A tricky quiz

May 13, 2021 • 1:15 pm

Reader Bryan sent me this quiz made by  Presh Talwalkar. Your job is to catch all five errors in the sentence below. Can you do that? Are you a genius? Bryan adds this:

Personally, I think the interesting thing isn’t finding the “mistakes” – as such, but how long and how many readings – the thought process – it takes to do it.

79 thoughts on “A tricky quiz

    1. Edit button isn’t appearing, so have to use a reply. Now that I’ve watched the video, I get the logical paradox. Very interesting! Though a bit dishonest, as the question wasn’t “spot the logical paradox,” but rather to spot the mistakes. But it is interesting that bringing up the mistake of “five things wrong” means the “five things wrong” is now true, thus making “five things wrong” not a mistake at all and bringing it back down to four, and round and round we go.

      And I thought I was so smart. That’ll teach me (though I should have learned by now).

      1. Ach! It’s the Liar Paradox.

        The Liar Paradox, also called Epimenides’ paradox, a paradox derived from the statement attributed to the Cretan prophet Epimenides (6th century BCE) that all Cretans are liars. If Epimenides’ statement is taken to imply that all statements made by Cretans are false, then, since Epimenides was a Cretan, his statement is false (i.e., not all Cretans are liars).

        Encyclopaedia Britannica

        1. Very interesting! I didn’t know it had a name. Thanks for teaching me something new 🙂

          1. Your new mission, should you choose to accept it, is to resolve the paradox and collect your Nobel Prize in Philosophy. Easy!

            1. Easy. I just keep shouting “nuh-uh” until everyone else shuts up, which means I win.

              I’ll take my prize now. Thank you.

          2. Back in my racist upbringing in the early 50’s, this paradox always was characterized as “the tribe who never lied and the tribe who never told the truth,” with racially suggestive illustrations. It’s a miracle any of us survived our childhoods.

          3. On this very website (Epimenides of Crete was .mentioned), just a few days ago, there was a great example.
            What are your chances of answering this correctly?
            a – 0%, b – 25%, c – 25%, d – 50%.

      1. Semicolons have a bit of a musty, 18th century feel (the US constitution is lousy with them), but I view them as one sign of a mature writing style.

        Not everyone agrees, of course. Mr. Vonnegut announced his “first rule” of creative writing to be: “Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

        Something tells me the metaphor in that rule would get him in Dutch on campus today (as would the idiom “in Dutch” probably). 🙂

        1. “(the US constitution is lousy with them)”

          I wonder if the semi-colon would have helped clarify the intent of the second amendment.

        2. “Something tells me the metaphor in that rule would get him in Dutch on campus today (as would the idiom ‘in Dutch’ probably).”

          And I doubt most college students on campus today could tell a semicolon from a pig’s colon 😛

        1. The reference to the Grauniad’s San Seriffe April Fools’ Day article was a blast from the past! One of their finest.

  1. I got 4 within ~ 20 seconds, but I have been doing a lot of proof-reading recently. I think I see the 5th, but could be a judgement call.

  2. I don’t consider the logical paradox to be a mistake as such. I just thought it was too obvious and cheap a trick to count as a “mistake”, and was kind of cheesy, so I kept looking for other things until my vision got swimmy because of the way it’s printed. Of course, one could also say that the “only geniuses” claim is factually inaccurate, or at least unjustified, so that could count as a mistake as well, and eliminate the “paradox”.

    1. Maybe it should read “only genii will be able to spot all the mistakes.” Because a genius should know Latin. Or something. (My brain hurts now.)

    2. Exactly. As with most of these, they appear to rely upon very elastic definitions of words. A logical error is a mistake? No it’s not. Missing period but dubious semicolon? Whatever.

  3. I think the one people are missing is that it isn’t actually a sentence because it has no punctuation at the end. Anyone caught that yet? Am I a genius?

    1. That would be an additional mistake, plus the “genius” mistake (not a personal dig – I mean anyone can solve this). I think youtubers write that to get more views – like “99% cannot answer”, or “this puzzle stumped teachers.” Cheap, but effective.

      So what’s that, six? I lost count.

      1. Yeah and if you really wanted to pick it apart, that’s technically 2 “mitstakes” in 1, because that would mean the word “sentence” is wrong in addition to the lack of punctuation.

  4. I’ve seen this before and what I find interesting is how I can still “read” it but knowingly be blind to the repeated-word and spelling mistakes.

