Author, Michael Muxworthy, of the Caesar Rising series, shares his favorite lateral thinking puzzles for your consideration and damnation!

The use of lateral thinking is intrinsic to the discovery process used in the Caesar Rising series of novels by Michael Muxworthy. Try your hand at some of these to see if you have what it takes to be a lateral thinking investigator.

1/. The Elevator Puzzle. (This is an all-time classic lateral thinking puzzle and one of my favorites)

Kennedy assassination unintended consequence of the Roswell alien encounter

Living on the 20th floor of his apartment building, a man uses the elevator every day. He hates using the stairs, so he always catches the elevator all the way down to the ground floor. However, when returning home, he usually gets out on the 14th floor and walks up the remaining stairs. Why?

     Clue – He only catches the elevator up to the 20th floor on rainy, wet days.

Lateral thinking derived solutions aren’t always clear at first, but once revealed, they often seem obvious.

     Answer – The man is a dwarf. On rainy, wet days, he uses his umbrella to push the button.

2/. The Bar Puzzle. (This is probably the widest circulated lateral thinking puzzle around)

A man walks into a bar and asks the barman for a glass of water. The barman unexpectedly ducks behind the bar and emerges holding a shotgun, points it at the man’s face and yells “BANG”. The man smiles at the barman and says sincerely, “thank you”.

     Clue – The man leaves happy and satisfied, without drinking any water.

Lateral thinking challenges your preconceptions.

     Answer – The man had hiccups.

3/. The Bus Stop Puzzle. (You will need to think outside the square for this one)

It is a cold, wild and stormy night as a man drives along an open and exposed road. As he approaches a bus stop he notices that there are three people waiting:

  1. An old lady who is in urgent need of medical attention;
  2. His best friend who saved his life recently; and
  3. A beautiful girl that he had always wanted the opportunity to meet and ask out.

The man decides to stop and help out, but his car only holds one passenger. He will not overload his car. What does he do?

     Clue – He achieves everything possible with this solution.

Lateral thinking can be learned, practiced and used on demand.

     Answer – The man gives the keys to his best friend and asks him to drive the old lady to the hospital while he “bravely” keeps the company of the girl until the bus arrives.

4/. The Package Puzzle.  (The answer is logical, but only if you correctly identify the pieces)

While walking across a large open field you come across a man that has died very suddenly, unexpectedly, and only a very short time ago. You look around but there is no one and nothing about except for an unopened package next to the man. How did he die?

     Clue – The man’s death was accidental.

Lateral Thinking is a process that provides a deliberate, systematic way of thinking creatively that consistently results in innovation.

     Answer – The unopened package was the man’s parachute. It had failed to open.

5/. Police Raid Puzzle.  

Police are given a tip-off to the location of a man called Steven who just murdered someone. They don’t know what he looks like. When they kick the front door down, they see a poker game in play between a carpenter, a truck driver, a fireman and a mechanic. Without hesitation, they arrest the Fireman. How do they know that they’ve chosen correctly?

     Clue – Equality is important these days.

Lateral thinking seeks solutions to intractable problems through unorthodox methods or elements that would normally be ignored by logical thinking.

     Answer – Only the fireman was a man, the rest were women.

6/. Lucky Baby Puzzle.

A baby falls out of a window of a 20 story building yet lives. How?

     Clue – The baby’s mother jumped out of the window also soon after she saw her baby fall. She also survived.

The term “Lateral Thinking” was coined by the Maltese-born UK psychologist Dr. Edward de Bono in his 1970 book ‘Lateral Thinking.’ See also heuristics.

     Answer – The baby fell out of a ground floor window.

7/. The Cellar Puzzle.

A woman was told to never open the locked cellar door or she would be in big trouble. One day, she decided to force open the door. She then left the house, never to return, and went straight to the police station even though there was nothing unusual in the cellar. Why?

     Clue – She had no idea if someone would see her when she opened the door.

