09.14.12

Puzzle game too difficult? Try taking a break, or get a new brain

You know that frustrating moment, when you've tried everything that makes sense in a game, and then you keep trying it? According to some research on insight, that is probably the best time to take a break. Here's an example of the sorts of problems the study examined:

Move any single line from the expression below to make it true.

IV = III + III

Many of you probably see that the answer is to simply move the “I” from the left of the “V” to the right of the “V” to make “VI = III + III” or “6 = 3 + 3.” More than 90% of the subjects got that one, similar to a group of control subjects without brain injuries.

But now consider a trickier one:

Move any single line from the expression below to make it true.

III = III + III

Chew on that one. Can you figure it out? If so, good work. Only 43% of control subjects got it right. However, 82% of those with deficient attention spans solved the riddle, seeing how you just have to rotate one of the lines from the “+” sign to make it another “=” sign so that the expression reads “III = III = III” or “3 = 3 = 3.” The subjects who had difficulty focussing their attention also had difficulty restricting their search for solutions and didn’t hold on to unstated assumptions like “you can’t screw with the operators in the equation.”

Being able to focus on a problem's solution is a good thing, but it's useful and inspiring to take a break.