2.9: The Maiden and the Ogre

My favorite puzzle from recovery is the story of the Maiden and the Ogre. Solving it formally takes some math, but coming up with the right strategy is less technical. Here’s the puzzle:

A maiden sits in a boat at the center of circular pond. On shore waits an ogre. Being an excellent runner, she can escape the lumbering ogre if only she can land her boat safely. But should the ogre reach her landing point first, alas, all will be lost. The boat is propelled by a motor capable of only a fraction f of the ogre’s speed.
What minimum value of f will permit the Maiden to escape?

(adapted from user Bonanova, http://brainden.com/forum/topic/18436-the-maiden-and-the-ogre/)

The solution is not trivial. As a hint, the Maiden’s path changes at a key point in her journey.

Meghan in her natural habitat.

Meghan’s life was turned upside down when she got that voice message from Kristin. She’d planned for a relaxing weekend without me. Now Kristin was telling her she should get on the next flight to Monterrey. That was the start of an unplanned rollercoaster ride that’s lasted 9 months now. It’s been a lot of hard work and raw emotion that she never asked for, but she’s shown nothing but love and support throughout it all.

The beautiful Hintisberg Alp, across from the Eiger and Jungfrau. Photo Steffen Kaiser

While I was in hospital, the world changed. My own world changed, in the sense of someone who’s been lucky all their life getting a healthy taste of reality. But more simply, everyone’s world changed as we plunged into the deepening SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. This itself was a weird kind of luck for me. Here I was after my accident, having to stay home to recover, and here everyone was, having to stay home to contain the virus. For me personally, the summation of tragedies has been sublinear. And not all the experiences have been bad.

In the summer, Meghans come down from the alpine to gorge on raspberries.

For one, Meghan and I have gotten to spend a lot more time together. A lot of that time was hard – Meghan changed my abdominal dressings twice a day, every day, for months on end, and injected me 3 times a day with octreotide. But there were also lots of slow walks around the not-quite-perfectly-circular pond near our house. We got to talk a lot, and smell the roses. The little things brought me joy, like walking on the artificial ‘talus field’ along our route.

My talus field

Meghan owns a Norwegian recliner (a tasteful midcentury modern that cost more than my car), which I hardly left in the first couple of months after getting home. Meghan would bring me blueberries or soup while I sat in that chair, curled up with a blanket. Sometimes Vinny would hop into my lap, and we’d watch Jeopardy! together, sharing the blanket. Before this year, I never really did things like this. But I’m enjoying them now.

The recliner, on my first day home from hospital

The thing I’ve most enjoyed doing with Meghan, though, has been running. This was a big surprise for me. For as long as I’ve known her, Meghan has not been interested in running. She likes to hike, and likes exercise in general, but she’ll never run to catch a bus.

It turns out that breaking my leg was just the thing I needed for Meghan to come running with me. We started slowly, running 1 minute then walking 4. Every few days we added 30 seconds to the interval, and kept track of our lap time around the pond. After getting our fitness up, we started taking trips to go trail running in the hills, and have gotten to see some beautiful new spots. It’s been a great activity for pandemic times.

Chasing Meghan. Ogres are not known for steady camerawork.

Meghan and I are getting married! I first proposed while still in the hospital. She refused, saying she might consider it once I was off the narcotics. I persisted, and she eventually relented. In the end, I guess the Ogre manages to catch the Maiden. Like many other couples, we’re planning to get married someday soon, when the virus relents and a ceremony becomes possible again.

Climbing along the Baihe river in China, 2019.

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