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Overthinking (aentan.com)
151 points by aen 2003 days ago | hide | past | web | 84 comments | favorite



The space pen affair is a well known urban myth, see for example http://io9.com/5838635/the-million-dollar-space-pen-hoax

The second example is funny but it is a classic example of misdirection. It is made out to be about mathematics but has got nothing to with it. How exactly is that about overthinking something?

The third example is a ingenious solution by the author himself, a solution that is the product of thinking hard about coming up with a simple solution - hardly a case of whatever the opposite of overthinking is. If anything it is the opposite - just slice it up into 12 bites and take a small piece each of the last bit. If it's a mathematical question a mathematical approach seems more than reasonable.

All these examples seem to me to be weak examples of overthinking.

Here is a much better example of overthinking in my opinion, The Centipede's Dilemma:

A centipede was happy – quite!

Until a toad in fun

Said, "Pray, which leg moves after which?"

This raised her doubts to such a pitch,

She fell exhausted in the ditch

Not knowing how to run.

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centipedes_dilemma


The part about the string made me smile a bit, because I guess there aren't too many climbers on Quora. As any salty old trad climber knows, it only takes a couple of wraps around an object before the rope (or string in this case) becomes fixed to the object.

So unless you're lucky, the process would actually look like: take string, make space between thumb and index finger, wrap some number of ... oh, darn, it didn't come out even at all ... rats, can't move my fingers ... OK, start over, let's make the fingers a little farther apart ... wait, rats, didn't get 11 even wraps that time either ...

(I experimented with this before posting my comment, just in case.)

Or you could, y'know, take the string, measure the circumference, divide by 11. Or, you could throw away the string, take the diameter of pizza -- which is written in black marker on a tin or cardboard round and displayed on the wall at every pizza joint I've ever been to, I think -- and multiply by 3 and divide by 11 and space your cuts about that far apart.

There's a lot of good stuff out there on the benefits of "thinking like a child" -- learning to clear your mind of the preconceptions and opinions and expectations that we tend to develop as we get older. I don't think this post was a step in that direction, though.


or just loop the string over 1 finger 11 times?


I think the string thing is inaccurate enough (try it!) that you might as well just eye-ball it. If accuracy mattered, I would make a paper circle of about the size of the pizza, divide into twelve (sixteen would work too) slices, remove one (or five), and adjust the spaces between them until they looked about equal. Then slice between the paper pieces. If I were in a pizza shop, I'd probably just use actual pizza slices.


Since the string is of a fixed length, that only works if you finger's diameter is 1/11 of the pizza's diameter.


He means hanging from the finger, not tightly wrapped.


Even more simple.. cut in 12 pieces, throw away one and rearrange the pieces.


That was what I answered on Quora. But there is a simpler solution; baking a rectangular pizza and cutting rectangular pieces.


You guys are still overthinking it. The real answer is to tell the customer to go to hell.


You're no fun... Not one of the people that sends little messages like "draw me a dinosaur" on their delivery tips, huh?


LOL.


It is made out to be about mathematics but has got nothing to with it.

Well, as I understood it Andrew Wiles' proof of Fermat's last theorem ultimately also came down to counting doughnut holes in things which you wouldn't normally regard as doughnuts, so there is some mathematics there. But yes, you would "normally" expect the mathematician to cut the pizza into five slices (which look like four, he explains, because one of them is a point), and rearrange them smoothly across the plane without collisions into two whole pizzas identical to the first, which he can do with the Axiom of Choice (see the "Banach Tarski Paradox" for the 3D case).

"Repeating this process ten times," says the mathematician, "you have the trivial partition of the original pizza into eleven identical pizzas."


Andrew Wiles' proof of Fermat's last theorem ultimately also came down to counting doughnut holes in things which you wouldn't normally regard as doughnuts

No...


Ok, only did a few minutes research but intuitively it doesn't make sense to me that ballpoint pens a) work in space but b) don't work upside down. There wouldn't be an upside down in space because of 0 gravity.

Unless the author means upside down on earth?


It's not overthinking, it's called context.

If you give an engineering problem to an engineer in a corporate environment, he will try to do what he's been told to be a good job: good precision and low cost, complexity not being a problem as far as the solution is achieved. If he's given 1 hour, then using 59 minutes is just as valid as using 5. And rightly so.

