Puzzles of Thirst

A man dies of thirst in his own home. How is this possible?

Perhaps you've heard this riddle.

Does it seem like you are living in it? Say, when you try to use a some drink dispensers?

At first I thought it was just the ones in our office. But I keep seeing more and more instances of water coolers, coffee brewers and drink dispensers that are overly complicated, almost to the point of being impossible to figure out.

Let's delve into a couple of these riddles!

The Case of the Secret Combination


This seems straightforward; after all, there are only 3 buttons.

Looking at these icons and colors we can make some pretty good guesses about how it works. Red button with mug icon looks like a hot liquid. The green button looks like a glass with something in it. That big blue button definitely looks like water.

That blue button is pretty big so let's try pushing that one. And we get... water! Yay!

Great! Now let's try pushing that red button. And... nothing. Huh?

Hey [co-worker], how do you get hot water out of this thing?"

"You have to hold down the red button till the light flashes.

Ok. Got it. Doing that now. And... nothing.

Hey [co-worker], that didn't work."

"Oh! Haha, I forgot to tell you to push the big blue button once the red light starts blinking.

Of course. Wouldn't want to get burned by unexpected hot water. So I guess it makes sense that it would be more complex to get hot water.

OK figuring out two out of three buttons is enough for today.

~~~ 2 months later ~~~

Hmm, what is that green button for? And what is that shape inside the glass icon supposed to be?

Poke. Poke. Poke.

Ah ha! The green button works like the red button. Hold it down until the green light flashes then hold the blue button to dispense the water.

And it gives you... (drumroll please) ... room temperature water!

I still have no idea what the shape inside the glass icon on the green button is supposed to be though.

How can this be improved? Should it be improved? While it may be a bit weird to do the first time, the actions are simple enough to remember after that. It makes sense to have the hot water be a more deliberate action. And, cold water is the most common request from a water cooler so it definitely makes sense for that button to be the largest and most obvious.

The real issue here is the initial difficulty figuring out how to get hot or room temperature water.

3 buttons. 3 temperatures. It seemed that straightforward in the beginning, maybe it actually can be?

  • push red button and hold, light starts to flash, hot water comes out
  • push big blue button and hold, cold water comes out
  • push green button and hold, green light starts to flash, room temperature water comes out.

No need to change the buttons themselves. Just remove the need to fiddle with two buttons. The less common actions are already smaller buttons and will therefore be slightly harder to hit, making it more of a conscious decision to push them.

And you know what would be a nice touch? A tiny additional touch factor: buttons that are slightly different temperatures. A slightly warm button for hot water, slightly cool for cold water. Our fingers are sensitive, it doesn't have to be a big difference in temperature, just enough to remind us of our choice.

The Case of the Unknown


I love this one with its two mysterious black buttons.

And somebody in the office tried so hard to fix it by adding helpful labels below the buttons. Unfortunately, the label maker had clear label tape in it, making the black text almost unreadable because of the dark surface showing through.

The fix for this one is simple! Just add white icons on the black buttons: ice cubes on the ice button and a water drop on the water button. Here's my rendition:


My sincere hope is that originally the manufacturer had labels or icons on the buttons and they wore off over time. Though if that was once the case, there is no evidence of it now.

What's your favorite thirst quenching riddle?