Smart riddles are cleverly constructed thinking puzzles that encourage you to check your assumptions in order to reach a correct answer. Instead of thinking linearly, you need to utilise lateral thinking to get there.
Most of our thinking is linear – that is, logical and sequential.
This type of thinking might be useful when performing a repetitive task or a task with limited parameters, but it has its limitations. In the words of Edward de Bono, the psychologist who coined the term lateral thinking:
“you cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.”
Smart riddles require different lines of enquiry in parallel. However, this can be easier said than done. Test your lateral thinking skills with the 10 smart riddles below:
- A window cleaner is cleaning the windows on the 25th floor of a skyscraper. He slips and falls. He is not wearing a safety harness and nothing slows his fall, yet he suffers no injuries. Explain.
- A woman lives on the tenth floor of a block of flats. Every morning, she takes the lift down to the ground floor and goes to work. In the evening, she gets into the lift, and, if there is someone else in the lift, she goes back to her floor directly. Otherwise, she goes to the eighth floor and walks up two flights of stairs to her flat. How do you explain this?
- Acting on an anonymous phone call, the police raid a house to arrest a suspected murderer. They don’t know what he looks like but they know his name is John and that he is inside the house. The police discover a carpenter, a truck driver, a mechanic and a fireman all playing poker. Without hesitation or communication of any kind, they immediately arrest the fireman. How do they know they’ve got their man?
- A police officer sees a truck driver travelling against the direction of traffic down a one way street, but did not try to stop him. Why not?
- The 60th and the 62nd Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom had the same mother and father but were not brothers. How can you account for this?
- A man builds a rectangular house, each side having a southern view. He spots a bear. What colour is the bear?
- A man dressed completely in black, wearing a black mask, stands at a crossroads in a totally black-painted town. All of the streetlights in town are broken. There is no moonlight. A black-painted car without headlights drives straight towards him, but it turns in time and doesn’t hit him. How did the driver know to swerve?
- How many animals of each species did Moses take into the Ark?
- A man, seven feet in height, is holding a glass beaker above his head. He lets it fall to the carpet without spilling a single drop of water. How could he manage to drop the glass from this height without spilling a drop of water?
- If a plane crashes directly on the borderline between Italy and Switzerland, where do you bury the survivors?
Answers to the 10 smart riddles:
- The window cleaner is cleaning the inside windows.
- The woman is not tall enough to reach the tenth floor button; she can only reach the eighth.
- The fireman is the only man present. The rest of the poker players are women.
- The truck driver is walking.
- The 60th and the 62nd Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom are the same person – Winston Churchill.
- The bear is white, as the house can only be at the South Pole
- It is daytime.
- Noah took animals into the ark.
- The beaker is empty.
- You don’t bury survivors.
How did you do?
If you found these puzzles hard, don’t worry; they’re designed to trick you into falling back on assumptions that hold you back from landing on the right answer. These assumptions, these tendencies to think in a particular way, are called predispositions.
When framed this way, it seems like predispositions limit our understanding of the world. But, your brain is a finite resource and your experience is, by its very nature, limited – it simply isn’t possible to commit everything you learn to memory.
So, you must use some method of retaining the most useful information in order to function in the real world. So, we struggle with smart riddles for a good reason.
If you struggled with a particular smart riddle above, and found the solution to be annoyingly obvious, you were probably unknowingly holding an invalid presupposition.
To solve a smart riddle, you must reject tradition and approach a problem from different angles. The thought process needed is not a straight line. Take time to identify your presuppositions and remove them from the problem at hand; it just might improve your lateral thinking.