Columbus' Egg Trick

Look beyond last year's product and solve customer problems with a fresh perspective.

Of the thousands of puzzles in Sam "The Prince of Puzzle Makers" Loyd's 1914 Cyclopedia of Puzzles, many require creative thinking to solve. A few of them involve good old Christopher "Earth's Not Flat" Columbus, who — if you believe Loyd — enjoyed a good mind-bender.

According to Loyd, some of the puzzles called for "ingenious and original lines of thought instead of experimental methods. As a matter of fact ... our puzzlists are merely called upon to exercise their wits in suggesting the best theory of principle whereby to solve the problem..."

One of Loyd's puzzles lives on today as a common cliche in engineering, marketing and business in general: "out-of-the-box thinking."

The challenge with the "Christopher Columbus egg trick" was to find a continuous line through the center of nine eggs arranged in a square — with the fewest number of strokes. In the story that accompanies the puzzle, Loyd's "King Puzzleplate" could accomplish it in six strokes, but that wasn't good enough.

Columbus could do it in four by going beyond the imaginary square created by the eggs. The arrangement of the eggs caused most puzzlists to see a box which they tried to stay within.

The puzzle re-emerged decades later as Nine Dots, and "out-of-the-box" thinking entered the American lexicon. By misreading the arrangement of the dots, the options for solving the puzzle seem to be limited. Once on the table, however, the solution seems obvious.

While often encouraged when brainstorming meetings drag on, this type of thinking should be a normal way of doing business. Coming up new ideas using a fresh perspective keeps customers and the competition excited.

Cutting-edge designs typically come from a-typical thinking. Mixing up the status quo is how inventions come to life. In the mobile off-highway equipment industry, it's how end-user challenges are met and new markets are found. It's the way "it can't be done" turns into "piece of cake."

The ability to look far beyond last year's product catalog and solve customer problems with a fresh perspective is behind the new Caterpillar D7E and John Deere 764 dozers in this month's cover story, written by former OEM Off-Highway Editor Kay Falk. The original-thinking theme carries through the highwall miner article on page 36 and into "Off-Highway Heroes" on page 58.