In Whose Body?, the first of Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey novels, the hero sees the solution all at once:
And then it happened—the thing he had been half-unconsciously expecting. It happened suddenly, surely, as unmistakably, as sunrise. He remembered—not one thing, nor another thing, nor a logical succession of things, but everything—the whole thing, perfect, complete, in all its dimensions as it were and instantaneously; as if he stood outside the world and saw it suspended in infinitely dimensional space. He no longer needed to reason about it, or even to think about it. He knew it.
There is a game in which one is presented with a jumble of letters and is required to make a word out of them, as thus:
C O S S S S R I
The slow way of solving the problem is to try out all the permutations and combinations in turn, throwing away impossible conjunctions of letters, as:
S S S I R C
S C S R S O
Another way is to stare at the inco-ordinate elements until, by no logical process that the conscious mind can detect, or under some adventitious external stimulus, the combination
S C I S S O R S
presents itself with calm certainty. After that, one does not even need to arrange the letters in order. The thing is done.
We are given “the slow way,” which is plodding, and “another way,” which is miracle, the way of Lord Peter. Is this not to discourage us from seeking a third way? Soar or sink, tertium non datur.
For the mental instrument which effects such a dichotomy I propose the name Sayers’s Scissors. If not as sharp as Occam’s Razor, it is in far wider use. The Razor pares away, leaving only what necessity requires; the Scissors, itself twofold, produces a pair, which calls for choice. Sayers herself apparently favored a one-syllable pronunciation of her name, which together with an evaporated English r in each word gives a pleasing doubleness to the sound of our new designation, something like Sezziz Sizzez.
Sayers’s Scissors is the beloved of believers and the darling of deniers. “Lay down all hope, you that go in by me,” to quote our newly made eponym. You are a dullard or inspired, a machine or a genius. If the thing sought is not in plain sight, you must practice drudgery or fly to mystery—and who cares for drudgery? There is no place for mere human effort, for rational investigation. Everyone who sees a gap and thinks it a chasm, everyone who eagerly embraces the inexplicable, wields the Scissors.
How would we others deal with the case presented in Sayers’s game? Why, we would reason, more or less as follows. A word of only eight letters, of which four are s, very likely has a double s in the middle or at the end. Probably the word ends in s, as that is a very common final letter; and far more words end in a single than in a double s, so we may put the double s in the middle. The position of the fourth s is uncertain, but seeing that very many words begin with s (more, I think, than with any other letter, unless a prefix like un- skews the count), we may provisionally suppose that it is the first letter. This gives s — ss — s, where each gap contains at least a vowel. If we have not already guessed the word, we turn to the remaining letters. Here we observe that the combination sc frequently begins a word, while css, ssc, and cs are unusual; so we try sc — ss — s, and now the answer really cannot be missed.
Such a detailed account may be somewhat absurd, but it illustrates how the thinking mind, that modest but admirable instrument, does its work, without much more assistance from mystery than old Anthony Rockwall needed to bring Richard and Miss Lantry together.
“You didn’t notice,” said he, “anywhere in the tie-up, a kind of a
fat boy without any clothes on shooting arrows around with a bow,
“Why, no,” said Kelly, mystified. “I didn’t. If he was like you
say, maybe the cops pinched him before I got there.”
“I thought the little rascal wouldn’t be on hand,” chuckled Anthony.
(See Mammon and the Archer, by O. Henry.)