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So easy it's hard
June 4, 2004 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Petals Around the Rose This little puzzle took my genius son over an hour to figure out. It took me two seconds. They say the smarter you are the harder it is...shut up.
posted by konolia (140 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I grew up knowing this as "Polar Bears around the Ice Hole".
posted by jozxyqk at 3:30 PM on June 4, 2004

A much more entertaining article about this puzzle can be read here.
posted by Voivod at 3:40 PM on June 4, 2004

Where's the rose?
posted by ParisParamus at 3:40 PM on June 4, 2004

I'm pretty stupid.
posted by Gyan at 3:41 PM on June 4, 2004

Smarter than Konolia, dumber than her son (jozxyqk's alternate title helped).
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 3:44 PM on June 4, 2004

Cute. Has less to do with how "smart" you are that it does with how you view a particular problem. Nothing like shaving with Occam's Razor...
posted by FormlessOne at 3:45 PM on June 4, 2004

*sigh* I did the same type of thing I always do with stuff like this. I rolled the dice 3 or 4 times, tried to figure it out, and then said, "Why am I wasting my time on this?" and quit caring. Is this smart or dumb?
posted by JanetLand at 3:47 PM on June 4, 2004

I've been staring at this for fifteen minutes and I still can't figure out which rows I'm supposed to care about. I'm either really dumb or really smart.
posted by majick at 3:47 PM on June 4, 2004

I got on the 4th turn, I think. Formlessone is correct in that it has to do with how you think about a problem. Certainly, there is a clue in the name of the game, however... If the game were simply called, 'Guess the Formula for Finding the Correct Answer' that it would take people a much longer time to figure it out. I actually took the title of the game as a clue to solving it.
posted by PigAlien at 3:48 PM on June 4, 2004

got it on my second roll. guess we're both stupid, konolia!
posted by triv at 3:51 PM on June 4, 2004

ahhhh... I feel.... smart.
posted by sleslie at 3:52 PM on June 4, 2004

I couldn't solve it, then I read PigAlien's comment that the title was the clue. I solved it shortly thereafter. Way to ruin it for me!
posted by banished at 3:52 PM on June 4, 2004

Thanks for the supplementary Bill Gates article Voivod. But I'm confused about the end of the story--Gates ultimately got it(?), but never made the connection with the name of the game?

I figured it out after one roll. I don't know how that makes me feel.
posted by danny the boy at 3:55 PM on June 4, 2004

I got it after about five minutes. I feel as if someone has just delivered the lame punchline to a long, boring joke.
posted by bingo at 3:55 PM on June 4, 2004

I got it after about 10 minutes. I agree with those above who said that taking long to solve it doesn't make you smart.
posted by whoshotwho at 3:56 PM on June 4, 2004

I got it without rolling at all. I'm retarded!
posted by nicwolff at 3:58 PM on June 4, 2004

Aha! got it. Sweet vindication at last.
posted by Sellersburg/Speed at 3:58 PM on June 4, 2004

Missed it on the first roll, then figured it out right away on the second. I'm a dumbass. ;)
posted by zoogleplex at 4:00 PM on June 4, 2004

The biggest clue, in my opinion, besides the name, is that they say 'smarter people take longer to solve it.' That, of course, implies an easy solution right in front of your face and that the danger is overthinking the problem. Anyone who actually is smart with a bit of experience will immediately understand this to mean, "The answer is not at all what you think it is, try thinking outside the box." So, I guess they would have to change that to say, "Smart and uncreative", because smart and creative people and get it quickly (I won't nominate myself).
posted by PigAlien at 4:01 PM on June 4, 2004

My ninth grade chemistry teacher did this on the first day of class.

He said it was a test of figuring out how to approach problems from various ways.

He would only tell us the name of the game, roll the dice, and shout out the number. We had to tell him what the rule producing the number was.

Some people figured it out right away. There were others who still didn't know it at the end of the year. It was one of the best kept secrets I've ever seen. Those who got it simply did not leak it to those who didn't.

I got it after a couple weeks. But I had to use brute force. Charted the rolls and results and eventually figured out an equation that used the right answer. And only then worked it backwards to the simple rule.
posted by obfusciatrist at 4:02 PM on June 4, 2004

Hmm. On standard IQ tests, I test at supposed "genius" level, whatever the hell that means, but I figured this out on the second try. I agree that the name of the test, and less so, the clue that overthinking the problem is counter-productive, make a huge difference. I suspect that had I been presented the problem bare, it would have been much more difficult for me.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:07 PM on June 4, 2004

yeah, i got it first try. but i think i too had heard of it as the POLAR BEARS around the ice hole.

is there any intuition required to make the connection between the two games? i doubt it.
posted by oog at 4:09 PM on June 4, 2004

I had a really dirty thought about alternate titles for the game, but I'm not going to mention it. You have to be a genius to figure it out.
posted by brownpau at 4:13 PM on June 4, 2004

Other than the fact that both names are a dead giveaway?
posted by ook at 4:13 PM on June 4, 2004

I don't get it. I see what look like dice. WHERE'S THE ROSE? How many "around" what?
posted by ParisParamus at 4:15 PM on June 4, 2004

Got it first try.

