Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Using Lateral Thinking Puzzles

Posted on: April 21, 2009

If you don’t know what a lateral thinking puzzle is, google it.  These are great puzzles to make the kids think a little differently.  The kids make so many assumptions, I’m always struggling to find ways to open up their thinking process.

I had a period to kill with one of my classes, so I pulled out a few of these puzzles.  It’s real important to lay down the rules for the puzzles.  They need to take turns asking questions, they get into it, but I can’t answer questions when they talk over each other.  The questions have to be in a form that I can answer with yes or no.  Sometimes I answer with “doesn’t matter” or “I don’t know” and that irritates them because it wasn’t in the rules.  It was, I just didn’t tell them.

The idea is for them to start asking questions and realizing they assumed an incorrect body of information.  Here’s an example, it’s so common, I don’t think I’m ruining any great puzzle sharing it.

A body is discovered in a park in Chicago in the middle of summer.  It has a fractured skull and many other broken bones, but the cause of death was hypothermia.

The solution is usually in the form of a story that the kids need to work out through their questioning.  Here is the solution to the above puzzle:

A poor peasant from somewhere in Europe desperately wants to come to the United States.  Lacking money for airfare, he stows away in the landing gear compartment of a jet.  He dies of hypothermia in mid flight and falls out when the compartment opens as the plane makes it final approach.

Check out some online sources and books at the stores.  I have a couple of books, but I find most of the puzzles aren’t good enough to use in class.  I might highlight for or five puzzles from a small book of puzzles.  Tell me how they work out for you.


2 Responses to "Using Lateral Thinking Puzzles"

I love those puzzles. One I use with my students that is very enjoyable:

53 bicycles in a room and a man is dead. What happened?

Doesn’t work as well in recent years b/c students don’t recognize that bicycle is a brand of playing cards.

The answers is basically that he got caught cheating at poker by having an extra card and his gambling buddies shot him.

I did this one year with all my classes and had several students waiting outside the door at the end of the day clamoring for the answer!

You might like Lloyd King’s lateral thinking puzzles too, you can find lots of new and unique puzzles on his website ‘Aha! Puzzles’ and a FREE monthly puzzle competition (with prizes).


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