I’ve always been the kind of person who has liked out-of-the-box thinking puzzles and four or so years ago, after a company away day, I was asked to start sending them out to colleagues on a weekly basis.
After the first few, finding original ideas to send became somewhat of a challenge and the puzzles ranged widely from simple numerical patterns (What comes next after 1, 11, 21, 1211, 111221, 312211?) to more well-known (A man stopped his car outside a hotel and immediately knew he was bankrupt, how?) and the totally obscure (There was a monorail train system in which loads had to be balanced on opposite sides of the car. I lent someone a cow so that they could transport their newly purchased piano home. How did I get my cow back?). I remember a really entertaining Friday morning three years ago as my colleagues struggled to find reasons for why a man who drank up quickly survived the experience whilst his more measured friend with an identical drink died shortly after leaving the pub.
Anyway, this wasn’t the point. As I sent out the puzzles and received solution suggestions back, I was quite frequently informed that the event described in the puzzle was a real life story. It is said, after all, that life can be stranger than fiction, and a recent news article confirmed this to me.
Puzzle : “A body is discovered in a park in Chicago in the middle of summer. It has a fractured skull and many other broken bones, but the cause of death was hypothermia. How?”
Solution : “He’d stowed away in the landing gear of a plane and fallen out when the wheels were dropped as the plane approached the airport”.
Recently, much to the astonishment of my scepticism when I’d been told that this was a true story, the very same thing happened in London!
Which led me to thinking if actually, I’d missed a trick all those years of looking for obscure puzzles to send. Perhaps I didn’t need to buy lateral thinking books, drinking games and Saturday morning newspapers with their special puzzling pages. Perhaps I could have gone to ordinary news sites, taken a couple of features out of their craziest stories, added some exaggeration and rephrased them as puzzle questions.
I thought I’d give it a try today, with front page stories from some of the news sites I frequent.
Yahoo gave me : “43 children in 10 countries were all diagnosed with the same rare genetic disorder although no one in any of their families was affected. How is this possible?”
The Telegraph provides : “In the UK, there was a campaign for badger-friendly labels to be placed on milk cartons, although badgers do not drink milk set out for them by concerned animal-lovers. Why the campaign?”
Google was a little more difficult, with puzzle material not jumping straight at me from the front page, but the BBC made up for that with “A woman called the animal rescue services when she was clearing out her loft, but there were no animals in her house. Why did she call for help?”
I wonder … maybe the news is stranger than fiction every week. I guess it depends on the fiction. And the news.