Squirreling Away Puzzle-Solving Skills?

squirrel puzzle wood

[Image courtesy of Southern Highland Guild.]

It was less than two months ago that we discussed whether the problem-solving puzzly skills of pigs were enough to grant them membership in the puzzle-solving creatures club, alongside catsdogscrowscockatoosoctopuses, and bees.

As it turns out, scientists have been studying “can animal x solve puzzles?” for longer than I thought. One academic paper, entitled “How to stay perfect: the role of memory and behavioural traits in an experienced problem and a similar problem,” was published back in July of 2017.

And they concluded that squirrels might be a worthy addition to the pantheon of puzzle solvers.

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According to the scientists involved:

A neophobia test in the generalisation task suggested squirrels perceived the different apparatus as a different problem, but they quickly came to apply the same effective tactics as before to solve the task… Squirrels remembered and emitted task-effective tactics more than ineffective tactics. As a result, they consistently changed from ineffective to effective behaviours after failed attempts at problem-solving.

They went on to cite previous studies involving creatures as varied as monitor lizards, Atlantic cod, spotted hyenas, lions, and goats:

With regard to returning to previously experienced task, selectivity appears to be an important factor in the success of captive lions, Panthera leo, in solving a suspended puzzle box up to 7 months after experiencing it (Borrego and Dowling 2016), in the success of goats, Capra hircus, in solving a two-step food box challenge 10 months after first experiencing it (Briefer et al. 2014)

squirrel 2

One of the main questions they were trying to answer was what role memory was playing in this puzzle-solving. Were they remembering their previous puzzly experience OR re-learning the same tactics a second time, separate from the first test? These were the parameters:

Here, we examined how memory, alongside behavioural traits, contributes to enhance problem-solving efficiency by giving five grey squirrels, firstly a previously experienced task 22 months after they had last experienced it (hereafter, the ‘recall task’), and secondly a task requiring a previously successful action to be performed in a physically different apparatus (hereafter, the ‘generalisation task’).

Nearly two years between the initial solve and the secondary test! That’s a huge chunk of time. As Dan said in the Room Escape Artist article about this study, “22 months! I could probably replay an entire escape room after 22 months and not even notice.”

But that length of time was intentional, given the test subjects involved:

Grey squirrels are also known to have good long-term memory, at least in the spatial domain: they are scatter hoarders that cache thousands of nuts during the autumn (Thompson and Thompson 1980), and they are able to relocate their own caches (Jacobs and Liman 1991) and artificial caches (Macdonald 1997) after long intervals of time.

squirrel puzzle

So, what did they find when they tested Arnold, Leonard, Sarah, Simon, and Suzy in the lab?

In our case, squirrels may pay attention to cues such as the levers that contain hazelnuts to locate which lever to solve. But unlike what has been found in tool-use studies, the use of cues did not develop with increased experience during problem-solving. Squirrels showed an immediate strong preference to contact functional levers rather than non-functional levers, both when they first encountered this puzzle box 22 months prior to this study (Chow et al. 2016) and in the first trial of the recall task. These results imply that squirrels quickly focused their attention on the reward and reward-related components of the apparatus (levers) from their first encounter with the puzzle box.

In short, applying previously learned knowledge makes them far more effective problem-solvers!

Sounds like it’s time to add squirrels to the list.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to start researching lions, hyenas, cod, monitor lizards, and any other animal studies cited in the footnotes. Clearly I have catching up to do!


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Could Pigs Be Puzzle Solvers?

As a puzzler, I am on a quest to highlight and recognize the skills and accomplishments of fellow puzzlers. All too often, other outlets restrict this activity to humans and humans alone.

But PuzzleNation Blog has a fine long-standing tradition of celebrating the puzzly accomplishments of non-human puzzlers. In the past, we’ve discussed the puzzle skills evidenced by catsdogscrowscockatoos, octopuses, and bees.

And it’s possible that, soon, we might be adding another species to that marvelous list of puzzle-cracking creatures.

Pigs.

According to a paper published on February 11th in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, pigs can learn to be gamers.

No, we haven’t seen them follow multiple steps like octopuses or cockatoos, but there is puzzly potential here, because they’ve proven they can accomplish abstract tasks and deal with unenviable circumstances.

