Mystery Weight Loss
A woman goes into a store and piles a shopping cart to the brim with things. She leaves the store without paying, yet nobody stops her or calls the police. Why? Think of situations where one can fill a cart with items that don’t need to be paid for. The answer is trash. The woman is an employee of the store who left to throw trash in the dumpster.
A man walks into a small room and presses a button. In a few seconds, he loses twenty pounds. How? This is another riddle where many different answers fit the criteria, but the official one is that he enters an elevator, losing twenty pounds as he descends to a lower floor.
A man living in a fifty-story building decides to jump out of the window, but survives without sustaining any injuries. How? The fifty-story part might confuse you, but the answer is that he jumps out of a first floor window, allowing him to survive without injuring himself.
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Patrick King is an internationally bestselling author and social skills coach. emotional and social intelligence. Learn more or get a free mini-book on conversation tactics at https://bit.ly/pkconsulting
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Our final section will take a look at those brain teasers that rely heavily on us being able to “change the lens,” cognitively speaking. In much the same way as we needed to understand that the bankrupted man was only playing a game of Monopoly, the following riddles can only be solved when we try to work backward from the problem—asking ourselves what set of circumstances would make the details we’re hearing make sense.
This last batch may inadvertently strengthen your reverse engineering mental muscles, allowing you to assume that the facts you’re given are correct and to try to work out exactly how they could be so. Like an engineer taking apart a lamp that works to see how it does, we can slowly work out what initially seems strange or mysterious to us.
Bearing the above in mind, let’s jump into the next riddle. Remember to constantly check your assumptions, suspend any expectations, and simply look at the facts you’re faced with. You might even find that the less you try to figure it out, the easier it is to do!
The riddle goes like this. “A woman goes into a big store and piles a shopping cart to the brim with things. Without paying for the items, she then leaves the store, and nobody attempts to stop her or call the police.”
The question is, how did the woman get away with it? What happened here?
Let’s gather up all the facts we can about this riddle. We are told the woman is in a store, that she fills her cart with things, leaves without paying, and nothing happens. Again, your mind may immediately start trying out certain outlandish solutions—maybe the woman was looting a mall during a zombie apocalypse and there simply was no surviving human around to see her. Maybe she had entered a strange game show where she was allowed to keep the items she could put into her cart in one minute. Or she had . . . an invisibility cloak?
By now, you know that these answers are a great sign of creative thinking and not “wrong” (remember, there are no wrong answers when we practice divergent, open-ended brainstorming!), but at the same time, there is something more here. We have to imagine what perfectly ordinary scenario might occur that would result in the facts we’ve just heard, without resorting to alien abductions, superpowers, or time travel.
Let’s think slowly and carefully, unpicking each of our assumptions and premises like an engineer would take apart the workings of an appliance. The woman is not stopped or apprehended. What can we infer? That she is not in fact doing something illegal, and that her actions are not suspicious in the least.
How could that be? Let’s follow this line of thinking. What kind of objects might you take without anyone expecting you to pay for them? What items have no dollar value or what items might people be glad you took, despite not paying for them?
Let’s consider some other factors. What kind of a woman specifically may be able to take things in and out of a store without arousing suspicion (A nun? A famous politician who is preparing to do a photoshoot outside the store with a cart full of groceries?).
Finally, let’s read the riddle again to make sure we’re not inserting our own assumptions or missing a crucial detail just because we think we know what is being asked. Notice that the riddle doesn’t say that the cart is filed with groceries, clothing, or indeed items from the store she is in. Perhaps you are beginning to formulate your own possibilities.
If you’re ready for the answer, it’s this: the woman is an employee of the store (did you catch this?), and all she has piled into the cart is trash. When she takes this outside to throw in the dumpster, nobody bats an eyelid, since she’s just doing her job.
