In my day to day websurfing, I often come across this ad masquerading as a puzzle:
I can’t get to the source site from work, and I’m not interested enough to bother when I’m at home (nor do I read the news sites that have this ad when I’m at home). The question bothers me on a number of levels. Are they asking me to make the fish swim to the right? Which direction is right? My right or the fish’s right? Or, are they asking me to make the fish swim correctly? If so, I’m not sure I know what’s wrong with how the fish is swimming now. Maybe it’s because its fins are too big for its body? Or because its fins are inflexible wood instead of cartilage? I’m not sure I can fix that by moving three matchsticks, no matter how smart I am. Really, is the fish swimming if it has no effective motion? What about currents? Where’s this body of water in which the fish is swimming such that I can point it to the right side? Do I need to give the fish moral guidance to keep it from the wrong side?
You may think I’m being a smartass, but this is the fatal flaw of IQ tests: vague wording. I remember when I tested to get into Mensa, and I took the “fill in the blanks” test that was not multiple choice, I was frustrated as all get out because of questions like this. With multiple choice, the problem is slightly mitigated because you have a limited range of choices. So long as the question writer doesn’t allow two possibly correct answers into the pool, the question can be valid. If you open it up to any answer though, you need to be a heckuva lot more specific.
Let’s assume for the moment that the purpose of the question is to institute some change in the direction of the fish’s pointy part (or the “nose” of the fish…if I could edit the diagram easily, I’d mark it). By moving three matchsticks, I can make it point toward the top of this page, albeit in a squashed form. That would be a ninety degree rotation in the clockwise direction, and could be considered a right turn from the fish’s perspective. Likewise, by moving three matchsticks, I can make it point to the right side of the page (to “swim right” from my perspective). That’s two different answers that can be reached from this problem, and the wording is ambiguous such that either could be what the writer considers correct.
I hate that kind of thing. I used to write requirements for a living. Written requirements have the same fatal flaw as IQ tests. I was good at my job writing requirements because I tend to be able to see this kind of ambiguity inherently, and I correct it when I see it…as opposed to a fair amount of people who write it as they think it without thinking about how someone else might read it.
Nowadays, I read requirements written about as crappily as this problem for a living, and then I enforce those crappily written requirements on others with a wink and a nod at how crappy they are. If I try to fix them, I get criticized (on behalf of my company) for being the only vendor to not understand the requirements that are CLEARLY saying something that they’re not. Nevermind that every other vendor is non-English speaking and that they are very likely just guessing…or claiming English ignorance to ask the question instead of asking for a clarification of the requirement…or designing to the test plan instead of designing to the requirements (likely).
I get so bothered when I see this ad that I want to throw something at the screen.
Yes, I’m working on finding another job. I could have another job at any moment. My current one just won’t let me go. :: sigh ::