The Stapler Test or The Stapler Effect

by Warren Buckleitner

How to check to see if the interface knows that there's intelligent life on the other side

Have you ever noticed that on some tests, you can get a higher score just by filling in the dots at random?
Back in 1985 or so, I was reviewing a lot of early childhood software, and I noticed that with some of the more didactic activities, I could sometimes get through a level faster by randomly pressing keys. In the worst case, I could place an object, such as a stapler, on the ENTER or RETURN key, leave the room, and come back in a few minutes to find out that I was through the level.

I once watched a preschooler complete a spelling game by "squishing" the keyboard -- mashing down all the keys at once, with both hands. Somehow the computer registered enough correct answers faster than if the child had taken the time to hunt and peck through the 103 or so keys. That's the same thing.

Over the years, our internal reviewers at CTR (Ann, Ellen and I) began refer to "The Stapler Test," as in "does it pass the stapler test?" As the hardware has evolved, it is clear that it is still needed.

Here's an application of the Stapler Test on a Wii title, for example.