Think Differently

Thinking About Thinking

"You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper. This means that trying harder in the same direction may not be as useful as changing direction. Effort in the same direction (approach) will not necessarily succeed. With logic you start out with certain ingredients just as in playing chess you start out with given pieces. But what are those pieces? In most real life situations the pieces are not given, we just assume they are there. We assume certain perceptions, certain concepts and certain boundaries. Lateral thinking is concerned not with playing with the existing pieces but with seeking to change those very pieces. Lateral thinking is concerned with the perception part of thinking. This is where we organize the external world into the pieces we can then process." —Edward de Bono, New Think

Thinking outside the box in the real world
Harvard Student Test

Top Ten Most Famous Thought Experiments:

Here are a selection of mental puzzles for your thinking pleasure.

Horse Race

Race_Horse_Animation_by_AkiCheval.gifBack in the old west, two brothers each claim to own the fastest horse in the region. Their uncle decides he'll leave his fortune to the one who comes in second in a horse race across a desert to a distant town. The two brothers wander aimlessly for several days, hoping to force the other to go first. Finally, they meet an old man. After hearing his advice, they take it; jumping on the horses and racing as fast as they can to the finish line. What did the old man advise them to do?


Three Lights

There are three lights in the attic and three light switches that turn them on in the . You can turn the switches on and off as many times as you want, but you can only go up the stairs to the attic once to see which switch turns on which light. How do you determine which switch turns on which light?

Two Jugs

You have two jugs. One holds 5 gallons, the other holds 3 gallons. You need exactly 4 gallons of water. You can fill your jugs as many times as you need. How do you measure exactly 4 gallons?

TwoDoors.jpgTwo Doors

There are two doors. Behind one of them is the treasure. Behind the other, a dangerous animal that will attack and kill you. There are two men stationed in front of the doors. One of these men always lies. The other always tells the truth. Both know which door hides the treasure. You can ask one question to one of them and they will answer. What do you ask in order to determine which door to open?

Swordsman & Gatekeeper

swordsman.jpgA swordsman has a sword that’s 3’ 1” in length, and the gatekeeper at the castle won’t let him in with it. The law says nothing over 3 feet is allowed into the castle. He returns to his home and does (finds) something that allows him to bring his sword into the castle. What does he do? Note the action he takes does not destroy the sword in any way.

StonePath.jpgThe Girl & The Gambler. Long ago in a small European village, an orphaned fourteen-year-old cares for her aging uncle. She discovers he owes a lot of money to a mean-spirited gambler. The gambler, learning the uncle can’t pay, has demanded the girl’s hand in marriage as payment. The gambler is a heartless fellow, sinister and dangerous. Nevertheless, he has the law on his side. If the uncle can not pay what he owes, he will be thrown into prison because that is the law of the land.

When the girl’s uncle presses the gambler for a different arrangement, the gambler agrees to let chance have a role in the outcome. He offers the uncle the following gamble: he will place two stones—one gray and one white—in his leather pouch. The girl must draw a stone from the pouch. If it is white, she and her uncle will be free to go. If she draws the gray stone, she must marry the gambler.

The girl and her uncle reluctantly agree to the gambler’s terms. They know if they refuse, the uncle will go to prison, and she will be left without protection. Without her uncle to protect her, she fears the gambler (or someone like him) will stalk and kidnap her anyway.

As these three talk, they stand on a pebble-strewn path. The gambler reaches down, grabs two stones and drops them quickly into the pouch. The sharp-eyed girl notices that both stones are gray. The gambler holds the pouch out to her. “Choose a stone,” he says. She wants to tell her uncle what has happened, and asks to see the stones first. The gambler refuses, telling her if she does not choose a stone from the offered pouch now as he holds out to her, the deal is off; her uncle will go to prison. What should she do?

Remember, this is a long time ago and the laws of the land is on the side of the gambler. He can have the girl’s uncle sent to prison, and there are no laws protecting the girl because she is a minor. The gambler can’t be charged with statutory rape or any other crime. Be careful to play by the rules of the story. You cannot, for example, say the girl gets the laws changed or gets the police involved on her side anyway. No white knight can appear on the horizon—she must deal with the power structure as it exists. No fantasy, sci-fi, or miraculous answers. Even if she prays for a miracle, she must still take an action that acknowledges the boundaries of the story line. What is her best option (her most reasonable choice) given the circumstances? Assume she wants to avoid the marriage and wants to avoid having her uncle go to prison.

A Logic Puzzle in Wonderland: Who Ate the Tarts?

AliceWonderland.pngWe know who stole the tarts―it was the Knave of Hearts―but who ate them?
During the Knave's trial, the March Hare testified to the following five statements:
  1. "If the Duchess ate a tart, then so did the White Rabbit."
  2. "Either the Hatter or the Dormouse or both ate tarts."
  3. "If the Dormouse ate a tart, then so did both the Duchess and the Hatter."
  4. "Either the White Rabbit or the Knave ate a tart, but not both."
  5. "The Hatter ate a tart if―but only if―the Knave also ate one."

"That's no help!" Alice said.

But she was able to figure out from the five statements who must have eaten the tarts. Assuming that the March Hare told the truth, can you determine who ate the tarts and who didn't?

HINT: Lay out the information in a table so you can see the relationships. You have two sets of data. (1) The characters and (2) their behavior as described in the five statements. Set up the grid to show the relationships between behavior and characters.


The Knave

White Rabbit

Mad Hatter

Door Mouse

The Duchess


then yes

if yes