Light Friday: Odd Interview Questions

Plus: Building Snail Shell Armor, Managing Traffic with Slime, Printing Food from Home and Relating to Robots.

Oddest Interview Questions of 2009
Job interviews can be stressful for both interviewees and interviewers. While prepared job candidates come to an interview ready to answer standard questions and perhaps some tricky ones, preparing for truly odd or unexpected inquiries is another matter entirely.

In late December, employment resources blog collected the top 25 difficult, funny or downright bizarre job interview questions picked from job candidates’ 14,000 submissions. Here are some of our favorite questions from the list, and the companies that asked them:

  • What was your best MacGyver moment? (Schlumberger)
  • How many tennis balls are in this room and why? (Yahoo)
  • If you were a brick in a wall, which brick would you be and why? (Nestle USA)
  • If I put you in a sealed room with a phone that had no dial tone, how would you fix it? (Apple)
  • Say you are dead — what do you think your eulogy would say about you? (Nationwide)
  • Given a dictionary of words, how do you calculate the anagrams for a new word? (
  • How would you sell me eggnog in Florida in the summer? (Expedia)
  • What are five uncommon uses of a brick, not including building, layering or a paperweight? (Kaplan Higher Education)
  • How many hair salons are there in Japan? (Boston Consulting)
  • If both a taxi and a limo were priced the exact same, which one would you choose? (Best Buy)

Here’s a question of our own: What are some of the more uncommon job interview questions you’ve encountered before, and how did you answer them? Let us know in the comments section below.

Snail Shell Armor
Although snails are slow, they come equipped with a natural defense system — their shell — that makes them remarkably tough. Now, scientists are looking for ways to bring this biological protection to the materials field.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Materials Research Science and Engineering Center have been studying a unique mollusk, known as the “scaly-foot gastropod,” discovered in a hydrothermal vent field two-and-a-half miles below the Indian Ocean, Science Daily reports this week. The creature has a specialized three-layer shell, the outermost layer of which is fused with granular iron sulfide, making it particularly efficient in protecting against attacks.

According to a January paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research team is focusing on “mechanical property amplification,” which involves composite structures that can strengthen materials far beyond the level of toughness suggested by the individual parts.

Scientists studying the snail believe that understanding its distinctive shell properties may have wide-ranging implications for materials, ranging from body armor and scratch-proof paint to vehicle hulls and structural components, ScienceNews reports.

Print Your Own Food
The principles of 3-D printing technology, which enable a user to design and fabricate components from a desktop, may soon make waiting for food a thing of the past.

A team of designers from MIT’s Fluid Interfaces Group is currently developing a digital food printer that uses a layered deposition process, along with precisely calibrated heating and cooling tubes attached to a printing head, to generate meals using ingredients stored in specialized food canisters attached to the printer, technology blog TFTS reports.

The food printer is similar to traditional 3-D printing systems, relying on a multi-axis printing head to extrude mixed and measured quantities of ingredients, which are then cooked in a temperature-controlled chamber. The main difference is that instead of plastics, the device manipulates edible materials, Gizmag explains.

“This fabrication process not only allows for the creation of flavors and textures that would be completely unimaginable through other cooking techniques, but it also allows the user to have ultimate control over the origin, quality, nutritional value and taste of every meal,” according to the designers of the project, known as Cornucopia: Digital Gastronomy.

Credit: Cornucopia: Digital Gastronomy

Of course, you could just cook.

Slime Better than Humans at Managing Traffic
Municipal governments and city planners have long struggled to reduce traffic jams in dense areas. New research shows that it may be time to give slime molds a chance at solving our traffic problems.

Scientists from Hokkaido University in Japan found that a species of gelatinous amoeba, a single-celled fungus-like slime mold, connects itself to food crumbs while growing in a pattern that is nearly identical to the Tokyo rail system, LiveScience reports. The slime expands by building a series of interconnected veins, and researchers say they’ve proved that these interconnections can be patterned to behave like car and train traffic networks by arranging food units to represent stations or traffic hubs. According to a paper published in Science magazine this month, the research proves that “[t]he core mechanisms needed for adaptive network formation can be captured in a biologically inspired mathematical model that may be useful to guide network construction in other domains.”

Although this isn’t the first time nature has inspired innovations, the slime mold actually seems to be improving upon existing traffic models, building its network without a control center by reinforcing effective routes, eliminating redundancies and continuously adjusting for maximum efficiency.

In addition to designing more efficient train and automobile networks, the slime mold could also be useful for engineering wireless communications networks and optimizing other non-centralized, self-organizing systems, BBC News reports.

Empathy for Robots? Nice Try, Roomba
Being exposed to robots through television and film could be affecting humans’ ability to relate and empathize with artificial beings, according to a November study published in Brain and Cognition magazine.

Researchers from Meiji University in Japan found that when subjects watched a video of a robot performing various actions, their brains produced signals similar to those of watching a human performing the same actions, but only when the robot moved in a robotic manner, New Scientist reports this week. When a robot was portrayed functioning in a human-like way, subjects seemed less able to relate, and the same reaction was seen in representations of a human behaving robotically.

The research suggests that the degree of empathy and comfort with a robot depends on the level of previous exposure to these machines. This could open up new possibilities for human-robot interaction in the future.

Below is a video showing the images the test subjects were exposed to. Does it make you want to hug a robot, or run away from it in terror?

Credit: New Scientist

Have a great weekend, folks!


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