Lateral thinking investigations of the third kind reveal incredible unintended consequences of alien intervention on Earth.

     Answer – The woman was being kept a prisoner in the cellar.

8/. The Man Who Hanged Himself Puzzle.

Kennedy assassination unintended consequence of the Roswell alien encounter

There is a large empty shed with a dead man hanging from the middle of the central rafter. The rope around his neck is eight 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?

     Clue – The floor is wet.

Making provocative statements and then using them to generate new thinking is a tool for lateral thinking.

     Answer – The man stood on an ice cube.

9/. A Puzzle of Twins.

A mother gave birth to two children within an hour of each other on the same day and year, but the children aren’t twins. How?

     Clue – There can be several answers to this but they are all related.

Random Starting Points are an effective lateral thinking tool used in Roswell’s Final Witness, the first novel of the Caesar Rising series.

     Answer – They were triplets, or quadruplets, or . . .

10/. Pushing a Car Puzzle. 

A man pushes his car until he reaches a hotel, at which point he realizes that he is bankrupt. Why?

     Clue – This car wasn’t even broken or out of fuel.

Lateral thinking is often described as being able to “think outside the box”.

     Answer – The man is playing Monopoly.

11/. Coal, Scarf, and Carrot Puzzle.

Seven pieces of coal, a carrot, and a winter scarf are found lying on the lawn. How did they get there? There is a perfectly logical reason.

     Clue – Winter is over.

(Lateral thinking is idea generation and problem-solving techniques in which new concepts are created by looking at things in novel and different ways.)

     Answer – A snowman has melted as the weather has warmed up.

12/. The Puzzle of Heaven.

A man dies and goes to heaven. When he gets there, everyone is naked and appears to be only 18 years old. He sees a couple and recognizes them immediately as Adam and Eve. How?

     Clue – Adam and Eve were the FIRST man and woman. They must be different.

Puzzles that have ONLY one answer are technically NOT lateral.

     Answer – Adam and Eve weren’t born from a woman so they had no umbilical chords or Navels.

13/. The Surgeon Puzzle.

A man is in a car crash with his son. The father is killed and the child is taken to hospital gravely injured. When he gets there, the surgeon says, ‘I can’t operate on this boy. This is my son!!!’ The boy was NOT adopted in any way. How?

Clue – It’s a family affair.

Six Thinking Hats written by Edward de Bono was this author’s first introduction to Lateral Thinking. I highly recommend it.

Answer – The surgeon was the boy’s mother.

14/. The Chicken Dilemma Puzzle.

There are six eggs in a basket. Six different people each take an egg away. How is it that there is still one egg in the basket?

     Clue – The last person wanted to make sure they didn’t drop their egg as there were none left.

Lateral thinking is closely related to insight, humor, and creativity. All four processes have the same foundation. Insight, creativity, and humor can only be gifted, whereas lateral thinking is a more deliberate process.

     Answer – The last person took their egg and left it in the basket. They took the basket as well.

15/. An Arm of the Postal Service Puzzle.

A man with no left arm receives a large parcel from the Post Man. He opens the parcel and unwraps it to find a severed human left arm carefully preserved. He then re-wraps the arm and sends it to a second man.

Several days later, the second man, who also has no left arm, receives the package. He inspects the arm and then throws it away satisfied. Why?

     Clue – The left arm belongs to the man who originally sent the arm in the first place.

Sideways thinking involves approaching a problem from a new direction—not deriving a solution from something that already exists, but actually backing off, looking at in alternative ways and thinking from the side.

     Answer – The three men without left arms had been marooned on a deserted island together. Starving, they drew lots to give up their left arms for food. They had agreed that ALL three would give up their left arms no matter what. They were rescued when two of the men had given up their arms. The third man was living up to his obligation.

16/. Bags of Marbles Puzzle.

You have 12 marbles and 3 bags. How many different quantities can you load in each bag yet still have the same number of marbles in each bag? And what are those quantities?>

     Clue – There are three quantities.

Creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, we wouldn’t have progress.

     Answer – !2, 6 and 4. You can achieve this by putting one or two bags inside another.

17/. Which Light Switch Puzzle.

Three possible light switches are a long way from the cellar, with a difficult trip down rickety stairs to check which switch works the single light. You only want to make one trip. You are told that the other two switches should never be left on for extended periods as they no longer work and could cause a fire. How do you determine which light switch is for the cellar light and only make a single trip down to do so?

     Clue – There is a ladder you can use in the cellar.

Creative thinking is not a talent, it is a skill that can be learned. It empowers people by building their natural abilities, improving teamwork, productivity and profits.

     Answer – Turn on the first light switch and leave it on for a few minutes, then turn it off and turn on the second light switch. When you go downstairs, if the bulb is off, but warm, it is the first switch. If the bulb is on, it is the second switch. If the bulb is off and cold, it is the third light switch.

18/. Tall and Short Puzzle.

Two men need to open a high window in a completely empty room. One man is big and very tall, the other short. The short man gets onto the shoulders of the big and taller man, but he is just short of reaching the window catch. Without leaving the room, or receiving any help or tools, how do they open the window?

     Clue – Their combined hights may be the same, but their combined hight plus . . .

You might be lucky and born intelligent, but you can always learn to become a lateral thinker.

     Answer – If the taller man gets onto the shoulders of the shorter man, they achieve the extra reach of the taller man’s arms.

19/. The Secret Entrance Puzzle.

Kennedy assassination unintended consequence of the Roswell alien encounter

During a war, a man builds an underground bomb shelter for his family. The very heavy steel cover of the deep verticle entrance must remain unattached as it often serves a purpose elsewhere. The man is not worried that the heavy steel might accidentally fall on one of his children or wife though. Why?

     Clue – Manhole covers use this strategy.

If you never change your mind, why have one? – Edward de Bono

     Answer – The cover is round.

20/. Marble in a Bottle Puzzle.

You place a marble inside a bottle and put a cork firmly into the neck. Is it possible to get the marble out without removing the cork or breaking/cutting the bottle?

     Clue – It is annoying when this happens at a dinner party.

“A concept is a brick. It can be used to build a courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window.” – Gilles Deleuze.

     Answer – Push the cork into the bottle

21/. Too Close for Comfort Puzzle.

A man cannot sleep. He picks up the phone and dials someone and says, “I’m just ringing to let you know that you’ve won the lotto jackpot. I’ll call you back soon to let you know how much you’ve won.” He can sleep now. Why?

     Clue – He called someone that was near.

Experts will always give us the best of what is already known. Lateral thinkers create the future.

     Answer – The man lived in an apartment building and his very close neighbor was snoring loudly. The neighbor would not be going back to sleep now.

22/. The Fresh Coffee Puzzle.

A man orders a cup of black coffee. He notices a fly in it so he asks for a fresh cup. The waitress takes away his cup with the fly in it and brings a fresh cup back. The man says to waitress “All you did was take the fly out. This isn’t a fresh cup of coffee.” How did he know?

     Clue – Not everyone would be able to pick this. It depends on your preference for coffee.

Edward de Bono’s research concludes that the brain is a self-organizing system that interprets inputs into patterns. It is not then inherently designed for creativity. However, if certain lateral thinking tools are applied, the brain can learn to become more creative.

     Answer – The coffee that the waitress brought out had sugar in it already.

23/. The Ping Pong Ball Puzzle.

You are locked in a room without windows, but there is a light on. In the center of the room is a twelve-inch tube solidly embedded six inches deep in a cement floor. At the bottom of the tube is a ping pong ball with a diameter slightly smaller than the tube. You have an apple, a piece of chalk and a six-inch piece of string. How do you get the ping-pong ball out?

     Clue – The items are meant to mislead you.

Being correct is what matters in vertical thinking. Richness is what matters with lateral thinking.

     Answer – Pee in the tube and the ping-pong ball will float out.

