ON FATHER'S DAY: A mediator meditates on fathers, problem solving, and lateral thinking puzzles

Puzzling over Father's DayToday is Father’s Day here in the U.S., a day when those of us who are fortunate enough to have fathers (or, perhaps I should say, are on speaking terms with our fathers) take time to express our thanks to the dads who made a difference in our lives.

This post is dedicated to my own father, Maury Levin, loyal Red Sox fan and all-around great dad, who taught me many important lessons—the rewards of virtues like honesty, hard work, and perseverance—and also imparted skills vital for day-to-day living—how to pitch and hit a baseball, calculate a tip, read a map, and cuss fluently in Yiddish.

My dad is also a fan of games and puzzles—a predilection I seem to have inherited. (Readers of this blog have probably noticed this—I’ve posted any number of times on the subject of online negotiation games.)

I especially like lateral thinking puzzles. A lateral thinking puzzle tells a brief story with a minimum of details and poses a challenge to be solved on the basis of the few facts provided.

Puzzles are great to use in mediation or conflict resolution trainings. They’re fun as warm-ups, of course, but more importantly they invite creativity and encourage flexibility in problem-solving in the participants. What puzzles teach groups is that an idea from one member of the group can spark an idea in another member, which motivates and inspires the group as a whole. It’s intriguing to see how collaboration produces clever solutions more quickly and effectively than individuals acting alone.

Anyway, my dad got his 15 minutes of fame recently when he submitted his own puzzle to “Says You!”, a game show produced by NPR station WGBH in Boston. “Says You” describes itself as a “game of words and whimsy, bluff and bluster”. My dad’s submission was actually chosen and used on-air to stump the “Says You” panel of puzzle-busters.

My dad’s puzzle, a series of literary challenges, is available here (in PDF format) for your enjoyment. Although not a lateral thinking puzzle, it nonetheless requires creative thinking, and, like most challenges, is way more fun to solve with a group of people than on your own.

And, if you’d like to wrestle with some lateral thinking puzzles, just click here.

At any rate, here’s wishing a very happy Father’s Day to all you fathers out there—my own especially. Thanks for everything.

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