THE CASE OF THE WINNING LOSER

A sports event is the theme of this exclusive mini-mystery, in which writer Nury Vittachi, author of The Feng Shui Detective series of novels, challenges readers to solve a short story puzzle.



Sport and zen do not mix. In sport, you need a fair competition producing a clear winner. But in zen thought, things are different: fairness, logic and rationality are thrown out of the window.

Businessman Luo Runzhi found this out the hard way. As chairman of the China City Formula One Club, Luo organized the biggest two-car race in the history of Chinese motor sports. He had sponsored a "grudge" match between two of the world's greatest racing drivers: Harry Laponte of the United States and Mario Paletti of Europe. This was going to be a battle of the champions.

And in what he believed was a creative masterstroke, Luo asked a Taoist Abbot named Master Zheong to be guest of honour and dedicate the race to the God of Wealth.

The deal had been signed and the marketing had been a huge success. Bets poured in from around the world, and Luo sold the TV rights for a fortune.

Luo felt that this was the best day of his life -- until the pre-race ceremonial luncheon, one hour before the race.

Zen Master Zheong had risen to his feet and announced that the God of Wealth had promised to bless the race and everyone involved with it-on one condition.

There was sudden silence at these words. Chairman Luo's smile froze on his face. What was the old fool about to say?

The Zen Master spoke calmly: "In Taoist belief, as in Christian and Jewish belief, we say that the first shall be last and the last shall be first."

Chairman Luo, still smiling, said: "What do you mean by that?"

"The God of Wealth will bless the race only if the car that comes second is declared the winner, and the car that comes first, is declared the loser. I believe that will add an interesting zen twist to the proceedings." He sat down.

For a few seconds, everyone was speechless. Then they all started talking at once.

"This is ridiculous. This will be like one of those slow bicycle races that children do, trying to go as slowly as possible," said driver Harry Laponte.

The other driver, Mario Paletti, was also upset. "Impossible. I'm not in the business of creeping around a formula one track at five miles an hour."

Chairman Luo tried to calm the situation. "Master Zheong, we can't change things now. Perhaps in another race, on another occasion, we can follow your interesting suggestion?"

All eyes turned to see how the Taiost Abbot would react to this. "You will do the race in the way the God of Wealth desires, or he will withdraw his goodwill. Everyone will naturally suffer the bad karma that this will entail," he said.

No one spoke.

Chairman Luo was flummoxed. If the car which came second was to be declared the winner, the two fiercely competitive drivers would simply idle their engines at the start of the track. Race-goers would ask for their money back. Investors would withdraw their funds. The TV company would cancel its check.

But if he ignored the Zen Master's request, they would be cursed with bad karma. What could be done?

Then Luo noticed a small, puny man at the back of the room had his hand raised. It was Wong, the feng shui man, who had been invited to the dinner to make sure the table settings and seats were correctly placed.

"Excuse me," said the geomancer. "I think I can solve this problem so everyone is happy."

What did simple logical step did Wong propose to keep the racing car drivers and the Zen master happy? Click here for the answer.