Amazing ‘Wheel of Fortune’ wins – what’s really going on?

Wheel of Fortune emil de leonSo on Wednesday’s episode of Wheel of Fortune, contestant Emil De Leon achieved one of the most incredible puzzle solves ever seen on the show… provided with just 2 letters (‘N’ and ‘E’), he solved the puzzle ‘NEW BABY BUGGY’ to take home over $60 000 in prize money.

There’s a link to the video of that moment here, along with some of the other most amazing Wheel of Fortune solves ever. They’re all incredible, seeming to defy logic, with the contestant filling in virtually all of the gaps with hardly any clues. But what’s really happening in seemingly serendipitous moments like these?

These problem solving moments hook into a deep part of the brain that makes connections, links and patterns… without us even realising. Our brains like to organise the outside world into patterns that we recognise, patterns that make sense to us. This is such a strong, hard-wired process, that we don’t even notice it happening. Consider the following passage, that’s been floating around on the internet for a while now…

Can you raed tihs? 

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

I’m sure you were able to read it easily. Your brain was filling in the gaps without you having to work very hard at all. I think it helps to be aware of this almost subconscious ability you have, when playing word games like Wheel of Fortune.

I remember when I was on Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster, and there was a ‘codebreaker’ word game – the only clue was “a Painter”. I remember feeling a moment of panic at the time; the clock was well and truly ticking, but I also distinctly remember telling myself to breathe, and take it slowly. It sounds slightly counter-intuitive, but it works. Panic will mess you up every time.

You can see this play out in the youtube clip of that particular moment, which starts at the 1:50 mark.

When faced with a word puzzle – or indeed any puzzle where you have to re-order bits of information or fill in the gaps – take a deep breath, and let your brain do its thing. More often than not, it won’t let you down.

Whether it can put the required patterns together under extreme time pressure? Well, that’s another question altogether….


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