When I was younger, probably around 6 or 7, my mother would draw a puzzle on the church bulletin to keep me occupied and quiet. She’d draw three boxes on top of three boxes, separated by some space. The first row of boxes would have a different name of a person inside each one, the second row of boxes would have three necessities, in today’s society anyway. Usually, water, power, oil, etc. The goal of the puzzle was to connect all three people to all three things they needed without crossing any lines. I loved this puzzle, but I could never solve it.
I hadn’t thought about this puzzle in a very long time when I remembered it during my accounting lecture the other day. I drew it on a friend’s notes next to me and scribbled the directions. He quickly took the distraction and ran with it, getting frustrated very easily when he couldn’t solve it. I’m sure I responded the same dozens of times.
I’ve spent my entire life thinking this puzzle was unsolvable. I called my mother last night and she didn’t know there was a solution either. Though, with one little Google search of “three boxes connected to three boxes” I discovered that the puzzle was called the 3 Cottage Problem. It’s a thousand year old math problem that has one 2D solution. One solution to connect three things to three people.
Now, the philosophical part of me wants to write this problem off as a simple way of saying that you can’t make everyone happy. Though, now that I know there is a solution that really can’t be said. Another part of me wants to think that I can please everyone in a thousand different ways, easily, but that’s just not true. “Everybody’s a critic” has never been truer than in today’s society. We have discrimination, judgement, and even passive criticism from just about everyone in our lives and it’s very easy to let that define us. I’m guilty of it as I would suspect we all are from time to time. I’d challenge you to give up on the Three Cottage Problem. I mean, make sure that you’re giving attention to those three people whom are important to you, but don’t get too wrapped up in making others happy that you can’t cross over and support yourself.