As for the numeric problem, same thing. You are not giving a measure of "goodness" and you are not providing rules. I'd go ahead and fill in 2581 = fuck_you , where fuck_you is a constant defined as 3.15. That's a point-wise defined polynomial there. Voila, solved in 3 seconds. Just as valid as making up something as arbitrary as counting loops in a given numeric representation. Also, I'd bet the house I don't own that if I give that in a paper to a kid with no instructions he wouldn't come up with that "solution" - ever.

In the (urban legend) problem about the pen and pencil in zero-gravity, there is context. The objective is to take notes. It's a real world problem with a fixed solution, so yeah, just using a pencil would be a much better solution than engineering a special ballpen. An engineer can and should be expected to solve that. Engineers are expected to solve real world problems and consider real world situations and realistic expectations.


I'm sorry that my article offended you.


It didn't.

When I'm presented bullshit like that IRL I get pissed off, but I can generally take the challenge of pointing out how and why is it bullshit.

Being presented it in HN, it's a good chance to educate more people on why this is NOT thinking out of the box or being clever, and why these are NOT proper tests unless adequate context is provided.


The problem is, if your definition of engineering is solving problems where all the context is fully provided, then 99% of what is interesting on HN isn't engineering. It's apparently bullshit.

Changing the rules and picking a different context are perfectly valid ways of solving a problem.

Squinting hard at real-life patterns and trying to find the rule that generates them is most of the value in business and programming. Ever run an a/b test or looked at analytics and tried to understand why things were changing? The truth is generally as different from what you expect as a number problem whose solution is the shapes of the numerals.


In real life you usually know at least 1 or 2 of these:

- what the problem is

- what you want to achieve

- what the constraints are

- what works (a means to know when you have found a solution)

Without that, you have an undefined riddle and you can try to do something original or clever and see how that goes. Obviously the less you know the less convoluted things will even occur to you.

If you give a bunch of numbers to mathy people they will very likely try some math. They will expect it to be math. That's not loss of creativity, that's reasonable expectations.

In real life, if I'm given a pizza and told to divide it in 11 equal slices I'm pretty sure I can achieve reasonable precision without any measurements. 1/11 is just slightly more than 1/(4*3) which is easy enough to figure out. At most I'd make a few tentative marks before going ahead and cutting it. When you give a problem like this in an interview, you can assume you're expected to prove your relevant skills to the job. In a software company that would be math, algorithms, etc. not just problem solving. If your objective is to get upvoted, then maybe you should try something clever and accessible.


Maybe you were too stupid to solve the problem in a reasonable time?


Took me 3 seconds. Didn't you read the message? :P


I think it's totally relevant, I have worked with guys that have fancy PHD's from MIT that always over complicated the crap out of simple things. It's like when you buy something expensive or make an investment, you feel the need to defend and justify it to others.

It's the same thing here, you get a fancy degree and everything you do has to be complex to justify getting that degree otherwise what separates you from a guy with an average degree. It's probably more an ego thing, but I see this all the time.


I don't understand why you presume it's a need to defend and justify it to others. Getting a PhD from MIT isn't exactly a walk in the park, I imagine the person got it BECAUSE of a pleasure to tackle complicated problems in the first place.

If I really enjoy dealing with complexity and you give me something really simple to do, well I'm gonna go ahead and have some fun with it. It's not a matter of justifying, it's just that simple stuff is boring to somebody who enjoys complexity.


To clarify, I'm not saying over-engineering is a good thing. I'm saying there's a mismatch between the complexity of the problem and the desires/personality of the person having to solve it. Give the simple problem to people who valor elegance, minimalism, simplicity, and keep the MIT PhD for rocket surgery and stuff.


Rocket surgery is a field I dearly want to see created. :-D


This is what happens when you hire someone that's overqualified for a job, I guess. :) People in that situation need to find work that will satisfy their thirst for complexity. They are making trouble for themselves and others, otherwise.


"it's just that simple stuff is boring to somebody who enjoys complexity."

This doesn't work very well with business. Sometimes, you just need the simple solution.

It's also the reason why many startups never get off the ground. I'm guilty of it myself, but I have learned over the years to not over-engineer something until it's really needed.


