This post is, in part, an extension of the series on lateral thinking puzzles that I began a couple of months ago. If you are unfamiliar with the series, you can find Prepare to be Puzzled elsewhere on this site.
I’ve already done my very best to establish that Paul Sloane, who The Independent hailed as ‘the king of lateral thinking puzzles,’ is something of a lunatic when it comes to intellectual ingenuity. In his world bomber planes fly upside down, midgets who think they have grown shoot themselves, and amputated arms will be accepted, delivered and redelivered by the Post Office as many times as you like without question.
Let’s recap on one of Sloane’s more ludicrous puzzles:
One day a man received a parcel in the post. Inside, he found a human left arm. He examined it carefully and then repacked it and sent it on to another man. The second man also examined the arm. He then took it out to the woods and buried it. Why should they have done these things?
The three men had been together on a flying mission in the Pacific. Their plane had come down and they were adrift for many days in a dinghy. They had had some water but no food and were gradually starving to death. Eventually, out of desperation, they agreed to amputate their left arms in order to eat them. They swore a solemn oath that each would have his left arm cut off. One of the three was a doctor and he amputated the arms of one and then later of the other of his colleagues. Just before his turn came, they were rescued. However, his oath was still binding and he later had to have his arm amputated and sent to his colleagues for them to see that the oath had been kept.
Royal Mail won’t even deliver certain kinds of batteries, so god knows which post office these people were using. And – fun fact – if you’re trapped with no food, then eating your finger nails (or other peoples) is definitely the way to go, as they provide lots of protein. The more you know eh?
Anyway, I’ve returned to this topic because I recently found out that Paul Sloane is a huge personality in the world of big business. Shell, L’Oréal, Vodaphone and hilariously a company known as ARM have all paid Sloane to give presentations to their CEOs and upper management. His talks are meant to inspire innovative thoughts on leadership and corporate strategy. How? I’m not really sure either.
Worst of all, I discovered that Paul Sloane’s evil mind games are now being adopted by job interviewers. Techinterviewpuzzles.com actually gives the above lateral thinking puzzle as an example of a question that you might be asked in a common HR interview. When being interviewed for a marketing internship, I was once asked ‘How many American flags are there in America?’ That was confusing enough – now that I’ve visited America twice, I can safely say far too many.
I don’t understand why so many people seem to be in love with this puzzle. The answer is plainly ridiculous. I’ve met some downright nasty bastards in my time, but not one of them would engage me in a pact of this sort and then still expect me to amputate my left arm after being rescued. I don’t care how ‘solemn’ the oath was – I’m left-handed for Christ’s sake. No sane person should come to the conclusion that the doctor’s life was permanently ruined by his co-workers, purely in the name of pedantry. [Ariel says: He must have gone on to wreak one-armed revenge upon his colleagues] [Jeremy says: He wanted to cause them some harm, unfortunately he was ‘armless]
Terrible puns aside, I find the idea that you could get asked a question like that in a job interview abhorrent. I understand that the interviewer won’t necessarily be interested in the answer itself, rather in (1) the interviewee’s composure and (2) what methods they use to draw a conclusion. But job hunting is a job unto itself, and shit like this certainly doesn’t make it any easier.
This discovery prompted me to search for other weird questions that people have been asked at job interviews. I have only scratched the surface and I highly recommend looking them up in your free time, because the list is bloody endless. Here are just a few:
What do you think of garden gnomes?
‘You came to the wrong neighbourhood, motherfucker’
Can I admit that I have no strong feelings about garden gnomes, like 99.999% of the rest of the world? Or do I get penalised for that? I know you want to see me think on my feet, but I don’t really see why you asked me this, unless the number one desirable quality for this job role is a propensity for spewing bullshit.
How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator?
Hang on – I’m sure I know the punch line to this one. But even if I remember it, I’m pretty sure it’s entirely irrelevant to whatever role it is you’re interviewing me for.
Do you like pineapples? WHAT DO THEY MEAN TO YOU?
Despite my three years of studying undergraduate philosophy, this is still the stupidest question that I’ve ever come across. Parmenides did my head in, the Pythagoreans were insane and Schopenhauer was a dick – profoundly pessimistic 100% of the time and proud owner of at least two pet poodles, despite the fact that he condemned the domestication of animals – but none went as far as to waste their time contemplating pineapples. Furthermore, I would never want to admit to anyone that I got a job over them, purely because I was better at expressing my feelings about yellow, spiky, tropical fruit.
As your can see, I do find the question marginally more appealing when the last line is shouted – it sounds like the beginning of a Nazi interrogation.
Finally there is the woman who was asked ‘If you could be any kind of fruit, what would you be?’ to which she replied ‘a mango.’ Allegedly, the interviewer looked back with disgust and said ‘Ugh, I never know what to do with one of those.’
Nevertheless, evidence indicates that these questions are only getting more popular, and because graduate jobs tend to go hand-in-hand with the more innovative and adventurous interviews, that is where you are most likely to encounter them. You might as well forget your tailored CV and the bespoke Cover Letter that you’ve spent the best part of three days slaving over – unless you know why they make tennis balls fuzzy, or how many people were on Facebook in San Francisco at 2:30pm last Friday, they will be fuck all good to you.
Dedicate more time to thinking up questions to ask your interviewer instead. That way, you can use them by way of retaliation if your interview decides to fuck you over Sloane-style.
Let’s see how quick they are at thinking on their feet.
If not a job, then you’ll get a kick out of your interview, at the very least.
So 2014 university graduates, forget about finding a decent job this summer. In the words of the ever-crooning Roy Orbison – It’s Over. We all knew that the vast majority of CEOs and Managing Directors out there probably don’t want to employ us, but it appears that even many of those who do plan to toy with us like cats with mice first.
Why put all of that initial effort in if they’re just going to tease you further? As they say, ‘Give a man your hand and he’ll take your whole arm.’
In the face of this evidence, that’s very hard to refute.
For other blog posts on current affairs and literature, or just for shits and giggles, follow me @JeremyCoward