The initial task was for the four pigs — Omelet and Hamlet (Yorkshire pigs) and Ebony and Ivory (Panepinto micro pigs) — to manipulate a joystick so that they would move the cursor on the screen into a particular area.

Sure, it sounds simple, but if you’re an animal that doesn’t look at screens at all or is unfamiliar with the concept that one action here can cause one effect there, this is monumental.

According to The Guardian, the Purdue study focused on “the last 50 rounds of the video game played by each pig on each of the three levels, with one, two and three walls. The round was successful if the pig moved the cursor to the bright blue target with the first cursor movement.”

Their difficulties were described in detail:

It was an uphill battle for the swine. The joysticks were outfitted for trials with primates, so the hoofed pigs had to use their snouts and mouths to get the job done. All four pigs were found to be farsighted, so the screens had to be placed at an optimal distance for the pigs to see the targets. There were additional limitations on the Yorkshire pigs. Bred to grow fast, the heavier pigs couldn’t stay on their feet for too long.

Still, the pigs showed what is known as “self-agency,” the realization that one’s actions make a difference. The pigs recognized that by manipulating the joystick, they moved the cursor. That connection — similar to a cockatoo pulling a lever and opening a door — is the sort of step-by-step cognition that leads to puzzle solving.

The pigs were able to adapt to the joysticks and complete their simple, yet abstract goal.

“What they were able to do is perform well above chance at hitting these targets,” said Candace Croney, director of Purdue University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science and lead author of the paper. “And well enough above chance that it’s very clear they had some conceptual understanding of what they were being asked to do.”

I think the next step should be designing an Angry Birds analog for them where they throw something at the birds and their structures, and see how they do.

We’ll be keeping our eyes open for any other pig-related puzzling. It’s entirely possible we’ll be adding them to the puzzle-solving menagerie sooner rather than later.

And now, despite the cliche, there is truly only one way I can end this post. Say it with me now…

That’ll do, pigs. That’ll do.


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A Puzzoo Full of Anagraminals!

puzzlezoo

You may be familiar with the board game Schmovie, hashtag games on Twitter, or @midnight’s Hashtag Wars segment on Comedy Central.

For years now, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzleZoo, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles and animals of all shapes and sizes!

Examples include Hammerheadings Shark, Four Squirrel, and Salmon Says!

So, without further ado, check out what the puzzlers at PuzzleNation and Penny Dell Puzzles came up with!


The Shad Roe

Top to Bonobottom

Meerkategories

Letter Scorpion

Diamond Myna

Toucan by Toucan / Toucan-Step

Opossum Spots / Opossum Triangles / Some Opposum

Opossum-Doku

Su-duck-u

Kuduku

Sudokookaburra

Kangasudoku

Kakuroo / Kangakuro / Okakuropi

Secret Bird

Bird Seek

Missing Owls / Missing Fowls

Pigzag

Lizard Words

CopperHeads and CottonTails

Heads & Whales Word Seek

Deer & Hare Word Seek

Cross Hares

Squirrel Master

Antagrams

Antelope Magic Square / Anaconda Magic Square / Anaconda Magic Bears

Flounder Power / Fowl Power / Flamingo Power / Buffalower Power

Syllacrowstics

Cros-ticks

Anacrosticonda

Anacross-Eater

Escowlators / Escalgators

Ocelogic Problem / Loggerhead Problem

Leop-art logic

Hamster Words

Dolphinish the Fours

Fisherits

Missing Lynx / Lynxwords / Frame Lynx

Frameskinks

Borderfeline Framework

Fiddler crab’s Frame

Shadowbox turtle

Ringmastiff

Bingoat / Dingo

Pulling Stingrays / Pushmi-pullyu-ing-Strings

Weasel Words / Weevil Words / Beaver Words

Places, Fleas

Fish Bowl Game / Mole Game

Armadillemma Crossword

Camelflage

Crick-et by Crick-et / Chick by Chick

Cattleships / Wombattleships / Battleshippos

Codeworms / Toadwords

Barracudiagramless

End of the Swine

End of the Lion / Lion ‘Em Up / Draw the Lion

DonKeyword / Keawords

Hare Off

Boarmaster

Letterfoxes / Otterboxes (solves as a Letterbox and can be recycled as a phone case . . . eco-friendly)

