Maybe if I just give up looking, I'll find out what it's called June 6, 2018 5:00 AM   Subscribe

I was amused to see treetop89's AskMe, where they asked for the name of an author after 30 minutes of fruitless searching, and then returned with the answer four minutes later. Recently at work, after spending an hour trying to solve a problem that seemed to require a lot of tedious manual testing, I asked a user group how to solve it, and then five minutes later found a pre-existing tool that automated the whole process. When have you found the answer to a question right after you gave up and asked for help? Are there any other AskMes fitting this pattern? And finally, does this phenomenon have a name? I've been searching for half an hour, but I haven't had any luck... *winks at my subconscious*
posted by J.K. Seazer to MetaFilter-Related at 5:00 AM (55 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

This happens to me frequently.

To combat it I will say out loud to myself what I'm trying to do, and then write my question in a text editor. Many times I've been halfway through that writing and BINGO! I realise the answer.

No idea if it has a name.
posted by episodic at 5:25 AM on June 6, 2018


In software engineering this is called rubber ducking.
posted by dfan at 5:36 AM on June 6, 2018 [32 favorites]


I tired for years to find the name of a song and a couple hours after posting an AskMe I came across the answer accidentally on my own after listening to other's suggestions.

Several times I have also answered my own questions while typing up an AskMe to post. I think just the process of writing out a question helps me think of it in a new way.
posted by bondcliff at 6:15 AM on June 6, 2018


Yup, it happened to me. A few days of idle wondering, half an hour of googling, one post to AskMe and 15 minutes later I remembered the answer. I think that's what the Hive Mind is?
posted by moonmilk at 6:21 AM on June 6, 2018


There may not be a word to describe the process but the demonstrative light thunk to the forehead with the ball of the hand is the physical expression.
posted by sammyo at 7:01 AM on June 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


I totally did it on AskMe.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:32 AM on June 6, 2018


A different, but related phenomenon is l'esprit de l'escalier.
posted by zamboni at 7:38 AM on June 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


This happens constantly with people looking for children's books with only vaguely remembered childhood details.

And song lyrics, too, which I did recently. Six minutes.
posted by Melismata at 7:41 AM on June 6, 2018


Melismata, while the speed in which the HiveMind can find answers is truly amazing, that's not the scope of this particular MetaTalk. J.K. Seazer is talking about those times where you, the OP, post a question and then minutes later, you, the OP, remember or find what you're looking for.
posted by cooker girl at 8:15 AM on June 6, 2018


Last night I spent about 20-ish minutes searching everywhere for a particular fundraising initiative that I loved (and that I was positive I had found via mefi). I remember sending a link to a few friends back then, but couldn't find it in my email archives. I gave up, emailed my husband to ask if he remembered it, and literally 20 seconds later I found it on mefi. .. where I was positive I had already searched thoroughly.

I like to think that my brain is super stressed out when I'm searching, gets some relief once I turn it over to someone else, and then decides to cooperate.
posted by VioletU at 8:49 AM on June 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


If you're looking for a new term, perhaps staircase recollection, a play on staircase wit (l'esprit de l'escalier)? Or delayed recollection?
posted by filthy light thief at 9:06 AM on June 6, 2018


In software engineering this is called rubber ducking.
I've had to explain several times to my six-year-old that my rubber duck is not a toy but Daddy's Very Important Tool for Work.

posted by kirkaracha at 9:19 AM on June 6, 2018 [14 favorites]


does this phenomenon have a name?

Users on JayIsGames refer to the specific case of posting a question for a puzzle solution then figuring it out before a reply is received as "POP," or the "power of posting."
posted by solotoro at 9:24 AM on June 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


It's definitely related to the phenomenon where you call tech support for a problem and the act of calling fixes it.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:57 AM on June 6, 2018 [11 favorites]


Users on JayIsGames refer to the specific case of posting a question for a puzzle solution then figuring it out before a reply is received as "POP," or the "power of posting."

