Riddle: What kind of cat can grin?

"A hanging chain forms a Caternary", image from Wikipedia

Answer: A Caternary

The best jokes are the ones you have to look up the answer on Wikipedia to get. I prefer the one that postures “Which would a logician chose: between poutine or eternal bliss?” Poutine: because nothing is better than eternal bliss, and poutine is better than nothing.

The caternary joke was in the Canadian magazine Queen’s Quarterly, in their Fall 2010 issue (Vol. 117). (The QQ magazine we assume is like GQ but for a much smaller demographic.) The 22-page article by Canadian author David Day was called “Oxford in Wonderland.” It’s not available online, but here is a summary from the QQ website:

From the beginning, it was apparent that beneath the fairy tale level of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland there was a strong element of autobiography and satire of mid-Victorian society. It was fairly obvious that the characters and places in Wonderland had a counterpart in Oxford. All of Lewis Carroll’s biographers and literary critics delve to some degree into this kind of historical “Who’s Who” of the Alice books. Some of these Carroll identified himself; others he was at pains to keep secret. Nevertheless, if we walk carefully in Alice’s footsteps, some fascinating new characters will step into the light. It began “all in a golden afternoon” with a real boating excursion on July 4, 1862, on the Isis, a branch of the Thames River passing though Oxford, when two young college dons rowed and picnicked with three pretty adolescent girls on their journey upriver from Folly Bridge to Godstow village.

For much of the magazine spread, Day identifies many of the historical persons whom Day believes Wonderland characters were based upon, various Oxford personalities and friends of Carroll. For instance, his Cheshire Cat identification:

from "Oxford in Wonderland" by David Day, Queen's Quarterly (vol 117 - Fall 2010)

1 comment to Riddle: What kind of cat can grin?

  • John S Cook

    I note that the article uses the spelling ‘caternary’ in relation to the mathematical curve representing the hanging chain. Should this be catenary’ or is the joke on me?