Turing's Solitaire Letter To Be Auctioned
Written by Sue Gee   
Sunday, 14 June 2015

A handwritten letter from Alan Turing explaining the algorithm for playing solitaire is among the lots at an auction of manuscripts at Bonhams London saleroom later this month and is expected to fetch £40,000 - 60,000 (around $60,000 - 90,000).

The game of Solitaire is played on a board with pegs and holes or on a round moulded container for marbles. The aim is to leave a single piece reamining in the centre of the board, sounds simple enough, in practice is is all too easy to end up with pieces scattered over the board. 

Turing's letter, dated July 10, 1953, aimed to provide a winning strategy in terms that would be understood by Maria Greenbaum, the 8-year old daughter of Turing's Jungian analyst. Maria was about to go on holiday to Switzerland and Turing suggests that playing Solitaire, would give her something to do on the train.


turingsolThe letter is illustrated with three diagrams. The first numbers the squares enabling Turing to list the moves to make, providing a complete program for solving the puzzle.

The second and third use symbols and color/shading for a more general analysis:







Two other lots in the auction are memorabilia concerning the Geenbaum family, with whom Turing had formed a close personal attachment. 

One is a postcard sent from Alan Turing to the Geenbaum family from Corfu where he was on holiday later in the month in which he wrote the Solitaire letter, which is expected to fetch £2,000 - £3,000 by virtue of it being handwritten and having his signature.

The other lot, valued at £800 - 1,200 consists of six letters, fifteen pages in all, written between 1964 and 1973 by Sara Turing, Alan's mother written to Hilla Greenbaum after the death of her husband.

According to Bonhams, these letters 

give glimpses of the slow growth of Alan's posthumous reputation

Alan Turing's reputation has since grown to global proportions. A notebook containing handwritten notes made  while he was working at Bletchley Park in 194 fetched $1,025,000 ( £661,824) in a Bonhams sale in New York in April

The forthcoming sale takes place at Bonhams, Knightsbridge (and online) on June 24 starting at 11:00 BST (10:00 UTC).


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Last Updated ( Sunday, 14 June 2015 )