematics and freelance writer. His poetry ("Easter Island", "Ode to an Academic", "Song of Sums") has been published in Amelia and Defenestration; his science fiction ("The Kid Catcher", "There Came Forth She Bears") has been published in Starwind and Space & Time; and his "Christianity and Cannibalism", a philosophical essay, in Sophia. Some of his other fine works have previously appeared in this literary magazine.

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