I agree, but when that's the case then it's right to call it.

Actually, it's one of my greatest pet peeves. How so many things are so massively over-engineered. I could go on forever about that and there is not a single day I don't spend a while realising this about something.


Even in the movie 3 Idiots, at the end of the movie, the man with the pen points out that there's a reason for the complexity: bits of graphite flying around in zero gravity near instrument panels and people's eyes, etc.

Simplicity is great, but sometimes complexity is warranted. More importantly, assuming other smart people (many other smart people) are wrong without deep thought is not a good idea.


Not only graphite, but assuming a proper non-mechanical pencil, you'd end up with wood shavings in addition to the graphite bits flying about — which you could solve by adding a vacuum to the pencil sharpener, to capture the debris.


>> Con­jur­ing com­plex math­e­mat­i­cal equa­tions may make you look smart but to become truly cre­ative you need to be able to lib­er­ate your mind from the the shell of knowl­edge, edu­ca­tion and adul­ti­fi­ca­tion you have accu­mu­lated. Only then can you think like a child again.

This claims that creativity and education are diametral opposites. This essentially replicates the myth of the natural artist who can only achieve true creativity within nature and by forgetting culture. The basis for both assumptions is a fundamental divide between culture and nature, whereas culture is seen as hindering the creativity and freedom of the homo naturalis.

While I'm sure you can always find some cases where this distinction might hold true, there are plenty of others that reveal the false dichotomy at work here.

There is a difference between a solution perceived as complicated or simple, but there is no objective measurement for a difference in creativity. The combination and application of maths (in the example with the pizza cutter) is as much a creative use of ideas as is the "manual" method with the string.


I hate to say this, but the article is complete bullcrap. Have you even seen the movie he references ? The protagonist is supposed to be this "naturally talented genius" who detests the bookish Indian academic education system, so throughout the film he takes potshots at the stuff he's taught in school, ultimately choosing to drop out without a degree until the Dean formally requests him to take the finals, upon which he gets the highest grade in the university. Its a completely one-sided portrayal, and while it is valid in the sense that Indian education system is wholly bunk, it is unfair to draw any deep profound lessons out of a shallow screenplay played for laughts. The pencil thing as has been pointed out by the commentators below is an urban legend.

The most talkedabout scene in the whole film involves a vaginal delivery using a vacuum blower as a suction device, and a AA battery as an inverter as the OB barks out instructions on a webcam. As a former electrical engineer I refuse to even entertain the possibility of such a stunt. Yet everybody in the media - the newspapers/TV/talkshows went gaga over this scene, suposedly a parable for "necessity is the mother(pun intended) of invention".

There's 2 scenes where the conductivity of brine is demonstrated when a person urinating on a live wire gets electrocuted, again played for laughs.

There's a scene where a student in his final year is unable to graduate because his thesis involves getting a toy helicopter to fly. He's unable to figure out the propulsion mechanics, so in disgust he throws the helicopter into the trash. The hero, our natural genius sophomore, picks up this helicopter, spends the time rigging up wires in the EE lab & finally gets it to fly. He puts a camera on the copter & as it coasts high in the air, it captures the video of the senior who has committed suicide by hanging in his dorm! Now is that crass or what ? Commiting suicide for failing to figure out some stupid propulsion mechanics! I remember thinking at the time that if this same film had been made in English, the critics & audience in the US would have torn it to shreds for such pandering & crass footage. But India being what it is, this very scene was lauded for its authenticity!

Even setting aside all that, the wrapping a string around your palm 11 times is simply trading off precision for some trial & error , not sme clever solution. For the preschool numbers thing, he's making up the rules as he goes along.

Frankly, the article should be titled "Not thinking".


The movie is filled with impossibilities, true. But have you seen Bollywood movies? Have you known the Indian audience they cater to? The impossibilities are the reason the movie did well; no half educated person is going to seriously attempt delivering a child with a vacuum over a webcam. At the same time, these stupid feats brought people to the movie, and forced them to realize how pathetically screwed up our education system is. Sure, we didn't do anything to fix it from that one movie--but for at least a few months, every time the movie was brought up, people started caring about changing the way our kids were taught.

