ISAAC ASIMOV “All in the Way You Read It.” Black Widowers #13. Short story. First published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September 1974. Collected in More Tales of the Black Widowers (Doubleday, hardcover, 1976) and in The Best Mysteries of Isaac Asimov (Doubleday, hardcover, 1986) as “The Three Numbers.”

   The Black Widowers were a dinner club of six members based in Manhattan who met once a month for a meal and discussion, invariably centered about the solution to a puzzle presented to them by a guest brought by one of the members. The pre-dinner discussion in “All in the Way You Read It” is about the strangeness of the English language; the problem to be tackled always comes after dinner.

   To illustrate the former first, consider the word “unionized.” A labor leader might reasonably read this as “union-ized,” while a physicist might see it as “un-ionized.” And just for fun, here’s another: what common word in the English language changes its pronunciation when its first letter is changed to a capital letter?

   The answer comes into play when after the evening meal, that night’s guest brings up the question he has brought. He is trying to open a safe for which he has copied the combination on a piece of paper. He has written it by hand, and it looks like this:


   I’m not sure if this one’s easy, or it’s a stumper, but with all of the misdirection provided, I didn’t get it. Either way, one of the amusements of these stories, and Asimov wrote quite a few of them, is that it is invariably Henry, the waiter that serves them, who comes up with the solution. Which he does in this one, too. Nothing noir or hard-boiled about this one!