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Grey Dresses: Memories of High School Physics
Posted by Danny O'Bigbelly, Apr 8, 2010. 973 views. ID = 3459

Grey Dresses

Posted by Danny O'Bigbelly, Apr 8, 2010. 973 views. ID = 3459
This post was written in 1 minutes.
This post has been awarded 14 stars by 3 readers.

Far away, and yet nearby, in the peaceful burg of Heisen, there live a king and a queen. They have always lived there, and always shall.

As is the custom of the land, the queen wears a new dress to dinner every night, and that dress is never worn again. At the time that our story begins, it had become a ritual for the queen to walk to the lower town every morning, and buy a new dress at the one (and only) dress store in Heisen. The store sold many different styles of dresses, but they were always made from the same fabric, and were always the same color–a perfect grey, midway between white and black.

One day the owner and tailor of the dress shop decided to retire and leave his business to his identical twin sons. Although the brothers were the best of friends, and had no animosity toward each other, each desired to run his own shop, and so they agreed to split the dress shop in half to form two smaller dress shops. Out of respect to their father, or perhaps because of their long apprenticeship under his tutelage, they continued to sew and sell the same fashions as he had, and their work was as difficult to tell apart as they were. They therefore made one large change, to distinguish themselves: one son would make only black dresses, and the other would make only white.

The queen, not wanting to show favor unequally, announced that she would decide which shop she would patronize each day in a secret but completely fair manner. Neither son would know ahead of time which shop she would visit each day.

When the king learned of this, he was both gladdened and dismayed. He was happy because the queen would have more variety in her wardrobe, but he was slightly dismayed because he thought it fitting that his outfit should match that of the queen, and, because in contrast to the queen, it is customary for the king to wear the same outfit to dinner every evening. The king was not sure what to wear that would match both black and white, but after consultation with his ministers, he selected an outfit that he thought would look equally good with both pure white or pitch black, and issued an edict to announce his change in dinner-wear.

The next evening, the king was mildly surprised when the queen entered the dining room wearing a beautiful dress of grey, just as she had before the elder tailor had retired. He assumed that perhaps the queen had a backlog of several grey dresses that she had purchased but not yet worn, and gave it no more thought.

But the next day, the queen wore another grey dress, and then the next day yet another. And then things became even stranger: it appeared as though the grey dresses were changing in brightness. Some days they would be lighter than others, and other days darker. They seemed to be perfectly white or perfectly black (although on some days, her dress did seem to be close to one extreme or the other).

At first, the king thought that perhaps his eyes were playing tricks on him. His new outfits, which contained many colors and hues, did not contain any shades of grey, and therefore he could not simply compare the color of his own outfit to the color of the outfit worn by the queen, as he had been able to do in the past. But as time went on, the king became more and more convinced that the queen was wearing different shades of grey on different nights, and as he became more convinced, he became more and more curious about how this could happen.

The king wondered whether perhaps his perception of grey had changed. He had the royal portrait painter create a portrait of the queen every night at dinner for a week, and every night he compared the portrait to the queen sitting across from him and saw that they were identical, but when he compared the portraits from different nights, he saw that they were different. And thus he proved to himself that the queen was wearing different shades on different nights, and it wasn’t simply his imagination.

The king considered the possibility that he might have misunderstood the plans of the twin tailors, and so he paid each of them an unannounced visit one afternoon. In the first shop he visited, all of the outfits were pure white, and in the second, all were pure black. As the king visited each shop, he observed the work areas and store rooms of each, and saw only white or black material. Even the threads, buttons, backings, and linings were pure black or white. There was nothing grey in either store.

The king was even more curious now, and so he made a tour of the rest of the lower town, to see if there was another dress shop anywhere. He did not find any. Finally, he tried to visit the father of the two tailors, to see if perhaps he had continued to sew, secretly, for the queen, but discovered that the old tailor had moved to Florida immediately after retiring.

The king then consulted the postmaster and customhouse and discovered that only white and black materials had arrived in the berg since the retirement of the old tailor, and a quick scan of the storehouses, warehouses, and other stores in the berg did not reveal any caches of grey materials.