Windowl Boxes / Window Foxes

Mathfoxes

Croc Arithmetic

Word Platypus

Frogressions

Fasterbirds

Pigsaw Bears

Pug-Ins

Alpha-male Soup

Goatagrams / Goatfalls / Quick Goats

Picture Sloth

Goose Tile / Mongoose tiles

Ducky Clover / Lucky Plover

Crypto-Lemur-ick / Crypto-TriviAlligator

Bats and Geeses

Pine Drone

Word Quails

Missing Reptiles

Missing Dingoes

Explorabird

Spellhound

Around the Flock

Alpha Wolf Quote / Alphagators

You Know the Ostrich / Ewe Gnu the Scrods

A to Zebra Maze / A to Z Mazebra / A to Zebra

Word Mazebra / Word Rat Maze

Pick and Zoos

Hopscotch-opotamus

Hippogressions

Hippo-plus-fours-a-mus

Riddle me Rhino

Wolfinder

Three-toed slothsomes

Build-a-quokka

Crisscrossafossa

Ringers-tailed lemur

Snake-a-Letter

Parrot Pairs

What’s Eft?

It’s Your Moose

Leopard Purrfect

Lucky Starfish

Puffin the Middle

Crickets and Mortar

Middle of the Roadrunner

Common Toad

Canine of Diamonds

Diamond Ring-tailed lemur

Place Your Numbat

Sharks and Sparrows

Eels

Black swan Out!

Jigsawback shark

Crackerjackrabbits

Puzzle Horse Derby

Cubstitutions

Who’s Macawling?

Marquee Malarkiwi / Kiwiword

Coming and Flamingoing

Lostrich Letters

Word Condorigins

Poetic Okapiple

Word Lemurgers

ChinChilla Up

Pyth-On Your Marks

Vowl Play

Change of Chimp-and-Scene

Meerkatch-Up

Rhino of Way

Fish Think Ringers are Food!

Marching Bandicoots


One contributor even channeled the Crocodile Hunter!

Zoo?! We’re visiting the true Drop-outback to see the Quokka-jacks and Loose Croco-tiles, mate!


Have you come up with any Penny Dell Puzzle Zoo entries of your own? Let us know! We’d love to see them!

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Solving puzzles is the bee’s knees!

bee-sudoku-puzzles-store-product-image

[Image courtesy of Gift of Curiosity.]

As a puzzler, I am on a quest to highlight and recognize the skills and accomplishments of fellow puzzlers. All too often, other outlets restrict this activity to humans and humans alone.

But PuzzleNation Blog has a fine long-standing tradition of celebrating the puzzly accomplishments of non-human puzzlers. In the past, we’ve discussed the puzzle skills evidenced by cats, dogs, crows, cockatoos, and octopuses.

Today, we proudly add another species to that litany of puzzle-cracking creatures: bees.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

[Image courtesy of Rachel Carson Landmark Alliance.]

An article in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS Biology — titled, in true scientific fashion, “Associative Mechanisms Allow for Social Learning and Cultural Transmission of String Pulling in an Insect” — states that bees can not only learn non-natural skills, but teach them to other bees.

This behavior, previously only observed in vertebrates, is a huge step forward for our studies of animal cognition.

Allow me to explain.

A group of bees were given a non-natural task to complete — pulling a string attached to a blue disc hidden under Plexiglas — in order to earn a drop of sugar water.

In the first test, zero out of 50 bees figured out how to remove the disc. When half of those bees were given a second chance, two of them did figure out how to pull the string and retrieve the disc.

beereuters

[Image courtesy of Reuters.]

The study goes on to describe how the scientists taught the bees to complete the task, and then how these bees (known as innovators) could go on to teach other bees how to do so.

From an article on Natural Science News:

The skill spread quickly and half of the untrained bees gained the ability by learning from the original innovator bee. Even after the original innovator bee died, the skill continued to be passed down to future generations. This was the first recorded case of cultural transmission of a non-natural skill in social insects.

Now, this is all very exciting, but in the midst of all this news coverage and scientific back-patting, I feel like someone’s accomplishments have been overshadowed.

TWO of those bees figured this out on their own. No scientist teachers, no innovator bees, just their own puzzly chops.

Sure, it took two tries, but heck, it takes me more than two tries to solve plenty of puzzles!

And so, on behalf of the vertebrate puzzle-solving community, I’d like to welcome those two bees to our ranks. Other bees may follow, but you were the first. Nicely done.


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