[Question] Babble challenge: 50 ways of hiding Einstein’s pen for fifty years

Here we go again. Time to be­come stronger.

This week’s challenge:

The year is 1855. You’ve been given a pen that Albert Ein­stein will use in 1905 to pen his se­ries of “mir­a­cle pa­pers” — af­ter you’ve sold it to him. You know this.

Yet evil forces are con­spiring to ob­tain the pen.

You must hide it, for fifty years.

You have 1 hour to come up with 50 ways.

Look­ing back

Here are the cham­pi­ons who made it to 50 last week, with stars in­di­cat­ing their streak:

★★ gjm, Vanilla_cabs, Slider, Te­traspace group­ing, Harm­less, jacobjacob

★ ur­sus­min­i­mus, hay­den­blord@gmail.com, Bucky, john­swent­worth, Yonge, Mark Xu, Jay An­thony, Richard_Ken­n­away, Cp­tDrMoreno, arxhy, magfrump, athom, ike, Dan Weinand, Jsevillamol, Ericf, ryan_b

Big ku­dos to ev­ery­one.

We did it again.

In fact, we did even more last week — 26 an­swers — com­pared to 25 in the week be­fore.That’s a lot. In fact, I went through the archives, and I think the bab­ble challenges are among the top 3 most pop­u­lar LessWrong ques­tions ever. To­gether they even have more an­swers than the mas­sive covid thread.

This fills me with ex­cite­ment and am­bi­tion.

We’ve made a dis­cov­ery.

Who knew that there was all this la­tent ex­cite­ment for do­ing weekly ra­tio­nal­ity challenges? That so many peo­ple were will­ing to ac­tu­ally roll their sleeves up, and show up ev­ery week to test the limits of our art?

There’s a spark here wait­ing to be fanned into a flame. Imag­ine where we could go if we keep this up.

Mov­ing forwards

I’m now en­ter­ing week 3 out of the 7-week bab­ble streak I com­mit­ted to. If you want more reg­u­lar­ity in prac­tic­ing your cre­ativity, feel free to post a com­ment com­mit­ting to also go­ing all the way to 7.

I have some in­ter­est­ing plans for fu­ture weeks. But for now, my model is that for this tech­nique to re­ally af­fect my cog­ni­tion, I just have to do it a lot. So, the goal of this week is sim­ply to build up rou­tine and con­sis­tency.

A bit more on that model:

First, I think I must build a sta­ble “men­tal but­ton”. I want to get to the point where, if it’s needed, I can choose to bab­ble. I can press the but­ton to gen­er­ate ideas even if I feel stuck. And I can trust that they will come.

Then, I must prac­tice press­ing the but­ton un­til it be­comes au­to­matic. Such that when­ever I find my­self in a situ­a­tion where it’s needed, my mind re­flex­ively starts bab­bling. I never need to turn it on. It’s just always there.

It’s like read­ing. Chil­dren start by an ex­haust­ing, de­liber­ate pro­cess of ver­bal­is­ing weird squig­gles. They have to slow down. Fo­cus. Put in ex­cru­ci­at­ing effort to slowly ex­tract mean­ing from let­ters. But then it all be­comes au­to­matic. When they’re adults, they are un­able to not read a sen­tence. They can swim freely in this new medium. They have ac­quired this power and made it a true part of them.

If you tell this to some chil­dren they don’t be­lieve you. They just can’t imag­ine that it’s pos­si­ble to get to that au­to­matic and effortless level. Yet, lo and be­hold.

In the past I have suc­cess­fully done this with ra­tio­nal­ity tech­niques. I did it with a CFAR tech­nique called “Mur­phyjitsu”, that’s about draw­ing upon your in­tu­itions and ex­pe­riences of the world to figure out how things will fail be­fore you try them. Sort of like su­per­charg­ing the “Ugh, I should have known!” feel­ing and de­ploy­ing it in ad­vance.

Now this is one of the cru­cial ways in which I man­age my life and work. I always have a metaphor­i­cal ad­vi­sor perched on my shoulder, send­ing helpful alerts when­ever it makes a con­crete pre­dic­tion for how a pro­ject will fail. And I can fix it be­fore it fails.

So, a ba­sic model of ra­tio­nal­ist self-im­prove­ment is that you sim­ply go through this pro­cess with a list of im­por­tant skills. We’ll see how well that pans out.


  • 50 an­swers or noth­ing. Shoot for 1 hour.

Any an­swer must con­tain 50 ideas to count. That’s the bab­ble challenge. We’re here to challenge our­selves.

How­ever, the 1 hour limit is a stretch goal. It’s fine if it takes longer to get to 50.

  • Post your an­swers in­side of spoiler tags. (How do I do that?)

  • Cel­e­brate other’s an­swers.

This is re­ally im­por­tant. Shar­ing bab­ble in pub­lic is a scary ex­pe­rience. I don’t want peo­ple to leave this hav­ing back-chained the ex­pe­rience “If I am cre­ative, peo­ple will look down on me”. So be gen­er­ous with those up­votes.

If you com­ment on some­one else’s post, fo­cus on mak­ing ex­cit­ing, novel ideas work — in­stead of tear­ing apart worse ideas.

Re­ward peo­ple for bab­bling — don’t pun­ish them for not prun­ing.

I might re­move com­ments that break this rule.

  • Not all your ideas have to work.

The prompt is very un­der­speci­fied. You don’t know what kind of pen it is. You don’t know how you ob­tained your knowl­edge. You don’t know what the evil forces are. Use your cre­ativity — feel free to come up with solu­tions that only work in some of those sce­nar­ios.

If it helps, imag­ine that you’re a fic­tion writer. You’re search­ing for in­ter­est­ing ways to con­tinue the above story.

  • My main tip: when you’re stuck, say some­thing stupid.

If you spend 5 min ag­o­nis­ing over not hav­ing any­thing to say, you’re do­ing it wrong. You’re be­ing too crit­i­cal. Just lower your stan­dards and say some­thing, any­thing. Soon enough you’ll be back on track.

This is re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant. It’s the only way I’m able to com­plete these ex­er­cises.

Now, go forth and bab­ble! 50 ways of hid­ing Ein­stein’s pen for 50 years!