It’s Follow-Up Friday: This Illusion’s Got Legs edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of viral optical illusions.

Last year, we had The Dress. Then, in March of this year, we had The Jacket. And in May, we asked the question How Many Girls?

Whether we’re spotting iPhones or looking for cats in woodpiles, we can’t seem to get enough of optical illusions.

And there’s a new one making the rounds recently:

[Image courtesy of TheChive.com.]

A woman named Bree tweeted this image of a pair of bare legs that look incredibly shiny. Are they false legs? Are they lotioned or wrapped in Saran wrap? What’s going on here?

I’ll give you a few moments to ponder the image before revealing the secret behind it. Because, as Bree said, “Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.”

Ready? Okay, here we go.

Like most optical illusions, the answer is startlingly simple.

[Image courtesy of TheChive.com.]

The illusion of shininess is actually the result of strategically placed streaks of white paint or toothpaste or something similar.

Pretty impressive once you really look at it, isn’t it?

This image has truly gone viral. As I write this, it’s been retweeted over 16,000 times, and liked over 20,000 times. Bree herself seems baffled by the attention the post has received.

Amazing what you can do with a bit of white paint.


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The art (and science) of optical illusions

Visual trickery plays an important role in puzzles. It can be the clever rebus that challenges you to find the words each image represents, or a visual brain teaser that forces you to think outside the box.

But nowhere in the realm of puzzles is visual trickery more obvious or more disconcerting than in optical illusions. Some are simple, like the famous old woman/young woman image above (or this hilarious video version). But others are not only more complex, they’re absolutely mind-bending.

And if we’re talking mind-bending optical illusions, at some point, you have to mention the work of Akiyoshi Kitaoka.

[Akiyoshi Kitaoka’s “A Bulge,” featuring nothing but squares.]

Dr. Kitaoka is a professor of psychology at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, and he has extensively studied biology and psychology. He has quickly emerged as a modern master of optical illusions, utilizing not only shapes and color gradients to trick the eye, but also to simulate motion in a static image!

Two of the techniques frequently cited in his work with illusions are perceptual transparency and visual completion. Both rely heavily on how our brain and eye process the incredible amount of information we perceive every second of every day.

This is probably the most famous example of a visual completion illusion:

Basically, our brain employs mental shortcuts in order to simplify the information. For instance, visual completion (also known as filling-in) occurs when information unavailable to the eye is assumed to be there and mentally added by the brain.

Perceptual transparency, on the other hand, involves how we can perceive one surface behind another.

Check out this amazing photo from a published paper on perceptual transparency, entitled Zen Mountains:

[The mountains in the background look transparent,
even appearing to overlap each other in impossible ways.]

Dr. Kitaoka’s illusions utilize visual shortcuts and processes such like these, but his most famous creations involve a perceptual technique known as the Fraser-Wilcox Illusion, which involves using lighter and darker gradients of black and white in order to trick the eye into perceiving motion. Essentially, moving from dark to light gradually creates the illusion of motion.

Kitaoka’s work, however, maximizes this effect by employing contrasting color schemes in order to challenge the eye further.

Feast your eyes upon “Rotating Snakes,” Kitaoka’s most diabolical optical illusion:

[For the full effect, click the image and
scroll down for a full-screen version!]

By employing color as well, the rotation illusion is even more striking. In all honesty, I can’t look at it too long or my stomach starts to feel a little off-kilter!

Similarly, Kitaoka tricks the eye into perceiving waves rolling diagonally over this quilt-like sheet in “Primrose’s Field:”

As we understand more about the eye and how it perceives the visual stimuli it receives, as well as more about the brain and how it processes information, I suspect we’ll be able to craft even more convincing, mind-blowing, and unnerving examples of visual sleight of hand.

And undoubtedly, Akiyoshi Kitaoka will be leading the way.


Many thanks to Dr. Kitaoka for granting permission for me to feature three of his illusions in this post. You can check out more of his amazing work on his website, as well as some of his books on Amazon here!

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Listen close! Your ears are playing tricks on you…

I enjoy writing posts about optical illusions because they’re puzzles that engage a solver in very different ways than normal pen-and-paper puzzles do. They rely on perspective trickery, playing on assumptions made by the brain on a level we rarely consider, often causing us to disregard what’s right in front of us.

