SATURDAY’S CHILD – Mind games, mental muscles
A cowboy rode into town on Friday. He stayed for three nights and then left on Friday. How come?
Before I tell you the answer, I need to give you a context for it. You will find that communication always occurs within a context (generally one of change) and if you don’t understand the context you will create one from your experience and it may be right, but it can as easily be wrong.
The cowboy conundrum is considered a “lateral thinking puzzle”. The phrase “lateral thinking” was coined by Edward de Bono to describe a process that is different from the linear or the “one-step to the next” process that we normally use.
For instance, when the South American Indians first saw a man riding a horse they thought that it was some new creature with two arms and four legs.
What they did is what most of us do – fall back on prior experiences and form quick but incorrect judgments by assuming too much, asking too few questions, and using the challenge of exercising our minds by jumping to the wrong conclusions.
This leads us to the solution of my Friday frisson or more likely, Frisbee, since I threw a curve at you. The cowboy, perhaps influenced by Robinson Crusoe, named his horse Friday.
Why would Sir Alex Ferguson never be able to coach in Singapore despite their ability to pay him handsomely? He chews gum and that is against the law in that country.
Here is a nice mystery to test your talent and whet your appetite for more lateral thinking puzzles.
Anthony and Cleopatra are lying dead on the floor of a villa in Egypt. Nearby is a broken bowl. There is no mark on either of their bodies and they were not poisoned. How did they die?
Remember the words of the great grandmaster of lateral thinking puzzles, Paul Slone, “Some people find it frustrating that for any puzzle it is possible to construct various answers which fit the initial statement of the puzzle.
However, for a good lateral thinking puzzle, the proper answer will be the best in the sense of the most apt and satisfying. When you hear the right answer to a good puzzle of this type you should want to kick yourself for not working it out.”
The best fitting answer to the villa victims puzzle is that Anthony and Cleopatra were goldfish whose bowl was knocked over by a clumsy dog. It couldn’t be a cat since Anthony and Cleopatra would have been history – which they already are.
During the recent World Cup in South Africa, one day, in a crowded room, a supporter of the Brazilian soccer team saw a supporter of his team’s great rivals, Argentina. The Brazilian fan walked over to the Argentine fan and struck him a fierce blow.
The Argentine fan, who had been knocked flat, got up from the floor, turned around, and then effusively hugged and thanked the man who had hit him. Why? Before you attempt this let me go back to the concept and approach to this type of puzzle.
Lateral thinking is the mental equivalent of walking, chewing gum, scratching your head and wiggling your ears at the same time. In lateral thinking you have to eliminate pre-suppositions, built in prejudices and inhibitions and try to solve problems in different, lateral or random ways.
The best advice comes from Sherlock Holmes in “The Sign Of The Four” when he says to Dr Watson (his Man Friday), “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” So what is the solution to the Brazilian – Argentine blow?
The two men were in a restaurant. The Argentine fan had a fishbone stuck in his throat and was choking. The other man was quick-witted enough to give him a strong blow on the back, thereby dislodging the bone and saving his life.
If that had really happened and the person saved was Maradona, there would have been a lot of Argentines wanting to lynch the Brazilian.
The reason I am in a lateral-thinking mode is that earlier this week I started two communication workshops with immigration officials in Antigua. I like to use these puzzles as warm-ups to get people to flex their mental muscles while simultaneously catching their assumptions.
Since one of the primary objectives of my workshops is that the participants must enjoy themselves while learning about communication or engaged in strategic planning, I try to find exercises that are fun.
Here’s one that I like. It is one of the oldest lateral thinking puzzles. A man lives on the tenth floor of a building. Every day he takes the elevator to go down to the ground floor to go to work or to go shopping. When he returns he takes the elevator to the seventh floor and walks up the stairs to reach his apartment on the tenth floor. He hates walking so why does he do it? The man is vertically challenged (a dwarf).
Here are a few for the road. A man is lying dead in a field. Next to him there is an unopened package. There is no other creature in the field. How did he die?
The man jumped from a plane but his parachute failed to open. It is the unopened package.
Here is another. It is one that might have given Sherlock some sleepless nights. A man went to a party and drank some of the punch. He then left early. Everyone else at the party who drank the punch subsequently died of poisoning. Why did the man not die?
The poison in the punch came from the ice cubes. When the man drank the punch the ice was fully frozen. Gradually it melted, poisoning the punch.
And my final one – A man pushed his car. He stopped when he reached a hotel at which point he knew he was bankrupt. If you don’t know the answer, blame the Parker Brothers.
The man was playing Monopoly.
• Tony Deyal was last seen trying to solve the puzzle of the woman with two sons who were born on the same hour of the same day of the same year. But they were not twins. How could this be so? They could have been triplets (or quadruplets etc.)