Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

Obfuscated Questions

Sometimes a question can be too awkward to answer. These questions, known as traps, are best avoided at all costs. When this is not possible, one might have to determine the information the questioner actually wants, which can be obfuscated by the traps. Consider the story of Undergrad and Friend:

Undergrad and Friend had been spending the past several minutes catching up. Both had returned from summer vacation and were waiting to give short talks to the incoming freshmen. 

It was during their conversation that Friend, who was sporting a new haircut, hesitated slightly before asking, “Do guys prefer girls with short hair or long hair?”

Undergrad’s eyes widened as might the proverbial deer in the headlights. “It depends” was definitely the wrong answer. So was “Some guys like girls with short hair.” Desperation transformed into inspiration, and he smiled. 

“I like your haircut,” said Undergrad.

Friend laughed briefly and smiled instantly. “Thanks, Undergrad,” said Friend, whose smile was now beaming. “You’re a good friend.”

Obfuscated questions are often hidden in daily life, and in many cases, falling into the traps that hide them can provide amusement to an outside party. The interested reader should check out David Bledin’s Bank for some examples.


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