The Red Button

There’s a knock at your door.

A courier leaves a package in your arms. It’s not heavy, but it has a strange heft to it. You don’t remember ordering anything. You’re not expecting something. But here it is, addressed to you.

Unwrapping the package reveals a small brown paper parcel and an envelope. The stationery and packaging are both of a good stock, clearly not from a supermarket shelf or high street stationer’s. The handwriting on the envelope is familiar, but you can’t place it.

For your viva, it reads.

You open the parcel first, cutting the string when the knot proves too tricky. Beneath several layers of paper you uncover a polished wooden box. It’s old, you can tell, but you’re not sure where in the world it might come from. You hold it in your cupped palms, the sides are smooth to the touch. There seems to be no lid or opening. It is a box though, not solid wood: the contents don’t shift much as you carefully move it in your hands, but you can tell that the weight is not uniform.

Resting in the curved top surface is a small recess and a red button.

Perplexed by the box you open the envelope. The note inside has a scrawl for a signature, but the contents are clear enough.

Friend. In case this helps with your preparations. What do you not want to be asked in your viva? Think carefully and press the red button, and you won’t be asked. But think carefully. Yours [illegible]

A hoax. A weird joke from a friend who knows your viva is weeks away. And yet…

What if?

No. It couldn’t be. This is a strange sort of gift. You wrap the parcel up and put it in a cupboard.

Two weeks later you take it out and stare at the box and the red button for an hour.

You make a decision.


If the box was real, and you could press the red button, what would you not want to be asked in your viva?

The box is not real! But if there’s a question you don’t want to be asked in your viva then you probably need to do something to rehearse for that situation.

Not wanting to be asked a question won’t remove the possibility. Practice and preparation will help just in case you should encounter that one question you really don’t want to be asked.