One problem: There was one roll with only even-numbered sides facing up, and therefore the answer would be undefined since there are no roses.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:15 PM on June 4, 2004

This isn't so much a puzzle, but an easy game provided with intentionally vague instructions.
It had taken Dr. Duke well over a year himself, and he would always explain that the smarter you were, the longer it took to figure it out.
Did anyone else find this to be hard to believe from a professor who teaches gaming/simulation courses? I understand that I may not be as bright as the brilliant doctor, but as an avid puzzle fan, I was able to quickly identify the type of puzzle off the bat and several possible solutions.
posted by sequential at 4:15 PM on June 4, 2004

Woulda got it sooner if I hadn't had the first five rolls come out to zero.
posted by WolfDaddy at 4:16 PM on June 4, 2004

I agree with Ethereal Bligh. And JanetLand, giving up on this is neither smart nor dumb, because the ability to solve this problem doesn't matter much. It might be construed as intellectually lazy though, unless you had better things to think about. :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:17 PM on June 4, 2004

I'm not even sure what i'm looking at.

A series of dice faces result in a hidden number.
Die1 (divided or multipled by or added to or to deuct next die from) > Die 2 (divided or multipled by or added to or to deuct next die from) > Die 3 (divided or multipled by or added to or to deuct next die from), etc...

posted by dash_slot- at 4:18 PM on June 4, 2004

Well, I must be a super-genious, then. I couldn't be bothered to sit around and figure it out, but I could be bothered to google it, find a javascript implementation and, using my mad, l33t, hax0ring skillz figure out what it meant.

For those lazy like me:

For every dice that is a three, and two. For every dice that is a five, add four. So if you wanted you could say "for every odd die, add that value minus one (because for one, you'd add zero).

for (var x = 1; x<=5; x++) {
  if (DieArray[x]==3) {
   Result = Result + 2 ;
  else {
  if (DieArray[x]==5) {
   Result = Result + 4 ;
posted by delmoi at 4:19 PM on June 4, 2004

ok got it. WolfDaddy and SpaceCoyote helped

Borders on banal, tho. Sheesh.

posted by dash_slot- at 4:21 PM on June 4, 2004

ParisParismus: I don't get it. I see what look like dice. WHERE'S THE ROSE? How many "around" what?

You're being extremely literal-minded, Paris, which is a mistaken approach to the problem. Think metaphorically.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:21 PM on June 4, 2004

A series of dice faces result in a hidden number.
Die1 (divided or multipled by or added to or to deuct next die from) > Die 2 (divided or multipled by or added to or to deuct next die from) > Die 3 (divided or multipled by or added to or to deuct next die from), etc...

It can be mathimaticaly formulated as:
for each die di
petals_around_the_rose(d0...i) = sum(j = 0 to j = i, (dj mod 2)*(dj-1))
posted by delmoi at 4:23 PM on June 4, 2004

Two seconds here too. I mean, it's called "Petals Around the Rose," and the instructions don't make much sense, and so when they ask how many there are, you just sorta only have on option...

This is a puzzle?

Great Bill Gates anecdote Voivod linked to though. I loved how he started to play along at first, only by memorizing previous rolls and the answers he heard others come up with correctly ... says quite a bit about the guy.
posted by Fofer at 4:24 PM on June 4, 2004

It had taken Dr. Duke well over a year himself, and he would always explain that the smarter you were, the longer it took to figure it out.

The smarter you are, the more plausable theories you can come up with, which then need to be eliminated.
posted by delmoi at 4:27 PM on June 4, 2004

Of course it's banal, it's meant to be, it's in a class of problem that appears to have an immensely complicated solution, but actually doesn't. The ability to perceive the simple solution is the test.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:27 PM on June 4, 2004

Got it! Woo-hoo. You have no idea how hard it was for me to not look at spoilers.
posted by Succa at 4:29 PM on June 4, 2004

This was quite the rage around my high school (circa 1985). The teacher for the gifted and talented club gave out buttons that said "I'm a Polar Bear" to kids who figured it out, and the whole thing was referred to as the Polar Bear Club. He used three red dice and four white ones, and the riddle was "Polar bears around an ice hole in the days of Genghis Khan, petals around a rose." The red and white dice tended to get people confused, and the Genghis Khan thing just TOTALLY threw us off.

You not only had to solve the riddle - you also had to complete a dare (mine was to sneak up behind our principal on Senior Day and give him a hearty whack on the rump) before you were given your button.
posted by apollonia6 at 4:33 PM on June 4, 2004

got it on the 2nd try, but essentially with my first hypothesis. what the hell does math have to do with anything, beyond the fact that you have to be able to count?
posted by badstone at 4:39 PM on June 4, 2004

I used to play a game at summer camp involving elephants, a box, and a princess. One person would make a box of some sort by arranging sticks (pens, whatever) on the ground, then ask the players how many elephants the Princess Pat saw. The answer to the question had nothing to do with the sticks, though. The answer was in fact the number of words the person had used to ask the question. "How many elephants in the box?" = 6. "How many?" = 2. "Well?" = 1.

I took perhaps too much pleasure in trying to give away the answer to see who would get it. Toss the sticks down randomly without looking and still come up with an answer (corroborated by others). Say nothing but just give a questioning look, answer = 0. Make a ridiculously long question. Etc., etc...

