One afternoon, many years ago at Many Point Scout Camp, the Boy Scouts of Melrose Troop 68 had some free time. Raymond, a Scout from Alaska who was a cousin of one of our troop members, was staying with us for the week. Raymond asked if they would like to play a game his home troop played called Magic Eskimo Counting Sticks. The Scouts thought it sounded interesting so they gathered around the picnic table.
Raymond quickly gathered five sticks of various length and thickness. He then would lay them in different patterns. The rest of the boys tried to guess what number from zero to ten the “magic sticks” represented. Of course, it was not as easy as it sounds.
I was sitting across the camp’s clearing from the picnic table were the game was being played. My lawn chair was comfortable and the book was good, but soon the commotion at the table caught my interest so I had to check it out. As I joined the boys, Raymond explained the game to me. I tried it several times but did not have any success in figuring out the patterns so I returned to my lawn chair. I sat down, picked up my book, but did not start reading. The game was still on my mind. I sat back and looked into the treetops above the table where they boys were playing.
After a minute or two an idea came to me. I walked back to the group to test it out. After a few times of being correct I realized I had discovered the secret to the Magic Eskimo Counting Sticks.
Of course, the boys started pestering me on how it was done. They had not figured it out yet, and Raymond was not telling anyone. I told the Scouts that the answer had come to me when I had been looking in the treetops. There was a sudden rush of Scouts to my lawn chair to look at the same trees that I had been looking at to see if they could find the answer. Of course, they did not find anything, but they had to check it out anyway.
I suspect that to the Scouts that day their scoutmaster seemed to be really smart. I promised Raymond that I would never reveal the secret to the Magic Eskimo Counting Sticks, that the Scouts would have to solve it on their own. However, I would give one clue to the boys. That clue was, “Think outside of the box.” Yeah, I know, it is a pretty vague clue, but it does make a lot of sense if you know the trick.
Over the years we have played the game many times. Some Scouts were able to solve the puzzle, but many more never did. And even after all these years I have never told any Scouts how to solve the game. After all, I made a promise, and a good Scout always keeps in promises.