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July 29, 2007

Tom Shroder shout-out: He singlehandedly brought back Life magazine's picture puzzle


So just who is this Tom Shroder and why should we give a hoot about what he's done?

Okay, a little backstory.

On February 2, 2007, I wrote about Life magazine's wonderful picture puzzle feature, in which two seemingly identical photographs were Photoshopped such that there exist very subtle differences in numerous details.

Your job is to detect the changes.

I loved this feature and was quite unhappy when Life tanked yet again and disappeared a month later, in March of this year.

Then, out of nowhere, the feature reappeared in today's Washington Post magazine.

In his own words Tom Shroder, the magazine's editor, explains how this came to be:

    Editor's Note

    "It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles."

    — Sherlock Holmes, "The Man With the Twisted Lip"

    I so wanted to be Sherlock Holmes, and not just for the drugs. I aspired to his almost superhuman powers of observation — which, when explained to the dumbfounded Watson, actually appeared to be brilliantly human. The ability to be attentive to the smallest significant detail is what our species has instead of speed, strength, tooth and claw. For Holmes, it was the most devastating of weapons.

    In "The Sign of the Four," Watson tests his friend by handing him a pocket watch that "has recently come into my possession." Holmes studies it, notes with disappointment that it has just been cleaned. Watson smirks, thinking this a lame excuse. Then Holmes let's him have it:

    "Though unsatisfactory, my research has not been entirely barren. Subject to your correction, I should judge that the watch belonged to your elder brother, who inherited it from your father... He was left with good prospects, but he threw away his chances, lived for some time in poverty with occasional short intervals of prosperity, and finally, taking to drink, he died. That is all I can gather."

    All dead on, reasoned from minutiae: a monogram, dents, tiny numbers scratched inside the case, grooves scored by the winding key, the weight of the gold, etc.

    These were the powers I wanted. The truth, however, is better illustrated by this typical scenario: I dine with my wife, gazing at her lovingly throughout the meal. Before coffee, a stranger escorts me from the table and asks me to describe my wife's outfit.

    Umm... nada! A complete blank.

    Perhaps that's why I became so obsessed with a feature that showed up in Life magazine — briefly inserted in The Post this winter before going out of print (yet again) in March. The feature consisted of two pictures that appeared to be identical. When you studied them closely, tiny variations began to emerge. The goal was to find them all.

    It was as addicting as Holmes's injections of morphine. And then — it went away. I was bereft, until I realized, hey, I am the editor of a magazine. We could create a new version, based on photographs of the Washington region, tinkered with by our resident Photoshop genius Randy Mays. That's what awaits you on Page 6. And if hunting for the differences starts driving you crazy, just remember: It's really quite elementary.


Here's a link to today's inaugural "Second Glance."

The two pictures, with 12 differences between them, are up top.

Way to go, Tom.

If you agree, email him (shrodert@washpost.com) and give him some props to encourage him to keep this feature alive.

You can tell him joe sent you if you like but if it were me, well — I'd leave that fool out of it.

July 29, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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