Black and White Solution

Black and White Solution

For those who were on to us many moons ago and those who may be making their late-bird entries now, this is what we do here. There are three sections with the first one called…

By Mukul Sharma

Published: Fri 16 May 2014, 4:22 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 10:55 PM


One of the neatest solutions one can come across involving what Edward de Bono famously popularised as “lateral thinking” is the problem of the beautiful young girl.

Seems like this girl’s (call her Rowena if you will) father owed a lot of money to an old Shylock, who was finally beginning to get obnoxious about it. The father on the other hand didn’t have the cash to pay back and didn’t want to go to debtor’s prison either. Justifiably thwarted, Slylock offered to forget the debt if Rowena would marry him. Naturally this was strictly no-no with Ro, who had many other men on her mind who looked a lot younger, for instance.

Now, as it happened, the three of them were standing discussing these niceties on a conveniently placed gravel walkway full of black and white pebbles. The wily moneylender suddenly came up with a third alternative. He said he would put one stone of each colour in an empty cash bag he carried with him always and let her have the option of putting her hand in and picking one of them out.

If she picked a black pebble, she would have to marry him; if she picked a white one, they could go scot free; and if she refused to go along with the game he would simply have them bunged into the slammer. Fair enough, thought the father and daughter combine — after all, what did they have to lose but a few rocks, right?

But wait a minute, what’s this? Why is the scheming trickster bending over and putting two black pebbles into his bag instead of one black and one white? And, of course, even though our young woman of seemingly good intentions has caught him red-handed playing dirty, it wouldn’t do anyone any good exposing him would it? He might just get mad enough to call the whole thing off. In which case it’s back to the slammer for the good guys. So what can this lady of lost causes do now?

She knows he’s got two black pebbles in that bag of his, yet she has to pick a white one to call things quit.

That’s a toughee by any standards — especially if you’re still into deductive thinking, logic and reason, because it’s not going to get you anywhere. Try it a while though if you feel up to it and have fun running into brick walls. This one works only if you can step out of the rut of looking at a problem in only one set way — namely, how’s she going to get a white pebble in her hands when there are only two black ones in the bag?

Think of it this way a moment. If she picks a white pebble out then what’s left in the bag has to be black. At least if we’re playing the game like it was originally supposed to be played.

So what she does is put that beautiful hand of hers inside his crafty little bag and takes out a pebble — any one of the two, it doesn’t matter which — and 
before its colour can be determined “accidentally” lets it fall from her hands to the pebbled walkway where it gets mixed up with all the other black and white pebbles.

“Gee, that was so clumsy of me,” she says in her huskiest. “But it’s okay dude, because we could always find out what I picked by looking at what’s still remaining in the bag.”

And that naturally has to be black! So according to the rules of the game she must have picked white. Neat, no?


There exists a perfectly common, valid and grammatically correct sentence in English which, however, can only be spoken and not written without either changing its meaning, making it ungrammatical or sounding like gibberish. Any idea what it is? And if that’s too tough try this: what colour would a chameleon turn if you placed it on a mirror? Or would it simply go neurotic after a few hours of trying to blend in with itself?

(To get in touch with Mukul, mail him at

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