Lateral Thinking Puzzles

Lateral thinking problems that are based on fact.

1. A man walks into a bar and asks for a drink of water. The bartender gives the man a drink of water, but the man says the water is no good. The bartender thinks for a minute, pulls out a gun and points it at him. The man says, "Thank you," and walks out.

Hint: Please do not try this at home.

Solution: The man has hiccups; the bartender scares them away by pulling a gun.

A Colombian man accidentally shot his nephew to death while trying to cure his hiccups by pointing a revolver at him to scare him, police in the Caribbean port city of Barranquilla said on Tuesday, the 24th of January 2006.

After shooting 21-year-old university student David Galvan in the neck, his uncle, Rafael Vargas, 35, was so distraught he turned the gun on himself and committed suicide, police said.

The incident took place on Sunday night while the two were having drinks with neighbors.

Galvan started to hiccup and Vargas, who works as a security guard, said he would use the home remedy for hiccups of scaring him. He pulled out his gun, pointed it at Galvan and it accidentally went off, witnesses told local television.

"They were drinking but they were aware of what was going on," one witness said.


2. There was once a recluse who never left his home. The only time anyone ever visited him was when his food and supplies were delivered, but they never came inside. Then, one storm winter night when an icy gale was blowing, he had a nervous breakdown. He went upstairs, turned off all the lights and went to bed. Next morning, he had caused the deaths of several hundred people. How?

Hint: This may have occurred anywhere between 1862 and 1990.

Solution: He was a lighthouse keeper who switched off the lighthouse.

Electric illumination in the form of carbon arc lamps was first employed at lighthouses at an early date, even while oil lamps were still in vogue. The first of these was at Dungeness, England, in 1862, followed by a number of others.

In the beginning of the 20th century Swedish inventor Gustav Dahlén invented the AGA Lighthouse which effectively made lighthouse keepers obsolete. However, for many years lighthouses still had keepers, partly because lighthouse keepers could serve as a rescue service if necessary. Improvements in maritime navigation and safety such as GPS have led to the phasing out of non-automated lighthouses, with the last keepers removed in the 1990s. Today there are a few keeper-run lighthouses left in existence; the vast majority, however, have been fully automated.


3. Many shops have prices set just under a round figure, e.g. $9.99 instead of $10.00 or $99.95 instead of $100.00 . It is assumed that this is done because the price seems lower to the consumer. But this is not the reason the practice started. What was the original reason for this pricing method?

Solution: The practice originated to ensure that the clerk had to open the till and give change for each transaction, thus recording the sale and preventing him from pocketing the bank notes.

4. Why is it better to have round manhole covers than square ones?

Solution: Round covers cannot be dropped or fall down a manhole, unlike square ones.

5. The famous 'Penny Black', the world's first postage stamp, was introduced in England in 1840. The idea of postage stamps was a great success and was taken up worldwide. Yet the 'Penny Black' was in use for only one year before it was replaced by the 'Penny Red'. Why?

Hint: The reason still makes sense today, which is why you rarely see black stamps.
Solution: The postmark used at that time was always black. It was therefore difficult to tell whether a stamp had been franked or not. This led to people re-using used stamps. On a 'Penny Red' the black postmark was clearly visible.

6. Assume there are approximately 5,000,000,000 (5 billion) people on Earth. What would you estimate to be the result, if you multiply together the number of fingers on every person's left-hands? (For the purposes of this exercise, thumbs count as fingers.) If you cannot estimate the number then try to guess how long the number would be.

Solution: The product of the number of fingers on the left-hands of every person is zero. It only takes one person to have no fingers on their left hand for the product to be zero, because anything multiplied by zero equals zero.

7. An American nightclub called 'The Coconut Grove' had a terrible fire in which over 400 people died. A simple design flaw in the building led to the death toll being so high. Subsequently, regulations were changed to ensure that all public buildings throughout the country eliminated this one detail which proved so deadly. What was it?

Solution: The doors at 'The Coconut Grove' opened inward. In the mad panic to escape the fire, people were crushed against the doors and could not pull them open. After 'The Coconut Grove' disaster in 1942, all public buildings had to have doors which opened outward.

8. A man fell off a smuggling boat into deep water. He could not swim and he was not wearing anything to keep him afloat. It took 30 minutes for the people on the boat to realize someone was missing. The missing man was rescued two hours later on the return trip. Why didn't he drown?

Hint: He managed to float by himself, despite the fact that he could not survive in a pool without holding onto something.
Solution: He fell into the Dead Sea, which lies between Israel and Jordan. The water is so salty and dense that anyone in it floats very easily. Note: the maximum depth of the dead sea is 1,237' (377 m) and smuggling boats are known to use the dead sea to transport goods.


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