A couple of weeks ago, in the weekly Chess tactics lesson of my local club (Oh, no! Not another entry about Chess!), the game we were considering contained the following funny sentence: ¡nunca se sabe por dónde saldrá el sol! (you never know where the sun will rise!) I didn’t notice at the time, but it obviously stayed at the back of my head because a few days later I thought Hang on! If there is something that we can be sure about is where the sun will rise day after day!
The quote comes from one of the comments the great Bobby Fischer wrote in his famous My 60 memorable games, after a mysterious King move with no immediate justification. Could it be that the eccentric Fischer had written it as a nonsense humorous remark, getting ahead of the style of Monty Python?
Just by chance I happen to have a copy of his book, but not the original in English (that would have settled the issue immediately). It is an Italian translation, and in the relevant comment it says Non si sa mai quando il fulmine colpirà! (You never know when lightning will strike!)
Ah! That is another thing altogether! Of course lightning is sudden and unpredictable, so this version does make more sense. But it still prompts the following question: what could Fischer possibly have written that allowed a translator to render it as the Spanish version quoted above?
To close the loop, and as a kind of anti-punch-line, the book by Fischer is out of print (all re-prints are sold off almost immediately after publishing), and I have no easy way of finding out what the original version of the sentence is.
So, here is a puzzle that no translation engine would be able to solve: find an ambiguous English sentence such that it could be interpreted both as you never know where the sun will rise! and You never know when lightning will strike!
Addendum: the quote referred to comes from game 35 of the book, Fischer vs. Bolbochán. This same game was at the center of a heated controversy related to a “correction” that contained an error in itself in the first reprint of the book after 25 years. The whole saga can be read in the following article: Fischer’s Fury. It contains a few notes in Russian, German and French, so it could be of some interest for readers of this blog.