Thursday, February 02, 2006

I just tormented some colleagues with this. Let's see if my readers are smarter:

" A man approached the border in a black cadillac. The driver, John Jones, was well-known to customs officials as a suspected smuggler so they went through his car and personal belongings with a fine tooth comb. Under the wheel of the spare tire in the trunk, the customs agents found a small package. Delighted at their discovery they hurriedly unwrapped it and found it contained only some glass beads, a few paper clips and some string. Deeply puzzled, they reluctantly had to let Jones cross over the border.

This process repeated itself, every day, seven days a week for ten years. Every day, customs officials searched Jones' car and every day they found a small package filled with glass beads, paper clips and string but nothing else. In frustration, the officials began confiscating the package but they had to let Jones continue on his journey and every day he appeared with a new package, always hidden underneath the spare tire.

Then, one day, Jones failed to appear. Nor did he show up the next day or the day after that. In fact he never returned to the border again. Then, one day, a customs official hapened to be on vacation in the neighboring country and he ran into Jones in a bar and approached him in a friendly manner.

" Look here" he bagan " every day for ten years you crossed the border and we never found a thing. I know you were smuggling something ! What was it ? "

What was Jones smuggling ?
The raw materials for a glass-bead-paper-clip-string bomb: a device that, if exploded, shall destroy as the anger of God Himself.
But Dave, wouldn't they have noticed that he was coming across with a different car every day? Unless he specializes solely in black cadillacs...
Black cadillacs.

When I first heard the joke, decades ago it was about a man who crossed the border every day with a wheelbarrel full of dirt. He was smuggling wheelbarrels.
Dave & the Knight Errant are correct. Congratulations. Dan was amusing and Matt is nitpicking ;o)

The value to the exercise - except for the 2 % of the general population who already see the answer ( bloggers are not a representative demographic) - is threefold:

1. Revealing the answer creats an " Aha !" insight sensation as what was previously invisible becomes suddenly obvious. This is a neuronal connection moment.

2. By example it teaches " out of the box thinking" and

3. Demonstrates the value of acute attention to the moment instead of breezing through to the distractor.
Now here's the question -- would the percentage answering it correctly increase if they read it with only their left eye open?

A post vaguely related that that would have been up to today --- if blogspirit was working

Mark, this thought experiment teaches so much more than you have given. ;) From a policy perspective, it is quite related to my post concerning Nannyism: readers of this riddle make the false assumption that the customs officials are adepts rather than bungling fools. Why would no customs agent be aware of the illegal smuggling of cars, or even suspect that these cars might be stolen (which might lead to the request for a vehicle registration, license, etc., at least once in the ten-year period)? For the riddle to work, the reader must assume that these customs officials have truly applied a "fine tooth comb" to the situation. Even supposing a rotation of officials -- so that mild differences in the condition of the vehicles would not trigger suspicion -- readers assume that whatever processes are encompassed in the "fine tooth comb" situation are complete.
And here it is!
“readers of this riddle make the false assumption that the customs officials are adepts rather than bungling fools.” Curtis Gale Weeks.
We only made the assumption Mark gave us to begin with, which, I supposed; they were doing their jobs as they were taught. You are the one making the assumption all our boarder guards are bungling fools.

My only question is why did the guards put up with it? If they were like most Americans, they have little time to put up with nonsense. If the situation made no sense to them, why didn’t they reshuffle the deck, so to speak? I would think that a few good kicks in the head and the guards would have had the whole story. I mean this would be my last resort, but it is very nagging to me to have an unsolved problem. So I, personally, would first try to find a law I could at least detain him on. This would have been the American way, so the guards were either not American, they were powerless to stop the situation, or they didn’t care if Jones smuggled a few Black Cadillac through the boarder.

I think that the "fact" these guards have already ruled out car-smuggling is implicit in the riddle, at least for the reader fooled into looking only at the package's contents. The "fine tooth comb" process is believed: it limits the reader's consideration to the officials' consideration of only the contents of that package: it says, "We have already ruled out the car, state secrets written on the package's wrapper, drugs ingested or shoved into body cavities..." etc.
Curtis Gale Weeks,
True, so the only question is a personal one; what was Jones smuggling? In answer to this they should have simply asked him. How they would ask him depends on policy and procedures. If they really cared they would have found out.

I think they simply didn't care. Anything he was smuggling was not a problem for them, but they were curious. The boarder guard only asked him latter out of curiosity and polite conversation, not for a real need to know. It only becomes a problem when people care. The outcome depends on policy and training after that.

The reader was fooled by not reading the guards' mind. The network connection was simply a go no-go situation. The guards made the decision to let him go, this is called enabling your work force. It is their families and communitys that are hurt by bands of roving black cadilacs. They, like I, probably didn't think there was that great of demand for smuggled black cadillacs. Also, as my wife pointed out, apparently it is not policy to check VIN numbers.
I apologise for leading this discussion so far a field. Curtis's point was correct, we were misdirected, by concentrating on the package. It seems to happen to me all the time.
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