I'm not suggesting this movie was something that raised awareness about an unknown issue, but it did succeed in bringing it to the forefront for quite a while, as Aamir's movies have been known to do. If you've seen other Bollywood movies, you know that 3 Idiots is a godsend when compared to the literally thousands of song filled intellectually vacuous love stories that we've been inundated with.

Furthermore, that suicide wasn't for the helicopter. It was after the dean called his (sick?) father, and told him that his son was not graduating that year. I do not remember the specific circumstances (I have terrible memory and watched this movie a few months ago), but claiming that the suicide was due to an engineering failure is ignoring many aspects of the student's life.

---

As for the string solution--I don't really see why you need precision in cutting a pizza in 11 slices for a random customer. It's an interesting solution, one I hadn't thought of, and I'd say one that many others hadn't thought of. The point was to deal with what a cook would have in his hands, not a mathematically sound approach. While the latter might be clean, it would be physically impossible to implement with a pizza cutter that might not be sharp enough, or a pizza where the cheese and sauce still oozed over the crust* (in which case you never could get equal slices).

* You can tell I haven't had lunch yet.


> But have you seen Bollywood movies? Have you known the Indian audience they cater to?

0. By a twisted quirk of fate( ie. being an Indian by birth), I happen to be addicted to Bollywood movies. I average 4 per month & have been doing so for atleast 2 decades now.

1. The guy is supposed to make a quadcopter fly in order to graduate. He is unable to. The Dean says he'll flunk if he doesn't make it fly. The guy looks at the wall in his dorm which says "loser" ( or was it "rebel" )in giant letters. The hero makes the copter fly. There's a tiny camera on the copter. The camera transmits aerial footage to a wintel laptop. As the copter soars, the laptop shows the guy hanging from a ceiling fan in his dorm .....impressively manipulative, yeah ? I think we call that camp out here. It was so in-your-face, manufactured outrage...

2. In reality, that quadcopter was built by Ashish Bhatt, a smart EE engineer out of IIT Bombay. He sells those at his startup IdeaForge (http://www.ideaforge.co.in/web/products )

3. Suicides on Indian campuses is a legitimate issue. Back when I was a student, there were 2 suicides in my campus, both because the student in question flunked some engineering/math course. The number of student suicides is disproportionately large ( http://www.google.com/search?q=suicide+IIT ). There were quite a few seminars on suicide prevention after that film.

4. Strictly speaking, it was a movie by-the-numbers...lets insert a suicide here, lets talk about pencils in outer space there, kind of thing. otoh the audience/critics were completely awed by it & made it the biggest film ever out of Bollywood.


> Strictly speaking, it was a movie by-the-numbers

I wasn't trying to say this movie has amazing merit; just that it served its purpose in an industry and to an audience where it isn't very easy to do so.


I've never seen the movie.

> Commiting suicide for failing to figure out some stupid propulsion mechanics! I remember thinking at the time that if this same film had been made in English, the critics & audience in the US would have torn it to shreds for such pandering & crass footage. But India being what it is, this very scene was lauded for its authenticity!

But that's kind of unsound to assume that the suicide must have been due to the specific event (not getting a helicopter to fly), rather than the bigger picture in this person's life.

Surely failing to graduate in an environment that places everything on having a paper diploma, including one's own image/self-worth, is more to the point of the suicide.


"Surely failing to graduate in an environment that places everything on having a paper diploma, including one's own image/self-worth, is more to the point of the suicide."

I can't speak for the parent poster but my criticism of the film is not with the themes, but with the trite way in which they are portrayed. I can't imagine an audience not understanding that this is what the filmmakers intended them to take away from the scene, but I can imagine them being put off by how they went about it.


> I can imagine them being put off by how they went about it

Remember that we're talking about the same movie industry where a man can slap another man and have him fly some 20 feet, after which he gets up and starts dancing with a lover. Relatively speaking, 3 Idiots was sane.


Suspension of belief I something I expect to need for stunts, not social commentary.


I solved that thing in less than 2 minutes too, and bet my pinkie finger nobody would take more than 15 minutes to figure it out.

There is some background of truth in the article, that most people lose the will to be creative (not the ability) over time. But it's over-generalizations galore.


You solved the problem easily because the article name was "overthinking" and it was saying that "children could do this".

