Mr Physicson has been programming some nuclear reactor results filtering program. So, when he returned home tonight, he incorporated a bit of this new knowledge when he was singing to his son:

x=person:property(("small sized"&&"black skin")|("small sized"&&"red skin")|"good deeds")
set x_count=10

x_count x gathered on the evening to socially sustain themselves
A blockage of the upper airway resulted in x_count--

x_count x gave prolonged continuance to the aforementioned gathering
The consequent rest needed was overwhelming in one case so x_count--

x_count x went on an excursion to southwest United Kingdom
The scenary seduced a traveller, causing no return, so x_count--

x_count x were splitting wooden cylinders with raw tools
One had its target replaced with themselves, so x_count--

x_count x were messing with an Anthophila colony
One of its members reacted defensively, and thus x_count--

(one verse reducted, because the OP cannot figure its meaning with certainty)

x_count x went on an excursion to a large water body
The deceptive fish grabbed one so x_count--

x_count x went on an excursion to the show of various fauna
An Ursidae grabbed one so x_count--

x_count x were enjoying the topic star's gaze
One overdid it so x_count--

Since x_count==1, the last x was alone
It suicided by asphyxiation so x_count--

At this point, the young kid was fast asleep. Mr Physicson smiled. He then recalled the associated, marvellous mystery novel he read back then.

What was he singing? What did he recall?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Why x_count--, not --x_count? The postfix decrement operator returns old value, not new one (as was intended, I believe). $\endgroup$
    – trolley813
    May 5, 2020 at 6:49
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Heh, nice observation! I'll leave it as it is to not invalidate the answer, though. $\endgroup$ May 5, 2020 at 6:50

1 Answer 1


Mr Physicson is reciting:

The poem known colloquially as "Ten Little Indians", specifically this version:

Ten little Indian boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Indian boys travelling in Devon;
One said he'd stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
Six little Indian boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one of them and then there were five.
Five little Indian boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Indian boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Indian boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two little Indian boys sitting in the sun;
One got all frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Indian boy left all alone;
He went and hanged himself and then there were none.

The words of each verse have been replaced with 'scienced up' synonyms, and at the end of each verse the number of boys ('x', which begins as 10) reduces by one, hence the programmers' commands "set x_count=10" at the beginning, and "x_count--" at the end of each verse.

This poem specifically reminds Mr Physicson of:

The mystery novel And Then There Were None (1939) by Agatha Christie. In fact, the specific version of the rhyme quoted above was used in the 1945 film version based on the book.

The rhyme has its origins in minstrel songs and has been reworded many times over the years (hence the alternate versions suggested in line 1 of his 'code', referring to ("small sized"&&"black skin")|("small sized"&&"red skin")|"good deeds") to consider society's changing attitudes to race.

PS As for the redacted verse:

'Chancery' is a branch of the court system in England and Wales - the line "One got in Chancery and then there were four" suggests that one of the protagonists has qualified for a career in law and has left the group. Furthermore, as @shoover points out in comments, this phrase has a double meaning, as being 'in Chancery' - as well as being a legal phrase - also describes an 'awkward or embarrassing situation' (e.g. a scandal), which would be a more fitting interpretation for a rhyme where bad things befall the 10 protagonists...

  • $\begingroup$ A bit of trivia: the AC thing that the poem reminds Mr Physicson of was previously called rot13(Gra Yvggyr Vaqvnaf) and originally was rot13(fbzrguvat gung vf pbafvqrerq rkgerzryl bssrafvir gbqnl) $\endgroup$
    – shoover
    May 4, 2020 at 18:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @shoover Indeed it was - however, I deliberately didn't delve into its origins so as to avoid any deep controversy or offence! The title I quote is already considered inappropriate by many - I definitely couldn't (and wouldn't want to) quote what it was called before that... $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    May 4, 2020 at 18:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yep, you already alluded to it anyway. $\endgroup$
    – shoover
    May 4, 2020 at 19:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Since rot13(fbzrguvat onq unccrarq gb nyy bs gur yvggyr barf), perhaps a better interpretation for the redacted verse might be found in the idiom section at bit.ly/2WpNEVh $\endgroup$
    – shoover
    May 4, 2020 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ @shoover That might be worth a mention actually - thanks for pointing it out. Will edit... $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    May 4, 2020 at 19:06

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