[Those white circles are the same size…]

But there’s an audio version of this phenomenon as well, the mondegreen.

Mondegreens are misheard lyrics or phrases where homophones or soundalike words get substituted for the actual words. There are a few truly famous ones, like “Excuse me while I kiss this guy” instead of “Excuse me while I kiss the sky” from Jimi Hendrix’s song Purple Haze, or “The girl with colitis goes by” instead of “The girl with kaleidoscope eyes” from The Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

Now, mondegreens aren’t to be confused with malaprops, which are quite similar. Malaprops are words or phrases mistakenly used when another is intended. Archie Bunker from TV’s All in the Family, for instance, was a master of malaprops, unintentionally garbling the English language with classics like “Buy one of them battery operated transvestite radios.”

The term mondegreen comes from writer Sarah Wright, who misheard the last line of a stanza from a ballad called “The Bonnie Earl o’ Moray.”

[Castle Doune, where the Earl o’ Moray resided…]

The actual stanza reads:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,
And laid him on the green.

But Sarah heard:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.

My personal favorite mondegreen emerged from a viewing of Star Wars: A New Hope with a friend. In the famous scene where Obi-Wan Kenobi senses the destruction of the planet Alderaan, he utters the words “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.”

My friend leaned over to me and whispered, “I’ve always wanted to ask someone this. Why oysters?”

Now, both my friend and I had seen the movie countless times before. We know the original trilogy backwards and forwards. So you can understand how completely baffling I found his question.

“What did you just say?”

“Why oysters?” He paused. “Millions of oysters cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.”

I figured he was pulling my leg. With dozens of viewings of the film between us, he couldn’t possibly believe Obi-Wan had been saying “oysters” for the last thirty years, right?

But apparently, he had. When I finally broke the silence by replying, “Voices. Voices, not oysters,” a look of realization washed over his face. “Oh, well that makes WAY more sense.”

And therein lies the true charm of the mondegreen: we find ourselves preferring the humor and silliness of the misheard version.

After all, you can’t simply go back to hearing “Hey, where did we go” after a friend enthusiastically belts out “HEY RODRIGO!” when Brown-Eyed Girl comes on the radio, can you?

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Follow-Up Friday: Optical Illusion edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of optical illusions.

Puzzles for the eye, optical illusions challenge the viewer to shift perspectives and accept that seeing is not always believing. And whether it’s Ok Go!’s tricky music video or a carefully crafted LEGO illusion, they’re a favorite subject here at PuzzleNation Blog. I mean, heck, we’ve got entire boards on Pinterest dedicated to them!

So you can imagine my delight when I stumbled upon a CollegeHumor video that had some fun with a few classic optical illusions.

I present Optical Illusion Girlfriend:

Have a marvelous weekend, puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! Here’s hoping everything you see is what it seems. =)

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Optical illusions: playing with your perspective

Optical illusions are a delight. Puzzles for the eye, they play with our expectations, our deductive abilities, our biological blindspots, and our ability to process light, shadow, motion, and perspective.

We’ve featured optical illusions several times before, from the large-scale works of Felice Varini to the mystery of the Necker Cube, but we never seem to run out of clever ways to deceive the eye and conjure magical effects from the simplest materials.

So today, I thought we could indulge ourselves in some first-class visual trickery. =)

Our first video was produced by Samsung, and features 10 optical illusions in 2 minutes. Can you suss out the techniques being employed?

This next illusion is a prime example of after-images (the most famous one being the American flag with black stars, a tan/yellow field, and black and blue/green stripes).

Forced perspective (like that in the LEGO picture at the top of the page) has been a cherished film and photographic trick for decades — from Darby O’Gill and the Little People to Honey I Blew Up the Kid — and here’s a particularly wonderful illustration of how effective forced perspective can be.

Finally, we have the video that inspired this entry, courtesy of the science-minded folks at IO9.

There is a famous mathematical conundrum known as the triangle paradox (or Curry’s triangle paradox, after magician Paul Curry), wherein it appears that you can lose or gain area from a shape by cutting it into pieces and moving them around.

The video illustrates the concept behind the triangle paradox by offering an intriguing promise: how to cheat mathematics and make chocolate out of nothing. (Warning: watching this video may aggravate your sweet tooth.)

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