ESR 2 Blog June/July 2022: Piu-Wai Chan



Since it is the summer, after all, I would rather tell a little story than go into the details of my research activity.


Back in May I got invited to a dinner at my friend’s place in Ravensburg, a really beautiful German town, and, as some of you already know, this is where Ravensburger, the puzzle company is from. Of course, my host had a few of these gems at home and was keen to see if I could manage one of its famous models: one that is based on Nob Yoshigahara’s Tokyo Parking. 1


The pieces/cars are arranged in a chessboard-like platform and each piece can only go forward and backward (they cannot switch to the next row); the player needs to get one particular vehicle to exit the platform by rearranging the piece. In short, it is an accelerated-traffic-jam-simulator


My host had so much faith in me that they decided to give me the highest level to try  (mistake.)


When I thought I was rather close to solving it, I got stuck like a driver being trapped literally in traffic in Tokyo. It certainly felt like I was trapped for eternity. Then, suddenly my friends interrupted me and asked, ‘let’s put on some tune- what kind of music do you usually listen to?’ While keeping my eyes fixated on the puzzle, with my hands constantly moving the pieces around, I felt a bit self-conscious and said, ‘Oh I’ve got the musical taste of an old man,’ I paused, then I replied: ‘Miles Davis.’ (Interestingly, when one Professor asked me how I write, my impulsive answer was ‘I write best when I write like Miles Davis playing his trumpet.’ And till this very day, I still remember the worried face of that Professor upon hearing that.


Then he said ‘Oh, so you are an expert in Miles’ stuff?’


I blushed, while I still had my hands busy moving the pieces: ‘Oh not at all, but I have been through a period where I would wake up listening to Miles Davis’ Relaxin almost every morning,’


By then, I realised that I had been repeating the same move and found myself stuck in a loop.


The host seemed intrigued and said they wanted to challenge me to name a song of Miles’ from his record collection. Feeling completely overwhelmed yet not wanting to be rude, I unwillingly accepted this challenge. And of course, my mind completely went blank when he put a song on and asked: ‘So, which Mile Davis’s song is this?’


Then, at that very moment, my hands started moving on their own and solved the puzzle in seconds. I had no idea how I did it and I could not recall any of the steps either. But I made sure that I shouted, ‘I solved it!’


My friends laughed and said, ‘It was because you stopped thinking. That was exactly why we were trying to distract you.’


I looked at the answer (see image) and jeez, I must have moved quite a few pieces really quickly. How was that possible without thinking? How could I think faster without thinking? And what was ‘the force’ that was moving my hands?


To this day, I found myself contemplating this encounter and these questions. Yet, I am still not sure if I have the answers.  However, I have listened to the entire body of work of Miles Davis since then (ok, maybe not the last few albums, just not my thing, y’know) and recognised the song was…’Springville’.



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