Chess Match (36)
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: Codebreaking

It may not be inapt to liken the attainment of the North Pole to the winning of a game of chess, in which all the various moves leading to a favorable conclusion had been planned in advance, long before the actual game began. It was an old game for me — a game which I had been playing for twenty-three years, with varying fortunes. Always, it is true, I had been beaten, but with every defeat came fresh knowledge of the game, its intricacies, its difficulties, its subtleties, and with every fresh attempt success came a trifle nearer; what had before appeared either impossible, or, at the best, extremely dubious, began to take on an aspect of possibility, and, at last, even of probability…. But while it is true that so far as plan and method are concerned the discovery of the North Pole may fairly be likened to a game of chess, there is, of course, this obvious difference: in chess, brains are matched against brains. In the quest of the Pole it was a struggle of human brains and persistence against the blind, brute forces of the elements of primeval matter, acting often under laws and impulses almost unknown or but little understood by us, and thus many times seemingly capricious, freaky, not to be foretold with any degree of certainty.” — Robert Peary, THE NORTH POLE: ITS DISCOVERY IN 1909 UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE PEARY ARCTIC CLUB (1910).


Thirty-sixth in an occasional series.

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Joshua Glenn is an author, publisher, and semiotic analyst. He is co-author (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) of THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY, co-editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS, and co-author (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen) of the family activities guide UNBORED and three forthcoming spinoffs, including UNBORED Games. He is editor of HILOBROW and publisher of the Radium Age science fiction imprint HiLoBooks. Also: Glenn manages a secretive online community known as the Hermenautic Circle; he is founding editor of the e-book club Save the Adventure; and he's a frequent co-host of Boing Boing's podcast GWEEK. In the ’00s, Glenn was an editor, columnist, and blogger for the Boston Globe's IDEAS section, he co-founded the international semiotics website SEMIONAUT, and contributed to CABINET, SLATE, and elsewhere. In the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT, worked as a dotcom and magazine editor, and contributed to THE BAFFLER, FEED, and elsewhere. His publishing company is King Mixer, LLC; and his semiotic analysis consultancy is Semiovox LLC. He lives in Boston with his wife and children.