A gambler owes a huge amount of money to a bookie. The gambler has a beautiful daughter who the bookie desires above all things. The bookie devises a way to settle the debt which involves the choice of one of two stones (one black, one white) from a bag. They both agree that the daughter will reach into the bag with her eyes closed and select one of the stones. If the daughter chooses the white stone, the debt is canceled; if she picks the black stone, the bookie gets the gambler’s daughter.
The gambler and daughter both know the bookie is dishonest and has probably “fixed” the outcome in some fashion. The gambler also knows if he refuses to play, he cannot deliver the huge amount of money he owes. Imagine you are the gambler, can you think of a way that your daughter can play this game in a way that guarantees you win. [Before you read further, what solution would you propose?]
Try looking at the problem with a different perspective. Look at it from the perspective of the bookie. How could the bookie fix the game so that he cannot lose? One way he could fix it is by producing a bag with two black stones, guaranteeing a black stone will be selected. The gambler believes this is what the bookie has likely done.
The gambler instructs his daughter to pick a stone out of the bag, keep her eyes closed, and immediately drop it onto the path which is full of multi-colored stones. She does and points out the stone she picked must have been the opposite color of the one remaining in the bag. Unwilling to be unveiled as a dishonest trickster, the bookie must agree and cancel the debt.
The problem was solved by changing the perspective from “choosing the right stone,” to “how to not choose a stone.”
(Michael Michalko is the author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses; and Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck. His new book is Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work. http://www.creativethinking.net)