    That is, for me, there seems to be a fast-reading shallow mindset that predominates at times, then others at other times… … Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow” comes to mind…

    1. Yeah, it does at least illustrate that curious and impressive ability the brain has to interpolate meaning and reject unimportant information, such as repeated words and the like. It’s a bit reminiscent of those memes that contains words with jumbled up letters except the first (and sometimes the last) in each word, but which are nonetheless entirely readable at practically normal speed.

      1. Right

        There’s a bunch that just have words repeated, sometimes over line breaks.

        All those basic rules can be manipulated. Astonishing.

      2. Yes, some written languages omit vowels, or most of them.
        Still, the repetition of small, ‘connecting’ words is particularly prone to be suppressed by our brains. Astute observation.

  5. Oh no – I mis spelled the typo! I can’t edit on this old machine!



  6. I’m no genius, but before I had even read the sentence I smelled a rat — I suspected that there would be only four mistakes, and that would make the assertion that there were five, the fifth one. I’ve been watching a lot of Agatha Christie TV dramatizations lately.

  7. Am I missing something, or is an easier example this:

    “There are exactly two mistakes in the sentence I am now uttering.”

    So, one mistake is that there are not two, only one, so we’ve (sort of) answered.

    If correct then the given one, aside from the self-reference, should have three ordinary mistakes, such as the end punctuation, the spelling “geniuses” and “mitstakes”.

    I can’t see that said specifically above, so maybe it’s different and I’m wrong.

    Is there some sort of solution offered if you watch the video? I don’t want to spoil my fun by doing that.

    It was a stroke of genius by Godel to see that one could exploit the sentence

    “The sentence I am now uttering is not provable.”

    and make an extraordinary advance in logic and mathematics.

    Not the liar paradox, but both need some discussion of the object language versus the meta-language which discusses the former, treating it as a noun, not a sentence, of the metalanguage.

    1. Jeez, I missed completely both the doubles, of “are”and of “to”, despite the first response even pointing them out! So its nothing to do with
      So much for my self-reverence!!

      Change five to six and get what I thought was going on–or have I missed something else completely? I do think the “;” is just fine, actually an excellent illustration of its use. But maybe Zane will convince me I’m wrong there, (#18).

    2. I keep answering myself, but BOTH MY answers above are WRONG. Better leave it like that!

      However, the next never occurred to me before:

      1/ “This sentence, I am am stupid, has 2 errors. ”

      2/ “This sentence has 2 errors.
      I am am stupid.”

      In 2/, you must allow me to use the word “This..” when
      ‘The following..” would have been better, but don’t count that as an error.

      In both, you must accept that actually I am a stupido, which I already illustrated profusely above!

      But the point is, avoiding the object versus meta- discussion and just looking naively, 1/ and 2/ seem to be saying the same thing, yet one is more-or-less correct, and the other is not correct–I think!! If I was still teaching logic sometimes, I’d probably use that example at some point.

  8. As someone who earns his bread off writing and editing, I’m going to insist the semicolon is a problem. Nine times out ten, a semicolon is a sign of a poorly shaped sentence, rather than an indication that a sentence actually needs a semicolon. So it is here.

    That said, it’s possible I’m really bad at my job and shouldn’t be paid for anything.

    1. Would you replace the semi colon:
      by a comma,
      by nothing,
      by a period and make the compound sentence into two simple sentences,
      by an ‘and’,
      by a comma followed by “and” then space,
      by something different you have so far kept secret?

      If you have no answer, then your original complaint would be not worth paying any attention to.

      1. Yes, examples and reasoning please. I like ;’s (and extra apostrophes). The semicolon joins what could be two separate sentences to highlight the connection between them; it replaces the ‘and’ which requires the two thoughts to be of equal significance.

    2. I think a semicolon is a splendid way to combine two independent clauses. It’s especially useful for juxtaposing two ideas in a compound sentence when neither the conjunction “and” nor “but” accurately reflects the relationship between the two.

      I also use semicolons to avoid confusion when separating items in a list or series when the items so separated themselves contain internal commas.

    3. According to New Hart’s Rules, the semicolon has four uses. They are reasonably straightforward:

      1) The semicolon marks a separation that is stronger than a comma but less strong than a full point [period]. It divides two or more main clauses that are closely related and complement or parallel each other, and that could stand as sentences in their own right. When one clause explains another a colon is more suitable.

      2) In a sentence that is already subdivided by commas, use a semicolon instead of a comma to indicate a stronger division.

