Your Mornington Crescent Questions Answered

Minski, Mornington Crescent, and Psychosis

In his last column, MC grandmaster Gregory Topov introduced the work of Minski in solving the American Standard Imperial Variation (ASIV) of Mornington Crescent in the 1960s. In this column, he shares more about Minksi's tragic death, and raises pressing questions about the relationship between Mornington Crescent and Psychosis.

In response to the last column's discussion of Minski's work in solving the A.S.I.V. variation of Mornington Crescent, the following submission was received from Gerry Quinn:

Surely Minski's 'Sausage' manoeuvre, after which ASIV reduces to one of eleven solvable configurations [see note in next paragraph] once Shaved Ape is forced, is usable in almost any variation that employs the Oblong or 'Bismarck' rule? It may not win, but it could be unbalancing, because whoever comes out strongest in underpass (or its equivalent) may be able to take on a so-called 'kingmaker' role.

Note: Of course the win is not completely proved if West interrupts the Sausage with an early Heimlich, but this is not enough to rescue the variation. Although the resultant combinatorial explosion could not practicably be solved outright in Minski's day (even modern computers might be hard-pressed to analyse it completely), it was generally accepted that there is only one possible outcome, even if 'bog rush' and cross-control tactics can delay the inevitable. Minski never hid this imperfection in his proof, and it did not affect his doctorate. However, it led to disputes in the early years with die-hard ASIV devotees unwilling to accept that the proof was nevertheless sufficient.

Perhaps as a consequence of the formally less-than-conclusive proof, Minski never got the recognition he deserved - or not, at least, until it was far too late. He was unable to secure academic work commensurate with his talents, and became insecure and probably depressed. In 1968 he claimed to be receiving half-eaten sausages in the post, but never produced any evidence, and there is no record of any complaint to the authorities. One photograph from this time shows a strange figure in long hair and colourful, possibly even home-made clothing - not completely unheard-of at the time perhaps, but a remarkable contrast with the dapper young student of a few years previously. Another picture from around the same time shows him in more conventional attire (he was to attend a court hearing concerning a relatively minor but unsavoury matter, the details of which I prefer not to discuss here). Although at first glance he looks little different from his 1964 persona, the eyes look lost and vacant, and I do not believe it is an artefact of the photographic process.

The information and images relating to Minski's life in the late '60s come from E. R. Smith's The Curse Of Mornington Crescent (now, alas, long out of print). Although Smith's "grisly but light-hearted romp through the ages" is not exactly reliable (the tales relating to pre- Romanic Egypt are almost certainly apocryphal) he is better when he can collate printed media, and for more recent events in his compendium he often conducted postal interviews with witnesses - including the sad story of Minski's decline, which he follows in salacious detail until 1972, then abandons. Smith makes no mention at all of Minski's death, and was probably unaware of it.

The correct term for the manoeuvre in question is in fact the "Wiener" manoeuvre, which Minski named in honour of the mathematician Ludwig Christian Wiener (1826-1896). Wiener's two volume book on geometry (Lehrbuch der darstellenden Geometrie) greatly influenced Minski's own thinking, and it was Wiener's patterns that Minksi developed and applied to Mornington Crescent. Wiener's younger brother Jurgen Hambrecht Wiener later settled in Vienna and established the butcher shop that developed the famous German sausage of the same name. Minksi's family became shareholders in the company, which could lend legitimacy to Minski's claim about receiving half-eaten sausages in the post, although this could equally be the result of the early onset of psychotic delusions.

Although Minki's downward spiral into depression and substance abuse began already in the early 1970s, he was only institutionalized in 1973. His family kept details of his mental condition a well-guarded secret for many years, by creating the illusion that Minski was living a reclusive life on an island in the Pacific, and devoting his full attention to further studies of Mornington Crescent eliptical play. The truth about Minksi's tragic end only emerged in 1985, as a result of a media interview with Minksi's second cousin, Sarah Bodington (at that time an emerging prospect in the junior division of the Tic Tac Toe National Championship). When asked whether any publications on Mornington Crescent eliptical play were forthcoming as a result of Minski's self-imposed Pacific island isolation, Bodington disclosed that Minski had been found dead of a drug overdose in a New York subway station in October 1975, after being released from the psychiatric hospital on a weekend pass.

At any rate, the Minski family's silence on the subject for many years would account for Smith not recounting the tragic conclusion of Minski's life. Even the April 1975 issue of Mornington Crescent Journal that finally brought Minski's ground-breaking research into the public eye, stated that Minksi was not available for comment due to a self-imposed exile in the Pacific to further his research on Mornington Crescent. Tragically, Minski was in fact in the United States at that very moment, but in a drug-induced coma and with less than six months to live.

Although Smith could not be expected to be aware of this in 1982 when he published his excellent book, The Curse Of Mornington Crescent, he does have an excellent chapter on "Mornington Crescent and Psychosis", that may offer insights about Minski. Smith posits a relationship between the intense study of Mornington Crescent and the early onset of pschyotic delusions. He argues that the serious study of Mornington Crescent has in some cases led to mental disorders, in particular those with delusional symptoms. Unfortunately he only documents five study cases, but cites the work of several psychiatrists, including the highly respected Dr. Kent Armstrong and Dr. Yuraj Singh.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Singh at a recent Mornington Crescent Convention in Delhi, India, and he made mention of ongoing research in England that appears to support the thesis of a definite relationship between Mornington Crescent and psychotic delusions, which may well explain why so many excellent players are retiring at such a young age. Mornington Crescent players are anxiously awaiting the results of this research, to determine whether these claims have any credibility.

Grandmaster Gregory Topov

Posted Friday - 2004-12-07 - 13:44:41 EST
by Staff Reporter Verdra H. Ciretop in Toronto
All Rights Unreserved - Loof Lirpa Publishing
Text may be freely copied & redistributed

Article Archive

Hosted by