14 December 2010

Puzzle Solving v Problem Solving

The New York Times published a letter today from my dad about its conflation of "puzzle solving" and "problem solving" in one of its articles.

To the Editor:

Puzzle solving is a very small subset of problem solving, and the two should not be equated at all. I will not dispute that there is a particular kind of creativity involved in solving puzzles, but it is not at all the kind of creativity needed to solve problems.

Gene E. Willeke

Oxford, Ohio

From the New York Times (November 14, 2010).

One of the core courses that my dad taught his Master's Degree students in Environmental Sciences over his many decades as a professor was a course on problem solving. The environmental problems that his students were learning to solve, however, were rarely of the puzzle variety.

The publication of his letter is also notable, as both he and I have now been mentioned in this particular newspaper this year. The lesson in both cases is that brevity is the key to getting published in the popular press.

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