Candle Problem modified


Candle problem by Karl Duncker

In crashing Ruben's Software Engineering Practice class again this morning, the lecture encouraged us to solve the Candle problem. This was interesting because this kind of problem solving is usually right up my alley but I'm usually a lot more specific about it than the people who were in the lecture, as I felt we did not have enough information, while not presented with physical items.

Dr. Gill, the lecturer, explained the case differently to the link above, however, substituting his marker as the candle and indicating that the candle stood on the whiteboard ledge, where the wax from the candle could not drip.

As the corkboard was not mentioned, I'm not sure the solution specified in the Wikipedia article can be enough to solve the problem, but there are uncertainties in the problem itself - perhaps I'm overthinking it, though. There are questions even in the original - is the box strong enough to hold one candle and what is the strength of a single tack that it can hold the box against the wall with a candle in it?

But even in alternative types of this problem, what is the wall made of that you can push a tack into it? If it is concrete, that would be impossible. (Also in the others' solutions of the problem how would you fit a tack through a candle....? Is this a really thin candle?)

Anyway, a couple of solutions I thought of first, for this specific case, were:

  • Taking out the tacks and tacking through the box into the candle to keep it standing in the box, thereby keeping the wax in the box even if it falls over (Question: What is the box made of? Would the rounded bottom on the tack actually destabilise it?)
  • Form a ring of tacks around the top of the candle to catch the wax (Problem: likely would leak anyway, due to shape of tacks)
  • Lighting the candle and melting some wax from the candle and putting it into the empty box first so as to fix the candle there (Question: What is the box made of?)

But the first question was: Can I use the box? And the second was What is the box made of?

If the box were made of plastic or metal, the first would not be possible. However the third would be. If the box were made of paper, the first would be possible, but the box leaking would still be an important consideration, and this consideration would carry on to the third. The second solution was just straws.

I don't think any of these solutions are sufficient without enough information or physical objects in front of me, but this is me probably just overthinking an otherwise fairly basic problem. If this problem was about divergent thinking, I'm not sure what I have just indicated.