Sherlock Holmes,
Consulting Diplomat

by Mario Huys and Manus Hand,
Master Ænigmatists

The Costly Case of the Last Man Standing

NOTE: It has been nearly four full years since the great Holmes last appeared in these pages. Unfortunately, it is the case, therefore, that no solution has yet been published in this time to the mystery presented then ("A Challenge From Devonshire"). Rather than present that solution now, however, I have elected to present to this readership a new case. My reasons for doing so concern the fact that both the cases below and "A Challenge from Devonshire" are exercises in the same specific tactical art — the art of most expeditiously eliminating units from the board. Thus, I feel that to present Holmes's solution to "A Challenge from Devonshire" would perhaps be to provide an unfair leg-up, which may deny some of the enjoyment to be derived by matching wits with Holmes in the cases presented below. I would like to strongly encourage my gentle readers to revisit and undertake to resolve "A Challenge from Devonshire" before trying their hands at the mysteries below, which — while applications of the same discipline — are rather more intricate and involved.
— John Watson, M.D.

It was a particularly cold and snowy night in London, and as I entered the quarters at 221B Baker Street which I share with my good friend Sherlock Holmes, I stamped my feet and shook the evening's precipitation from my trenchcoat before removing it and hanging it upon the hook. Emerging from the foyer and stepping toward the fire to warm my hands, I found my friend seated at the table, a contented smile upon his face. "Good evening, Holmes," I said.

"Indeed it is, Watson," came his reply. "Pray, come and see what I have been up to whilst you tended to hangnails and the other assorted ailments and complaints of your subscribers."

Rubbing my hands briskly together one final time, I left the fire and took note of the fact that the cause of Holmes's rather jovial mood was certainly the Diplomacy set laid out on the table before him. Upon the board stood only a single English army, planted squarely and proudly upon the capital of that Great Power which has lately been the subject of so much press. I quickly grasped something of my friend's afternoon activity, and said, "Holmes! You have been engaged in a game of Last Man Standing!"

"Engaged, yes; but only after the fact, Watson. What we have here is indeed the concluding position of a particularly interesting Last Man Standing exhibition. I am delighted to know that you are familiar with such things; they are admittedly rather frivolous, and a not-inexpensive diversion for many men."

"Certainly I am aware of it, Holmes; it is presently all the rage throughout Europe. In a Last Man Standing exhibition, the exhibitor reduces the number of pieces on the board to one by reproducing for his audience a game that he has previously concocted, and whose orders sit in a sealed envelope. Before replaying the game, it is customary for him to describe some of its interesting features to his audience, after which the assembled gentlemen often place wagers amongst themselves concerning such things as which power will survive, the final position, and any number of other events that could transpire as the game is played out. Obviously, as gentlemen all, every bettor vouches to having never been made privy to the sealed moves. It is the case, however, as you point out, that just as often as not a man may be found to be less interested in the beauty of the Great Game being displayed than he is in the promise of financial gain to be had through succeeding in these wagers. Whilst I have never attended such an exhibition, I do admit that the idea attracts me — though I would of course be unable to attend in any role other than that of a spectator, unless the wagers be only for very small stakes; this separates me, surely, from so many of the game's most ardent patrons, who, while they may have no more love for The Game than I, certainly possess much more financial wherewithal!"

"Well described, Watson," my friend said. "Such an exhibition game is, in fact, precisely what we have here. Are you aware of the Congress for Permanent Balkan Settlement currently underway in this city?"

The sudden change of subject initially caught me by surprise. I was indeed — from coverage provided by The Times — familiar with the fact that London was presently filled with diplomats from all across the Continent, meeting daily at Westminster discussing the future of that troubled part of Europe. "Most certainly I am aware of the Congress, Holmes," I answered him. When Holmes only puffed on his pipe silently, I continued, rather mystified, launching into a non-sequitur. "As Fleet Street would tell it, the present difficulties in debate concern the bold reassertion by agitators of the Habsburg Empire's claim to Transylvania." I paused once again, and Holmes still kept silent. Searching my mind for another piece of information about the Congress, I was suddenly struck by the reason for my friend's question. "By Jove, Holmes! Is this game the work of the great Baron Hervé? Did he visit our apartment to-day whilst I was occupied in my unpleasant drudgery at the chemist's?"

