This Is Your Brain on Puns

iStock
iStock

Q. What do vegan zombies eat?
A. Graaaaaaaaaaaaains. 

If that joke made you groan like the undead, thank your bilateral processing abilities. Researchers studying the neuroscience of puns say that understanding them, even the bad ones, requires cooperation between both sides of the brain. They published their research in the journal Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition. 

Humor has a reputation for being transgressive, but all that boundary-pushing is only possible thanks to a system of internal rules. From knock-knock jokes to digs on someone’s mama, each class has its own standardized scaffolding. Some philosophers argue that humor itself depends on a formula: taking something familiar and giving it an unexpected—but not upsetting—twist. 

This “benign violation” setup is also at the heart of the pun. The joke up top takes a reader’s familiarity with the cliché of the lurching, brain-craving zombie, then uses a rhyme to add a surprising shade of meaning. Yes, we know that dissecting jokes isn’t funny. We’re done now.

Neuroscientists at the University of Windsor wondered how our brains would parse the two-step process of understanding puns. They were specifically curious to find out how the work was divvied up between the brain’s left and right hemispheres. 

To find out, they brought volunteers into the lab and sat them down in front of computers, which proceeded to display a series of easy, cheesy puns. (Ex.: “They replaced the baseball with an orange to add some zest to the game.”) Some of the puns showed up on the left side of the screen, where they would be processed first by the right side of the brain. The rest showed up on the right. The participants were timed to see how long it took them to get each joke, such as it was. 

The results showed that participants were quicker on the uptake when their puns appeared on the right side of the screen—that is, starting with the left side of their brains. This makes sense, co-author Lori Buchanan told Scientific American: “The left hemisphere is the linguistic hemisphere, so it’s the one that processes most of the language aspects of the pun, with the right hemisphere kicking in a bit later.” 

Understanding a pun, they found, requires input from both hemispheres. The left side introduces the standard, linguistic part of the sentence or joke—essentially setting up the setup—while the right side analyzes the punchline’s double meaning. 

That's probably more thought than most puns deserve. 

You Could Get Paid $1000 to Host a Remote The Office Watching Party

NBC
NBC

If getting paid to watch The Office sounds like a dream come true, well, you're in luck. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, Overheard on Conference Calls, an online resource that provides helpful guides to navigating the workplace, is paying one diehard fan $1000 to host a remote watch party of The Office.

"In a time when most states in the U.S. are under stay at home orders due to COVID-19 and words like social distancing are common, it can be tough to still remember there are good things out there. Two of those things are friendship and the television show The Office," the company said on their website.

But there are a few important requirements. According to the site, Overheard is looking for someone who loves the show, has accessibility to host a video call, and will watch 15 episodes in the span of one week with their friends.

You also need to be 18 years or older and a current resident of the United States. If you fit all these requirements, simply fill out this form by April 27.

Even if you aren't the lucky winner, you can still host an Office watch party while social distancing. Check out this free browser extension that allows you to watch Netflix with your friends.

Can You Spot the Easter Egg Hiding in the Flowers in This Springtime Brain Teaser?

Don't worry—the puzzle below won't trigger your seasonal allergies.
Don't worry—the puzzle below won't trigger your seasonal allergies.
FlairImages/iStock via Getty Images

Scores of residents likely won’t be dashing through vibrant flower gardens at your neighborhood’s traditional Easter egg hunt this year, but you can still put your eagle eye to good use in this brain teaser, courtesy of online blinds retailer 247 Blinds.

In the following image, a single egg is hidden somewhere among the bright pattern of yellow flowers and green leaves. Once you’ve spotted it (or decided to throw in the towel), scroll down to reveal the answer.

spot the egg in the flowers brain teaser
Can you spot the Easter egg?
247 Blinds

The design in the image is the very same one as the online retailer's “Hard to Crack” roller blinds—cleverly concealed egg included—which you can customize to fit most standard windows. Not only will it give your room a sunny, springtime ambience, it’ll also give your house guests something to do while they sip their morning coffee.

Ready to wrap up your virtual Easter egg hunt? The egg is circled in red below.

spot the egg in the flowers brain teaser answer
You've earned a chocolate bunny or two.
247 Blinds

And while you’re waiting for the Easter Bunny to deliver a basket brimming with candy-filled eggs this weekend, find out where the Easter Bunny came from here.

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