“It’s a maths puzzle,” Jeremiah’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “I’m no good at maths and you’re telling me that a maths puzzle is the only way out of here?”
“Both your grandfathers are famous mathematicians,” the djinn folded his arms and glowered at him, “such trivial puzzles should be like mother’s milk to you.”
“Do you know what happens when you’re next to last kid in a big, brilliant family who’re all good at one particular thing?” demanded Jeremiah. “No-one bothers explaining things to you because ‘you’ll know this already’. Maths is my worst subject because I’ve never been taught.” He glared at his captor.
“That is unfortunate,” the djinn smiled. It was not a nice smile. “I have been instructed by my master to imprison you. I neither know nor care why. The nature of my magic requires that there be a chance you might escape. It is not my problem if you cannot solve the puzzle. I will leave you the paper and pen, make what use of them you wish. As you may be here for some time,” a heavy book thumped into existence on the desk that was one of the few pieces of furniture in the room, “a little light reading for you.” The djinn bowed. “Farewell and good fortune.” There was a puff of smoke and Jeremiah was alone.
Alone in a thirteen feet by thirteen feet room, with a small separate bathroom and toilet, no exits and no windows. He had an endless decanter of water, a salver of continuous fresh food, a bed, a chair, a desk, an eternal stack of paper, a continuous fountain pen and a book. Oh, and a thirteen by thirteen magic square puzzle to solve in order to escape. He picked up the book to find out what the djinn thought he might read and found himself looking at Mathematical Parlour Games for the Astute Mind.
He stepped back into his family home through his personal split in reality two weeks later, everything useful and portable from his prison bundled up in his bedding. He was tanned, lightly bearded and planning to find the djinn’s master. Successful variation sixty-five had gotten him home but he’d had a wealth of experience on the way.
He had a magic square and he wasn’t afraid to use it.