What would you do ? (15) The Puzzle

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, a boys’ comic aimed, funnily enough, at boys. The comic was in existence for only 19 months of 1963-1964.

I bought it mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle called “What would you do ?”. Somebody was in what Ned Flanders calls “A dilly of a pickle” and you had to get him out of it.

Here’s the situation:

In case you can’t read it, I’ve enlarged the blue box which reads…….

The exact text is :

“Shoulder to shoulder the Roman soldiers stand tensed to face the thundering might of Hannibal’s elephants. But the Romans’ spears are of little use against the living battering-ram that sweeps down on them. Great gaps are torn in the tightly packed Roman ranks. Now Hannibal’s soldiers can follow through and rout the enemy. The Roman general, Scipio, knows that if he is to win future battles he must stop the elephants breaking his shield wall. What can he do?”

Your task is to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your ideas in the “Comments” section.

It certainly is a dilly of a pickle, although I wouldn’t depend too much on finding the answer in there!


Filed under History, Humour, military

38 responses to “What would you do ? (15) The Puzzle

  1. It all depends on the terrain, but each Roman soldier might plant a stake similar to that employed by Medieval archers. While this wouldn’t necessarily stop charging elephants, it would certainly distract them and cause confusion and chaos. So, am I close?

    • I’m afraid that you are miles off the correct solution as given in the comic. Having said that, I do think that that might well work, if a supply of stakes can be organised. It’s going to take quite a few to stop the large numbers of elephants who had signed up for service with Hannibal .

      • My two best secondary solutions would be: (1) Kill them by rockslides in the Alpine passes, and (2) fire. As you can see, I haven’t much experience with elephant combat.

      • I think the problem is that you’ve missed your chance for the solutions you suggest. You are now at the point where. sword in hand and dry mouthed, you are looking across a battlefield at a hundred elephants and tens of thousands of Carthaginians. Oh no! They’re all moving, and coming your way…….

      • I hope someone thought to dig anti-elephant ditches with pointed stakes in them, but I suppose that is out of the question. There is an old tale that elephants are afraid of mice. Do I have mice in my pack?

      • I suspect not! The problem is that the solution must be something that can be done in the time it takes an elephant to gallop (?) across the battlefield. Fifteen seconds? Twenty seconds?

  2. Elephants can’t jump so maybe build a wall or alternatively dig a pit that they can’t get over.

  3. GP

    I think Andrew is on to something. I would go with digging a pit.

    • I think that if the Romans did that, Hannibal would just change his point of attack. And, in any case, a wall would be unstable if the mortar was still wet, and you wouldn’t have the time to start moving stone blocks around.
      The Roman general, Scipio, wrote his memoirs of fighting Hannibal, so we actually know what he did, and we know that it worked.
      Hannibal could order his elephants to charge at any time and he could respond to the enemy’s actions at any point. He could even change the direction of the charge if that became necessary. Because of all those factors, the Romans needed something that was more or less instant to do, and could be carried out after only one simple order.
      Scipio found that single tactic, and he was so successful that he was in later life to be called “Scipio Africanus” in honour of his victories over the great African military leader.

  4. I’d do the old mouse trick as Derrick suggests with a second line of defence as a ring of doughnuts! There’s no way those elephants could get through that combination.

    • I think that if you could get, say, ten thousand mice at fairly short notice, they just might work, but elephants are an intelligent animal, and what would happen if some of them suddenly discovered that by merely stamping vigorously on the mice, they had no need to be afraid.?
      I don’t think that donuts in large quantities would get past the Roman soldiers. The Italians have always seen themselves as gourmet eaters, and I think that introducing them to something as wonderfully seductive as a donut would just be too much for them. They would eat the lot.

  5. Oh-Oh! Scipio would be wise not to ask me for a way out of this pickle 🙂

    • From his memoirs of the battles against Hannibal, we actually know what Scipio did to combat the elephants. I think when you see the tactic he used (and which worked like a dream) you will be very surprised at just how simple it was.

  6. Chris Waller

    My experience of elephants is nil but most animals are panicked by loud, sharp noises so I would suggest they bang their swords against their shields and possibly scream very loudly – not difficult to do when confronted by an elephant.

  7. Well that’s nothing that a few well placed landmines couldn’t deal with … but in those days the best would be for the Romans to partly open their ranks, let the elephants through then using horns, drums, flags and other stuff, turn the elephants around and send them back to the enemy lines. Also as the elephants come charging through the openings in the lines the soldiers standing on the side could throw spears, stones and other projectiles to wound or kill the elephants. Even with a few gaps in the line the Romans should be able reform after the elephants pass to attack the enemy soldiers.

    or do what I always do: jump in a foxhole and call for an air strike.

    • At last. You have the solution, albeit made a little bit more complex, but essentially the correct solution. And the method which Scipio Africanus himself used more than 2,000 years ago.

  8. Chris

    Although the answer has been revealed, let me offer another solution: bees. Elephants hate bees. They fly up their nostrils and inside their ears and drive them absolutely bonkers. To ward off elephant herds from trampling on their crops, farmers in Africa surround their plantings with bee hives. Works like a charm, doesn’t require fencing and they get the bonus of honey on their cassava bread!

  9. It was interesting to read the various solutions 🙂 Maybe if trumpets were blown together by a large number of soldiers, that might scare the elephants.

    • I think that that is perfectly possible, Lakshmi, but I’m sad to say that that isn’t the correct answer.
      The correct answer is actually very simple, which may be the reason that almost everybody has missed it !

  10. Thank you for sharing!!.. seeing as how the elephant is not all that fleet a foot and able quickly change the direction of the charge, I would simply get out of the path and let the elephant pass by, not to mention the soldiers on the backs of the elephant are somewhat limited in their ability to engage the enemy.. 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May your troubles be less
    Your blessings be more
    And nothing but happiness
    Come through your door
    (Irish Saying)

  11. Absolutely right! Well done!

    It really struck me that we should still know what a Roman general did to win this battle, but we do! And it’s getting on for 2,400 years ago. A very detailed account can be found at……..


    But, if you want to find out exactly how the eighty elephants were defeated, then just search the document for “peppered” and that will take you there.

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