Look After Your Mind – What Happened?

Look after your mind

Imagine you are a detective. Here are some clues to an incident that occurred in a person’s kitchen. What do you think happened?

The kitchen fanlight window is open. There’s a plate with no chicken on it on the countertop. There are oily marks on the countertop. A tea towel is lying on the floor directly under the plate. The family cat doesn’t come home when called.

When I first came across this puzzler, it seemed obvious that the family cat had smelt the cooked chicken from outside, entered the kitchen via the fanlight window, jumped up on the countertop, clawed off the tea towel that had been covering the chicken, then made off with the bird.

It was only later that I realised I’d made a number of thinking errors…

Firstly, I’d assumed there was a chicken on the plate, but the clue simply says there was no chicken on the plate. I jumped to the conclusion that the family cat had stolen the chicken. And that the oily marks on the countertop were made by the cat as it tried to make off with the meat. But all I’m actually told about the cat is that it didn’t appear when called. Also, I assumed that the oily marks were chicken fat, but it could have been some other kind of oil.

Finally, even if the cat had done the deed, it would most probably have tucked into the chicken there and then. Could it possibly have dragged away a whole bird? Even if that was possible, it would be more likely for the cat to drag it under a nearby chair or table than back out through the fanlight window. And in any case, there would be grease marks on the window glass if the cat had tried to exit that way.

Use Your Imagination

I’ve used this scenario many times with children in schools to point out how easy it is to make assumptions and jump to conclusions, and how important it is to think logically. If you decide to play the what-happened game with children you know, you can take it further…

If a child comes out with the cat-did-it story, point out that broadly speaking it’s quite a likely scenario, once the anomalies are ironed out. On a scale of one to five, it would come out as between one and two. Now ask the child to think of another scenario to explain the clues. This time, one that’s less likely – a two to three story.

Keep asking for further stories that become more and more outrageous and fantastical. You can also vary the game by asking for stories to fit within a fictional genre such as science fiction, fantasy, romance, etc. Or by having them based on a theme such as loyalty, cowardice and so on. Let children have free rein to introduce characters and tell longer tales if they wish.

Steve Bowkett.