Sunday, September 6, 2009

"Guess What I Was Thinking" Logic Puzzles (A Rant)

Probably more than most, I like logic puzzles. They're fun. But there's a variety of logic puzzles, especially prevalent in IQ/Mensa tests, that I really dislike. They are the "what's the next symbol in the pattern"-type of puzzles, and I HATE them. They are written like there is one (and only one) answer, and you must be dense not to see it. But can't I put anything in that blank space and call it a "pattern"? And what if the pattern that I see when looking at the provided sequence isn't the one you were thinking of? Is anyone with me in recognizing that these aren't logic puzzles at all? They're "guess what I was thinking of" puzzles! They aren't adequately constrained. They don't specify the parameter space from which the sequence is drawn. Anything can be a pattern! Anything!

What they actually want you to do is find the most likely symbol given several measurements and a set of priors about the likelihood of the author picking a particular sequence, but they neglect to provide you with any information about those priors. Maybe they assume that you can guess the priors based on estimates of your own sequence-picking priors, but that only works if your brain works the same way as the authors'. And quite frankly, if the authors can't appreciate that answers to these puzzles they are writing are indeterminate, I'm pretty sure their brain isn't working the same way as mine. Quit calling these logic puzzles! Put them on a Berkeley Psychic Institute entrance exam, not a college entrance exam.

Ok. Done ranting.

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