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Meditation 80

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Every year, either as a birthday present or at Yuletide[1], my brother gives me a Mensa[2] calendar[3]. Every day of the year, there is a question purportedly of Mensa quality. On 26 November of this year (2002), the question was:

Which of the following figures is different from the rest?

A puzzle which needs to be seen to be meaningful

If you want to think about the answer, don't read footnote [4] until you've solved it.

I did not find the "official" answer particularly satisfying. I would have said: d - because it is the only one which does not contain crossing lines, (or a cross); or in a little more esoteric vein - a, b, and c are topologically identical, and d is not. But still those answers are just variations of saying d is the one that is different.

But reconsider. We could just as well say: a is the one that is different; it is the only one in which the internal lines meet the perimeter at the corners. Then again, b is the one that is different; it is the only figure that is made up of just three lines, the others are made up of six. On the other hand, c is the one that is different; it is the only figure in which the internal lines meet the perimeter in the middle of the sides.

And I'm sure that others among you, whether Mensa members or not, may be able to identify other factors by which each of these four figures is logically different than the three others. But whenever you do this, you are identifying a factor in which the other three are the same.

So what is the point in the greater scheme of things?

It is easy to find differences and exclude anyone you want from the group. Pick religion, nationality, skin colour, ethnic ancestry, education, IQ, hair colour, eye colour, physical shortcoming, waist size, sexual preference, or whatever. There is no end to attributes we use to exclude others; to discriminate against them; even to kill them. We would do better to focus on our common humanity which far exceeds our differences. In the greater scheme of things, our differences are insignificant.


  1. Translate this as Christmas or Festivus or anything else seasonal if you wish
  2. Not that I would claim to be qualified to be a member, but nor do I wish to disillusion my younger brother.
  3. Published by Workman Publishing. Probably available at your local bookstore or stationary store. (Just to give the source of the graphic a plug.)
  4. The "official" answer is: d - All of the others can be rotated 90 degrees and look the same.