Friday, January 18, 2013

Tom Shillue's "Lateral Thinking Puzzlers"

On his third installment of the “12 in 12” series (one new project a month for a year), personable and easy-going comedian Tom Shillue throws us a bit of a curve ball. Rather than merely presenting us with a standard evening of amusing stories and anecdotes, he does so in the form of Lateral Thinking Puzzlers.

Friends of mine may be quite familiar with the concept although they may not know them by that name. Growing up, I found them a fun way to pass the time, entertaining (or frustrating) friends and family members on long road trips, in line for an amusement park ride, or any other situation where we had some time to burn.

You’re probably familiar with these puzzlers as well: Someone presents you with a puzzling situation (a man is found dead in a room amid a pool of water, a group of people are found dead in a cabin in the woods*) and you must figure out what happened, usually solving a crime of some sort. The catch that makes it most annoying for those trying to solve the riddle is they are only allowed to ask questions that can be answered "yes" or "no."

Shillue offers a fun twist on the concept, where each track on the CD contains a couple of various puzzlers that, although impossible to figure out, are actual events from his life that are presented in lateral thinking form. Shillue sets up the sceario (“A student is alone in a room. The principal sticks his head in the room and says ‘You.’ The principal gets on all fours and crawls to the boy, sniffing him. The principal crawls out of the room and yells, ‘Be in my office in 10 minutes.’ When the boy gets there he is arrested by the police. What is happening?”) and the game is afoot.

There are a few moments where Shillue allows the audience to ask some questions, but there’s no way they’re going to figure these out. That’s OK, though, as the fun in these cases isn’t to actually figure it out, but to get to the story of, as he always so dramatically puts it, what is happening.

On the whole, there aren’t a lot of huge laughs or jokes and one-liners you’ll be repeating to your friends after listening, but Shillue is quite engaging and his stories are enjoyable to hear. His interaction with the crowd is friendly and he doesn’t intimidate, instead encouraging them to play along. This album isn’t about being funny ha-ha as much as it is about Shillue himself, flying on personality more than punchlines, and it  still works. When it comes to Shillue and his "12 in 12" series, the solution is simple: Yes.


*In case you were wondering, the first guy was stabbed with an icicle and the group of people in the forest were in a plane crash. It was an airplane cabin. Pretty tricky, eh?

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