Google Analytics

Wednesday 1 November 2017

What Is Wrong In This Room?

Brian’s Blog recently reminded me of the puzzles in Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia.

Browsing Volume 3 a month or two ago, I came across the puzzle “What Is Wrong In This Room?” which invites you to find seventeen things wrong in a drawing of, presumably, a typical early twentieth-century sitting room. It struck me how different it is from today’s homes, so different that finding all seventeen is nigh impossible. 

Picture puzzle from Arthur Mee's Children's Encyclopedia

I got off to a good start: it slowly dawned on me that the door knob should not be on the hinge side of the door and that the picture above the fireplace is upside down. I didn’t spot the problems with the other two pictures though: that the one near the window is not hooked on to the picture rail, and that the hook for the picture near the door is upside down. How many rooms still have picture rails these days anyway? And what about the large skirting board? Who would spot that it is upside down in the drawing? It looks fine to me. (Score so far: 2/5).

Oh dear, but now for two I might have got with the shrewd intelligence of Miss Marple and the observational acuteness of Sherlock Holmes: qualities I clearly do not possess. The floorboards at the two sides of the carpet run in different directions (no fitted carpets then), and the hands on the clock are not in the correct positions because if the big hand is showing quarter-past, then the little hand should be past the hour rather than before. I got neither of these. It is starting to be as demeaning as University Challenge. (Score now 2/7).

It gets harder. Do any of us still have maids (unless you count wives), or coal fires for that matter? It appears that the hinged handle of the coal-scuttle is unusable – some people will never have heard of coal scuttles – and that the fire the maid is about to load with coal is a gas fire (you just can’t get the staff!). When you look carefully you can see that it is not fully inside the fireplace, and there is also a supply pipe. We used to have a portable stand-alone gas fire similar to that which connected to a gas tap by a long rubber tube. That was in the nineteen-fifties. Where did the fumes go? Poison! Perhaps that’s why my score now sinks to 2/9. 

I put my failure to identify the next ones down to the poor resolution of the drawing – a convenient excuse, I know, but did you notice that the curtain-pole support is fastened on top rather than at the side, making it impossible to put the pole over it, or that the window shutter knob is (like the door) on the wrong side? I didn’t but I’m getting irritated now because is it not possible to slide the pole through, and don’t the window shutters look like folding double-hinged ones which open out to the middle, in which case the knob would be on the right side? Who has window shutters anyway? The answers also say that the window fastener is the wrong way round (the flatter part you move with your thumb is against the window), and that the handle by which we lift the lower half is fixed back to front. I suppose when it comes down to it they are, but you’d think they would be drawn so as to give you at least half a chance of being able to see. Maybe those still with sash windows did better here. An unjust 2/13.

Did you do any better with the soft-furnishings? The box-shaped thing next to the dog is evidently a hassock – a what – a hassock, like the cushions you kneel on in church (well that’s if you go). You are doing very well if you realised that the handle-lugs should be at the ends rather than at the sides. And then there is the chair. The answers say the pattern is upside down. When you rotate the image you can see it appears to show a bird on some kind of perch, but really? And then there is the chair castor which is supposed to be fixed the wrong way round so that it would break under weight. I don’t understand that one at all. When were swivelling ones invented? (2/16).

Lastly, the dog. I’m not a doggy person, that’s my excuse, but I would be surprised if you got it even if you are. It is a spaniel with a collie’s tail. Couldn’t it be just a mongrel?

So, 2/17 for me, 12%, an unmitigated, dismal fail. Even with a lucky resit I doubt I would manage more than six or seven. 

The ten volumes of this encyclopedia were bought in 1927. Were children a lot cleverer then, or is it just that the once-familiar has changed beyond recognition?

Perhaps we should set a modern version that they wouldn’t be able to do – a central heating radiator with the pipes attached to the top rather than the bottom, a light with a missing bulb and a television with an image on the screen despite not being plugged in. And how wrong they would be when they said that that our pictures had no support at all. That would show ‘em we‘re not stupid.

You might also like What Is Wrong With This Steamer? and Knockout, Knowledge and Arthur Mee.


  1. There are certainly a few silly things wrong in the picture like the door handle, but yes, others are specific to the period. As for the dog's tail we really have to nit-pick to get that one.

    I don't have a maid (or wife) but I do have a butler and a wood burning stove... admittedly the butler is my alter ego who I blame for various mishaps; less so since I got a cat. I think picture rails look nice, especially in a room with tall skirting boards... I've been considering adding some to my lounge, maybe I'll get the butler to fit them.

    1. Like I said, it just goes to show how much things have changed, but that could be said of almost everything in the whole encyclopedia, which is much of its appeal. It might also be interesting to see a 1960s version of the problem - record deck arm the wrong way round, etc.


I welcome comments and hope to respond within a day or two, but vision issues are making this increasingly difficult. Please note: comments on posts over a month old will not appear until they have been moderated.