Lateral Thinking Puzzles

Lateral Thinking Puzzles & their use in Human Resources

What is Lateral Thinking?

Lateral Thinking is a problem solving approach whereby individuals use creative and indirect means to find a solution, instead of step-by-step logic. Coined by Dr. Edward De Bono, it encourages the use of intuition, imagination and risk-taking to process information and make decisions.


Lateral Thinking vs Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking on the other hand, is the careful analysis of facts to form a judgement, using a ‘vertical’, sequential decision making process. Considered a self-disciplined form of Thinking, it requires the individual to be rational and open-minded, formulating solutions that are informed by evidence.


Lateral Thinking Puzzles

Lateral Thinking Puzzles provide limited clues in a scenario, and they are solved by filling in the gaps to complete the narrative. Another variant is the use of informational misdirection to cloak an obvious answer. A few puzzles are provided below as examples (answers at the end).


  1. Someone is alone in a dark room, with a single match, one candle, a lamp and a fireplace. What do they light first?
  2. A farmer calls their dog from the opposite side of a river. The dog crosses the river but does not get wet, and doesn’t use a boat or a bridge. How is this possible?
  3. There is a boat in the ocean with a 10 feet long ladder that hangs off its side. The last 2 feet of the ladder is submerged in the water. If the ocean tide rises by 5 feet, what will be the length of the ladder underwater?
  4. A husband and wife race down the street but need to pull over. The husband leaves his wife in the car. On his return, his wife has died and there is a stranger in their car. What happened?
  5. Several loud voices were heard coming from a locked room. When the room was opened, there was only one person inside and they had not been talking to themselves. What caused the other voices?


Lateral Thinking Puzzles as an HR Tool


  • Team Building Exercises: Split up the individuals into small teams, providing all teams the same list of Puzzles to solve. Teams can buy ‘additional’ clues to solve the Puzzles, but they lose points for each clue purchased. This encourages Teams to communicate, negotiate and compromise with each other in order to solve the Puzzle.
  • Ice Breakers: Considered an unusual choice for an Ice Breaker activity given that people tend to think ‘inwardly’, it’s best executed by having everyone take turns to ‘add’ to the story, in order to solve it. Even if the end story doesn’t lead to the solution, each individual’s imagination contributing to the whole can create a unique and often funny tale.
  • Interview Questions: Lateral Thinking Puzzles have gained popularity as interview questions in the last few years. It’s important to note that certain job functions require a analytical mind, and not being able to solve the puzzle isn’t a necessary indicator of an individual’s intelligence or abilities. It is however very useful in understanding how a potential candidate thinks, and tends to be more suited for Strategic level roles.


Professionals who wish to expand their HR knowledge, may be interested in a MBA in HR or Online MBA in Human Resources. Contact a Higher Education Consultant for more information.

Puzzle Answers


  1. They light the Match.
  2. The river was frozen.
  3. 2 feet. The boat will rise with the tide.
  4. His wife died in childbirth, and the stranger was his newborn child.
  5. The loud voices were caused by a Television.
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