A Most Curious Array of Breakdowns

The Puzzler

RAY: James Oliver from Portland, Oregon sent this puzzler to us. I'm not going to change too much. He seems to have grasped the essence of the obfuscatory narrative.

TOM: Great! All your work is done. You just read it.

RAY: His introductory note says, "This is a true story," and, then in parentheses he says, "Within the limits usually considered reasonable for puzzler content."

He writes,

"I drive a 13-year-old pickup truck, with over 220,000 miles on it. One recent, sunny, August afternoon I was cruising south on the freeway at about 75 miles per hour. After I got about five miles out of town, I saw a plume of smoke on the horizon. Traffic suddenly came to a dead stop, and a state trooper and TV news truck drove past on the shoulder. For the next several hours, I sat in stop-and-go traffic, mostly stopped, with cars just inching forward and then stopping.

"The dog day sun was shining through the front windshield of my car, but a nice breeze from the west was keeping the temperature in the cab bearable. After several hours, I saw two very large SUVs on the left shoulder. Both had their hoods up. On the right shoulder I saw a moving van and a large pickup towing a boat. Both the van and the pickup had their hoods up. About 50 feet further was a fancy German sedan, an Audi I think, with its hood up.

"I continued to see vehicles on the shoulders with their hoods up for the several hours, until we passed firefighters mopping up a brushfire, and traffic got back up to speed. Hours had gone by, by this time. I spotted the driver of the German sedan walking on the side of the road, so I asked him about his car. He told me that the engine just stopped and would not restart. He turned the key and it was dead as a doornail.

"I asked him one other question, and he answered, 'Yes.' It turned out that the other vehicles had the same problem.

"Why did the engines stop in all these vehicles?

"Here's a hint: My pickup didn't have this problem."

Think you know? Drop Ray a note!

[ Car Talk Puzzler ]

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