You would be absolutely amazed at what that does to your problem solving ability. You actually stop over-thinking. You don't go to your advanced number-theory knowledge you may or may not have and you look for a simple solution.

Sorry, but everyone that read the article and then solved the problem is tainted.


I could not solve the problem and gave up after an hour. I gave the problem to my preschool child and they also could not figure it out. Since the article didn't provide a method for 'childifying' our minds I guess the only solution is suicide.


I solved the second one in a couple minutes in my head with value substitutions. Unless you were to do with with a pen and paper, it'd be pretty difficult to pick up on the closed loops.

Generating the following list took less than 30 secs when I looked it over, so obviously the example of it taking a long time to solve is a bit contrived. What threw me off a bit at first was that the number 4 was not used at all. I spent a little time trying to figure out why that was excluded before moving on.

0 = 1 1 = 0 2 = 0 3 = 0 5 = 0 6 = 1 7 = 0 8 = 2 9 = 1


I too solved it in 1-2 minutes just by looking at the patterns and deducing from the combinations, especially the ones with four of a kind. The loops never occurred to me until I read the "real" solution.

IMO the "fuck_you" of the currently most popular comment is what most people who are skimming HN during their morning coffee are bound to think, but most programmers and anyone used to deducing patterns would probably be able to figure the puzzle out in a relatively short amount of time. Not an hour. Sheesh!


Similar way here, given 0000, 1111, 2222, 3333, 5555, 6666, 7777, 9999, we know the value of each number except for 4 and 8, disregard 4 (not in any value), sub those values in to any slot with an 8, and you get the answer.

If the alternative to overthinking would be staring at this looking for a pattern until you realize it is the number of loops, then that is not something I am interested in :)


I came to the same conclusion alas with some different thought process behind it - all prime numbers are actually 0, the 0 we increase to 1. Then what's left dividable by 3 a 1, and what's left dividable by 2 a 2...

I guess that might be some sort of overcomplicating it, but I was quite happy until I scrolled to the bottom


That is how I did it. I actually don't understand what is meant by looking for shapes or closed loops.


Notice how an 8 has two loops (circles), and a 0, 6 and 9 have one each? The other numbers don't have closed loops, except sometimes 4.


Actually, it's a clue that 4 is not used. Note that you can draw a 4 with or without a closed loop, so it make the puzzle ambiguous.


I'm surprised by how defensive the comments are here. They seem out of place, especially on "Hacker" News, an entity whose name by definition emphasizes thinking outside of the box. Frankly the post seems spot on regarding providing multiple examples (1 hypothetical and humorous, 1 general, and 1 specific) of how "engineering" minds' over thinking causes them to be outperformed by "simpler" minds and more obvious solutions. Even his string example could be kept obvious and simple by saying, "Measure the circumference, divide by 11, mark on string at regular intervals, cut to lines," and I'm fairly confident it would still be the best answer.

Any post-sophomoric software engineer will lament an over-designed system they helped create, lauded for its superior design, only to have it become unwieldy and unmanageable under its own monstrous complexity, and then refactored to a far simpler and more intuitive solution. It's no coincidence KISS is taught in every Engineering 101 class across the country.

I found the article to be light and refreshing, reminding me that as an engineer, often I am my own worst enemy...

Or the very least, the enemy of that tragic racquetball launcher I built in Freshman engineering that _literally_ crumpled under its own weight on demo day. Lol.


The numbers based question was hilarious!!, specially to know that pre-school children can solve it in 5 mins. Try to show this question to a pre-school child and let us know what happens.

Our brain is just a amazing pattern matching machine. As soon as it is presented with a problem it starts to find patterns/relations in the problem along with going through the knowledge base it has acquired till now and trying different permutations and combinations to find the solution. In the number question, as soon as you read it, the brain will try to find patterns "using" the mathematical knowledge it has and it will keep on doing so until it gets frustrated an says WTF there is no relation here but it may happen that few days later you subconscious do find a pattern here based on "shapes" and not "numbers" but that is very very unlikely because as soon as we see numbers we think in numbers and not their shapes. If this problem was presented using shapes, anybody could have solved it in seconds.


Ball-point pens actually work in space. The ink does now flow because of gravity, it flows because of ink viscosity.