      3) In a list where any of the elements themselves contain commas, use a semicolon to clarify the relationship of the components. This is common in lists with internal commas, where semicolons structure the internal hierarchy of its components.

      4) Since it can be confusing and unattractive to begin a sentence with a symbol, especially one that is not a capital letter, the semicolon can replace a full point. (E.g. “Let us assume that a is […] and b is the […]; a will signal a rise in […]”.)

  9. It’s not a mistake per se, but the “of” after “all” is otiose.

    I give you Mr. Foster Wallace on the subject:

    The incorrectness of the phrase “all of.”

    Other than as an ironic idiom for “no more than” (e.g., “Sex with Edgar lasted all of a minute”), does all of have any legit uses? The answer is both complicated and personally humbling. An irksome habit of many student writers is automatically to stick an of between the adjective all and any noun that follows — “All of the firemen slid down the pole,” “She sent cards to all of her friends” — and I have spent a decade telling undergrads to abjure this habit, for two reasons. The first is that an excess of of‘s is one of the surest signs of flabby or maladroit writing, and the second is that the usage is often wrong.

    I have promulgated the following rule: Except for the ironic-idiom case, the only time it’s correct to use all of is when the adj. phrase is followed by a pronoun — “All of them got cards”; “I wanted Edgar to have all of me” — unless, however, the relevant pronoun is possessive, in which case you must again omit the of, as in “All my friends despise Edgar.”

    Only a few weeks ago did I learn (from a bright student who got annoyed enough at my hectoring to start poring over usage guides in the hopes of finding something I’d been wrong about that she could raise her hand at just the right moment in class and embarrass me with [which she did, and I was, and deserved it — there’s nothing more ridiculous than a pedant who’s wrong]), however, that there’s actually one more complication to the first part of the rule. With all plus a noun, it turns out that the medial of is required if that noun is possessive, as in “All of Edgar’s problems stem from his childhood.” All of Dave’s bombast came back to haunt him that day. I doubt I will ever forget this.

  10. 1. “are are”
    2. There should (reasonably?) be two sentences, each ending with a period, no semi-colon in betwixt.
    3. Therefore, the first letter of the first word (“one”) of the second sentence should be capitalized.
    4. “mitstakes” should be “mistakes.”
    5. No period at end. There should be.

    Or so it seems to me.

    I have not looked at the comments. I started the video but stopped before any answers offered, as I perceived that answers would be offered. I will finish the video after I post this.

  11. Thanks, that was fun. I got it after reading through it a few times. I enjoyed reading all of the comments.

    1. The semantic content of the sentence itself should, I think, count as one of the ‘things wrong’ with it. Rewrite the ‘sentence’ yourself, one word at a time, and each word one letter at a time, and the mistakes will emerge, every one of them. Does that require ‘genius’? 😀

      1. “Does that require ‘genius’?”

        Exactly – no it does not – and I think everyone can see, that is yet another thing “wrong” with it! Problem is, I’m not sure if that adds up to five or not…

  12. Semi-colon should have been a full stop. (I speak Australian English.)
    ‘O’ of ‘only’ should have been capitalised.
    The word ‘of’ in ‘all of the mitstakes’ is redundant.
    The second sentence was missing a ‘full stop’.
    So there were more than five errors.

  13. ‘Genius’ was definitely a Latin word, but I’m not sure whether only an adjective or also a noun. If the latter, was it pluralized as ‘genei’ or as ‘geneii’?

    Anyway, It’s certainly ‘geniuses’ pretty universally in English, so I’d withdraw that one, though nobody objected.

    Otherwise the “five” would have been wrong. But I don’t think the use of a ‘;’ contributed to that.

    Despite fussing about keeping Latin endings (I actually studied Latin for all 5 years of the (old) Ontario high school regimen) and other old fart fussiness, I do slop around a lot on internet writing–but not alone there I think.

    By the way, is my ‘–‘ an acceptable punctuation mark these days?

  14. It’s not a paradox.

    There are four typographical mistakes and the assertion that only geniuses will be able to spot them all is false.

    And, yes, Bryan is right, the interesting thing is the number of readings it takes. I spotted the spelling error straight away, but it took me ages to spot either of the doubled words.

  15. This problem can be found in the book Figures For Fun by Yakov Perelman, originally published in 1957 (I think), on page 40 as a gear problem, then the solution is on page 40 with the figure showing clearly the essence of the question, using a kopek!

    Here is the Dover republication :


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