Lateral thinking puzzles are strange situations in which you are given a little information and then have to find the explanation. They are solved through a dialogue between the quizmaster who sets the puzzle and the solver or solvers who try to figure out the answer. The puzzles as stated generally do not contain sufficient information for the solver to uncover the solution. So a key part of the process is the asking of questions. The questions can receive one of only three possible answers – yes, no or irrelevant.
When one line of enquiry reaches an end then another approach is needed, often from a completely new direction. This is where the lateral thinking comes in.
Some people find it frustrating that for any puzzle it is possible to construct various answers which fit the initial statement of the puzzle. However, for a good lateral thinking puzzle, the proper answer will be the best in the sense of the most apt and satisfying. When you hear the right answer to a good puzzle of this type you should want to kick yourself for not working it out!
This kind of puzzle teaches you to check your assumptions about any situation. You need to be open-minded, flexible and creative in your questioning and able to put lots of different clues and pieces of information together. Once you reach a viable solution you keep going in order to refine it or replace it with a better solution. This is lateral thinking!
This list contains some of the most renowned and representative lateral thinking puzzles:
1. The Man in the Elevator
A man lives on the tenth floor of a building. Every day he takes the elevator to go down to the ground floor to go to work or to go shopping. When he returns he takes the elevator to the seventh floor and walks up the stairs to reach his apartment on the tenth floor. He hates walking so why does he do it?
This is probably the best known and most celebrated of all lateral thinking puzzles. It is a true classic. Although there are many possible solutions which fit the initial conditions, only the canonical answer is truly satisfying.
2. The Man in the Bar
A man walks into a bar and asks the barman for a glass of water. The barman pulls out a gun and points it at the man. The man says ‘Thank you’ and walks out.
This puzzle has claims to be the best of the genre. It is simple in its statement, absolutely baffling and yet with a completely satisfying solution. Most people struggle very hard to solve this one yet they like the answer when they hear it or have the satisfaction of figuring it out.
3. The Man who Hanged Himself
There is a large wooden barn which is completely empty except for a dead man hanging from the middle of the central rafter. The rope around his neck is ten feet long and his feet are three feet off the ground. The nearest wall is 20 feet away from the man. It is not possible to climb up the walls or along the rafters. The man hanged himself. How did he do it?
4. Death in a Field
A man is lying dead in a field. Next to him there is an unopened package. There is no other creature in the field. How did he die?
5. The Deadly Dish
Two men went into a restaurant. They both ordered the same dish from the menu. After they tasted it, one of the men went outside the restaurant and shot himself. Why?
6. 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?
7. 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?
8. Push that Car
A man pushed his car. He stopped when he reached a hotel at which point he knew he was bankrupt. Why?
9. The Arm of the Postal Service
One day a man received a parcel in the post. Carefully packed inside was a human arm. He examined it, repacked it and then sent it on to another man. The second man also carefully examined the arm before taking it to the woods and burying it. Why did they do this?
This one probably has more variations than any other. A great one to puzzle out. It requires plenty of good questions.
A man died and went to Heaven. There were thousands of other people there. They were all naked and all looked as they did at the age of 21. He looked around to see if there was anyone he recognised. He saw a couple and he knew immediately that they were Adam and Eve. How did he know?
Paul Sloane has written 20 books of lateral thinking puzzles including Lateral Thinking Puzzlers and Infuriating Lateral Thinking Puzzles. Many of the books are co-authored with Des MacHale
The answers to the puzzles above are given here.