"The great Baron Hervé", as I had referred to him, was of course Baron Hervé van Rompuy-Leterme, long the toast of the continent, and certainly among the most well-respected and talented men of our age. A universally acclaimed diplomat in the theatre of European politics, the baron was also one of the foremost Diplomacy players of the past decades. Some years ago, citing advancing age, he had retired both from politics and from the active play of The Game. Of late, however, he had become something of an elder statesman, both on the board and off. His ardent passion for peace in the Balkans had proven sufficient to draw him from his retirement and place him as the presiding officer of the great Congress now in session, and his passion for The Game had recently seen him treating Diplomacy clubs all across the continent to exhibitions of his keen talents in the construction of Last Man Standing games.

"Yes and no, Watson," came the reply. "This game is indeed the work of Baron Hervé, but unfortunately, I have not had the pleasure of his company here at Baker Street. It seems, happily, that despite his busy schedule presiding over the Congress, he has managed to make time to entertain a number of his fellow delegates, also boarded at the Calhamer Club, as well as some invited members and guests of the Club, with his skills. He has, in fact, brought with him from Brussels his famously large Diplomacy board."

Hearing this, and that Baron Hervé was quartered at our Club, I was delighted. "So you have been out to the Calhamer Club this afternoon, Holmes?"

"No indeed, Watson; I would not presume to venture out in this weather. The game itself was brought to me, here, earlier to-day, by our friend Sir Malcolm Walpole-Price, down from Liverpool for the Congress, who was privileged to attend the exhibition conducted last evening. Sir Malcolm was in excellent good spirits, for he had (like many of the others in attendance at the club) patriotically wagered on England to win. In fact, Sir Malcolm was doubly successful, for he also wagered upon the survival of the army that begins the game in his home-town of Liverpool, and, indeed, that unit did become the Last Man Standing, beating a Russian and a Turk to the pitch, which were the only two other survivors in the final year."

"I see, Holmes; it sounds like Sir Malcolm had capital fun." (I groaned at my own pun, but Holmes seemed to take no note of it.) "I wish we had been on-hand for it. If I may ask, were you told which 'marvels' the baron exhibited in last night's game?

"I was. For one thing, Watson, this final position was obtained after the conclusion of only four game-years."

It took a moment for my face to register the surprise I experienced on hearing that such a thing could be accomplished.

Noting my delayed reaction, Holmes smiled and continued. "And that is not all, Watson. The claim was made — and proven — that not a single neutral centre would be captured, and — most marvelous to the audience, in a game that was to achieve its denouement after 1904 — that every one of the seven Great Powers would survive into 1903. Those facts, apart from the information that the Last Man Standing would be found, as you see here, sitting upon one of the capitals of the Great Powers of Europe, which, as Sir Malcolm gleefully added, had itself been eliminated before the start of the final year, amounted to the sum total of the baron's description."

"Astonishing, Holmes! As I see the board here in its final position, I must presume that Sir Malcolm brought with him the litany of the game's moves. Might I see them, and thus do as you and he did, playing the game out for my own entertainment and amusement?"

Holmes dismissed my assumption with the wave of his hand. "I suppose that Sir Malcolm may have had with him a transcribed copy of the game's orders, he may even have intended to leave such a copy with me; the subject did not arise, however, and I did not inquire. Rather, using the details he had provided, I considered it an enjoyable diversion to reproduce for him the game in its every detail, and that is how I have spent my afternoon."

"Your skills never cease to amaze me, Holmes! Simply from the fact that this sole English army survived, ending up in the capital of a power eliminated before the start of the final year, when its only remaining opponents were a Russian and a Turk, and the three other spare facts you were given — that no neutral centres were taken, that the game reaches this position before Spring of 1905 is played, and that all powers survive into 1903 — you reconstructed the entire exhibition game?"

"Quite so, Watson," Holmes said nonchalantly, as if what I had described were mere child's play.

Can you do as Holmes did? Eliminate all units from the board, except a single English army, which is left sitting on a European capital, in four full game years, without capturing any neutral centres, and ensuring that all seven powers survive until 1903, with only Russia, Turkey and England remaining in 1904, neither of whose capital is the final target. Once you have done so, mail your solution to The Pouch!

...if you have given it a long honest try and want a bit more assistance, Watson is willing to tell you more about what he sees on the board, if you click here.

...and when you're ready to continue with Watson's tale, click here....

— Dr John H. Watson
via Mario Huys ([email protected])
and Manus Hand ([email protected])

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