Question: do people ever ask them to work on particular problems? Dr. Breed says people ask—admirals and generals want them to conduct specific research all the time. But the "pure-research man" never listens to such requests (19.2).
Like this one time, a Marine general asked Dr. Hoenikker to solve a problem for him.
The problem was mud.
Marines were just tired of traipsing through the mud all the time, and the general wanted Hoenikker to do something about it.
Hoenikker's idea was to make something the size of a grain that could make all types of wetland solid.
In an aside, Dr. Breed admires the way Hoenikker tackles even old problems in a playful and new ways.