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Pattern Matching [Sep. 12th, 2006|12:32 pm]
I sometimes take online IQ quizzes, and there's this particular flavor of question that often shows up that asks: "which of the following 5 things doesn't belong?" These always bother me, because if you're good at finding patterns in things, you can find lots of ways in which 4 of the 5 match, so the question isn't so much about finding the mismatched item, as it is about reading the test designer's mind to figure out which mismatch they thought was obvious.

Anyway, I mention it because someone sent the following list to a mailing list I'm on today, asking which of the 5 doesn't belong:

> joe montana
> pele
> babe ruth
> tiger woods
> michael jordan

Among the answers that have been proposed, so far:

Babe Ruth -- he's dead.
Pele -- he's the only one with a one-word name.
Tiger Woods -- he plays golf, which only has one syllable.
(Golf is also the only listed sport without the word "ball" in its name, assuming you're an English-speaking non-American).
Tiger Woods -- he plays the only non-team sport.
Joe Montana -- he's the only one that wasn't clearly the best in his sport at his peak.
Babe Ruth -- he didn't have huge ad endorsements
Pele -- he's the only one who's not an American citizen.
Pele and Babe Ruth -- Montana, Jordan, and woods are all places.
Michael Jordan -- he's the only one with his own cologne. Or shoe line for that matter.

And the list goes on...

[User Picture]From: k8cre8
2006-09-12 07:14 pm (UTC)
I'm with you on those. There was someone who posted a Buffy triva quiz on the Beta which had one of those types of questions, and while I didn't get it right (didn't pick the answer the questioner had thought of), I got credit, since well, it was for fun. In that moment, I added that type of question to my list of "unfair" questions, which are excluded from my own trivia game. TMI, really, but, every time I watch one of the episodes from the question, I think about this. Grr. Arrg.
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[User Picture]From: dcseain
2006-09-12 09:20 pm (UTC)
I vote for Joe Montana, though that's intuitive rather than logical on my part.
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[User Picture]From: melted_snowball
2006-09-12 10:21 pm (UTC)
babe ruth and tiger woods both have names that apply to other mammalian species: pigs and tigers.
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[User Picture]From: madbodger
2006-09-13 01:22 am (UTC)
And the smarter and/or weirder people are, the harder it is for them to mindread
a mundane test preparer. On the other hand, us smart folks make an art of
determining answers to test questions without the benefit of knowing the material.
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[User Picture]From: bryree
2006-09-13 01:46 am (UTC)
Joe Montana is the only one whose trade ball was not spherical
Babe and tiger are the only ones whose professional name is not his given name
Tiger Woods is the only on whose parents were an inter-racial couple
Tiger is the only one nicknamed after a Vietnamese soldier (NOT what the test designer was after I'm sure)

and on, and on...
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2006-09-13 02:46 am (UTC)
Pele is the only goddess. The others, I take it, are sports players of some sort?
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[User Picture]From: melted_snowball
2006-09-13 01:48 pm (UTC)
You win.
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[User Picture]From: flwyd
2006-09-13 06:41 pm (UTC)
Ruth is probably the only one who smoked/s.
Montana is the only one to have a city name itself after him as a publicity stunt.
Jordan is the only one who played two sports professionally.
Pele is the only one who played for a national team outside the olympics.
Woods is the only one with Asian lineage.
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[User Picture]From: thatwesguy
2006-09-14 08:12 pm (UTC)

I maintain that, all aren't-we-smart backpatting aside, some of the arguments presented by the various commenters are good, and some of them just aren't.

The point isn't to find the way in which one is different. We've ably demonstrated that one can argue for any answer. Rather, the goal is to find the one that is the best example of "different."

It will probably help the geek contingent to change the statement of the problem as follows:

"You will win one million dollars if you can get this person over there (whom you and I agree is at least as smart as you) to select your answer to the question 'which one doesn't belong'."

(And as a side note, if you do not accept the premise that there is someone smarter than you, then the odds that you are not in very serious trouble in life indeed are stacked very steeply against you.)
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[User Picture]From: thatwesguy
2006-09-14 08:13 pm (UTC)
Ah. I meant to include also that the smart fellow also gets a million dollars for your joint accomplishment of this feat.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2006-09-14 08:25 pm (UTC)
Dude. I went to school the same place you did. I KNOW that there are lots of people out there smarter than me. =)
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[User Picture]From: thatwesguy
2006-09-14 08:31 pm (UTC)
That's "smarter than I."

(sorry. I just couldn't resist!)

Snarkily yours... :-)
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2006-09-14 08:45 pm (UTC)
I believe the correct answer here is:

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[User Picture]From: thatwesguy
2006-09-14 08:53 pm (UTC)
(yes, I deserved that.)
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2006-09-14 08:44 pm (UTC)
While some answers are definitely better than others, the problem is that among the good ones, there aren't any that stand out head and shoulders above the rest as being "the best".

I mean, which is most "different": single-player sport, not American, or dead? It's sort of apples and oranges. The context of the list itself puts an implicit emphasis on their respective sports -- but is that intended, or is it a trick of some kind? Trying to match a particular person's answer is different than trying to match Joe Average's answer. (How many Americans would have no idea who Pele is? How many Brazilians wouldn't recognize Joe Montana?) Should I pick the most immediately obvious answer, or the answer that seems best after some thought? It's all too contingent on what's already rattling around inside your brain when you first approach the problem.

Even trying earnestly to win a million dollars, I wouldn't put my odds at better than about 1 in 3 or 4 of succeeding.
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[User Picture]From: thatwesguy
2006-09-14 08:57 pm (UTC)

Disclosure first: I desperately want to believe you, because I believe in my heart of hearts that indeed, questions of this kind are mostly crap.

In response to the "Who is Pele?" question and the Joe Average comment, it's important information when solving these questions to have a sense for the intended audience. And in fact, that information is generally given; one ignores it at one's peril.

For the question "which answer should I pick?": since you argue that "the best" isn't a defensible answer to your question, how about the answer "the most defensible"? (Oh, aren't I terribly clever.)

Yeah, it's the underlying cleverness of these questions (which is all too often not clever at all) that bugs me most.
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