“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 for them being there. What is it?”
That’s a rather easy one. You can probably guess without even asking any questions. Sometimes these “Lateral Thinking Puzzles” can be quite a bit more difficult. The quizmaster will answer your questions only with “yes”, “no”, or “irrelevant” and somehow you slowly piece together the story behind this odd situation.
“One night during the Second World War, an allied bomber was on a mission over Germany. The plane was in perfect condition and everything on it worked properly. When it had reached the target, the pilot ordered the bomb doors open. They opened. He then ordered the bombs released. They were released. But the bombs did not fall from the plane. Why should this be so?”
They really were released and neither was the crew surprised by this nor did anything malfunction, but still the bombs remained in the plane. Had they been on the ground back in England when they tried this, the bombs would have fallen from the plane. Got it yet?
These puzzles are truly logical and involve little or no word play. But they require “lateral thinking” which is a phrase coined to describe the non-linear problem solving you’ll need to put everything together. There’s a logical explanation of course, but it’s not the kind of answer that follows 1-2-3 from the question.
I first learned about these puzzles from my new boss, while I was living in Holland. He was an American and he loved these puzzles and knew many of them by heart. I liked them too, but when I tried them with friends and colleagues I noticed a problem in many of them. It turns out that many of them have a cultural bias. You have to know something about an custom or activity that clues you into what’s really going on in the story but that activity might not be practiced everywhere.
Without spoiling the questions above, the first one might be tougher if you live in, say, India, or Thailand. The second one is pretty reasonable, but it helps the process if you can at least picture a WWII airplane.
Still trying some these out and having them fall so flat with my intended audience was a great lesson in assumptions. It’s certainly easy to assume that someone ought to know something but that doesn’t make it so. But imagining what is not obvious to someone else requires you to really step out of your own skin and into someone else’s. Turns out that’s a handy skill to have.
For more of these puzzles, pick up the book Lateral Thinking Puzzlers by Paul Sloane. If you didn’t already figure out the examples above, feel free to ask yes-or-no questions in the comments and we’ll solve them right here.