Upside-Down Problem Solving

by Jeff Langr

March 31, 2008

In doing Sudoku puzzles, most of the time the next solution is staring you in the face. But you can’t see it for all the other numbers in the way.

I got stumped on a puzzle Saturday, one that I’d stared at for about ten minutes without success. I have a ten-minute rule, so it was time for a new tack. (Others might call this ADD, but I follow Weinberg’s Bolden Rule: “If you can’t fix it, feature it.”) I turned the book around to let my son look at it, but continued to look at the upside down numbers. Thirty seconds later, the very obvious solution almost started blinking at me. Duh.

Often, all we need is a different perspective on the problem. Many of us have experienced code enlightenment when having someone read over our shoulder. The usual explanation is that we’re now trying to perceive how others are reading our code. Another thought: Sometimes I suspect that a very brief mental break is all that’s needed.

But maybe it’s just that we’re shifting in our chair and catching the code at an odd angle. 🙂 Next time I’m stumped on code, perhaps I’ll invert my display. Or change my font.


Jay Packlick April 3, 2008 at 04:12pm

When I’m really stumped I take a hot bath, put on some nice music, and watch the nice rubber duck float by. It’s never failed to evoke an epiphany or two however there’s a downside; this practice tends to raise an eyebrow or two in open workspaces. Also the office rugs tend to get wet.

Looking at things from another point of view (and even being ABLE to see alternate POVs). There used to be a great book out called ‘A Whack on the side of the head’ – basically techniques to unfetter our imaginations and see possibilities where none previous seemed to exist.

Hmm.. I need to see if I can find my copy.

In the mean time..ummm, can somebody pass the soap please?


Jeff Langr 4/03/2008 at 04:23pm

They need to make waterproof laptops…

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Jeff Langr

About the Author

Jeff Langr has been building software for 40 years and writing about it heavily for 20. You can find out more about Jeff, learn from the many helpful articles and books he's written, or read one of his 1000+ combined blog (including Agile in a Flash) and public posts.