From the editors
We have a winner! Of the thousands who tried Ken Jennings’ Great American History Puzzle (October), the first to solve all 11 challenges was Jeff Davidson, a 23-year-old software engineer in Mountain View, California.
You can play (for fun) at Smithsonian.com/puzzle. And here’s the solution to the first challenge, which was launched on page 39: Jefferson’s “greatest creation” was the Declaration of Independence. In the “Puzzle Code,” each number pair denotes a word, and a letter within that word, in the Declaration. The selected letters spell out: Famous last words will help you trace the hidden American icon on this magazine cover. The Bible verse on the icon leads to two page numbers. Read the red characters there backwards to uncover the password. The “last words”—John Adams’ famous “Thomas Jefferson survives”—appear in a sequence of small letters hidden within the mosaic on the October cover. Connecting the letters produces an outline of the Liberty Bell. The Bible verse engraved on the actual bell, Leviticus 25:10, leads inside to red letters near the bottom of pages 25 and 10. Backwards, they spell out 1NATION, a Jeffersonian password to launch the web portion of the puzzle. Good luck with the next ten challenges!
Readers were intrigued and offended by “The Gospel According to King” (November) about Karen King’s study of a 1,600-year-old papyrus mentioning Jesus’ “wife” and “Mary,” which the divinity scholar views as evidence for an early Christian discourse that Jesus was married, possibly to Mary Magdalene. King “seems to show restraint and integrity in her analyis and conclusions,” says Gwen Simonalle of Tipp City, Ohio. “Another breathless attempt to discredit historic Christianity,” says K. Eric Perrin of Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Lori Lieder says online, Jesus “was here to live as a regular man. Wouldn’t that have included marriage?”
Editor’s note: Henry Wiencek’s “Master of Monticello” (October), based on his book Master of the Mountain, provoked fierce debate on our website and in other outlets. Among the criticisms are those by Annette Gordon-Reed in Slate and Jan Ellen Lewis in The Daily Beast. They charge that Wiencek misinterprets Thomas Jefferson’s calculation that the slave population increased 4 percent a year. Gordon-Reed also says that Wiencek misrepresents Jefferson’s lack of response to the legal will of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who left Jefferson a large sum of money to free his slaves.
Wiencek replies: The weight of the documentary evidence overturns the image of Jefferson as a conflicted slaveholder who yearned to free his slaves if only he could. Gordon-Reed and Lewis insist that Jefferson was referring to profit on Virginia farms generally when he calculated a profit from the annual 4 percent increase in the birth of black children. Not so. Jefferson was indeed talking about Monticello—unless evidence can be located that he crisscrossed Virginia to conduct his own census of profits realized from the state’s slaves. At any rate, Monticello is in Virginia. Gordon-Reed alludes to the legal problems that engulfed Kosciuszko’s will. But my point is that Jefferson never tried to obtain that money, which would have freed several Monticello families. He thought his slaves were too valuable to release. The sad irony is that after Jefferson died, his grandson attempted to revive the Kosciuszko bequest to rescue Monticello slaves from the auction block. But it was too late.
Go to Smithsonian.com/wiencek for a forum on the Jefferson debate and a new essay by the author.