For the engineers among us who understand that the obvious is not always

the solution, and that the facts, no matter how implausible, are still the


A complaint was received by the Pontiac Division of General Motors:

"This is the second time I have written you, and I don’t blame you for not

answering me, because I kind of sounded crazy, but it is a fact that we

have a tradition in our family of ice cream for dessert after dinner each

night. But the kind of ice cream varies so, every night, after we’ve eaten,

the whole family votes on which kind of ice cream we should have and I

drive down to the store to get it. It’s also a fact that I recently

purchased a new Pontiac and since then my trips to the store have created a

problem. You see, every time I buy vanilla ice cream, when I start back

from the store my car won’t start. If I get any other kind of ice cream,

the car starts just fine. I want you to know I’m serious about this

question, no matter how silly it sounds: ‘What is there about a Pontiac

that makes it not start when I get vanilla ice cream, and easy to start

whenever I get any other kind?’"

The Pontiac President was nopes it out anyway. The latter was surprised to be

greeted by a successful, obviously well-educated man in a fine

neighborhood. He had arranged to meet the man just after dinner time, so

the two hopped into the car and drove to the ice cream store. It was

vanilla ice cream that night and, sure enough, after they came back to the

car, it wouldn’t start.

The engineer returned for three more nights. The first night, the man got

chocolate. The car started. The second night, he got strawberry. The car

started. The third night he ordered vanilla. The car failed to start.

Now the engineer, being a logical man, refused to believe that this man’s

car was allergic to vanilla ice cream. He arranged, therefore, to continue

his visits for as long as it took to solve the problem. And toward this end

he began to take notes: he jotted down all sorts of data, time of day, type

of gas used, time to drive back and forth, etc.

In a short time, he had a clue: the man took less time to buy vanilla than

any other flavor. Why? The answer was in the layout of the store.

Vanilla, being the most popular flavor, was in a separate case at the front

of the store for quick pickup. All the other flavors were kept in the back

of the store at a different counter where it took considerably longer to

find the flavor and get checked out.

Now the question for the engineer was why the car wouldn’t start when it

took less time. Once time became the problem — not the vanilla ice cream