Missing Pieces Research Review

The following is from the Annals of Improbable Research.

(Image credit: Flickr user Chrissy H)

Research on and about pieces that are missing
compiled by Bertha Vanatian, Improbable Research staff

Gaps in The Conversation

"Parasitic Gaps," Elisabet Engdahl, Linguistics and Philosophy, vol. 6, 1983, pp. 5–34. The author, at Goteborg University, Sweden, writes:

In this paper, I will discuss a phenomenon that I will refer to as ‘parasitic gaps'. Tentatively, we can define a parasitic gap as a gap that is dependent on the existence of another gap, which I will henceforth refer to as the ‘real gap', in the same sentence… For perspicuousness, I will, when possible, indicate the parasitic gap by __p.
(1) Which articles did John file __ without reading __p? (2) This is the kind of food you must cook __ before you eat __p.

Gaps in the Kisser

"Social Perceptions of Individuals Missing Upper Front Teeth," Mary S. Willis, Cynthia Willis-Esqueda, and Ryan N. Schacht, Perceptual and Motor Skills, vol. 106, no. 2, April 2008, pp. 423–35. The authors, at the University of Nebraska Lincoln and the University of California Davis, report:

Analysis suggested a person missing visible teeth was more negatively perceived on all social traits than a person with full dentition. Results were strongest when students were proposed to be linked to the edentulous individual in a personal way, i.e., dating or living as neighbor.


Gaps in the Galleries

"The Effect of Broken Exhibits on the Experiences of Visitors at a Science Museum," Elizabeth Kunz Kollmann, Visitor Studies, vol. 10, no. 2, October 2007, pp. 178–91 (Thanks to Martin Gardiner for bringing this to our attention). The author, at the Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts, reports:

This study explores visitors' perceptions of "broken" exhibits at the Museum of Science, Boston… The perceived broken exhibits follow a hierarchy. They are most often reported when they are non-functional.

Mysterious Missing Bones

"The Missing Bones of Thersites: A Note on Iliad 2.212-19," R. Clinton Simms, American Journal of Philology, vol. 126, no. 1, Spring 2005, pp. 33–40.

There is a notable correspondence between the description of Thersites at Iliad 2.212-19 and the physical characteristics of cleidocranial dysplasia, a rare genetic bone condition. Prominent features of the condition include bossing of the skull, missing clavicles that allow approximation of the shoulders over the chest, and dental abnormalities, most commonly supernumerary and irregularly patterned teeth. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the likely pun Homer intended on Thersites' teeth through the description of his abundant and disordered words.

Mysterious Missing Toes

"The Mystery of the Missing Toes: Extreme Levels of Natural Mutilation in Island Lizard Populations," Bart Vervust, Stefan Van Dongen, Irena Grbac, and Raoul Van Damme. Functional Ecology, vol. 23, no. 5, October 2009, pp. 996–1003. The authors, at the University of Antwerp, Belgium and at the Natural History Museum of Croatia, report:

We report on an exceptionally large difference in toe loss incidence between two populations of Podarcis sicula lizards living on small, neighbouring islands in the Adriatic Sea. We caught 900 lizards and recorded the number and location of missing toes. Subsequently, we investigated five non-mutually exclusive hypotheses concerning differences in bite force capacity, bone strength, predation intensity, average age and intraspecific aggression that may provide proximate explanations for the observed differences in injury frequencies.

Incomplete Jigsaw Puzzles, Attached Automatically

"Automated Solutions to Incomplete Jigsaw Puzzles," Robert Tybon and Don Kerr, Artificial Intelligence Review, vol. 32, nos. 1–4, 2009, pp. 77–99. The authors, respectively at Matrix Computer Systems, Loganholme, Australia and at University of the Sunshine Coast in Maroochydore, Australia, report:

The jigsaw puzzle re-assembly problem has been investigated only intermittently in the research literature. One potential theoretical line of research concerns jigsaw puzzles that do not have a complete set of puzzle pieces… The results [we] obtained [here] indicate that no one algorithm can be used to solve the multitude of possible scenarios involved in the re-assembly of incomplete jigsaw puzzles.

Patent: Prevent Puzzle Pieces Going Missing

"Puzzle Game", Robert D. Gelman, US patent application # 11/331,462, January 13, 2006. The inventor explains that:

The problems with this type of puzzle [prior to my invention] are numerous. Puzzle pieces are often lost. This creates frustration for the child and parent. The child often feels frustrated that the puzzle cannot be completed. For the younger child, there are also parent or guardian concerns that the puzzle pieces will be put in the child's mouth. For the less dexterous children, puzzle pieces are picked up and dropped before the child has the opportunity to place the pieces in the proper places.

OBJECTIVES OF THE INVENTION. From the preceding discussions, it will be understood that among the various objectives of the present are included in the following:
      The provision of a new and improved puzzle that will eliminate the losing of puzzle pieces;

      The provision of a new and improved puzzle that will minimize frustration to the user;

      The provision of a new and improved puzzle that will minimize frustration to the caregivers of child users;

      The provision of a new and improved puzzle that will minimize frustration to the less dexterous user;

      The provision of a new and improved puzzle that will minimize wasting of money for replacement of the puzzles due to missing pieces…

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION. The present invention provides a method of linking puzzle pieces to a frame and to other puzzle pieces…


The article above is republished with permission from the January-February 2011 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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