Solution Found Through Description - SFTD. The "found" is critical for the acronym to not be STD.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:13 AM on June 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


"Cardboard programmer" is a fairly widely used term for this in the software industry, as in, you explain your problem to the cardboard programmer and the act of explaining helps you figure out the answer.

I worked in an office once where we used the contents of our swear jar to purchase a very large stuffed hedgehog from a charity shop. We installed the hedgehog at a desk in the office so we could go ask it important questions.

Many years later I told the hedgehog story to some young folks who were new to the software industry, and it stuck with them so much that they went and purchased their own hedgehog, installed it in their office, and named it after the fictional person who signed off various automated emails.
posted by quacks like a duck at 10:24 AM on June 6, 2018 [20 favorites]


Can't give specific examples off the top of my head, but this happens to me frequently. And it's not like I give up looking before asking. What's the most frustrating is when you ask it in a place and get snarky comments. Glad AskMe isn't like that.
posted by terrapin at 10:58 AM on June 6, 2018


"Cardboard programmer" is a fairly widely used term for this in the software industry, as in, you explain your problem to the cardboard programmer and the act of explaining helps you figure out the answer.

I've been in IT for over 20 years now and I've never heard this term, but I do a lot of rubber duck debugging. I wonder if the cardboard programmer and the rubber duck have any overlaps in communities.
posted by fedward at 11:46 AM on June 6, 2018


This happened to me just two days ago, only it wasn't a question it was me searching for a thing. Our hedge trimmer had a part that broke and I recall two years ordering replacement parts and there were TWO parts shipped, so I had a spare one from the last time it broke. I could not for the life of me find it anywhere in my garage.

I ordered two more replacement parts from Amazon and then the day I get a notice of the order shipping out, I find it in a drawer. So now I have two more parts on their way and I'm sure I'll lose them in the next two years.
posted by Fizz at 11:55 AM on June 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


There is another related phenomenon, where you have a technical issue that you cannot solve. You ask a colleague for help, and as soon as they look and/or do the exact same thing you were doing, the problem is gone. In this case my assumption is that the technology gods are simply requesting a sacrifice (your pride) in order to continue normal operations.
posted by agentofselection at 12:35 PM on June 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


I found my nail clippers the day after o bought new ones. Of course.
posted by Grandysaur at 12:53 PM on June 6, 2018


I refer to it as the Dammit Gambit. As soon as I buy the replacement, I find the missing thing and then say "Dammit!"
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:54 PM on June 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


John Hodgman’s one and only AskMe question was then answered by him six minutes after posting, it being his one and only AskMe answer ever.
posted by Kattullus at 2:13 PM on June 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


Unidirectional association is how I tend to think of the problem as that's the most common form it takes with me. I can remember the connection between things if presented from, say, A to B, but can't as easily reverse the order and remember from B to A, as if the relationship is hierarchical. I spent hours once trying to remember Freddie Prinze's catch phrase from Chico and the Man, but would have had no problem remembering the catch phrase "Looking Good!" belonged to Freddie Prinze.

Similarly, someone once mentioned the name Anderson Hunt and I immediately knew he was the only starter from the 1991 UNLV basketball team not drafted into the NBA. Yet if I had been asked to name the only player from that team not drafted, I would have come up completely blank since Anderson Hunt had no real meaning of his own to me, he was only an association to a larger piece of trivia I'd somehow squirreled away without intending to recall it later.

The additional difficulty comes from getting stuck in a "wrong" order of thought/memory and fixating on some false pathway, like, "I'm sure the word begins with a P", even though it doesn't, which sets the mind on orthogonal pathways like What is the title of that book? and What is the word I'm looking for? Since the two things aren't connected, memories keeps getting shunted into a dead end until the faulty process is dropped the mind freed and the correct associative order can be established.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:44 PM on June 6, 2018


Users on JayIsGames refer to the specific case of posting a question for a puzzle solution then figuring it out before a reply is received as "POP," or the "power of posting."

oh my god I've seen this on there and in walkthroughs elsewhere and have wondered what the hell POP meant for, like, years

(This feels like a weird orthogonal version of the phenomenon under discussion...)
posted by little cow make small moo at 4:17 PM on June 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


I've had this happen a couple times where I can't find something even after looking everywhere for it, so I suck it up and buy new one, and then I have to decide where to store it so next time I'll be able to find it, and oh look, that's where the old one was.
posted by aubilenon at 4:39 PM on June 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


This has definitely happened to me before, yes.

