Puzzles of the Black Widowers - By Isaac Asimov

My first Black Widower story, "The Acquisitive Chuckle," was written in 1971 and was published in the January 1972 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. I had intended it as a one-shot, but Frederic Dannay (one of two authors who were Ellery Queen) had the idea that it would make a good series. So I kept on going and, as of now, I have written no fewer than sixty of these stories, and have put them into collections - twelve stories in each. This one, therefore, Puzzles of the Black Widowers, is the fifth collection.

Between the first story and the sixtieth, however, seventeen years have passed, and that means there have been changes. For instance, I think I am at least three or four years older than I was seventeen years ago, though that may just be my innate pessimism showing through. A much more serious change is that Fred Dannay died in 1982, to the loss of everyone in the field of mystery writing.

Other changes have involved the club on which this series is based. I have explained in earlier collections that there is a real-life organization called the Trap-Door Spiders which has been in existence for over forty years, and which is very like the Black Widowers. Indeed, I have modeled the latter, quite unashamedly, on the former.

I used six of the Spiders as models for my Black Widowers, choosing them more or less at random and making sure they didn't mind. I used them only as models for the physical appearance of my characters and for some of the conversational characteristics (such as Emmanuel Rubin's opinionativeness, Thomas Trumbull's short temper, Geoffrey Avalon's occasional, but lovable, pedantry, and so on.

For the record, here are the real people behind my Black Widowers:

Lester del Rey - Emmanuel Rubin

L. Sprague de Camp - Geoffrey Avalon

Don Bensen - Roger Halsted

Lin Carter - Mario Gonzalo

Gilbert Cant - Thomas Trumbull

John D. Clark - James Drake

The Trap-Door Spiders still exist after seventeen years and the club is going strong, but naturally, there have been changes in membership. Some old members have passed away and new members have been elected.

As it happens, and to my grief, three of those whom I saddled with Black Widowers alter egos have passed on to the Perpetual Banquet in the sky. They are Gilbert Cant, who died in 1982, and Lin Carter and John D. Clark, who each died in 1988.

Nevertheless, their alter egos remain Black Widowers and will continue to remain so as long as I myself continue to occupy my aging body. Nor will anyone grow older, or get sick, or become infirm. Within the Black Widower stories, time will not exist, and the puzzles will continue indefinitely.

I might add once again that Henry is not modeled on anybody but is my own creation (though more than one person has wondered whether I had P. G. Wodehouse's "Jeeves" in mind, and since I am a PGW idolator, who knows, I may have.) Henry also will not age, and, never fear, he will never be stumped, but will continue to solve each puzzle as it comes up, for as long as I live.
The Fourth Homonym

"Homonyms!" said Nicholas Brant. He was Thomas Trumbull's guest at the monthly banquet of the Black Widowers. He was rather tall, and had surprisingly prominent bags under his eyes, despite the comparative youthfulness of his appearance otherwise. His face was thin and smooth-shaven, and his brown hair showed, as yet, no signs of gray. "Homonyms," he said.

"What?" said Mario Gonzalo blankly.

"The words you call 'sound-alikes.' The proper name for them is 'homonyms.' "

"That so?" said Gonzalo. "How do you spell it?"

Brant spelled it.

Emmanuel Rubin looked at Brant owlishly through the thick lenses of his glasses. He said, "You'll have to excuse Mario, Mr. Brant. He is a stranger to our language."

Gonzalo brushed some specks of dust from his jacket sleeve and said, "Manny is corroded with envy because I've invented a word game. He knows the words but he lacks any spark of inventiveness, and that kills him."

"Surely Mr. Rubin does not lack inventiveness," said Brant, soothingly. "I've read some of his books."

"I rest my case," said Gonzalo. "Anyway, I'm willing to call my game 'homonyms' instead of 'sound-alikes.' The thing is to make up some short situation which can be described by two words that are sound-alikes - that are homonyms. I'll give you an example: If the sky is perfectly clear, it is easy to decide to go on a picnic