The king never imagined that the queen might be simply recycling old dresses that she had bought long ago (and pocketing the money the treasury provided to her to buy a new dress every day), because he knew that there were no dinner dresses in the queens closets, and he had great trust for the servant responsible for the disposal of each dinner dress after it had been worn once.

That evening, the queen wore another grey dress. Later that night, while the queen was changing into her rinou, the king examined her dress closely. It was clearly new, and it was clearly grey. The individual fibers themselves were grey, as were the buttons. The king had imagined that perhaps the grey has simply been an illusion created by a weave of black and white fibers or threads, but he could see that this was not the case. The dress was fundamentally grey. If it was composed of white and black materials, it was done in a way that the king could not detect, even though he had very good eyesight and was using those very fine eyes to view the dress through a very expensive microscope.

Later that night, the king asked the queen what method she used to decide which shop to visit each day, but she only laughed and told him that it was a secret. When he asked her to tell him which shop she had visited that day, she told him that she did not know. There was an aspect of her mysterious ritual for selecting which shop to visit each day that prevented her from even remembering exactly where she had purchased each dress. Because the tailors were so expert at their craft, she never tried on or even viewed the dresses at the store–when she arrived, her next dress was ready, in a gift-wrapped box, for her to pick up.

The king was burning with curiosity. He knew it would be a serious breach of protocol for him to ask the queen for more information, and it would probably be futile anyway. He wracked his brains thinking of a way he could discover which shop she visited each day without doing anything inappropriate.

The next morning, the king visited the tailors and told them that many of his dinner guests had been delighted with the dresses that the queen had worn, and wished to buy dresses of the same kind for themselves or their female relations. Some had even expressed a desire to wear a dress matching that of the queen that very evening. The king suggested that the two tailors post a sign on the outside of their stores each afternoon, saying from which shop the queen had bought a dress that morning. The brothers agreed.

The king also asked for an additional favor: the brothers would have to take down the signs every evening before they closed. This would ensure that the queen never saw one of the signs herself when she went shopping the following morning. He explained that the queen did not want anything to bias her decision each morning, although inwardly he was also hoping that she would not discover his round-about way learning where she was buying her dresses. The brothers agreed to this as well.

For the next several days, the king found a reason to wander down into the lower town every afternoon and observe the sign telling at which store the queen had shopped that morning. And for the next several days, the queen was always dressed for dinner in the darkest black, or the brightest white, as predicted by the sign, and never in grey.

One day the king was occupied all afternoon and did not a go to the lower town. That night, the queen wore grey. The king made a pretext to excuse himself from dinner and sent his fastest rider down to the lower town to see what the signs outside the dress shops said, but they had already been taken down for the evening.

The next day, the queen made her trip to the lower town and returned with a gift-wrapped box, as usual. The king, claiming to be ill, spent the day in the private chambers he shared with the queen, while the queen went about her normal business of state. The king used this excuse to watch the box carefully all day. He was tempted to open the box, but knew that he could not do this without being detected because the box was wrapped in such a way that unwrapping it would destroy the box itself, and the king did not know how to create a replica box. Nevertheless, he was sure that when the queen dressed for dinner that evening, the dress she withdrew from the box was the same dress that had been inside the package all day and he was also certain that the box had contained exactly one dress. It was grey.

The next day, the king feigned illness again, and watched the box carefully once more. In the afternoon, saying that he felt somewhat better and wished to get some fresh air, he went for a walk in the lower town. He slipped the dress-box into his backpack before he left, so he would never lose track of it. In the lower town, the sign outside the tailors shops said that the queen had shopped at the shop that sold only white. The king returned to the castle and replaced the dress box where the queen had left it. That evening, the king watched the queen open the dress box, and the dress inside was white.

The king repeated this experiment several times. When he went to the lower town to see which tailor the queen had visited, the dress-box always turned out to contain a dress of the corresponding shade. When he did not, the dress might be any shade of grey, even though the dress had been placed in the dress-box before the king decided whether or not he would check the signs.

After some time, the king decided that he would simply learn to enjoy the many shades of grey, and accept the riddle as unsolvable.

And that’s all I remember about quantum interference. Sorry.

Copyright 2010 Danny O'Bigbelly. All rights reserved. has been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work. For permission to reprint this item, please contact the author.

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