CWanamaker enjoys reading, writing, and learning about the world around us.
What Is a Lateral Thinking Puzzle?
A lateral thinking puzzle is one in which you are given a seemingly unusual set of circumstances and you have to try and figure out what happened or what's going on. Think of a lateral thinking puzzle as a riddle that requires you to become a detective to fill in the missing parts of a very unusual, short story.
In general, lateral thinking puzzles can have multiple solutions since by their nature they are open-ended. However, there is often one "best" solution for each puzzle. When attempting to solve a lateral thinking puzzle analyze the clues carefully and don't forget to think really far outside of the box. In attempting to solve these puzzles, look for words that may have multiple meanings as this could be a hint to the puzzle's solution. In the end, gathering together some friends or coworkers and attempting to map out a solution is always fun.
Here's an example of a popular lateral thinking puzzle to help you understand how they work:
Scenario: A man and his wife raced through the streets. They stopped and the husband got out of the car. When he returned, his wife was dead and there was a stranger in the car. What happened?
Solution: The wife was about to have a baby. The husband and wife drove to the hospital. The husband left to get a wheelchair but the baby was born in the meantime. The wife did not survive the birth.
Hopefully by this example you will understand how to solve lateral thinking puzzles.
Below is a list of 20 realistic lateral thinking puzzles designed to flex your brain and test your critical thinking skills. All of these puzzles are plausible scenarios so there's no need to break the laws of physics, involve magic, or invoke the use of supernatural powers to solve them.
Scroll carefully because the solutions are presented at the end of the article.
Puzzle 1: Tubular Torture
A woman enters a large metal tube and is overcome with fear. She clenches her husband's hand tightly and is visibly shaken. Her husband gently rubs her shoulders but is otherwise unaffected. Within hours the woman's husband tells her that it's time to go and the torment ends. What happened to this woman?
Puzzle 2: Mystery Weight Loss
A man enters a room and presses a button. Within in seconds he instantly loses 20 pounds. How did he lose the weight?
Puzzle 3: Stolen Goods
A woman enters a big box department store and fills her shopping cart to the top. She leaves the store without paying yet no one tries to stop her or call the police. How did the woman get away with this?
Puzzle 4: The Dark Room
A man is in dark room having a great time. Suddenly, he stops breathing and can't speak. In a matter of moments his breathing and ability to speak returns to him. What happened?
Puzzle 5: Driving in Circles
The man finds himself commuting to work in his car every day. Upon arrival to work each morning, he proceeds to drive his car in a circle four times before finally parking it and entering his office building. Why does the man drive in circles every day?
Puzzle 6: Death by Name Calling
A woman hears her name and is then taken away by two men. Later, the woman dies while under the care of many. What happened to this poor woman?
Puzzle 7: Dangerous Truck Route
Donald's Trucking Company has been delivering goods to and from local businesses for years. Donald's business is steady and his trucks drive the same routes and roads every day without any trouble. This year, Donald decided to start delivering and receiving goods on Christmas Day as a way to earn additional money. When Christmas Day finally came, Donald sent a few drivers out to do business with those companies that chose to remain open. Later that day Donald received a call that one of his delivery drivers had struck a bridge and severally damaged the truck. How could this happen if the driver's have always used the same route without any previous problems?
Puzzle 8: Writing a Little a Lot
Every two weeks a man sits down and writes two words on 60 sheets paper. Why does he do this?
Puzzle 9: The Chicken Coop
A family has a chicken coop containing one dozen egg producing hens. One night, a terrible storm came and killed all but eight chickens. How many chickens did the family have in the morning?
Puzzle 10: A Fearful Crowd
David entered a restaurant where a crowd of people were enjoying a meal. When the people saw David they dropped their forks and fled the restaurant. What happened?
Puzzle 11: Angry Father
Jacob would not stop playing video games no matter what his father said. Angry at Jacob's disobedience, the father decided he could fix the problem permanently with a hammer and a little elbow grease. To Jacob's dismay, he could no longer play video games however his father could. What happened?
Puzzle 12: Life After Free Fall
A man residing in a fifty-story building decides to jump out the window. He survives the fall with no injuries. How did he do this?
Puzzle 13: The Burglar
A man was wanted for burglarizing dozens of businesses over a period of several months. Surveillance footage from the businesses clearly showed this man's face and the local TV Station showed this footage to viewers on many occasions. The local police department even placed "wanted" posters around the community to help catch the burglar. However, when the man was spotted by two police officers familiar with the burglaries, he was not arrested. What happened?
Puzzle 14: The Deadly Door
A man opened the door, screamed, and then was found dead a few minutes later. No gunshots were heard in the area. What happened?
Puzzle 15: The Missing Man
Three men enter a room but only two walk out. The room is empty. Where is the third man?