Oh, and I didn't get this one until I saw the polar bears tip. I mean, ice is white, dice are white. Polar bears aren't exactly black, but it clicks more easily than rose petals.
posted by whatnotever at 4:39 PM on June 4, 2004 [1 favorite]

"It can be mathimaticaly formulated as:"

Thanks, delmoi! Not "getting" this would have eaten at me all night without someone revealing the solution, and from the links provided so far there seems to be some degree of secrecy about it. You've blown the lid off this thing!
posted by majick at 4:39 PM on June 4, 2004

it's always 6 : >
posted by amberglow at 4:43 PM on June 4, 2004

I just stared at it for about 30 seconds trying to decide what could be meant by "petals around the rose" in the context of die faces, came up with four or five possible meanings, clicked "roll" and "check", noted that the answer corresponded to one of the guesssed-at meanings, did it once or twice more to confirm. Total time about a minute.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:48 PM on June 4, 2004

So, is "rose" slang for dice? I'm sorry, but I thought there was some symetrical/floral aspect to the logic (I went to Las Vegas once, but never played craps). I feel very stupid right now...
posted by ParisParamus at 4:48 PM on June 4, 2004

You know, I had the right idea at first, but miscounted.

I found the bigger clue to be that the game was played with dice on a surface, which eliminated the placement of the numbers in the row as they appear in this flash.

kept me from burning out my brain...
posted by Busithoth at 4:52 PM on June 4, 2004

*grins* gosh I really hate to say this but Paris, after reading your many posts on Mefi for a year or more, you are not disappointing me at all. *grins even wider* Sorry man.
posted by zoogleplex at 4:56 PM on June 4, 2004

I got it on the first try since it seemed pretty obvious. I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean a lot.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:58 PM on June 4, 2004

Got it immediately. Ordering dunce cap now.
posted by synapse at 5:00 PM on June 4, 2004

In retrospect it is much more obvious if you happen to roll a 5 on the first try.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:02 PM on June 4, 2004

I deleted a couple people revealing the actual answer. Please don't spoil it.

I quit after about 8 or 10 rolls, then came back five minutes later and solved it after 1 or 2 more. It's silly but worth figuring out on your own.
posted by mathowie at 5:08 PM on June 4, 2004

Mathowie, if you're gonna do that, you missed two: Delmoi's java and maths both give away the answer.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:16 PM on June 4, 2004

Space Coyote also gives a pretty big hint.
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:18 PM on June 4, 2004

This is pretty easy. The trick for me (this may be a spoiler) is that on some dice, there is no rose. I was trying to add dots when I shouldn't have.

That said, it's pretty damn simple. Note that no matter what the game's name has been, it has the word "around" in it.
posted by mikeh at 5:23 PM on June 4, 2004

Four minutes for me. I agree — It's really not a measure of knowledge so much as a measure of how adept you are at spotting a method.
posted by Down10 at 5:23 PM on June 4, 2004

I remember Yossarian's views on chess
posted by terrymiles at 5:24 PM on June 4, 2004

Please tell me that this was just a hoax designed to irritate ParisParamus.
posted by scarabic at 5:29 PM on June 4, 2004

took me a while! fun stuff. thanks for the bill gates article voivod.
posted by jcruelty at 5:30 PM on June 4, 2004

i think it would be too much to expect people to be able to talk without giving hints at the answer. Perhaps Matt could insert a --- below here be dragons, and possibly an answer --- spoiler warning
posted by Space Coyote at 5:33 PM on June 4, 2004

Sheesh. Waaaay too much of a build-up, with a teeny-tiny punchline.
posted by davidmsc at 5:34 PM on June 4, 2004

Dude. Finally got it.

May I recommend for anyone still trying it that you stop, and begin contemplating how many pleasure receptors there are around your genitalia. Masturbation is time better spent, I think.

The instructions aren't just irrelevant or misleading, they're grammatically incorrect!
posted by scarabic at 5:35 PM on June 4, 2004

got it. but, nonetheless, BAH!
posted by ronv at 5:41 PM on June 4, 2004

Maybe Matt wants to delete this, but I think it's totally transparent if you add a single character to the instructions:

like so:
"There are how many petals around the rose(s)?"
posted by scarabic at 5:41 PM on June 4, 2004

Got in on first try, so about 2 seconds, more or less.

Why wouldn't you not see it right away?