But another story: a couple years ago I found the answer to my own question about music from a movie that I had been wondering about for almost EIGHT YEARS because a mefite found one bit of info I was able to use to contact someone who gave me the contact info for the movie's director.

So even though I had lots of help to get the answer to my question and certainly didn't find it all on my own it's a really cool story and I'm going to use this opportunity to link to it!
posted by phunniemee at 5:56 PM on June 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Well, good news, I am about to watch The Bilbee Boys.
posted by Literaryhero at 6:24 PM on June 6, 2018


Sorry to disappoint you, Literaryhero, but I am not in it.
posted by phunniemee at 6:27 PM on June 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


It's definitely related to the phenomenon where you call tech support for a problem and the act of calling fixes it.

Ah, but that's because they have a Magic Button that fixes the problem, but they don't press it until you call them!
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:10 PM on June 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


That's a trade secret by the way so, y'know, you didn't hear it from me.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:14 PM on June 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


Well... I have a question I answered myself, but it took me two months after posting to find the answer; I guess the software was too niche. Ended up off-and-on scouring eBay for various related terms and scanning the CD covers.

But compared to how long the question of "what WAS this" was bouncing around in my head, I suppose two months was a blip. I later found the CD, months later at Christmas, in my bedroom at my parents' house.
posted by lesser weasel at 7:31 PM on June 6, 2018


I privately refer to this phenomenon as "wheresmythereitis," because whenever I've been searching for something and I go to ask a family member if they've seen it, I almost inevitably discover it in the act asking after it. So I say a lot of "Where's my—there it is."
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:35 PM on June 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


Ah, but that's because they have a Magic Button that fixes the problem, but they don't press it until you call them!

I work in technical support. Can confirm.
posted by Fizz at 7:37 PM on June 6, 2018 [4 favorites]


I did it two months ago. What's annoying is how close I was to the answer before posting the question, and just hadn't hit upon the right combination of magic words.
posted by axiom at 7:49 PM on June 6, 2018


In music production the equivalent is to ask someone else to listen. As soon as you start playing your mix/master/track for someone you can hear everything wrong with it within seconds, even though you'd spent hours or days working on it previously. It's an amazing change in perspective.
posted by bongo_x at 9:47 PM on June 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


MonkeyToes: As soon as I buy the replacement, I find the missing thing

This happens so reliably for me that I've managed to make it happen: I could not find my camera for several weeks, so I bought a broken camera at a flea market for one euro, and then I found my own camera within two days. Forcing the hand of Fate!
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:58 AM on June 7, 2018 [5 favorites]


This must be related to the "the bus comes as soon as you've called a Lyft" phenomenon.
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:52 AM on June 7, 2018


Also related to the if-you-remembered-your-umbrella-it-won't-rain phenomenon.
posted by Grandysaur at 1:55 AM on June 7, 2018


Ah, but that's because they have a Magic Button that fixes the problem, but they don't press it until you call them!

I'm doing an overhaul of our payroll system at work right now, trying to set things up so employees can fill out paperwork online and have it feed back into their profiles. The payroll system we're on can do this, but in 7+ years of using it no one's ever set it up and I've been running into a lot of process flow dead ends because so much was set up wrong to begin with.

Anyway, it means I had to pick up the phone (gross) to call our payroll system's customer service rep several times yesterday to troubleshoot.

One of the things I was trying to do was test the assign paperwork function. I set up a document, the document was assigned to a task, the task was assigned to a checklist, and I was on my own employee profile at the assign checklist page but there was nothing there to choose to assign.

I call our rep, she says ok walk me through what you did, so I do, going back through every step, and then I get to the last one on the profile page and my checklist is THERE. I say "what! ok, now it's there! it wasn't there before, does it take a long time to update or something?"