Now, let’s reverse engineer again. Take a look at your solution (if you came up with one) and the solution above. How are they different? What assumptions did you make, and how could you have eliminated them? As you can see, failing to find the answer comes down to assuming two things: first, that the woman is a shopper or customer, and second, that the items in the cart are valuable and come from the store itself. If you managed to spot this, congratulations. You might make an excellent philosopher or criminal defense lawyer!
Mystery Weight Loss
Let’s play more with context—or rather, see how good we can be at switching between them.
The next riddle goes like this: “A man walks into a small room and presses a button. In just a few seconds, he immediately loses twenty pounds.”
The question is obvious—how on earth did he do that?
Well, you have already been primed by this book to expect that the answer to this riddle has something to do with context. So much of life, really, doesn’t make sense unless we see the full picture. Remove just a few key details of any everyday scenario and you instantly give yourself a riddle. By using global systems thinking, however, you are able to draw connections between elements and see how the whole functions as one. Or, if you only see parts of the whole, you infer and guess at the missing pieces in the same way a doctor, a detective, or perhaps even a therapist might do.
Let’s try to imagine the bigger picture that could account for the curious facts we’re given. Do we know of any situations in life where a person ordinarily loses twenty pounds with just the push of a button? Probably not—we’d have surely heard about it! Rather, the “losing twenty pounds” is likely a little different than we’re imagining. There is an old joke where a woman’s husband constantly berates her for gaining too much weight. She solves the problem by losing 160 pounds in one day—by divorcing her husband. Could a similar “losing weight” be at work here?
Or, perhaps the weight is lost only in name, in the same way as the numbers on the clock in a previous riddle don’t strictly refer to actual digits or a number of items. You may have even wondered if the “pounds” was a red herring—perhaps the man enters a small gambling booth, presses a button, and immediately loses £20—the pounds here being English currency, because he’s in England, because why not?
This is another riddle where most of the fun is in dreaming up potential answers—many of which could actually work. The official answer, however, is this: the small room the man enters is an elevator. When he descends to go to a lower floor, in a physical sense, he “loses” twenty pounds (and promptly gains it back again).
Driving in Circles
Have a go at the next riddle: “A woman commutes to work every day by car. When she gets to her office, however, she always drives her car round in a circle four times before parking and going inside the building. She does this every day without fail.”
The question is, why?
Yes, the woman may be a complete nutcase. Maybe she has a weird form of OCD and has to do this ritual daily. But again, what ordinary context could make her behavior totally reasonable? What do we know about parking lots? It’s conceivable that a person has to drive round and round a parking lot a few times before finding a spot. But it is strange that the woman drives around precisely four times before parking and entering the building, and that she always goes in circles.
Here, if you’re already familiar with the unspoken context, you might have heard this riddle and have immediately seen the solution. For others who have no experience with it, the answer may be more elusive.
The answer is this: the woman works in a busy and congested part of town, and her office is on the fifth floor of an office block. To reach it, she needs to drive up four floors every day—resulting in her car going round and round in circles before parking.
Did you guess the answer? You may have because you could immediately conjure up this particular context. For others, however, it’s not so simple. Their minds may have gotten stuck on the circles as two-dimensional ones, with the woman driving around the kind of parking lot they are more familiar with—a single-story one.
This is a very practical and obvious example of how opening the mind to consider extra dimensions can help solve a problem. We see here that the circles are not circles at all, but a connected spiral, with the extra dimension going upward and changing the picture completely. This is the same as looking at a tiny acorn and an oak tree and understanding that there is just one crucial difference between them: time.
The next time you’re facing a real-world problem, be conscious of the fact that insight may be found not on the dimensions you’re already aware of, but on others that you haven’t considered yet. If you’re struggling to make sense of some facts or ideas, try to imagine a third aspect that would tie them all together, rather than carrying on with what you already know (i.e. instead of trying to imagine what would compel a person to drive round a single-level parking lot four times, consider that the entire context itself could change to accommodate the seemingly strange set of facts).