Brain Fizzies and Defuzzues

Lateral thinking is an innovative method of solving problems using creative new approaches. It involves stepping back momentarily from a challenge and re-examining your preconceptions. Is there a different way of looking at this? Do the elements involved have meanings I haven't considered?

Whether you're rolling out a new product, distorting financial data, or simply abusing the drug-patent process, lateral thinking is an essential skill for the new economy. Try these exercises and open your mind to a fresh way of tackling problems.
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Q. Fred wants to go home but can't because the man in the mask is waiting there, trying to stop him. What is the meaning of this?
A. The answer is simple: Fred is a baseball player! The "home" that he's trying to enter is his houseboat. The man in the mask is an infectious-disease expert who quarantined the place after Fred's wife died of avian flu.
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Q. An airplane crashes exactly on the border between Arizona and California. The two pilots and seven passengers are not identifiable in any way. How do public officials decide where to bury the survivors?
A. When you reread the question and realize it talks about burying "survivors," the answer is obvious: Only the Mojave Desert is remote enough to prevent anyone from hearing the tormented screams as dirt is shoveled onto their faces.
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Q. A mother and her two young sons, John and Sam, pass a gumball machine in a shopping mall, and the boys both demand a gumball. The machine has three colors of gumballs: red, white, and green. John doesn't care which color he gets; Sam demands only that he get the same color as his brother. The woman must commit her money to buy the gumballs all at once rather than one at a time. How many must she buy in order to guarantee the boys will be happy?
A. Two. An important part of lateral thinking is examining your false assumptions about the situation. With three colors in the machine, the natural instinct is to answer "four gumballs" as the only way to ensure both John and Sam are satisfied. But not if the boys are blind.
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Q. A man is found hanging by the neck dangling three feet off the ground in an otherwise empty, locked room. Under his feet is a puddle. What could explain this?
A. The answer is so obvious you probably skipped right over it: The man died of natural causes. As for the puddle on the floor—who knows? Maybe he was shedding tears about a wasted life. The guy's entitled to some privacy.
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Q. A loving young father who has a devoted wife and four beautiful kids is killed in an accident. Yet when his loved ones receive news of the tragedy, no one in his family is overly saddened by his death. Why not?
A. They are devout "Christians" and are convinced they will be reunited with him in the future.
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Q. A nude man is found lying dead, face-down, in the desert. Near his outstretched hand is an unlit match.
A. This is getting depressing. Next.
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Q. A man rode into town on Friday. He stayed for three nights and then left on Friday. How is this possible?
A. I don't know. I stopped watching Dragnet before it got this weird.
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Q. A family is happily eating dinner in their home. Suddenly the mother jumps to her feet, drags one of her daughters into another room, and slaps her face several times. They then return to the table as if nothing were wrong. A few minutes later, the father suddenly pulls out a pistol, points it at the son's forehead, and screams that he's going to kill him. He then sits back down calmly, the son actually thanks him, and dinner resumes.
A. What the hell? Man, that is one messed-up family.


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A lot of people get intimidated when they have to defuse a bomb, but there's no reason it can't be a satisfying encounter. Just remind yourself that human beings have been defusing bombs for a long time, mostly with success, and there's nothing magical or supernatural about the bomb in front of you. I remember being scared to death the first time I had to tie a bow tie, and it turned out to be a piece of cake.

You never know where a bomb is going to show up unexpectedly during your daily routine—on the seat of your car, in the health sauna, or on the kneeler in your booth during confession. The secret to dispatching the problem swiftly is to avoid letting the bomb knock you off your game and cause you to act timid. You must own the experience.

Bomb Type

First, take a quick look at what type of bomb you're dealing with. Does it look like a black bowling ball with a burning fuse? If so, it's a cartoon bomb, and there is nothing to fear. Just let it go off in your hand and respond with a bewildered, hangdog expression and blackface. (This comes off with soap and water.)

In most cases, though, the device will be a classic "time bomb." Federal regulations require that every time bomb include an explosive component, several wires of differing colors, and—since 1973—a clock indicating how much time remains before the explosion. (Thank God for Ralph Nader.) The clock will be either "analog" (a Latin word meaning "round") or "digital" (squarish). The wires will always be red, black, and white, unless they are blue, black, and white, or red, blue, and black or brown.

Take a close look at the components. If the device includes a plastic capsule containing liquid, it indicates a chemical detonator. If the wires pass through a battery that is separate from the clock, it suggests an electronic detonator. If the device has a switch on the surface that toggles between "AM" and "FM," you're an idiot.

Cutting the Wires

Do the wires lead to a lump of dull-colored, malleable material? If so, you may be facing some kind of plastic explosive. To check, take the Sunday comics and press them firmly against the substance. If the image transfers to the lump cleanly, the material is Silly Putty. Feel free to pocket it and pass it on to your children for hours of enjoyment. In most cases, the image will not transfer well, and you should be careful not to touch the material at all.

When it's time to cut one of the wires, just follow the old adage: In the case of red, black, and white, you should cut the red wire first, unless the black wire is intertwined with the white wire, in which case the red wire should be cut second. If the red is more of a maroon, you should cut it third; if it's a burgundy, you should cut it simultaneously with the white wire while the ring finger of your right hand is looped through the black wire. You could, of course, yank out all the wires at once, but that hardly seems sporting, and what would you have learned?

Employing the Robot

If you're one of those "early adapter" iPhone-loving technophiles, you probably carry one of the new bomb-disposal robots with you. These devices have interface software that lets you program them by speaking instructions into the built-in microphone. (Remember when bomb disposal required expertise in FORTRAN?) The technology in these gadgets still has some bugs, though—mainly seen in the robot's tendency to become frightened and cling to your leg. That's why it's best to first go around a corner away from the bomb. Then, in a calm voice, explain to the robot where the bomb is located, what type it appears to be, which wire(s) to cut, and where you will take the robot for ice cream afterward. When the robot walks off around the corner, run like hell.

Summoning Your Courage

Most likely, you don't own a robot and will have to handle the bomb yourself. It's important that you keep yourself calm so you are thinking clearly. Remember the few simple tips I laid out above, and make your movements slow and deliberate. It may be best to step away and take two or three deep breaths before you approach the bomb to ...

Oh, for Christ's sake, stop being such a baby. It's just a goddamn bomb. Will you defuse it already and get it over with? You're such a sissy, I'm surprised your mommy let you out this morning. Do you want me to tie your shoes for you and take you to the potty? I'm amazed you even know how to breathe without someone telling you what to do.
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About Me

Ramsey Midwood

Ramsey Midwood

United States

2009/08/12 12:55:07

Getting ready to work on graphic novel.

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