EVERYDAY PUZZLES WITH SURPRISING ANSWERS
Have you ever wondered why some cars have fuel fillers on the left, and others on the right? Why women button their clothes from the left, and men from the right? Or why CD cases are smaller than DVD cases when the discs are the same size?
We encounter puzzles like these every day. They're not life-threatening but they don't seem to make sense, not at first, anyway. The explanations are sometimes surprising but many of them make economic common sense.
Why are brown eggs sometimes more expensive than white ones? Because the hens that lay them are bigger and tend to eat more.
Most business decisions are determined by the cost-benefit principle. This means you do something only if the benefit you gain is greater than the cost you have to pay. This principle even affects how things are designed. Look at your mobile phone and see the number of functions built in to that! How many do you actually use?
Why is there a difference in size between the packaging of identically sized CDs and DVDs? This dates back to the 1980s, when retailers were replacing vinyl LP records with CDs, and realised that there could be enough space in each old LP rack for two rows of CDs. When DVDs came out in the 1990s, they were displayed alongside videocassettes, whose cases were higher, so DVD packaging was made to the same height.
Why are buttons on the right for men, and the left for women, especially when for the 90% of the population who are right-handed it's much easier to do up buttons from the right? The reason is that when buttons were introduced in the 17th century, only rich people could afford them. Rich men dressed themselves and they did so from the right. But wealthy women were dressed by servants, who found it easier to button them up from the left because they themselves were right-handed. The custom continues today because there has been little incentive for the fashion industry to change it.
Why do portraits appear in profile on coins and full face on notes? Because the print quality on notes is higher than on coins, and the intricacy of a full portrait may put off counterfeiters, who are more likely to fake high value notes, than low value coins.
And why do some cars have fuel fillers on the left and others on the right? Because petrol station pumps work from both sides, and if every car had a filler on the same side, motorists would have to queue for twice as long.
You will be able to think of other examples of designs that seem puzzling. But they will probably make sense economically.
Puzzles usually have answers and it is our curiosity to find out the reasons why things are the way they are that is the true excitement of learning.
This is a long-winded preamble to draw several reflections, all related to sound educational practice and life at St Andrews:
- It is fun to consider, hypothesise and perhaps solve some of life’s simple puzzles;
- It is good to question and to respectfully observe and consider the views of others;
- Learning is a lot about discovery and story-telling;
- To solve IT hassles, ask your average passing 14 year old (yes, I know it’s not related, but whilst I’m musing ....).
I hope this may prove the catalyst for some dining table discussion.
Until next time.