Does it have to do with the fact that being an English major I'm used to thinking metaphorically? No, really, it's a serious question.
posted by jokeefe at 5:56 PM on June 4, 2004

It can be mathimaticaly formulated as:
for each die di
petals_around_the_rose(d0...i) = sum(j = 0 to j = i, (dj mod 2)*(dj-1))


It's just a matter of applying the title to what you see in front of you. I wouldn't have had the patience to last more than 10 seconds if it was a matter of trying to figure out an equation to generate the results. Hmmm.
posted by jokeefe at 6:03 PM on June 4, 2004

When everyone was doing this in High school there were two parts. First was "Polar bears, they come in pairs, sitting around a hole in the ice like petals on a flower." After you figured that out, the math teacher would say "Good. Now how many fish are there?"
posted by Nothing at 6:06 PM on June 4, 2004

Either I got the trick immediately, or else random chance has gone my way through a dozen guesses, or else the page just spits out "Correct" every time.
posted by Guy Smiley at 6:11 PM on June 4, 2004

There! Are! Four! Lights!
posted by WolfDaddy at 6:13 PM on June 4, 2004

got it. whew. i thought too much, but when i stopped thinking, it came to me.
posted by BentPenguin at 6:18 PM on June 4, 2004

I spent about 30 minutes on it trying out various ways to get the right answer (and not succeeding for the most part). Then I turned to Google to tell me what the solution was. Does that make me smart or stupid? :D

Can't wait to annoy my husband with this later ... hee hee. He's gonna love (hate) it.
posted by Orb at 6:25 PM on June 4, 2004

What does it say about me that a) I read about this last week, b) I only figured out the algorithm by cheating (peering at the Javascript behind an implementation), and c) I am monumentally infuriated now that I finally (after reading this thread) understand the meaning? I actually feel cheated, and not out of shame (okay, maybe a little). The game's name is terribly misleading (although the "polar bears" take on it is somewhat more accurate). And also stupid. Very, very stupid.

Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon. Okay, and just a little embarrassed. But mostly a curmudgeon. Grr.

Four lights, indeed.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:30 PM on June 4, 2004

New Metafilter entrance exam!
posted by theora55 at 6:43 PM on June 4, 2004

Wow. I figured this out without much trouble, but I was still pretty baffled by the whole "name" discussion, so I googled and found out what the name has to do with it... Turns out my method is completely different, but still 100% correct - but doesn't relate to the name at all. Now I can see why some people were talking about getting it on the first or second try, which seemed pretty unlikely to me since I had to rule out a few possibilites and compare a few throws with somewhat similar die faces first.

I'm really so tempted to describe my method to see how many came up with the solution that way versus the name-clue way. But I won't.
posted by taz at 7:01 PM on June 4, 2004

Having guessed this at first glance, I’m absolutely fascinated by how differently people react to this question. I think the idea that its harder for smarter people is bunk but I do wonder what other difference in types of people it could be pointing toward. For a start, it strikes me that the numbers are barely relevant. This isn’t a number problem, it’s a very simple word game. If your first instinct is to try to crack it through the numbers while mostly ignoring the words then, yeah, its going to take a while.

( I also think you’re all rude bastards for ignoring Paris’s repeated efforts at trying to appear so smart. )
posted by Zetetics at 7:08 PM on June 4, 2004

See... I cracked it through the numbers. But even so, it wasn't that difficult. My mental image of petals on a rose would never have brought up the right picture for this... Petals on a daisy, maybe.
posted by taz at 7:19 PM on June 4, 2004

I couldn't agree more that it should be rose(s), otherwise it implies that there is a single rose everytime.
posted by jonah at 7:28 PM on June 4, 2004

Got it after three guesses. Once I did, I felt silly for not getting it just from the title.
posted by briank at 7:34 PM on June 4, 2004

I got it right off - it's a test of poetic intelligence.
posted by pyramid termite at 7:37 PM on June 4, 2004

Google put me out of my misery after about ten minutes when I first encountered this puzzle. I was nowhere even close to the answer. The palm print where I smacked my forehead lasted for days. :-)
posted by Voivod at 7:41 PM on June 4, 2004

Though the fish part is pretty obvious after the polar bear part, because you know the kind of game you're playing.
posted by Nothing at 7:49 PM on June 4, 2004

Got it on the first try (4) and the second try (0).
posted by emelenjr at 8:02 PM on June 4, 2004

Uh oh.. I must be stupid
posted by abcde at 8:03 PM on June 4, 2004

I'm very stupid. I guessed the meaning on teh first roll.
posted by kfury at 8:05 PM on June 4, 2004

This is a horrible puzzle. It would be much easier to anyone if were phrased "petals around the roses." Instead the title is deceptive, and not deceptive in that "subtly correct" way, just somewhat wrong.
posted by abcde at 8:07 PM on June 4, 2004

It's not just that it should be rose(s). It's also that the phrase "petals around a rose" doesn't make sense then you're talking about actual roses. It's like that joke where you get someone to say a bunch of words ending in "oast" and then you ask them what you put in a toaster, and they say "toast," and you say "no, bread!" Except that the toast joke...oh, never mind.

"Polar bears around the hole" is a horrid analogy too, for reasons that I can't go into without "ruining it."
posted by bingo at 8:17 PM on June 4, 2004

Because it should really be "iceholes", right?

I knew we'd eventually all get around to calling each other names again.
posted by yhbc at 8:23 PM on June 4, 2004

Actually "rose" is perfect as the same word can apply to both the bush itself as well as the individual flowers. So if you are fooled by the rose(s) then shame on you. I find this the most clever thing about the puzzle.

Solved it on the second try, about 15 secs. My daughter is still working on it, over an hour later. I'm getting her very frustrated with it. Gonna sick her on grandpa over this next month. He's so damn smart and analytical it'll take him months to figure it out. Aaaah life's sweet pleasures.
posted by filchyboy at 8:40 PM on June 4, 2004

I didn't get it and would never have got it without jozxyqk, with whose post I got it in 0.00001s. Because petals ARE NOT SEPERATE from the rose. They're attached. So it's shit. But polar bears are seperate from the ice hole. Call it bushes around the rose, if you must.

