Reader Michael Lorton poses this puzzle: What do Naples (Italy), Novgorod (Russia), and Chiang Mai (Thailand) have in common?

Doug Sundseth (mail):
Also probably Newton, Mass. and certainly Neustadt (Germany).
10.5.2006 2:53pm
Stephen C. Carlson (www):
Nablus too.
10.5.2006 3:04pm
ATL (mail) (www):
Unfair clue -- should have read "Napoli, Italy"
10.5.2006 3:14pm
Derek Balsam (mail):
Villanova, PA
Kota Bharu, Malaysia
10.5.2006 3:15pm
Eh Nonymous (mail) (www):

What, you don't like Neapolitan iced cream?

There's more. See this similar question at Language Hat about 14 months ago.

"Delenda est"
10.5.2006 3:17pm
JohnEMack (mail):
How in the world can you ever evaluate a question like this? The cities in question have thousands of things in common, and the question did not even ask what they had in common and other cities did not. They are all in the Northern Hemiphere. None of them is inhabited by people over eight feet tall. All of them have names which were originally written in a non-Roman script.

That said, the fact that all three cities can be (or as originally named, could have been) called "New City" in English does seem to be the most interesting (though certainly not the most important) shared feature. But what possible criteria can be used to determine what feature is most interesting?
10.5.2006 3:28pm
Bad Thai restaurants?
10.5.2006 3:32pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Mr. John E. Spock: An extremely sound logical objection! Likewise, when you're asked, "what's the next number in the sequence 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, ...," you can say the same, and ask, "why not 9372, since they're all roots of (x-2) * (x-3) * (x-5) * (x-7) * (x-11) * (x-13) * (x-17) * (x-19) * (x-9372 = 0?" And yet somehow normal human beings, and even half-Vulcans like you, manage to find some criterion to determine that the more interesting / apt answer is 23. Likewise, even you identified the feature I was looking for as "seem[ing] to be the most interesting shared feature." Don't know quite how that works, but it does seem to work, no?
10.5.2006 3:40pm
Just John:
"Neopolis" is the former name of Iskilip, a town in Turkey. (...Or is it "was the former name"?)
10.5.2006 3:57pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
My kitchen is in none of those places.
10.5.2006 4:03pm
Oris (mail) (www):
Just John, the proper tense is present. Neopolis is currently what Iskilip used to be called. In the past, it was the current name. :)
10.5.2006 4:07pm
IMHO, these puzzles have an unstated rule of statistical significance. When you ask "what property does set X have in common?", you really mean "what property does the set X (a small subset of a much larger set Y) have, but which a different, randomly chosen subset of Y would be extremely unlikely to have?"

For example, if you chose 3 cities at random from around the world, you have a very high chance of getting 3 all in the Northern hemisphere, all not containing Daniel Chapman's kitchen, and a 100% chance that they are not inhabited by 8-foot tall people. Thus, those are all clearly not the right answer.

Mr. Spock, BTW, knew this, and he generally was quite good at giving Captain Kirk the most pertinent answer.
10.5.2006 4:20pm
new lawyer (mail):
It might have given away the answer to include this one in the original question, but what about "New City, NY"?
10.5.2006 4:51pm
Chris 24601 (mail):
10.5.2006 4:55pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
DK: Cool, a rigorous rather than just an intuitive explanation! Thanks.
10.5.2006 5:10pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
For me, the goal would be to come up with something with an even higher figure under DK's formula than the intended answer. Then you haven't just won; you've beat the designer. This could still be possible, since there seem to be a lot of other cities' names that mean "new city." Unfortunately, Naples is the only one I've heard of.
10.5.2006 5:29pm
On a similar tack, is there a third name in the group "Vladimir--Raymond--??" And can any of you name what they have in common?
10.5.2006 6:51pm
This could still be possible, since there seem to be a lot of other cities' names that mean "new city."
One of my motives for sending in this puzzle was to get more cities in the same pattern.

Thanks, Derek, for Kota Bharu and Villanova (although less sincerely for the latter, because I am just so annoyed at myself for not coming up with it first). I left out Newton on purpose -- it makes the puzzle too easy.

10.5.2006 6:57pm
Just John:
Oris: Thank you for, er, clearing that up... or having cleared that up... or, um... yeah.
10.5.2006 9:45pm
kenB (mail):
JB: you can add Donald and Jagdish to that list.
10.5.2006 11:39pm
Syd (mail):
Carthage also means New City
Cartagena, Spain is Cathago Nova; i.e. New New City.
10.6.2006 12:56am
Kenb: Thanks...which culture is Jagdish from?
10.6.2006 2:01am
Villeneuve, France.
10.6.2006 2:23am
Siona Sthrunch (mail):
It's painful watching lawyer-bloggers struggle with mathematics.

DK's "unstated rule of statistical significance" and Volokh's fauning reply ("cool") are obviously incorrect.

According to DK, "pattern" answers seeking a property from a subset X of a larger set Y actually seek a property of X not likely to be shared by a randomly selected subset of Y.

But this notion is absurd. Suppose I ask "what property is shared by the numbers 11, 17, 29, and 71"? The correct answer is that these are each primes two smaller than a twin prime. But by DK's proposed rule, the correct answer is something like "they are each roots of the polynomial (x-11)(x-17)(x-29)(x-71)."

To really understand what is happening, one must understand learning theory and to some extent Kolmogorov complexity: we are seeking concise and plausible short descriptions that best explain a set of observations. See, e.g. .
10.6.2006 9:23am
Marcus1 (mail) (www):

If you come up with something that describes the three things, and only the three things, amongst all things in the world (not related to the fact that they were chosen itself), then haven't you won the game?
10.6.2006 10:19am
How could anyone be expected to know that "Chiang Mai" means "new city"? Sorry Eugene, I'm with John Mack on this one. Sure, a "what do they have in common" series isn't going to have "they've never been in Cliff Clavin's kitchen" as the answer, but, especially in a series with only three members, you can't have one of the three be a Chiang-mai -esque obscurity where a person couldn't really be expected to know the connection it has to the rest of the series.
10.6.2006 11:13am
It's equally painful watching mathematicians struggle with spelling. Although he is doubtless a dear, I don't think Eugene was "fauning."
10.6.2006 1:19pm
To clarify my point above: while attempting to solve this puzzle, I realized that "Napoli" and "Novgorod" both meant "New City," but I had no idea what "Chiang Mai" means in Thai, so had no way to test my theory of the Napoli/Novgorod similarity with the third sample.
10.6.2006 3:00pm
Siona Sthrunch (mail):
Apologies for the cervine misspelling; I hope it "does" not cause a "row."
10.6.2006 8:35pm