Colourless green ideas sleep furiously

Man walks into a pub…

…and asks the barman for a glass of water.  The barman pulls out a loaded revolver, cocks it, and points it at the man.  The man says, “Thank you”, and leaves.

This is known as a situational puzzle.  What is the meaning of it?  You need to think laterally.  The game can be played out in the form of 20 questions demanding only the answers yes or no, or, as a third possibility, “not relevant”.  Was the barman angry?  No.  Was the man thirsty?  No.  Were his thanks genuine?  Yes.    Did the man and the barman know one another?  Not relevant.  And so on.  If you ask the right questions, you might eventually tease it out.  Hint: hiccups.

A man lives on the 100th floor of a skyscraper.  When he goes home, why does he only use the lift on rainy days?

Dwarf with an umbrella.

The body of a dead scuba diver is discovered amid the charred debris of a bush fire.

Answer: he had been scooped from the ocean by a helicopter picking up water to fight the fire.  This last one is true.

Writing a piece of fiction is a bit like solving a situational puzzle.  You set up the conundrum and think, what’s the meaning of that?  How did it happen?  And in the process of answering, you write a book.  I don’t say it’s the best way to write a book, but it’s certainly the way I’m landed with right now.  People have been kind enough to ask me, what is my working method?  Do I rise at 5 in the morning and write 2000 words?  No.  I go to my local gym.  I get on the treadmill and run 5,000 metres.  Then I go into the sauna, 90 degrees +, lie down, and go into a reverie.  It must be the combination of all these endorphins and incipient heat stroke.  Ideas beset me.  I have to admit that, on emerging and plunging into the pool’s cool waters, most of them evaporate.  But a few remain.

So I write my first chapter.  And all of a sudden, my character is in a heck of a fix.  I’ve now got to spend the next 24 chapters seeing if I can get him out of it.  That involves an awful lot of visits to the gym.

Talking of “20 Questions”, are you old enough to remember the radio quiz programme?  The panel had to identify an object.  It was animal, vegetable, mineral, a combination of all three, or abstract.  A disembodied voice (I suppose all voices on the radio are disembodied) would announce to the audience (but not the panel), that the next object is:

“A colourless green idea.

“A colourless green idea…”

And the timbre of the voice would be such that you might imagine it had been recorded in a nuclear bunker.

Some of the panellists were extraordinarily adept at the game.  There was a lady named Joy who was so good that she got a solo spot every week.

“And now, for Joy’s Solo…”

“Is it philosophical?”


“Is it linguistic?”  (Applause.)


“Does it sleep furiously?”  (Furious applause.)

“Is it… is it… a colourless green idea?”


Dear Joy, I need your extraordinary imagination to tell my protagonist how to get out of the hole he has dug for himself.   It can’t be a good way to write a book.  You pose a conundrum before you know the answer to it.  It’s rather like composing a crossword clue back to front.  The clue turns out to be the answer and the solution turns out to be the question.  Hence…

“I… God yes mum I think so.  Blob!” (4,2,3,4,3,2,4)

Solution: Does my bum look big in this?

Sometimes I think I’m on the spectrum.

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