Monday, April 28, 2014

Cat In A Box

The New York Times recently had a clever puzzle in which the final answer could be either HEADS or TAILS, depending on how you solved the clues for the crossing words.  There were four clues that could have been answered either H or T, E or A, A or I, and D or L, to provide the alternate solutions.  For example, “Improves, in a way” could have been answered with either HONES or TONES, “Diner menu item” could be either MELT or MALT, and so on.
Conundrums of this sort are known as Schrödinger puzzles, named for the logical paradox known as Schrödinger’s Cat. A response to what is known as the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics, it was devised by the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger. The paradox posits a cat in a sealed container that will die if poison is released by a decaying subatomic particle. As there is no way to know whether the particle has decayed without opening the box, and therefore whether the cat is dead or alive, logical theory (says Schrödinger) demands that we conclude the cat is both alive and dead at the same time.
Understood?  Well, not by me.
The most acclaimed Schrödinger puzzle was created by Jeremiah Farrell and ran in The New York Times on Election Day 1996.  Depending on whether you answered BAT or CAT to the clue “Black Halloween animal”) and similarly for six other possibilities, the answer came out either CLINTON or BOB DOLE.  I guess you know which answer proved correct.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has no problem with grasping Schrödinger’s principle, since he has been simultaneously lucid and incoherent all his life.  See for yourself:
            Old Bob Dole
            Fell in a hole
            And landed on his tush,
            But his rescue crew
            Did not have a clue
            Whether to pull or to push.
            So he stayed in the gorge,
            And his saviors, by George,
            Wandered off under a Bush.

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