Q: It's 11pm, somebody's pounding at the door. Turns out to be a rich old gent in a Rolls Royce, involved in a scavenger hunt against his ex-wife, and he says he'll pay $10,000 for a piece of wood about three feet by seven feet. "Can you help?" —Scavenger Sam
A: You rack your brain trying to think where the nearest lumber yard is, Sam; you're not really sure, and it wouldn't be open at this hour anyway, of course. You don't keep wood on hand, and you don't know anybody nearby who does. "I'm really sorry," you have to say, then watch your $10,000 opportunity drive away.
An hour later as you turn fretfully in bed the realization hits you, "A door. I could have given him a door. Why in the world didn't I think of that?"
You didn't think of it, says Ellen Langer in her book Mindfulness, because all of us think using rigid categories and have trouble seeing things in new ways. An hour before, “the 7-by-3-foot piece of wood was hidden from you, stuck in the category of ‘door.’”
Q: At a party, somebody wants to bet you $100 that you can't fold a piece of paper in half, then in half again, for 12 folds. Should you go for it —Bill Bender
A: Prepare to lose this bet: You'd be doubling the paper's thickness a dozen times, creating the equivalent of a stack of over 4,000 sheets. After just 10 folds the paper would be fat as a phone book, then two phonebooks on the eleventh, four phonebooks on the twelfth. Got Clark Kent's number in your PalmPilot?
Q: If you're six feet tall, how tall a mirror do you need to see yourself full length? —Snow White
A: Surprisingly, Snow, only three feet. Try this out: Stand before a full-length glass, cover the bottom half with newspaper, and watch what happens.
Q: In his famous book Civilization and its Discontents, Sigmund Freud argues that human culture normally represses many fundamental urges. How can this thesis be seen in operation in a football stadium restroom at halftime? —Gotta Go
A: Picture a scene (as witnessed firsthand at a Cleveland Browns game at the old Municipal Stadium) where beery, bladder-bloated males stand along a urinal trough some six feet across, and behind each stands a line three or four deep.
Then: a clogged drain. Though there are three troughs in the room, the other two are in busy use, so many guys just continue relieving themselves into the clogged trough, causing it to fill and finally overspill. Now the urine enters at certain points and just as certainly drains onto the floor at others, creating the sense that you might just as well aim directly onto the floor— which several guys do, gleefully abandoning all potty-training.
Soon the floor-goers inspire others, who at first
apparently feel that good etiquette prescribes choosing a corner, but then this breaks down and just any old place will do, then the sinks get some action and finally one guy does it out an open window, releasing effluent that drops some 50 feet or more from this high restroom perch.
Outside the stadium down below, several strollers look up. They think it's raining. Upstairs, Dr. Freud is having a field day.
(Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at StrangeTrue@Compuserve.com)