Monday, 20 June 2011


Below are a few of my favourite lateral thinking and trick questions. Whenever I do outreach work shops on higher mathematics for secondary school I often open with this as a 5 minute ice breaker. Hopefully, the kids will not do very well. The reason I say hopefully is because I want to emphasise that they do not know everything. This is not meant in a bad way, but an encouraging way. Over the course of the workshop I touch on subjects such as logic and topology which they will have never seen. By getting the audience comfortable with being wrong and not knowing the answer I hope to encourage them to ask questions and provide solutions, even if they turn out to be wrong. 

Fear of being wrong or asking "silly questions" is a common barrier to over come in a class room situation. The participants are surrounded by their peers and the last thing they want it to do is to seem stupid. However, the workshops flow better if everyone is willing to suggest their insights on which to build. 

So, without further ado, try the questions yourself. Only give yourself 5 minutes to try out all the questions and, of course, don't cheat. I'll post the answers next Monday, so you can see how well you did. Remember
Research is what you do when you don't know what you are doing

Write your name in the square:

  1. You're driving a bus that is leaving on a trip from A and ending in B. To start off with, there were 32 passengers on the bus. At the next bus stop, 11 people get off and 9 people get on. At the next bus stop, 2 people get off and 2 people get on. At the next bus stop, 12 people get on and 16 people get off. At the next bus stop, 5 people get on and 3 people get off.  Question:  What colour are the bus driver's eyes?

  2. If you take 307 bananas from 429 bananas, how many bananas do you have?

  3. In a leap year how many months have 29 days?

  4. A secretary prints out six different letters and is in a rush so she randomly stuffs the letters into six envelopes going to six different addresses. What is the probability that exactly 5 letters are in the right envelopes.

  5. If five dogs dig five holes in five days, how long will it take ten dogs to dig ten holes? 

  6. Highlight, in some way, the smallest circle.

  7. Name four days which start with the letter T.

  8. If animals enter the Ark in pairs at rate of 30 pairs per day, how many days would it take Moses to get 360 individual animals on board?

  9. How many numbers between zero and ten, inclusive, can be divided by two?

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