Reve was a wily man and something of a scholar. As Chaucer tells us, "There
was no auditor could of him win," and "there could no man bring him in
The poet also noticed that "ever he rode the hindermost of the route." This
he did that he might the better, without interruption, work out the fanciful
problems and ideas that passed through his active brain.
When the pilgrims were stopping at a wayside tavern, a number of cheeses of
varying sizes caught his alert eye; and calling for four stools, he told the
company that he would show them a puzzle of his own that would keep them
amused during their rest. He then placed eight cheeses of graduating sizes
on one of the end stools, the smallest cheese being at the top, as clearly
shown in the illustration. "This is a riddle," quoth he, "that I did once
set before my fellow townsmen at Baldeswell, that is in Norfolk, and, by
Saint Joce, there was no man among them that could rede it aright. And yet
it is withal full easy, for all that I do desire is that, by the moving of
one cheese at a time from one stool unto another, ye shall remove all the
cheeses to the stool at the other end without ever putting any cheese on one
that is smaller than itself. To him that will perform this feat in the least
number of moves that be possible will I give a draught of the best that our
good host can provide."
To solve this puzzle in the fewest possible moves, first with 8, then with
10, and afterwards with 21 cheeses, is an interesting recreation.