I bet this happened:

1. Prof gets shown Polar Bears Around The Ice Hole game.
2. Prof is dumbfounded. Can't get it.
3. Begs for answer
4. Gets given it.
5. Shows game to friend, all smug-like, expecting to baffle him.
6. Friend says, "uh, four".
7. Crestfallen, Prof decides that won't happen again, and makes up stupid fucking tenous name that only makes barest bit of sense.
8. Prof baffles lots of people with sense; feels vindicated.
posted by bonaldi at 8:41 PM on June 4, 2004

bonaldi, the fact I got it on the first try kinda invalidates your hypothesis.

Hooray for right-brained people!
posted by konolia at 8:51 PM on June 4, 2004

I agree with bonaldi. There's a subtext to this, which is why I also looked up the solution via Google rather than waste time. I think the game has three aspects:

a) Solving the puzzle.
b) The 'initiated' being smug at the expense of the 'uninitiated' (as one of the discussion forums says, "Making people suffer for the solution is part of the point") - and this makes me suspect that there's a strong element of willy-waving to the claims of time taken.
c) Some kind of crappy "artistic mind is superior to analytical" moral.
posted by raygirvan at 8:56 PM on June 4, 2004

i don't have java installed, but looked at the "bill gates" article. at first i looked for something in the numbers - particularly for an explanation of why the score was even (which seemed to imply some kind of invariant - all i could think of was that opposite sides of a die add to 7), not negative (so it was difficult to see how it could be subtraction) and apparently limited to quite small values. i guess from that i should/might have got to how it was restricted to particular values, but i suspect i''d have remained confused because i was thinking it had to be either the tops of the dice or connected with all the sides, since isolating it to a particular face would have made playing in a group difficult - i think that was just bad presentation in the article, in retrospect).

and then, eventually (after a few mins, i suppose), i remembered that the title was supposed to be significant, and then it was obvious. :o/

anyway, i'm curious how other people thought about this and how they went about solving it (which is why i've written so much). what else did people try that didn't work?
posted by andrew cooke at 9:01 PM on June 4, 2004

raygirvan, i think you should smell more roses :)
posted by elphTeq at 9:04 PM on June 4, 2004

As others mentioned, I saw this as polar bears, but I also learned it with the additional "fish" bit:

"Polar bears
Occur in pairs
By holes in the ice they gather round
Like petals on a flower growing out of the ground
How many bears can there be?
How many fish under the sea?"

posted by jazon at 9:12 PM on June 4, 2004

Or you could be a person without sense, konolia ;)
posted by bonaldi at 9:22 PM on June 4, 2004

Seriously, I think it helps to have an artistic sense with this. People in the arts deal with patterns just as mathematicians do-only not the same way.
posted by konolia at 9:27 PM on June 4, 2004

Sweet Mother of Pearl! It took me forever to get it, but once I got it I felt like an idiot. I was getting über-cranky for a while there. *whew*... I'm glad that's over.
posted by crankydoodle at 9:44 PM on June 4, 2004

People in the arts deal with patterns just as mathematicians do-only not the same way.

This is true... although something of a generalization. Some of the better mathemticians I've known are able to step away from the mechanistic formalisms that give math a lot of its power, and use the more intuitive grasp of pattern and structure -- which can be equally powerful, just in a different way. A few of the artists I've known have managed to go the other way, as well.
posted by weston at 9:46 PM on June 4, 2004

This brings back memories. I spent all of sixth grade (1986-ish) playing this on Apple computers with green screens, trying to guess the patterns. I still look back with pride to the day I figured it out. I have the instructions burned forever into my memory, slightly different than that shown here:

"The game is Petals and Rose. The name of the game is significant. The score is always even. Guess the score."

I think this was an advanced-math class so no wonder it took us all year to figure it out.
posted by jacobsee at 10:32 PM on June 4, 2004

I've been playing a lot of go lately...

I got it immediately.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:48 PM on June 4, 2004

My fourth-grade teacher (Mrs. Evilbitch) showed me a similar puzzle without giving it a name or any hints. She rolled the dice 4 times, gave the answer each time, and told me to figure out how it worked. I was allowed to set up 10 more patterns and ask her for the answers. Her variation on this puzzle was that her puzzle involved the face of the die opposite the face that was showing (i.e. a 4 was really a 3, a 6 was really a 1, etc.)

As an example of the luck-beats-skill rule that I structured my academic career around, she yahtzeed fives on one of her rolls and that gave me an edge. OTOH, the time it took her to visualize the unseen face made me think the algorithm was really complicated. I felt foolish when I finally got it; I felt really foolish for losing 30 seconds considering D mod 7 as a possible answer. (Hey, I was 7 -- give me a break.)
posted by joaquim at 11:07 PM on June 4, 2004

That's it? People get to enter a fraternity for figuring that out? Geez Louise. It's taken me longer to sneeze before.

