Nick “The Slasher” McGurk was found guilty of no fewer than nine counts of first-degree murder. A jury took just ten minutes to reach a unanimous guilty verdict. The case was open and shut. The judge donned his black cap and passed sentence: “Nicholas James McGurk, the court sentences you to death by hanging. Your sentence shall be carried out on a weekday next week in a turn of events that meets the following description: You are to be taken from your cell at midday to be hanged, but you will not know the day of your execution until the executioner knocks on your door on that that fateful day. That moment shall come as a thief in the night, in a most unpleasant surprise.”
Staring death in the face, Nick was in despair. He was led back to his cell where he would await that dreadful knock at the door. It was Friday afternoon. In the wee hours of that night, the Slasher couldn’t sleep. He had the following conversation with himself:
Any day! I could die any day next week, and I won’t expect it until death comes knocking.
Or will I?
Let’s see if I can figure this out. Might it be Friday? No, it couldn’t be Friday. By Thursday afternoon, midday Thursday will have passed, so I will know for certain that it won’t be any day from Monday to Thursday, so that would only leave Friday. If I knew that it was going to be Friday, then it wouldn’t be a surprise. But the judge said that I wouldn’t expect it until that knock on the door and that it would be a surprise. So it’s not Friday. I can cross Friday off the list of possibilities.
What about Thursday then? It could be Thursday, right? But wait a minute, if I know that it’s definitely not Friday, then Thursday is the last possible day I could die. But that means that if noon on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday have come and gone, then Thursday’s the only day left. That means that on Wednesday afternoon, it won’t be a surprise. I would know that I was going to die at lunchtime on Thursday. So it’s not Thursday. I can cross that one off the list too.
But this means that Wednesday is the last possible day that it could be, so on Tuesday afternoon that wouldn’t be a surprise either. Wednesday’s off the list. But that means that Tuesday is the last day I could die, so on Monday afternoon it wouldn’t be a surprise. So it can’t be Tuesday. And that leaves just Monday. So Monday’s the day! But wait… if I just figured out that it’s Monday, then it’s not a surprise. I guess I’m not going to be hanged at all. What a relief!
And with that, Nick “The Slasher” McGurk smiled, as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He stretched out on his bed and slept like a baby.
Is Nick right? Is he really safe? Does the judge’s fearful announcement amount to the claim that the Slasher will not be hanged at all?
Let’s hear your thoughts!