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ENIGMA (iˈnigmə)

By Scherryl Antoniadis
Like many people, I love a good riddle – or enigma – in pretty much any way, shape or form.
[ENIGMA:  Greek origin, a noun used to describe someone or something that is difficult to understand or explain; an obscure speech or writing; an inscrutable or mysterious person] My predilection for the seemingly inexplicable means that I spend what many might consider an inordinate amount of time reading about, and watching documentaries on, murder mysteries.  What fascinates me is not the commission of the crime itself, but rather the methods and techniques employed by law enforcement and others in their attempt to solve the case.
On a more cheery note, watching the Discovery and History channels, and poring over National Geographic, has given me some insight into the endless oddities of nature and animal/human behavior.  I also love the challenge of crossword puzzles and other brain-teasers.  (These kinds of activities are thought to help keep our memories sharp but I, personally, have yet to find any evidence of this.)
There are, and no doubt always will be, countless things in our vast universe that we mere mortals cannot fathom; below are just a few that have stumped experts for years . . . in one case for centuries.
The Mighty Empire of South America
The Incan Empire of South America flourished between 1200 and 1535 A.D.  The Incan people built drainage systems and canals to expand their crops, as well as stone cities atop steep mountains such as Machu Picchu (shown below) without ever inventing the wheel.
It is well established that the region around Tiahuanco, at 12,500 feet elevation, had been turned into a highly productive agricultural zone. This was achieved through the building of dikes, dams, canals, and raised beds that created microclimates to protect plants from frost.  Despite its vast achievements, the Incan Empire, with its 40,000-man army, was no match for 180 Spanish conquistadors armed with advanced weapons and smallpox.
The Piri Reis Map
The Piri Reis map was discovered, quite by accident, in 1929 in a museum in Turkey; and since then, no logical explanation for its illustrations has been found.
In approximate dimensions of 60×86 cm, the Turkish admiral Piri Reis designed, in 1513, a map of the world which included Portugal, Spain, West Africa, Central and South Atlantic, the Caribbean, the eastern half of South America and a part of Antarctica.
To explain countries that were not represented on the original map, Piri Reis indicated in his writings that he had drawn North America and the rest of the eastern half of the world on pieces of the map that were probably destroyed over the years.
The point is that this map is so accurate in detail that it raises a number of questions:  How could an admiral of the 16th century model the entire Earth without the benefit of aerial observation?  How was it possible for him to separate the continents and coasts in their correct distances without any knowledge of the Azimuthal projection or spherical trigonometry required for mapping?  And how did he design the Antarctic when it had not even been officially discovered at that time?
The Voynich Manuscript
The Voynich Manuscript was discovered in 1912 in an Italian monastery.  It is a book of mysterious pictorial content written in an incomprehensible language.  Scientists believe that it was written centuries ago (approximately 400 to 800 years) by an anonymous author using an unknown writing code.
It’s possible that it served as a pharmacy book (as it appears to describe aspects of medieval and early medicine), as well as an astronomical and cosmological map.  Even stranger than its language are its images of unknown plants and cosmological charts, and pictures of naked women in a green liquid.
Dozens of cryptanalysts, scholars, and scientists have tried to translate the manuscript but to no avail.  Many have come to the conclusion that it is an elaborate hoax, that the encrypted words are random and meaningless, and that the unorthodox images are fantasy.
Today, the Voynich Manuscript is in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University; as yet, no one has managed to decipher a word of it.
It seems to me that in spite of all of the knowledge amassed by mankind over the years, there are now more, rather than less, things that we do not understand about the world around us.  To prove my point, here are some of the many things that currently have me very perplexed . . .
What is up with the “Baby on Board” placards?  Do drivers who display these signs really think people will drive more cautiously if they know who is in the car next to them?   I don’t, but in the off chance that they are right I’m going to put a “Menopausal Woman on Board” placard on my car.  Better safe than sorry.
What, in the name of all that’s holy, do we have to do to make the Kardashians go away?
Just when did guys wearing their pants around their ankles become “fashion” and when will it ever end?
Why do retailers have “buy one, get one free” sales, but steadfastly refuse to sell you just one item for 50% off?

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