I really enjoy lateral thinking puzzles. These are those puzzles that are made up of some obscure statement, designed to lead the listener to making a false assumption, that they then have to figure out the truth of in a series of yes/no questions. You know, like figuring out that the person who steps through a 10th story window and jumps down yet still survives is actually stepping into the building, not out of it, because he was on the outer ledge when the puzzle began. That sort of thing.
I enjoy the cleverness of it, the deductive process, and the excitement of the “reveal”…when you discover how simple the answer is if only you’d looked at it the right way.
Lately, I was reading through one of my many old books of such puzzles and came across a pair of related puzzles that I thought was funny.
The first one basically talked about a scientist who had discovered a universal solvent – something that destroyed everything it touched. The question was where he will store it (since it destroys everything it touches)?
The answer? In space! Because the universal solvent is actually a black hole! And the scientist plans to guide it into orbit by skillfully feeding it bits of mass…somehow.
And if that’s not strange enough, the follow-up puzzle asked what the scientist intended to do with the black hole.
The hints for this puzzle said that he wasn’t planning on doing anything evil, and that he was hoping to help solve a threat to the earth, something that even lay people are likely to be familiar with.
What could the answer be? What false assumption could I, the reader, be making that I have to learn to think more laterally in order to be able to make my way around? Simple! He plans to move the black hole near the sun in order to siphon off some of the sun’s heat, so that he can slow down or even halt the process of the sun eventually super-heating the earth, which may happen…eventually.
Of course, it was so obvious, if only I looked at it the right way!
Apparently, my false assumption was assuming that this scenario did not take place in some La-La-Fantasy-Land, like the Silver Age of DC comics, and that the scientist wasn’t Lex Luthor in a good mood, in between inventing a time traveling radio out of spare parts and a kryptonite matter-animator.
Can you imagine if someone were to actually do this? I mean, we’re already stressed out about how to take care of nuclear reactors. What would it be like if we discovered some government or agency was planning on tampering with the sun using a black hole?
Maybe my false assumption was just that this book wasn’t the 8th or so in a series and that the editors weren’t getting really stretched to fill it up.