18 Challenges of Lateral Thinking
You’ve probably heard the term ‘lateral thinking’ at least once or twice. Did you know lateral thinking has become an important element in hiring practices of big and small corporations?
It’s also a mode of thought included in brain fitness programs.
That’s because recent studies on thinking patterns have shown the power of lateral thought processes to transform your brain’s problem solving and idea generating skills to levels you never imagined possible.
Lateral Brain puzzles focus on stimulating the brain to think in creative ways outside of routine thought patterns, and this kind of brain “teasing” has been shown to increase the brain’s potential to create as well as reveal this propensity in people, especially when interviewing potential employees for specific industries.
In order to solve the following brain puzzles, basically you’re testing your ability to “think outside the box”. We’ll go into a deeper study of lateral thinking later in another article, but for now let’s suffice with these quick highlights on how lateral thinking works and get down to some practical fun.
1. Many Lateral Thinking Puzzles Provide An Incomplete Set of Details
These puzzles teach you to be detail oriented as well as to expect the unexpected. The following is from Paul Sloane’s article on destination-innovation’s top 10 list:
The Trouble with Sons
A woman had two sons who were born on the same hour of the same day of the same year. But they were not twins. How could this be so?
Find the answer here
2. Lateral Thinking Puzzles Can Challenge Your Preconceptions About People And Things
The folks at folj.com came up with this one, showing that we all have preset ideas about people and relationships which can strongly influence our thinking. Try it out:
People at The Bus Stop
You are driving down the road in your car on a wild, stormy night, when you pass by a bus stop and you see three people waiting for the bus: 1. An old lady who looks as if she is about to die. 2. An old friend who once saved your life. 3. The perfect partner you have been dreaming about. Knowing that there can only be one passenger in your car, whom would you choose?
Go here for the solution
3. Some Lateral Thinking Problems Require You to Pay Attention to The Exact Wording of The Narrative.
These puzzles are especially good for team building, parties, or other group activities since they require that a lot of questions be asked to ‘diagnose’ and solve the problem. Consider this lateral brain teaser:
Man Trapped In Car
A man was driving alone in his car when he spun off the road at high speed. He crashed through a fence and bounced down a steep ravine before the car plunged into a fast-flowing river. As the car slowly settled in the river, the man realized that his arm was broken and that he could not release his seat belt and get out of the car. The car sank to the bottom of the river. He was trapped in the car. Rescuers arrived two hours later, yet they found him alive. How come?
This one is from Braingle, and the solution can be found here.
4. Lateral Problems Often Require Critical Thinking Skills
These problems challenge us to examine our usual thinking patterns and break out of them. Here’s one from Udemy:
There are a dozen eggs in a carton. Twelve people each take a single egg, but there is one egg left in the carton. How?
Get the answer here.
5. In Some Lateral Teasers, Knowing Certain Facts from Your Days In Math or Physics Class Can Help
In this lateral word puzzle from allpuzzles.net, the solution is easy if you know your facts about natural laws:
There is a barrel with no lid and some beer in it. “This barrel is more than half full,” said Chuck. “No it’s not,” say Joe. “It’s less than half full.” Without any measuring implements and without removing any beer from the barrel, how can they easily determine who is correct?
Find the answer here.
6. Sometimes The Answer to A Lateral Brainteaser Is Just Plain Funny
This one from Riddlesbrainteasers.com is just painfully obvious, once you know the answer!
A Cowboy Rides Into Town On Friday
A cowboy rides into town on Friday, stays for three days and leaves on Friday. How did he do it?
Check out the answer here
7. Lateral Thinking Can Involve A Creative Process of Elimination
What would normally be a linear process of logic becomes a less conventional process of elimination in the following puzzle most recently showcased by Popular Mechanics:
One Light and Three Switches
There is a lightbulb inside a closet. The door is closed, and you cannot see if the light is on or off through the door. However, you know the light is off to start. Outside of the closet, there are three light switches. One of the switches controls the lightbulb in the closet. You can flip the switches however you want, but once you open the door, you can no longer touch the switches. How do you figure out without a doubt which switch controls the light?
Get the solution here
8. Lateral Thinking Problems May Challenge Your Preconceived Ideas About Culture And Society
In this case, you may have an easier time answering this one if you are not from the US. Source: Udemy.
4th of July
Which countries have the 4th of July out of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, and Canada?
The answer can be found here
9. Lateral Thinking Can Teach You To Properly Analyze A Situation
Last cited on a post question through Quora, the following brain teaser has been noted to show up on questions given during job interviews:
The Boat Ladder
A boat has a ladder that’s ten feet long, and hangs off the side of the boat, with its last two feet submerged in water. If the ocean tide rises five feet, how much of the ladder will be underwater?
If you try to solve this problem using mathematical analysis, you will fail, but the mention of numbers in a word puzzle can easily bring the mathematician out in you, taking you in the wrong direction.
Here’s the solution
10. Lateral Thinking Can Challenge Our Understanding About The Attitudes And Actions of Others
Puzzles9.com has the following riddle that requires lateral thinking about certain standards or abilities we catagorically presuppose of professionals:
Beloved Pet Goldfish
A woman had a pet goldfish which she loved very dearly. One day she noticed that it was swimming feebly in its bowl and it looked very unwell. She rushed to the vet with her prized pet and he told her to come back in an hour. When she returned she found the goldfish swimming strongly and looking healthy again. How had the vet managed this?