Still working on it, Paris? *grin*
posted by scody at 11:15 PM on June 4, 2004

Do you think certain dice combinations help a person find the solution faster? The first few times I rolled I got a petal count of 6 or less. That caused me to start thinking in the wrong direction. The next few rolls gave me petal counts of 10+, which made me look at the puzzle differently.

I just went to the site again and my first set of dice was all ones. The answer was "There are    petals around the rose." Had I gotten that originally I may have solved the puzzle right away.
posted by gluechunk at 11:18 PM on June 4, 2004

I got it in under 60 seconds. My wife, the Harvard Medical student, spent 90 minutes analyzing it before she broke my will and made me tell her.
posted by McBain at 11:44 PM on June 4, 2004

Thinking of the rose as a compass rose might help. Seems more like a test of determination. If you don't get it right away, the question is how long will you push against the wall until the wall cracks or you give up.
posted by euphorb at 12:08 AM on June 5, 2004

Willie waving? ok...

I don't know what it means that I'm a computer scientist and still got it right away...
posted by Space Coyote at 12:22 AM on June 5, 2004

I guess I have to take issue with those who think this is just a right brain / left brain thing - on any of those kinds of tests I've taken, I've come up almost equal on both sides. And I actually deal with graphic design patterns almost every day, yet I didn't get it from the right brain side. First of all, I know that a rose usually has 30 petals, so this is initially very misleading. Secondly, a rose's petals are very dense and overlapping, unsymmetrical and most often revealing no center pistil - also misleading. I might have been able to figure it out visually from "lily" or "daisy" but never from "rose".

for Zetetics and andrew cooke, and anybody else interested in other ways of figuring this out, here's what I did (cut and paste somewhere):

The first thing I noticed was that the answer was always even, which made me assume that the it had to do with the odd versus even numbers; then I looked for almost identical groupings and got a 6/1/1/2/6 and then a 6/5/1/2/6 with different answers, which made me decide to eliminate the even numbers completely. From then on, concentrating only on the odd numbers, I found that the sum of the odd numbers minus the number of dice bearing the odd numbers always gave me the right answer.
posted by taz at 12:55 AM on June 5, 2004

bonaldi said it.

Petals are part of a rose, they are not separate entities that surround a thing in the center that is called the rose. For those of us who know how petals relate to flowers, the gimmick is recognizably flawed.

As far as polar bears and ice holes go: Hello! What color are polar bears? If they are sitting around a hole, what color is the ground, or the ice? What color is everything except the hole? For extra credit: If you were the one coming up with the metaphor for the solution to this problem, what might be an even worse one than "polar bears sitting around a hole"?
posted by bingo at 12:58 AM on June 5, 2004

Hello! What color are polar bears?

If you use red dice, then the white spots easily look like polar bears.

Also, I'm dumb. Above I mentioned getting all ones at the start. That's because I forgot to Roll. Duh.
posted by gluechunk at 1:08 AM on June 5, 2004

"this puzzle is so stupid because it's not an absolutely literal representation of the question!"

posted by Space Coyote at 1:13 AM on June 5, 2004

Got it the first time, got it right every time since. The name completely gave it away.
posted by Keyser Soze at 1:51 AM on June 5, 2004

My IQ is stratospheric. It is supernatural. Highest ever measured in my very large urban high school.

Means. Absolutely. Nothing. I am a slobbering idiot when I'm not taking IQ tests.

So first guess I make is zero. Why? To test the possibility that since there are no literal roses and no literal petals, the answer might simply be an obvious and somewhat up-yours response to an absurd question.

Luckily, as it turns out, zero was the wrong answer. The correct answer appears. Hmm. Try pattern recognition. Simplest first. Yup - satisfies - and reinforces the metaphor. Try it again. Yup. Solved. About 2 seconds.

So my question here is what cerebral gymnastics, twitch by twitch, flip by flop, do people who take eons to solve this thing go through? That's what I'd find interesting. Oh, and in one of my incarnations, I'm a programmer/mathematician, so I understand the unified theory/equation fetishists - they need not explain their sweet, obsessive, notational selves - but it really would be interesting to hear from 'normal' people who play this thing larghissimo.
posted by Opus Dark at 3:51 AM on June 5, 2004

FWIW, with a full night's sleep, I seem to have got it instantly. But I still don't get how the full name of the game, or the word "rose" or "polar bears" provides any kind of unambiguous, or semi-unambiguous clue to what's being asked.

I've always felt I live in a slightly different, parallel universe, and this does nothing to change that view : (
posted by ParisParamus at 4:06 AM on June 5, 2004

The moral of the story is most of y'all think too much.
posted by konolia at 4:22 AM on June 5, 2004

Method? Huh? Formulas? What are you people talking about? It's just: how many dice faces have a dot in the middle; and what's the total number of dots surrounding those faces?
posted by ParisParamus at 4:24 AM on June 5, 2004

We know, Paris.

gluechunk: but the dice in this case are not red. And even if they were, the hole and the polar bears would be the same color, on a landscape that is for some reason red. STUPID.
posted by bingo at 8:45 AM on June 5, 2004

Again, I don't think this question measures "smartness" for any conventional meaning of the word. And there well may be a large element of chance involved. For my part, I wasn't really held up by the (in)correctness of the rose metaphor—I don't expect that a casually used metaphor need to be factually correct.