Puzzle 16: Locked Doors
After a long night of partying, a woman arrives home only to find that she cannot enter the house. She's certain that she's at the right home but the door knobs will not turn and she cannot get inside. What happened?
Puzzle 17: Major Accident
At the bottom of a large hill more than 40 cars were involved in a large accident. Some cars were overturned and others were left to rest on top of other cars. The pile-up was so large that even a few military vehicles and a fire truck ended up being involved in the crash as well. What caused the big wreck?
Puzzle 18: Weird Weather
A man is driving on a sunny day when suddenly it starts to rain very hard. About five minutes later the rain stops and then the wind starts to pick up. Soon, it gets so windy that the car starts to shake. In just as much time as it took for the hurricane force winds to start, they stopped and the man was able to make it the rest of the way home safely. What's going on with the weather?
Puzzle 19: Voices
Several voices were heard coming from the other room. There was a lot of commotion however when the room was checked there was only one person inside. This person's not crazy, so what's going on?
Puzzle 20: Ferocious Tiger
I was a hot Sunday afternoon and a woman was walking slowly through the savanna when she spotted a ferocious tiger in the distance. Instead of turning around or seeking refuge, the woman began to run towards the tiger. Why didn't she run away?
1. Tubular Torture: The woman has an incredible, debilitating fear of flying. She must travel to see a dying relative which adds to her emotional disposition. Upon entering the plane she is overcome with fear and her husband consoles her. The flight takes a few hours and upon arrival they are allowed to leave the plan.
2. Mystery Weight Loss: The room that the man enters is an elevator. When he presses the button, the elevator begins to accelerate downward. This acceleration temporarily changes his apparent weight effectively helping him lose 20 pounds in seconds.
3. Stolen Goods: The woman is an employee of the big-box department store. She fills her shopping cart with trash and leaves the store to take it to the dumpster.
4. The Dark Room: The man is in a movie theater enjoying a new blockbuster movie. He takes a drink of his favorite soda and begins to choke on an ice cube. This prevents him from breathing or speaking momentarily. Soon the ice melts and the man is able to breath and speak again.
5. Driving in Circles: This man is not a crazy nutcase. Instead, he works in a congested part of town and is required to park on the fifth floor of a nearby parking structure every day.
6. Death by Name Calling: The woman had committed a murder and was determined to be guilty. A judge called her name, gave her the death penalty, and then two bailiffs escorted her out of the courtroom. Years later she is executed while under the care and supervision of a doctor and detention officers.
7. Dangerous Truck Route: On Christmas day many of the local businesses that contract with Donald's company had shut down for the day. Having made a final delivery, and not receiving any new goods to transport, this particular truck was empty. When returning to headquarters the empty truck had a higher profile and struck the bridge on the way back.
8. Writing a Little a Lot: The man owns a small business with 60 employees. He is signing his name on their payroll checks.
9. The Chicken Coop: The family still had 12 chickens: 4 dead ones and 8 alive!
10. A Fearful Crowd: David was the name of a reticulated python who escaped from the local zoo and found himself entering a crowded restaurant.
11. Angry Father: The father used the hammer to install a shelf high up on the wall. He then placed the video game console and the controllers up on the shelf out of Jacob's reach.
12. Life After Free Fall: The man jumped out of the first-floor window, which was only three feet off of the ground.
13. The Burglar: The man was currently in jail and the two police officers came to get a statement from him for the upcoming trial.
14. The Deadly Door: The man was on an airplane when he fell to his death after opening the door.
15. The Missing Man: The third man is in a wheelchair so he rolls out of the room instead of walking out.
16. Locked Doors: The woman's keys were taken away from her earlier in the night. She took an Uber to get home and was without keys to unlock the doors.
17. Major Accident: The cars, trucks, and other vehicles are toys in the midst of a child's playtime.
18. Weird Weather: The man actually drove his car into a drive-through style car wash. After about 10 minutes his car was clean and he drove home.
19. Voices: The other voices that were heard were coming from a TV.
20. Ferocious Tiger: The woman was at the zoo.
I find lateral thinking puzzles both fun and challenging. In a team-building exercise I once gave my employees 10 puzzles to solve together. They had about 45 minutes to attempt to solve them. It was great fun and it helped to get them to work together to solve the puzzles. At the end of the 45 minute period, they had correctly solved about half of them.
Let me know in the comments if you were able to solve any of these or if you came up with an alternate solution!
Questions & Answers
Question: A girl leaves home and makes three left turns. She returns home again. On the way home she passes two girls with masks. Who were the two masked girls?
Answer: The girl is playing a baseball game and the two masked girls are playing their part. One of the girls is the catcher and the other is an umpire.
Question: A boy is twelve-years-old on his second birthday. How is this possible?
Answer: There could be several possible solutions. Here are two of my guesses:
1) The boy is a resident of Jupiter which has an orbital period of twelve years. His first "birthday" is the day he is born. His second "birthday" is twelve years later when Jupiter completes one orbital period.
