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Lateral thinking – Part 2



Answer to last week’s puzzle: Joe was a goldfish. After refreshing the water in his bowl at the kitchen tap, Mary accidentally dropped the bowl on the floor, where it smashed and where Joe died, being a fish out of water. [Cue for floods of tears from our more tender-hearted readers]. The lateral challenge in last week’s example is to think sideways from the question “who was Joe?” and to ask oneself, and thence to ask the Answerer, was Joe a human being? Getting stuck in a mental groove and asking endless questions about the origin of the broken glass isn’t going to be useful, as there are so many things made of glass (casserole dish, chemistry lab vessels, television screen, chandelier, etc. etc.) and a goldfish bowl probably isn’t going to spring readily to mind. Why do most questioners immediately assume Joe was a human being? Pets also have names. [Can’t resist letting my readers know the cat I had before leaving Lesotho was named “Whiskey.” Partly because the plosive “sk” sound made it easy for him to hear his name when he was being called; partly because he was black and white, the name of a well-known brand of Scotch. Though I can promise you he never touched a drop. His favourite tipple was tuna]. Here’s another lateral thinking poser. Answer at the beginning of next week’s column, which will be about something very different, but which will also have to do with consciousness expansion. SITUATION. Our setting is New York. Well, it could be London, Nairobi, Singapore—anywhere with high-rise buildings—but I’ve decided on New York. Every workday morning Alfred leaves his apartment on the twelfth floor of an apartment block and gets into the lift for the ground floor, to leave the building and walk to his office, which is some way away. After work he returns to his apartment block, takes the lift to the seventh floor and walks up five flights of stairs from there to reach his apartment. This pattern of behaviour never varies. Q: Does Alfred need the exercise? A: No. [I told you he walks to his office, some way away]. Q: Does Alfred need psychiatric help? A: No. And don’t be cheeky. Q: Does Alfred suffer from dodekaphobia, a morbid fear of the number twelve? A: No. [He would hardly have a flat on the twelfth floor, if that was the case, would he?] Q: Does Alfred have a clandestine lover somewhere between the seventh and twelfth floors? A: ‘Fraid not. Maybe he wishes he did. Q: Are the floor buttons on the lift unnumbered from 7 upwards, so Alfred can’t work out or can’t remember which is 12? A: No. [But I must say that’s ingenious. That’s really lateral]. Q: Is Alfred a solicitor? A: No. But why on earth do you ask? A: Sorry, I just wanted to know, so I could get in touch with him and sue you for driving me crazy. Ok, another question: on his way up the stairs does Alfred drop off shopping for a dear little old lady who can’t manage tasks for herself? A: No. Q: Oh, I give up. Answer next week. But before I sign off this week, the mention of dodekaphobia brings to mind a general knowledge teaser. When the great twentieth-century classical composer Arnold Schoenberg came up with his opera, Moses und Aron, he spelt Aron with one “a”, not two as is usually the case. Why? Schoenberg was highly literate and he was Jewish and knew the Torah well. So it’s a brain-teaser. The reason is, that if he’d used two “a”s the title of the opera would have had thirteen letters in it and Schoenberg suffered from triskaidekaphobia, a morbid fear of the number thirteen, and was afraid that a 13-letter title would cause the opera to flop. Read this column every week to pick up mounds of amusing but completely useless information! Chris Dunton

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