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 a cultural and brand semiotician, and co-principal of the agency SEMIOVOX LLC. He is editor and publisher of HILOBROW and the Radium Age sci-fi paperback imprint HILOBOOKS. He is author of (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY (2008) and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY (2011); and he is co-editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY (2007) and SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (2012). With Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Tony Leone, Josh produced the popular family activities guides UNBORED (2012), UNBORED GAMES (2014), and UNBORED ADVENTURE (2015), not to mention two UNBORED activity kits from MindWare. In the ’00s, Josh was an editor and columnist for the BOSTON GLOBE's IDEAS section; in the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT. He was born and raised in Boston, where he lives with his wife and sons.