If anything, the puzzle measures a person's ability to figure something out in context; that is, trying to understand what the puzzle designers intended from their various clues, including having reasonable expectations of the puzzle designers' state of mind (i.e., how much they really know about roses or polar bears).

I really think that solving it with no name and no clues would be more meaningful in the sense that people are assuming the puzzle is meaningful ("smartness" involved in general pattern-recognition).
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:49 AM on June 5, 2004

It could be called, "how many squirrels around the carburetor" and it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference. How about, "how many x around the y"? Its a riddle, people. Its supposed to be ambiguous or even misleading. That's why its not called, "how many pips appear arrayed in the corners around a central pip on the odd-numbered, uppermost faces of the following 5 dice?" Would anyone argue that the riddle of the Sphinx is nonsense because everyone knows that a cane is not a leg? I admit you would have a point but you'd be missing a much bigger one.
Can there be an unambiguous clue? I would be tempted to call such a thing an answer.
posted by Zetetics at 8:57 AM on June 5, 2004 [2 favorites]

This still has a large analytical component, it's just that it's a problem where there's a lot of noise and the hardest part is sifting through that to find the answer. I have no idea why ParisParamus is expecting an unambiguous clue, since that would probably ruin it.

Using words you recognize is the noise, since many people are trying to link what they know about roses, bears, or whatever clue they have to the game. That's silly.

Is it easier if I say "Many blorps, all around a squorch. How many blorps?"
posted by mikeh at 9:06 AM on June 5, 2004

Count me with the stupids, I got it fast. (Of course, I'm hugely proud of myself and don't feel stupid at all! nyah nyah nyah)

I think if I had seen the polar bear name, I would have gotten it even faster, because you picture petals attached to the flower as opposed to bears sitting around a hole.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:11 AM on June 5, 2004

Ethereal, I really think that solving this without a name would be solving an entirely different, and much less interesting, problem. I agree that its nothing to do with how smart one is but your experience will be very different depending upon whether your approach is primarily a zetetic one or a linguistic/metaphorical one. (OMG! I never thought I would actually get to use the word ‘zetetic’ in a conversation.)
Note that in the approach taken by myself and many others, the numbers are used only to verify the correctness of our solution. They play no role whatsoever in actually generating that solution. Without the name, that solution does not exist.
posted by Zetetics at 9:14 AM on June 5, 2004

By the way, great post Konolia!
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:18 AM on June 5, 2004

that was silly -- your son needs a beating.
posted by Satapher at 9:30 AM on June 5, 2004

I still feel greatly unsatisfied by the name, versus the reality. Betrayed, really.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:38 AM on June 5, 2004

Colour me stupid ...
posted by carter at 9:42 AM on June 5, 2004

Opus Dark,

My experience was as follows:

1) I did not read any text on the page. I simply jumped to the loudest visual element, which in this case, happened to be the game.

2) I summed up the puzzle quickly. Five dice, the ability to roll the dice and the ability to guess the number of petals around the rose. Instantly, I entered 0. There are no damned roses.

3) I was wrong, of course, there were 10, which happened to be the sum of the numbers on the ends, so the next time I entered the sum of the numbers on the ends. The answer was 0.

4) I then thought it was the number of dots on the outside of the dice on the ends. This wasn't completely continuous with my thought train of thought, but I was given no clues by the dice. I guessed 2, but there were 8.

5) I looked at the existing dice, with the answer right in front of me. And then it dawned on me.

6) Then the mathematical formula dawned on me.

7) Then I had an algorithm for implementing it in code come to mind.

8) Then I stayed up until 3:00 am writing a program to play the game without hard coding the rules.

I chose a Bayesian algorithm to recognize patterns. However, I learned in the process that Bayesian implementations vary wildly and that the ones that were readily available were insufficient to do precisely what I wanted without modification.

This implementation does not work well if you are predicting with an unseen attribute or with an unseen weight. However, it offered the ability to easily save and load state.

When training with all possible combinations of the dice, the results are near perfect, making the implementation the worst hash algorithm ever. However, using a small sample size, the code yielded "die" statements and "illegal division by 0" statements more frequently than I would care for.

That was my thought process and I'm almost ashamed to admit that I'm proud of it. :-)

Oh, and this isn't a measure of how smart you is, as has been pointed out. It's a tool that simply identifies patterns of thought.

This thread contains many of the arguments regarding the effectiveness of standardized tests, though the thread is not framed that way.
posted by sequential at 9:43 AM on June 5, 2004

logic is a virus
posted by Satapher at 9:54 AM on June 5, 2004

but the dice in this case are not red. And even if they were, the hole and the polar bears would be the same color, on a landscape that is for some reason red. STUPID.

1) And the title of the game in this case is not Polar Bears!
2) The bears could have mistakenly dug a hole in the snow instead of the ice/water. They are then seen sitting around the hole, confused.
3) Because of recent pollution problems, a light layer of redness has covered the bear's habitat. (This did not cover them as they were in hiding at the time.)