You mean capillary action? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capillary_action I think this is somehow linked to viscosity, but I don't seem to find how.


Well, my pizza solution would have been to find a measuring tape and divide the circumference by eleven with your phone calculator ;)

But is it our problem to over think everything. School, university, bureaucracy, everything we encounter in life pushes us into that direction.

Probably to stop us from getting killed. Something evolutionary...


I totally want to work on an augmented reality cake divider now. Point phone at cake to get a divider overlay.


Such app is already shown in the Quora thread: http://www.quora.com/What-is-the-easiest-way-to-cut-a-pizza-...


The numbers puzzle was easy to spot if you've ever played Petals around the Rose.

Here's a classic article about that game, dating back to 1977, describing Bill Gates trying to figure it out: http://www.borrett.id.au/computing/petals-bg.htm


I'm in the "higher education" category, yet that puzzle only took me about 2-3min of looking at it... I got briefly red-herringed by digit sums / digital roots looking promising, so spent most of the time thinking about those, but, once I'd found counter-examples, it didn't take long to crack.

That said, the "pre-school children" bit was a big hint as to how to approach it.

The use of '=' instead of, say, '→' made the math pedant in me twitch, though ;)


Nobody really needs to divide a pizza into eleven pieces with such precision. It's presented as a "real" situation, but it's a classic type of mathematical problem, the constraints of which are entirely made up for fun. When he dismisses the geometrical solution as "overthinking" and a sign of a lack of creativity, he not only misses the point, he's mocking what other people do for fun. Nice.

Also, as someone else already pointed out, he didn't specify how to find the middle point of the pizza, so his answer isn't a complete practical solution anyway.


Stretch a string over the middle of the pizza. Stretch another string over the middle of the pizza perpendicular to the first.


The solution is very clever. However, it is incomplete. In addition to the equally divided markings around the circumference, you also need to know the midpoint of the circle. Without the midpoint, the cuts may still yield unequal slices. Fortunately, using the author's same technique, you can easily produce the midpoint by making marks at the opposite ends of a single loop. Those two additional markings provide a guide for you to make cuts into the midpoint of the pizza.


>php abc.php

  Looking for 8+8+0+9 being 6 : found 2+2+1+1 : 6
  Looking for 7+1+1+1 being 0 : found 0+0+0+0 : 0
  Looking for 2+1+7+2 being 0 : found 0+0+0+0 : 0
  Looking for 6+6+6+6 being 4 : found 1+1+1+1 : 4
  Looking for 1+1+1+1 being 0 : found 0+0+0+0 : 0
  Looking for 3+2+1+3 being 0 : found 0+0+0+0 : 0
  Looking for 7+6+6+2 being 2 : found 0+1+1+0 : 2
  Looking for 9+3+1+3 being 1 : found 1+0+0+0 : 1
  Looking for 0+0+0+0 being 4 : found 1+1+1+1 : 4
  Looking for 2+2+2+2 being 0 : found 0+0+0+0 : 0
  Looking for 3+3+3+3 being 0 : found 0+0+0+0 : 0
  Looking for 5+5+5+5 being 0 : found 0+0+0+0 : 0
  Looking for 8+1+9+3 being 3 : found 2+0+1+0 : 3
  Looking for 8+0+9+6 being 5 : found 2+1+1+1 : 5
  Looking for 1+0+1+2 being 1 : found 0+1+0+0 : 1
  Looking for 7+7+7+7 being 0 : found 0+0+0+0 : 0
  Looking for 9+9+9+9 being 4 : found 1+1+1+1 : 4
  Looking for 7+7+5+6 being 1 : found 0+0+0+1 : 1
  Looking for 6+8+5+5 being 3 : found 1+2+0+0 : 3
  Looking for 9+8+8+1 being 5 : found 1+2+2+0 : 5
  Looking for 5+5+3+1 being 0 : found 0+0+0+0 : 0
  Looking for 2+5+8+1 being 2 : found 0+0+2+0 : 2
:D


Excuse my ignorance, but how does this work?


I hate that story. The reason pencils weren't used was because broken bits of graphite can cause havoc if it floats into electronic crevices.


