SoluProb™: Salem Witch Trials

SoluProb® Status

It has been awhile since I posted a new soluprob® on this website. Instead, my energy has been directed to writing a book expanding on the subject. That book will cover the examples presented on this website and many more. At this point, I wanted to share some of the additional examples that have caught my attention. Since full examinations of all soluprobs® will soon be available in the book, I plan to present abbreviated previews here on the website.

As before, I welcome your suggestions of new candidates for inclusion. You can contact me directly at

Presumed Problem: Witches were causing all kinds of problems in colonial Salem, Massachusetts: bewitching the children, causing illness, and ruining the crops. Solution: identify the witches and punish them.

Suspected witches (mostly women) per put on trial and ultimately 20 people were executed or died in prison. The Salem witch trials sometimes employed an ironic test of witchdom: the dunking chair. The suspect would be tied into a chair that was attached to the end of a long pole and suspended over a body of water. The suspect and chair were submerged for a number of minutes and then brought back up out of the water. If the victim survived, that was proof she was a witch and called for execution. If the victim died of drowning, she was vindicated. She was adjudged innocent–though dead, all the same.

This was not the first time in history that witches had been blamed when things went wrong. During the Black Death in Europe during the 14th Century, witches and their cats were blamed for bringing on the plague that killed as much as one-third of the European population. Both witches and their cats were killed, which was good news for the rats, whose fleas were actually the carriers of the plague.

In both of these cases, there were real problems: crop failures, illness, plague. However, defining these as the work of witches qualifies them as solutions without problems. And great suffering was caused by those “solutions.”


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