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Home / Articles / Features / Wise Up! /  Problem-Solving
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Sunday, June 10,2012


By David Bruce

• As a fashion designer for the movies, Edith Head had to be a problem-solver. For example, in 1965 Joan Crawford presented the Oscar for Best Director at the Academy Awards, and she asked Ms. Head to design her dress. One problem was that they did not know whether the actress presenting an Oscar before Ms. Crawford would be wearing black or white, so Ms. Head made two dresses: one black and one white. The other actress wore white, so Ms. Crawford put on the black dress. And Mae West liked to wear very tight dresses, so Ms. Head would make two versions of each dress for her: a very tight dress for Ms. West to wear during scenes in which she was standing up, and a slightly less tight dress for her to wear during scenes in which she was sitting down. A final example: Ms. Head designed sarongs for Dorothy Lamour to wear in movies. However, in the movie "Jungle Princess," Ms. Lamour was in a pool of water when she suddenly screamed — and her sarong floated to the surface of the water. After that, instead of using knots that could come loose when wet, Ms. Head sewed Ms. Lamour into her sarong.

• In the 1980s, Texas had a bad litter problem, and it hired Dan Syrek to design an anti-litter campaign. The first thing he did was to find out who was littering: "The profile of the typical litterer in Texas was an 18- to 35-year-old, pickup-driving male who liked sports and country music." A TV commercial that was created as a result of his research showed two Dallas Cowboy stars, defensive tackle Randy White and defensive end Ed "Too-Tall" Jones, picking up litter by the side of a highway. Too-Tall tells the camera, "You see the guy who threw this out the window… you tell him I got a message for him." Randy, who is holding a beer can someone tossed out of the window, says, "I got a message for him, too." A voice off camera asks, "What's that?"  Randy crushes the can in his hand and says, "Well, I kinda need to see him to deliver it." Too-Tall then says, "Don't mess with Texas." The commercial was effective at delivering this message: Texans don't litter.

• British pop star Victor Fox was very good with children. In the late 1960s, he brought together a number of children from different schools to form a large children's choir at a music festival that was not located in London. They sang the English national anthem, but Mr. Fox wanted the children to sing louder, so he asked them, "This is the Queen's song, isn't it?" The children agreed. Then he asked, "Where does the Queen live?" The children replied, "In London." Finally, he asked, "Will the Queen be able to hear this?" The children shouted, "NO!" And then they sang loudly for the queen. (Here's another interesting bit of problem-solving. Dick Katz was a jazz pianist who always stomped a foot while he was playing. This usually was not a problem, but it became a problem when he was recording. To stop the noise of the stomp, he would put a cushion on the floor — unless he was stomping his foot, he couldn't play.)

• In 1988 in West Seneca, New York, 12-year-old James Bliemeister ran into a problem when the 3-year-old child he was babysitting caused a gas leak by ramming his pedal-powered fire engine into a gas pipe. Gas began hissing out of the hole, and James covered the hole with his finger. A gas leak can be dangerous because of the dangers both of suffocation and of an explosion. He knew that a pack of chewing gum was upstairs, and he sent the 3-year-old to get it. Unfortunately, the 3-year-old brought him some toy cars, so James sent the 3-year-old upstairs again. When the child returned with the gum, James chewed several pieces and used the gum to plug the hole in the gas pipe. He then tied a sock around the hole so that the gum and sock would continue to stop the gas leak. James next telephoned his father, and his father telephoned the gas company. No suffocation. No explosion. One hero.

In the early 20th century the white people of Australia decided to construct the Canning Stock Route to transport beef, which went from Sturt Creek in the north to Wiluna in the south — a total of 1,200 miles. To do that, the road would have to follow water sources across the desert. A man named Alfred Canning surveyed the route. Mr. Canning was a man of good problem-solving ability but a man of bad morality. He realized that the Aborigines knew where the water was, so he chained several Aborigines together. He also gave them no or very little water. Each day he released an Aborigine, and the Aborigine headed toward the nearest water source. Mr. Canning and his men followed the Aborigine and so learned the location of the water source.

• Rock star Rod Stewart went out with movie star Britt Ekland for a while, broke up with her, and then started going out with Alana Hamilton. Somehow, all three ended up at the same New Year's Eve party. Things were cool between Britt and Alana, Rod was ill at ease, and at one point Britt started kissing Rod and would not stop kissing him. Alana let the kissing go on for a while, then, fed up, she poured her champagne down Britt's neck. Problem solved.

• Jane Austen wrote such novels as "Pride and Prejudice" at Chawton Cottage, and she tried to keep her writing secret from people other than family and close friends. Leading to the room where she wrote was a door that creaked. The door was never fixed so that it would not creak — Ms. Austen used the creak as a warning that someone was coming, and she hid her writing before her visitor arrived.

• Nicholas Brendan played Xander in the TV cult series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Of course, very quickly he became famous and he was often recognized in the streets. Kelly, his twin brother, got so tired of being mistaken for Nicholas that he dyed his hair blond.


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