In the Margin: June 2015 – Stuck on You

Have you ever become so narrowly focused on one way of solving a problem or task that you are no longer capable of considering any alternative approaches? If your answer is “yes,” then rest assured that you are not alone. It’s a situation we’ve all faced in the past, usually while under the pressure of a tight deadline, and it is so common that scientists even have a name for the mistakes caused as a result of it: “fixation errors.”

Scientists have known about fixation errors for many years, and it is not uncommon for pilots and doctors, for whom fixation errors can be a life and death issue, to be trained in identifying them. However, regardless of the profession in which you work, just about everyone can benefit from an awareness of fixation errors (even actuaries).

There are actually three different types of fixation error, all of which can be equally problematic:

  1. “This and Only This!” – This is the situation when you become so convinced that you have the right answer to a problem that you refuse to consider any other solutions.
  2. “Everything but This!” – This is the situation where you consider a large number of causes of a particular problem, but don’t rule out any of the causes, and as a result, are unable to solve the problem.
  3. “Everything is OK!” – This is the situation when you continually insist there is no problem and that any data that might suggest a problem is simply a statistical anomaly.

Unfortunately, although scientists have identified the phenomenon of fixation errors, they have yet to come up with a means for us to avoid them, beyond recognising in ourselves that they can occur and seeking a second opinion or taking a step back if we feel that we are falling into one of these three situations. Nevertheless, by practising solving problems, such as the one below, we can become more adept at identifying the situations in which fixation errors can occur and condition ourselves to keep looking for alternative solutions when they do.

Eleven plus two = Twelve plus one

Below are a set of crossword clues, each of which suggests two words which are anagrams of each other (for example, the clue “Wedding gift for being rough and disorderly” suggests the words dowry and rowdy, which are anagrams of each other). Your task is to find the nine pairs of anagrams and then arrange them in the two grids provided so that one anagram from each pair appears in each grid and the coloured columns in the two grids form one final pair of anagrams. Note that, although the words in Grid 1 are in the same order that the clues are given, this is not true of Grid 2.

  1. Greek philosopher found under glasses. (8)
  2. Increase military rank. (7)
  3. Make an impression on one who punishes wrongdoers. (7)
  4. Guarantees against risk or harm at dawn. (7)
  5. Smuttier storm of intense severity. (9)
  6. Struggle to perspire profusely from the heat. (7)
  7. Holy man or fairy? (6)
  8. Instructor in a unit of area. (7)
  9. Breakthrough stone kitchen appliance. (7)

Grid 1


Grid 2



For your chance to win a $50 book voucher, solve the puzzles and email your solution (with working) to:

Celebrity Death Match (April Solution)

In April you were given a list of 32 movie titles and told that pairs of consecutive titles share a common actor. In order, the common actors are: 1. Brendan Fraser; 2. Whoopi Goldberg; 3. Bill Pullman; 4. Oliver Platt; 5. Denzel Washington; 6. Donald Sutherland; 7. Anthony Hopkins; 8. Ryan Gosling; 9. Ryan Phillippe; 10. Chris Cooper; 11. Tim Robbins; 12. Kevin Bacon; 13. Sandra Bullock; 14. Michael Caine; 15. Julianne Moore; and 16. Rebecca DeMornay. Consecutive pairs of actors in this new list can then be linked by common movie titles, with the titles being as follows: 1. Monkeybone (2001); 2. Lake Placid (1999); 3. Fallen (1998); 4. Fracture (2007); 5. Breach (2007); 6. Mystic River (2003); 7. Miss Congeniality (2000); and 8. The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992). Repeating this process gives the actors: 1. Bridget Fonda; 2. Embeth Davitz; 3. Laura Linney; and 4. Ernie Hudson; and then the movies: 1. Army of Darkness (1992); 2. Congo (1995). These final two movies are linked by arguably the greatest B-grade actor of all time, Bruce Campbell. A diagram of the elimination process can be found here.

Eight correct answers were submitted. The winner of this month’s prize, selected randomly from among the correct entries, was Chris Scheuber, who will receive a $50 book voucher.

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