That Malcolm Gladwell article we pointed to the other day has been taking some hits lately. Brad DeLong totally harshes on the the Free Jeff Skilling buzz here. But more interesting, Steve Sailer points out that Malcolm gets the distinction between a puzzle and a mystery exactly backwards.
Gladwell writes: "Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts are a puzzle. We can’t find him because we don’t have enough information..."
No, that's a mystery, as the term is normally used. For example, in Raymond Chandler's famous murder mystery The Big Sleep, detective Philip Marlowe is hired to find former bootlegger Rusty Regan. Marlowe doesn't have enough information to find him so he goes around searching for clues. Only at the very end does he know enough to figure out where Regan is. Similarly, according to Gladwell, we need more clues to find Osama, so his whereabouts are a mystery, not a puzzle.
Gladwell goes on:
"The problem of what would happen in Iraq after the toppling of Saddam Hussein was, by contrast, a mystery... Mysteries require judgments and the assessment of uncertainty, and the hard part is not that we have too little information but that we have too much."
No, that would be better labeled a "puzzle." Rubik's Cube is a classic puzzle: everything you need to solve the puzzle is right in front of your eyes, but it's still very hard to figure out.