In any case, back to the original puzzle. At first I thought the rose was one of the dice and the other dice were the petals. Then I thought that perhaps in some cases two dice side by side made a rose. Then I started getting answers that were 10+ and eventually got the right answer.
posted by gluechunk at 10:51 AM on June 5, 2004

My first thought was that since dice were involved, the sides not showing had something to do with the answer. I was going the "find the equation" route as well. It took a while for me to start thinking "this is not a math puzzle at all" but once I did the answer was obvious.
posted by bargle at 11:34 AM on June 5, 2004

I'm still pissed that "rose" / "rows" was a red herring.
posted by majick at 1:16 PM on June 5, 2004

Well sure, sequential, but after step #5, you just started fondling the problem. Your initial approach was simple --> complex, not the reverse. You even did the zero-ain't-no-fuckin'-roses thing. It is interesting that you were immediately willing to combine the dice into a single organism which in toto might satisfy the metaphor; my first inclination was to look for a metaphor-satisfying pattern on each individual die face. Actually, based on "There are how many petals around the rose?", your intitial approach might seem to be more correct; but for me, there was no way a side-by-side arrangement of die faces was going to satisfy the topological implications of "petals around a rose".

gluechunk was also willing to grant to the metaphor a lot of geometric latitude. and bargle, with his "sides not showing", was willing to get downright mystical. Interesting.

As Zetetics points out, no one seems to be ignoring the metaphor; no sense making a koan out of a rosebud, right? Guess I'll Google some stuff - see if I can discover how the it-took-'em-a-year brainiacs got tenure.
posted by Opus Dark at 1:31 PM on June 5, 2004

The first couple rolls had me puzzled (I went with the two obvious answers of "no roses" and "the number of dots on the outside of the dice"). Third one, I saw the rule and proceeded to smack my forehead and go "ahhhh! duh."

So simple it's hard, indeed. The alternate title ("polar bears around the ice hole") helped though.
posted by sailoreagle at 2:42 PM on June 5, 2004

This is the kind of game that would prove to be difficult to those who are in the habit of regularly playing games like this. Subversive!
posted by Celery at 2:54 PM on June 5, 2004

Zetetics: Would anyone argue that the riddle of the Sphinx is nonsense because everyone knows that a cane is not a leg?

The difference is that the cane is a direct metaphor for a leg. Cane=leg. Now compare that to petals=(non-centered dots) and rose=(centered dots). It doesn't work, because the petals are part of the rose. In fact, it's hard to even explain what the metaphor would actually be. Clearly, there is a kind of synechochic idea about "the rose" meaning "the center of the rose." But what's the center of a rose? The top of the stem? If you pull all the petals off a rose, is the thing you have left really what is implied in this riddle? Or is it more likely that the person writing it just couldn't be bothered to come up with one of the thousands of analogies that would have worked much better? "Squirrels around a radiator" would have been fine. "Petals on the roses," maybe. But without the bad syntax, what a surprise, it becomes more obvious what the metaphor is. Answer: choose a metaphor that both works and is not obvious. Yes, it's not as easy as just stringing together words nearly at random.
posted by bingo at 4:00 PM on June 5, 2004

Zetetics: Thanks for the word zetetic! I like it, and I think we should reestablish the Zetetical Society.

Oh, I got the answer very quickly, but was helped by lucky rolls of the dice.
posted by languagehat at 7:29 AM on June 6, 2004

i was stumped for a few rolls of the die, and then saw the alternate title polar bears around the ice hole and got it right away.
posted by t r a c y at 8:37 AM on June 6, 2004

Bingo: I disagree for several reasons. Your argument suggests that the Sphinx riddle won’t work because a leg is a part of a man while a cane is not. Metaphors allude and suggest; they do not necessarily have a one to one correspondence. Perhaps you would prefer an allegory but, again, I think this would diminish the interest of the puzzle. I think potentially misleading elements are essential. I doubt we would have had this thread without the ambiguities in the title.
However, the image that I got from the title was of a fading rose in a vase, with petals fallen on the table around it. Ambiguities remain, multiple roses and dice for example, but clearly, the title is useful enough for myself and very many others to catch the point. In any case, the element you have to twig to is ‘things around a thing’. Once you start over-analyzing the qualities of the placeholder things, you’ve wandered off the path.
But – that’s all part of the fun.

Languagehat: Perhaps we can count this thread as minutes of our first meeting?
posted by Zetetics at 11:10 AM on June 6, 2004

Zetetics: Either you didn't understand what I said, or I didn't say it clearly enough, or both. I have no problem with the sphinx riddle; I like it, I think it works, I think the use of metaphor is perfect and timeless, and is a great example by contrast of what's wrong with the "petals around the rose" thing.

p.s. I knew what zetetics were from David's Sling.
posted by bingo at 2:14 PM on June 7, 2004

I'm obviously a moron (got it on the first try), the answer is in the preposition.
posted by Octaviuz at 4:36 PM on June 7, 2004

It took me a while. My mate took the piss, and rightly so I believe.

I don't see what Occam's Razor principle has to do with it though.
posted by ed\26h at 6:32 AM on June 8, 2004

I am stupid like a fox. I got the jist of the game before even rolling (I thought it was a pretty obvious solution from the title of the game, but I was an English major, too), but then kept counting wrong. Because I mentioned I was an English major, right?
posted by jennyb at 8:40 AM on June 8, 2004

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