And she said "oh, no, when you said what wasn't working I noticed your company had a setting turned off so I just turned it on while you were talking."

MAGIC BUTTON.
posted by phunniemee at 3:30 AM on June 7, 2018 [6 favorites]


This may not be exactly the same, but when I can't find something, when I've been tearing the house apart for an hour, sometimes I just stop and ask the cat where the thing is. The cat googles their eyes up at me, and I almost immediately find the thing.

Since the cat I started this tradition with was named Nellie, I started calling the process "Nelping." She was particularly good at googling, too.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:01 AM on June 7, 2018 [7 favorites]


I asked for help identifying a vaguely threatening epistolary poem written from a Great White Hunter with an intensely British name to his love while he was hunting lions. Ask sent me in a few good directions, but I ended up calling a friend from high school several hours after making the post, and we figured out what poem it was: Frederick Courteney Selous's Letter to his Love by Matthea Harvey.

"I am sorry but I don't know when I'm coming back because lonely
as I am I wake most mornings thinking I cannot leave this."
posted by ChuraChura at 4:34 AM on June 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


The Underpants Monster: when I can't find something, when I've been tearing the house apart for an hour, sometimes I just stop and ask the cat where the thing is. The cat googles their eyes up at me, and I almost immediately find the thing.

Yes yes! I do this, too.
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:10 AM on June 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


The Underpants Monster: when I can't find something, when I've been tearing the house apart for an hour, sometimes I just stop and ask the cat where the thing is. The cat googles their eyes up at me, and I almost immediately find the thing.

My previous cat was very good at this, but I had to ask her in French. I haven't tried it with the current cats, in any language, in part because they seem more likely to lose things than to find things.
posted by lazuli at 8:15 AM on June 7, 2018 [3 favorites]


I see this in my students all the time - the act of asking questions in class or in office hours magically clears up their confusion. I call it the "power of asking".
posted by invokeuse at 9:37 AM on June 7, 2018 [3 favorites]


In software engineering this is called rubber ducking.

There is a, possibly apocryphal, story about an University Computer Department helpdesk that had a teddy bear sitting on a chair outside their office. With a sign on the wall "Tell it to the bear first". This was back when dealing with a computer was done using punch cards and line printer output on greenbar, and communicating VIA a computer (let alone your very own) was a rather esoteric concept for most, so walking up to a knowledgeable person was the default way of trying to fix a problem.

The bear cut down quite significantly on actual helpdesk calls.
posted by Stoneshop at 11:43 AM on June 7, 2018 [6 favorites]


I don't see a name for it but evidently the phenomenon's been studied by neuroscientists.
posted by WCityMike at 12:27 PM on June 7, 2018


9 minutes.
posted by googly at 5:13 PM on June 7, 2018


If I lose a library book, I will find it the day after I pay for it.

In your instance, there may be some confirmation bias. The times you ask a question, and answer it yourself stand out in your memory. Although, ideally, you searched rigorously, framed your question thoughtfully, and that may get your brain to find the bit of information.
posted by theora55 at 9:56 PM on June 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


When have you found the answer to a question right after you gave up and asked for help?

I wish
posted by philip-random at 11:41 PM on June 7, 2018


I asked a question and a few minutes later found the answer. Sigh.
posted by supercrayon at 2:39 AM on June 8, 2018


Had a weird childhood memory of a scene kicking around my head for years. Got some promising leads but was still stuck. Posted everything I could to Ask.

Answered it myself five minutes later.
posted by SpiffyRob at 10:25 AM on June 8, 2018


I had one of these Asks recently.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:04 PM on June 8, 2018


I just did the thing.
posted by Grandysaur at 9:10 PM on June 10, 2018 [3 favorites]


In my day job I tend to be one of the people who gets asked a lot of questions about how stuff works or why it isn't working. It's almost a daily occurrence that someone thanks me for just being the sounding board they needed to figure something out. I am the Rubber Ducky.
posted by Revvy at 12:31 AM on June 11, 2018 [3 favorites]


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