Skip to main content
Select Source:

Conundrum

Conundrum

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Conundrums are problems of several types. They may be riddles with a pun for an answer. They may be puzzling problems that are complicated with intricate features. And they may be presented in the fashion of a rhetorical question, but with only conjecture for an answer.

Conundrums create paralyzing paradoxes or dilemmas. Psychologically, they are similar to approach-approach conflicts, such as a conflict known as Buridans ass, which was posed by fourteenth-century philosopher Jean Buridan. An ass forced to choose between two equally luscious piles of hay that are equidistant starves to death. This is similar to the Malthusian dilemma, which states that helping the poor (humanitarian) may be increasing starvation (inhuman) when food supplies grow arithmetically while population grows geometrically.

The word conundrum is often used cynically to describe a puzzle that will probably never be solved because of a lack of data. The word conundrum is also used to describe a paradoxically difficult problem, such as the problem faced by economists in the second half of the twentieth century of how to achieve full employment without inflation.

Conundrums are puzzles that call for lateral thinking. In traditional logic puzzles an array chart can be used to sift through the possibilities in a systematic way. In lateral thinking, puzzles are not solved by a linear method but more in the fashion of brainstorming. Every possible piece of the riddle is identified and all solutions are posed as hypotheses with the mostly likely tested first.

Unlike traditional logic puzzles, conundrums use riddles with plays on words that seek to mystify or mislead, or a conundrum may pose a fanciful question that is answered with a pun. For example, the chicken conundrum: which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Conundrums pose problems that seem to defy solution because the problem is in the form of a dilemma wrapped in a riddle. Businesses, voluntary organizations, and other human enterprises often face problems that seem to be insolvable riddles. Should criminal wrongdoing be reported so that justice can be done, but also damage the institution by the exposure? What should be the treatment dilemmas for patients with complicated medical conditions when action A kills and inaction kills.

The structure of scientific revolutions has been one in which anomalies do not match the prevailing model. Eventually the anomalies defy the orthodox theory and create a conundrum. How is it possible for things to be both this and not this? What illumination travels like a wave and like a packet, but cannot be simultaneously both? Daylight dancing and waving until it delivers its quantum packets.

In the conundrums faced by political and economic decision-makers, the play aspect of conundrums suggests that game theories may help with solutions. Presumptions are abandoned and solutions are sought freely.

SEE ALSO Economics; Kuhn, Thomas; Mystification; Paradigm; Revolutions, Scientific

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Casati, Roberto, and Achille Varzi. 2004. Insurmountable Simplicities: Thirty-Nine Philosophical Conundrums. New York: Columbia University Press.

Katz, Leo. 1987. Bad Acts and Guilty Minds: Conundrums of the Criminal Law. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kendzior, Lawrence J. 2004. Conundrum: The Challenge of Execution in Middle-Market Companies. New York: iUniverse, Inc.

Andrew J. Waskey

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Conundrum." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Jul. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Conundrum." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/conundrum

"Conundrum." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved July 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/conundrum

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

conundrum

co·nun·drum / kəˈnəndrəm/ • n. (pl. -drums ) a confusing and difficult problem or question. ∎  a question asked for amusement, typically one with a pun in its answer; a riddle. ORIGIN: late 16th cent.: of unknown origin, but first recorded in a work by Thomas Nashe, as a term of abuse for a crank or pedant, later coming to denote a whim or fancy, also a pun. Current senses date from the late 17th cent.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"conundrum." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Jul. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"conundrum." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/conundrum-1

"conundrum." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved July 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/conundrum-1

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

conundrum

conundrum a question asked for amusement, typically one with a pun in its answer; a riddle; a confusing and difficult problem or question. The word is of unknown origin, but is first recorded (in the late 16th century) in a work by Thomas Nashe, as a term of abuse for a crank or pedant, later coming to denote a whim or fancy, also a pun. Current senses date from the late 17th century.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"conundrum." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Jul. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"conundrum." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/conundrum

"conundrum." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved July 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/conundrum

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

conundrum

conundrum †whim, crotchet XVI; †pun XVII; riddle involving a pun, puzzling statement or question XVIII. In early use also conimbrum, quinombrum, quonundrum, quadundrum; of obscure orig., but prob. based on some L. formula (involving quoniam or quin) current in the schools.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"conundrum." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Jul. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"conundrum." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/conundrum-2

"conundrum." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved July 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/conundrum-2

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

conundrum

conundrum •minimum • maximum • optimum •chrysanthemum, helianthemum •cardamom • Pergamum • sesamum •per annum • magnum • damnum •Arnhem, Barnum •envenom, venom •interregnum • Cheltenham • arcanum •duodenum, plenum •platinum • antirrhinum • Bonham •summum bonum • Puttnam •ladanum • molybdenum • laudanum •origanum, polygonum •organum • tympanum •laburnum, sternum •gingham • Gillingham • Birmingham •Cunningham • Walsingham •Nottingham • wampum • carom •Abram • panjandrum • tantrum •angstrom • alarum • candelabrum •plectrum, spectrum •arum, harem, harum-scarum, Sarum •sacrum, simulacrum •maelstrom • cerebrum • pyrethrum •Ingram •sistrum, Tristram •Hiram •grogram, pogrom •nostrum, rostrum •cockalorum, decorum, forum, jorum, Karakoram, Karakorum, Mizoram, pons asinorum, quorum •wolfram • fulcrum • Durham •conundrum • buckram • lustrum •serum, theorem •labarum • marjoram • pittosporum •Rotherham • Bertram

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"conundrum." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Jul. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"conundrum." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/conundrum-0

"conundrum." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved July 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/conundrum-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.