2) The boy's first "birthday" is the day he is physically born on earth. His second "birthday" occurs at the age of twelve when he has a spiritual birth when he declares Christ Jesus as his lord and savior. In other words, he becomes a born again Christian at the age of twelve.
Question: A man walks into a bar and asks the bartender for a glass of water. The bartender pulls out a firearm and points it at the man. The man says thank you and walks out. Why did the bartender do this?
Answer: The man was plagued by a serious case of the hiccups. He was hoping that drinking a glass of water would help get rid of them. When the man entered the bar, the bartender heard the hiccups and knew what the man really needed. The bartender brought out a weapon to scare the man so that his hiccups would stop. The scare tactic worked and the man thanked the bartender before leaving.
Question: Tommy and Cathy, who each measure 1m 20cm in height, were playing on the oval at recess. Each held one end of a 2m long skipping rope at the same level as their heads. The skipping rope at its lowest point was 20cm from the ground. So why did their friends find it’s difficult to jump over the rope and join the game?
Answer: The answer is that the children are touching and there is no gap between them to allow another child to jump the rope. This problem can be solved mathematically using the equations for a catenary cable however, in this case, only some simple logic is needed. If the rope is held at the top of the children’s head (120cm above the ground) and the bottom of the rope is only 20cm above the ground, then the rope is sagging 100cm. Since the rope is 200cm long, a sag of 100cm would mean that the two ends of the rope are touching and the rope is hanging vertically because a sag of 100cm is half of the ropes’ total length. Therefore, the span of the rope between the two children is 0.
© 2018 Christopher Wanamaker
Graham R McFarlane, Isle of Man, British Isles on May 09, 2020:
After a night's sleep had another thought about 20. She is a ranger and is going to tranquillise the injured tiger so it can be treated.
Graham R McFarlane on May 08, 2020:
Got 3,5, 6,9, 11, 13 and 19 correct. Failed on 2,7, 14 and 17. My alternatives: 1 - woman is having a medical scan. 4 - he is watching a horror movie. 8 - he's a teacher marking class work with two word comments, eg "Try harder." 10 - a man appears looking drunk with gun. 12 - He jumps onto balcony. 15 - the room is a bedroom with access to the attic/loft where the third man goes to make repairs. 16 - she lost her keys. 18 - I guessed a car wash, but the wash is not really rain. 20 - I thought a savanna was a wide open space.
anonymous on January 23, 2020:
For #18 I legit thought he was in Texas. Three o'clock it's sunny and eighty degrees Fahrenheit, at six there's a tornado warning, the next morning it's snowing, and then it goes back to seventy. I'm not convinced he's in a car wash.
Frank on September 25, 2019:
#3 It never says she leaves the store with the cart so she could have filled it and walked out without it
#7 Don't understand what it means by a truck having a "higher profile" means it's more likely to have an accident.
#14 is just silly as you can't just open a plane door like that
Christopher Wanamaker (author) from Arizona on September 10, 2019:
Sebastian - Yes, an exterminator is an excellent answer!
Sebastian on September 10, 2019:
For #10 my guess was that David was an exterminator in uniform, I think that works a bit better than a python.
Sai Krishna on September 06, 2019:
#20: The lady was looking at the tiger in the mirror of car or vehicle or some other mirror and ran towards the tiger in the mirror to get in the vehicle and flee
Millie on August 10, 2019:
Puzzle#4.. c'mon there could be a simpler and more relatable answer like the man had gone to sleep or something... but no they had to come up with an absolutely irrelevant answer: he was in the theater !!
Michael on September 20, 2018:
These are terrible! My exposure to lateral thinking puzzles is that the answers are hard, not the first thing that pops into you head. Honestly shameful.
Jeff Zod from Nairobi on August 27, 2018:
@Cwanamaker I figured out one of your puzzles.I will work on the rest.I see that you have provided solutions below.I had to read half of the article first.I will check if i got any of the rest correct later.It is a very interesting article.The puzzles have challenged my thinking.Thank you for this hubs.I look forward to see more puzzles from you.
Nicole on August 11, 2018:
David being the name of a python is a bit of a stretch...?
Christopher Wanamaker (author) from Arizona on May 26, 2018:
Brian - Yes, those are two other plausible solutions. I attempted to create puzzles that were challenging but not impossible to solve.
Great brain teaser about Columbus, - I have never heard that one before.
Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on May 25, 2018:
I thought of two other solutions to the shopping cart puzzle. 1) The woman won a contest, the prize being a shopping cart full of items from the store. 2) The woman "paid" with credit, and the store didn't get actual payment till later.
I guessed the answer to several of the puzzles.
A man in command of a fleet of ships fails to reach his destination yet is rewarded with fame and fortune. (Columbus reaches islands off the coast of the Americas instead of the Spice Islands.)