I'm probably an idiot, but how do you divide the string in 11 equal pieces without measuring the length and dividing by 11?


Based on my extensive pizza eating experience, the average pizza slice is no wider than the distance between my thumb and forefinger, so start by wrapping the string around thumb & forefinger 11 times, leaving a bit dangling at the end. Then gradually expand the distance between the two fingers until the loose bit is eliminated.

I suspect you don't even have to mark the string with a pen (meaning the author possibly overthought the solution). You can just use the gap between your fingers. The chances are that the additional length added by the circumference of your fingers probably compensates for the curvature of the pizza circumference, depending on the size of the pizza and the size of your fingers. If you're doing this regularly you'll quickly learn the appropriate degree of compensation.


Oh but then it's just trial and error, unless like you say there is low enough friction to open your fingers and loosen all loops at the same time.

Quite unimpressive solution, imo. It's not about 'over thinking' any more, it's about giving up precision to find a low-tech solution.


Who cares about pens and pencils, use an ipad :)

Overthinking leads to over-enginnering, because humans aren't great at knowing what to do with all the free time we'd have if we did our job in 10% of the time :) Perhaps overthinking is required to keep us busy. Even though we all claim our time is money, in reality most get paid by the hour and not by the amount of work that has been accomplished. Plus complexity gives more weight to what we do, allowing us to claim that there's no shortcut to where we're going. That degree, that level of experience, are all job requirements that protect us.

Experienced entrepreneurs often fall for this trap. Too much prior knowledge of a particular industry leads them to quickly find faults in most ideas, and the just-do-it attitude that leads to simple approaches that stun everyone slowly fades.


Prior knowledge. Yes. Exactly what I was telling. I gave the numbers question to some of my friends and they all seem to be crippled by their prior knowledge.

I was thinking about the iPad too. I wonder what astronauts are using now. Surely not the space pen.


Did you give it to any kids yourself, rather than relying on the article's claim that kids are usually able to solve it? If you're going to try to repeat the experiment, you must repeat all of it before claiming it repeatable.


yep I couldn't solve that in the first 5 mins and gave up :)

strange how our pattern recognition gets worse with age ... I wonder if prior knowledge actually messes with the pattern recognition functions in the brain somehow ...


they stopped using the pencil in space because the graphite got everywhere !!


I figured out the number one in about 30 seconds. The biggest clue is that it claims preschoolers get it easily. That means all mathematical operations, except addition and less likely subtraction, is out of the question. A quick glance showed that adding or subtracting in any simple way would not yield a result - a more complicated way would not be done by a preschooler. So that meant it probably was some sort of spacial or visual problem. Seeing 6666=4 and 0000=4 got me thinking about the shapes of the numbers, and from there I quickly determined the answer was the number of closed loops.


I bet it was more like 2 minutes. It only took me 64 minutes.


I believe that one reason why things can get overcomplicated is because often this has proven to be profitable. Why did it cost millions of dollars to create a pen in space when a pencil would do? Obviously, someone benefited greatly financially from the government contracts that were given to them for the purpose of creating a pen that would work in space- even when it wasn't truly necessary. Many believe the old saying that "money makes the world go round." Could this be the reason why else we have legally allowed for financial instruments such as derivatives which are so complex that the majority of the public does not even understand them? Is it profitable for someone to have something such as this be so complicated that the general public will fail to see their inherent danger? While overthink is dangerous for productivity, someone has also figured out that it is profitable- at least for them.


Uhm I guess it's about common sense and not being an engineer all the time!!

If someone would call a pizza place in reality saying they wanted 11 equal pieces, they would have answered that at most they could have the pizza cut in some slices! :D HA!


The film scene is one of the things that motivated me to write this. So I used it for some humor. Whether it is true is besides the point. Though an urban myth, it made me think about the subject.


Am I the only who would cut the pizza in 12 pieces, then eat one?


I'm an American, I'd just eat the whole damn pizza.


I have two children, a pre-schooler and a kindergardener, and I very much doubt either of them could solve that puzzle.


If you think kids are good at simplifying, just go on Draw Anything and try to figure out some of their drawings.



[Sigh] Pencils aren't used because some graphite would rub off into the air and muck up the filter.


What a well written article! Must have taken a lot of thought to write this well :)




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