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How Would You Move Mount Fuji?

Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle

William Poundstone

Criticism that solving logic problems proves you're good at solving logic problems, but doesn't tell you much about how well you will perform on nay tasks outside that - you get a lot of uber-geeks. Insiders love them - those who have passed the test, because now you're part of the club.

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The "ordeal by trick question" originates from Zen monks of Japan, who were meant to show worth by giving sublime (if illogical) answers to impossible questions. A master might hold out his short staff and announce "If you call this a short staff, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short staff you ignore the fact. Now what do you wish to call this?" In traditional Zen teaching the penalty for a poor answer was a hard whack on the head with a short staff.

Microsoft regards itself as an egalitarian meritocracy, where all that matters is your logic, imagination and problem-solving ability. So their job interviews are carefully engineered to weed out the merely competent.

One task was to ask them to design a house. If they went to whiteboard and started drawing without questioning who it was for, they would get nearly finished and interviewer wd say "Actually this house is for a family of 48 foot tall blind giraffes."

How many piano tuners are there in US? 300m people, probably 3 people per household so that means 100m homes. At least half too small or too poor to have piano so maximum of 50m potential homes-with-pianos. Of that, how many have a piano. Probably more than 1%; lets say 10%; that means 5m pianos. How long to tune a piano? Estimate 1 hour + 1 hour travel, so 20 pianos a week = 1000 pianos a year. Assume tune piano once a year, need 1 tuner for every 100 pianos. So 5m pianos/1000 = 500 tuners.

How many points are there on globe where man can walk 1 mile south, 1 mile east and 1 mile north, and be back where he started from? If you say 1 (North Pole) you don't get hired. Should realize that can start 1 mile north of South Pole (anywhere, an infinite number of points in a circle around the pole).

How many times do the hands of an analogue clock overlap in a 12 hour period. Think about first hour: from 12 to 1pm the little hand has moved to 5 minute mark, so will take just over 65 minutes for the big hand to catch up. Can't overlap 12 times because that would take 13 hours, so answer is probably 11. Check by dividing 720 minutes by 65.

Mike and Tom have $21 between them. Mike has $20 more than Tom. How much does each have? You can't use fractions. Correct answer is $20.50 for Mike and .50 for Tom. To pass the test you must stubbornly stick to the position that 50 cents is not a fraction.

Harvard psychologist Nalini Ambody study how we assess people. Turned out that complete strangers viewing a 2 second video of a teacher came up with same assessment of the teacher's ability as did students who'd sat through a term of their classes. People make a snap judgement of someone within 2 seconds of meeting them, and only rarely does anything that happens after that cause you to revise that first impression.

Traditional interviews try to ask 'searching' questions like "what are you most proud of?" etc. But everyone knows the to give 'safe' answers. There are no correct answers, so the interviewer is still relying on gut instinct. And the result is that the interviewer's evaluation is little different to someone else watching a tape of the interview, but only seeing the guy walk into the room and shaking hands.

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Libraries have different ways of cataloging books. The Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress are two main, but not the only systems. Rare books are often shelved by date of publication and the library of the Warburg Institute shelves books randomly to inspire unexpected connections.(Founder Aby Warburg implemented this system shortly before he was carted off to an insane asylum).

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