See the answer here
11. Lateral Thinking Challenges Our Prejudices
It’s interesting that people of younger generations have an easier time solving this brain teaser, cited here by wilk4.com:
Boy Rushed to Hospital
A man and his son are in a car accident. The father dies on the scene, but the child is rushed to the hospital. When he arrives the surgeon says, “I can’t operate on this boy, he is my son! ” How can this be?
The answer can be found here
It is important to note that subtle construction of the wording of the problem, such as the use of only masculine pronouns, can subconsciously lead the brain on the wrong path of thought.
12. Lateral thinking problems can challenge your perception skills about environments and changing states of an environment.
Here is a really good one by Paul Sloane showcased on techinterviewpuzzles.com:
The Coal, Carrot and Scarf
Five pieces of coal, a carrot and a scarf are lying on the lawn. Nobody put them on the lawn but there is a perfectly logical reason why they should be there. What is it?
Find the answer here
Seems simple in hindsight, but when you think about what your brain needs to do to picture this situation and solve it, it is actually a complex problem involving changes in matter and time (snow melting). Definitely fun, but not for the faint of heart!
13. Lateral thinking can require you to think in multiple dimensions
This lateral thinking problem can be found at Riddles.com and many other sites. It goes like this:
Dead in a Field
There is a dead man in the middle of a field, nothing is around him and there are no footprints of any sort. There is an unopened package next to him. How did he die? HINT: As he approached the field he knew he was going to die.
For the answer, go here
The difficulty with this brain puzzle is that we tend to think of a situation in 2 dimensions from the ground. One has to make the mental leap from there to the 3rd dimension which was the man in the air.
14. Lateral thinking can challenge you to look beyond what you are seeing.
In this puzzle shown on humorhour.com, the answer is literally right in front of your face, but nonetheless it is still a difficult puzzle. See how you fare finding the answer:
The name’s of three trees are hidden in the sentences below. The letters are in consecutive order. Can you find them? On this farm, we get ham from a hog any time. The farmer will help in every possible way. He faced two very similar choices, both bad.
Still stumped? (haha) The answer is revealed here
So even words in context can be a sort of optical illusion preventing us from finding the obvious since our brains are programmed to search for the meaning in sentence structure.
15. Lateral thinking puzzles can reveal your mental state! (A bit scary)
Some of the less common lateral thinking tests are more difficult such as the following from learning-mind.com:
Girl at A Funeral
Here is the story of a young girl. At her mother’s funeral, she saw an unknown young man. He was charming, really the man of her dreams. She madly fell in love with him. After a couple of days the young girl killed her own sister… Question: What motive did she have to do it?
There are so many possibilities that would seem plausible but here is the answer:
“The test was developed and used by a famous American psychologist to determine whether a person has murderous mentality. Several criminals who did the test correctly answered the question.” So, how’d you answer it? 😕
16. Lateral Thinking Puzzles Can Be Mysterious from The Outside Looking In
This puzzle was published on Funwithpuzzles.com and really requires you to stretch your mind to solve:
There once was a recluse who never left his home. The only time anyone ever visited him was when his food and supplies were delivered, but they never came inside. Then, one stormy winter night when an icy gale was blowing, he had a nervous breakdown. He went upstairs, turned off all the lights and went to bed. Next morning, he had caused the deaths of several hundred people. How?
Check out the answer here
This problem involves so many different elements including a detailed story, and making an assumption about the man when he is defined as a recluse. However, the occupation of the man is also a very obscure one, so the answer is a surprise.
17. Lateral Thinking Can Make Simple Answers Seem Very Elusive
A great example of this is found on Kith.org, an oldie but a goodie:
The Box in The Room
A man is sitting in a room. Another person enters, carrying a closed cardboard box, and sits down nearby. Though the first man can’t see, hear, or smell the box’s contents, he knows what’s in the box. (ES original)
Read the solution here
So these situation problems can really be something that is easy to identify with, just not so evident when trying to solve the puzzle.
18. Lateral Thinking Can Challenge Our Assumptions About Visual Concepts
This puzzle is very old and well ditributed throughout publications and of course the internet for many years. If you haven’t seen it yet, you probably haven’t had a lot of experience with IQ testing or puzzle solving, but give it a try:
Connect Nine Dots
Connect all the nine dots in this image using only 4 straight lines. Archimedes-lab does a nice job of explaining the thoughts and common assumptions that make this puzzle difficult for the un-initiated puzzler.
Check out the reasoning here.
Yeah, Cool Mind Benders! So What Can This Do For Me?
One of the most common questions asked of prospective employees on a job interview is about lateral thinking. Lateral thinking is considered a very valuable skill by most employers and companies, because it requires breaking out of conventional thinking patterns and sequences.
The ability to “think outside the box” is a quality of great innovators and trail-blazers desired by employers and businesses.
Lateral thinking is the core of great mystery, suspense and thriller plots in movies and books, so if you’re a mystery/thriller seeker, you may enjoy a regular dose of lateral brain puzzles.
As with most brain exercises, people want to know: Can lateral thinking improve brain function? Since most lateral thinking is not an inborn talent but actual skills that can be learned, improving your brain function is a direct result of practicing these skills. Yup, no free lunch here, you have to practice, practice, practice.
Honing lateral thinking skills will increase your creative capacity and perspective. Generally this can yield increased productivity and satisfaction in life. So have fun teaching your brain to think in new ways and with some practice, you may be the next Thomas Edison or maybe Mark Zuckerberg.