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Bart: "What's that?"
Homer: "Son, they call this a droodle. (spins a dreidle) Woo-hoo, look at it

-- Simpson's, Season 4, episode 9F09, "Homer's Triple Bypass".






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Droodles, cognitive poetics or funny Rorschach tests?
"Egli è ben vero che in tale macchia si vedono varie invenzioni di ciò che l'uomo vuole cercare in quella, cioè teste d'uomini, diversi animali, battaglie, scogli, mari, nuvoli e boschi ed altre simili cose; e fa come il suono delle campane, nelle quali si può intendere quelle dire quel che a te pare"
Leonardo Da Vinci
  Solve the month droodle
Droodles archive

Droodles: scarabeschi (it), droudles (fr), Drudeln, Fensterrätseln (ger), droedels (du)

Challenging your Creative Visualization
by G. Sarcone

Puzzles that resemble abstract drawings you have to give a sense, are known as "droodles". These kinds of puzzles were popularized in the U.S. by Roger Price's 1953 book "Droodles". The trademarked name 'droodle' is a portmanteau word suggesting both 'doodle' and 'riddle'. But the droodles or indovinelli grafici have been known since the Renaissance in Italy. One of the oldest droodles – representing a blind beggar behind a street corner – was drawn by the Italian painter Agostino Carracci (1557–1602).

But what exactly is a "Droodle"? It is actually a kind of minimal cartoon featuring rather abstract pictorial elements accompanied by an implicit question: "What is it?". A punch line (usually a funny description, see images further below) finally made the cartoon obvious.

Droodles are based on the pareidolia (payr-eye-DOH-lee-uh), an innate human tendency to impose a pattern on random or ambiguous shapes. Astronomer Carl Sagan claimed that the tendency to see faces in tortillas, clouds, cinnamon buns, and the like is an evolutionary trait. He wrote:  
"As soon as the infant can see, it recognizes faces, and we now know that this skill is hardwired in our brains. Those infants who a million years ago were unable to recognize a face smiled back less, were less likely to win the hearts of their parents, and less likely to prosper. These days, nearly every infant is quick to identify a human face, and to respond with a goony grin" (Sagan, 1995).

Our ability to have what we know interacts top-down with what we see, and allows us to recognize a scene, a portrait even from these minimal cartoons. The world that surrounds us is 'sensorially noisy': in fact, we don't realize that most of the signals/stimuli we receive from our environment are sometimes full of gaps, because our mental top-down processing restores them unconsciously.

How we give signification to every data coming into our brain
When your brain has to identify an object, it must match what you see against your stored knowledge and experiences. Taking sensory data in from the environment and analyzing relevant information is called "bottom-up processing". Bottom-up processing is tied to EMPIRICAL reality and deals with the transformation of concrete, physical features of stimuli into abstract models.

However, when your EXPECTATIONS affect perception, the phenomenon is referred to as "top-down" or "conceptually driven processing". Top-down processing involves your past experiences, knowledge, motivations, and cultural background as well in perceiving the world. In a few words, top-down processing involves higher mental functioning that influences HOW you understand physical objects, signs and events. The droodles illustrate the importance of top-down processing: without the labels, these drawings are meaningless. But once the drawings are identified, your perception changes and you can easily find meaning in them, or even give new meanings by idea-association. Moreover, as soon as the meaning of a drawing 'emerges' (that is, when it becomes familiar to you), you can no longer see it as you were seeing it before!

Expand your imagination with droodles
Giving meaning to abstract forms can also be a way to stimulate your imagination and exercise your visual thinking skills. When Leonardo da Vinci needed to get his creative juices flowing, he sat and stared at clouds or rocks... "If you look upon an old wall covered with dirt or the odd appearance of some streaked stones", he once wrote, "you may discover several things like landscapes, battles, clouds, uncommon attitudes, humorous faces, draperies...". Da Vinci heartily recommended this 'new method' of invention as a practical technique for "opening the mind and putting it upon the scent of new thoughts". The abstract, organic forms embedded in crumbling walls and hunks of stone, he believed, could be put to work as "terrestrial batteries for jump-starting the imagination" (just for your enlightenment, in the language of Da Vinci, doodle is named 'ghirigoro' or 'scarabocchio').

We encourage parents and educators to use our math droodles as a tool to build young (and grown-up) creative minds... For that purpose, do not hesitate to download any of our droodles! (visit also You're also encouraged to expand and/or improve this article. Send your comments, feedback or suggestions to Gianni A. Sarcone. Thanks!

What is it?
© 2000, Droodles, Tallfellow Press
1. a shark returning from Disneyland
2. a koala climbing a tree
carracci droodle
This is one of the oldest droodles or indovinelli grafici drawn by the Italian painter Agostino Carracci (1557-1602) representing a blind beggar behind a street corner

attrape 1
The Challenge
arrow Now solve our droodle of the month!
  Droodles archive hand
(images + solutions)
attrape 2


arrow Leonardo da Vinci's rebuses
arrow Official 'droodles' website
arrow Estonian droodles


© 2006-2010 G. Sarcone,
You can re-use content from Archimedes’ Lab on the ONLY condition that you provide credit to the author (© G. Sarcone) and a link back to our site. You CANNOT reproduce the content of this page for commercial purposes.



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