24/. No Compass Required Puzzle.

If you stand at the actual North Pole, there is only one direction . . . South!

If you stand at the actual South Pole. there is only one direction . . . North!

Where would you be, if you could go north or south, but not east or west?

Clue – You can only bed at this location theoretically.

With vertical thinking, one may look for different approaches until one finds a promising one. With Lateral Thinking one goes on generating as many approaches as one can even after one has found a promising one.

     Answer – You are somewhere on the Earth’s axis.

25/. The Greedy Moneylender ULTIMATE Puzzle.

A merchant owes a great deal of money to an old and evil moneylender. Due to unfortunate business circumstances, he finds himself unable to make a payment. So he goes to see the lender and inform, ready to accept the legal consequences.

Not to worry”, the old man says. “You have something I want that could cover all of your debts. I took notice of your beautiful young daughter. If she accepts me as her husband, I wouldn’t throw my new father-in-law in jail”.

The merchant reluctantly brings this offer to his daughter and asks her if she is willing to make such a sacrifice.

I am terribly sorry papa”, she manages to say in between her sobs, “but he is over 70 years old and I am not even 20, I would be throwing my entire life away. I love you dearly but this is too much. I cannot possibly do this”.

So the merchant returns to the old moneylender and informs him of her response. Yet the moneylender is not discouraged; he has another proposal to make.

I understand. And, contrary to what most people think, I am not a cruel man”. He takes a moment to compose himself and smiles. “Yes, I am sure that your daughter will not object to the following agreement: tomorrow morning we shall go down to the river. In a leather pouch, I shall place two stones, a black one and a white one. I will swear in front of witnesses that if your daughter pulls out one of them, all debts of yours towards me are forgiven”.

Moreover”, he continues, “if she happens to pick the white one, she shall have no obligation to marry me. If however, she picks the black one, all debts will still be forgiven, but she will now have to marry me”.

When the new proposal is presented to the daughter she accepts, hoping that the 50–50 odds will be enough for her to escape the marriage.

The next morning they do go down by the river, both the merchant and the old man swear in front of witnesses of their agreement. However, the daughter catches with the corner of her eye the moneylender picking up two black stones, instead of a black and a white one, and dropping them both in his pouch. She dares not say anything because if she ruins the deal her father is going to jail.

So now you are in the daughter’s shoes.

The old man, smirking, is offering you the pouch for you to pull out the one stone agreed upon. The stone that will determine your future.

What do you do?

     Clues – Refusing to draw a stone or pointing out the moneylender’s trick do not work: you may feel vindicated – but your father ends up in jail for his debts.

Attempting to substitute a black stone with a white one of your own or trying to change the deal so that black now means no obligation to marry him do not work either: the old man is the one holding the pouch, he can feel its weight – and he is not stupid.

Throwing the old man into the river to drown is no solution either: your father goes to jail for his debts to the old man’s estate and you go on trial for murdering him.

Finally, this is not a play-on-words kind of a puzzle. So “drawing” a white stone on a piece of paper may sound cute but will not allow you to escape the old man’s intentions.

Lateral thinking puzzles are often strange situations that require explanation.

Answer – You drop the stone as if by accident so that the stone falls amongst the many others on the ground so that it is impossible to tell which is your stone. You then say it is easy enough to know which stone you selected by looking at the stone left in the bag. It is a black stone, so, you must have chosen the white stone. The moneylender must accept the outcome or be found out as being a cheat.

The Caesar Rising series of novels use lateral thinking as a tool of discovery as we investigate the terrifying unintended consequences of alien intervention on Earth.

Kennedy assassination unintended consequence of the Roswell alien encounter
Lateral Thinking Investigations . . . of the Third Kind

If you would like to know more about Michael Muxworthy, please visit his official author website

If you are wanting to know more about the use of Lateral Thinking in the first novel of the Caesar Rising series, Roswell’s Final Witness, please click here.

One thought on “Top 25 Lateral Thinking Puzzles

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