Thursday 29 Sep 2016

Multiple Choices
Sjef Frenken

“I have a joke for you,” said Jack. Jack knows that my mirth threshold is at the level of a seven-year old, and that even the stupidest joke can get a rise out of me; I will laugh at jokes I’ve heard many time before.

“A psychologist working for some company is interviewing some candidates. He says ‘there’s a cauliflower, a potato and a knife. Which is the odd one?’

The first candidate answers ‘the knife. The other two are vegetables.’

The psychologist poses the same question to the second candidate, who also answers ‘the knife.’

The psychologist poses the question to the third candidate, who answers ‘the cauliflower.’

The psychologist is surprised ‘why do you think the cauliflower is the odd man out?’

‘Because,’ the third candidate answers, ‘you can make potato chips with the other two.’”

Predictably, I chuckle. “You know, Jack, that brings to mind a problem I’ve always had with multiple choice questions on exams and tests. So many times I’ve found that more than one alternative would have been right, and that every multiple choice question should have a space for an explanation, to show why you picked that specific answer.”

Jack said “how do you mean?”

I said “let me give you an example. You know the old game of rock-paper-scissors, right? Now which of the three is the odd man out?”

Jack thought for a few seconds and then said “I’d say paper.”

“Why”

Jack said “because you can crumple paper in your hand, which is not something you can do with the other two.”

I said “or maybe because it is vegetable matter, while the other two are mineral.”

Jack said “so you agree?”

I said “no, because you can also pick scissors as being the odd man out.”

“Why,” said Jack.

“Because scissors come in two parts – actually three, if you count the swivel pin. The other ones consist of only one piece.”

“What about the rock?” asked Jack.

“Easy, rock is the only one of the three that is not manufactured by man. I bet you could find other reasons why each of those three could be considered the odd one. Scissors have three holes in them, the others have no holes – unless you’re talking about microscopic ones, which they all have. Paper can be folded; the others not. You get the idea.”

“I get the idea,” said Jack.

“Take A, B, and C, for instance.” I drew the three capital letters on a paper napkin. “Which is the odd man out?”

“C,” promptly answered Jack, “you can make it with one stroke; the others take two strokes.”

I said “yes, but A and B can be right too.”

“How,” said Jack.

“A, on the grounds that it is the only one that has no curves in its shape; B, because it is the only one that encloses two spaces.”

“OK,” said Jack, “Just to be sure I get the drift of what you’re saying, answer this multiple choice question for me: which one of us is the odd man out?”

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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