Out Of The Box – A Mental Exercise

Want to be more “out of the box” in your thinking? Here’s an example of a simple problem-solving/lateral thinking game that can help. Following that I have some suggestions to get you started with your own mental exercise.

A group of college students was shown a barometer. Then the professor mentioned a tall building in the city – one which the students were familiar with. The students were told to think of as many ways as possible to determine the height of the building using the barometer.

A barometer measures atmospheric pressure, which changes with altitude. Naturally, some of the more scientifically-minded students suggested taking two readings, one at the top of the building and one one the ground. If the barometer is sensitive enough, the differences in the readings could be used to figure the height of the building.

One student suggested that the barometer be dropped from the roof. Timing the fall, and then using the available formulas for acceleration would give you the distance fallen – and so the height of the building. Another student had the idea to tie the barometer to a string and lower it from the roof to the ground. Then the string could be measured to determine the height.

Another idea was to sell the barometer and buy a sextant. Then measure a distance from the building, take a sighting of the top with the sextant and measure the angle. This information could be used to determine the height. The most out-of-the-box solution was perhaps the simplest. It was to walk up to the owner of the building and offer him a nice barometer in exchange for telling the student the height of the building.

Your Own Out Of The Box Exercise

You can play a problem solving game like this just as a fun mental exercise, or you can use it as a warm up before an important brainstorming session. It is particularly good for stimulating creative thought. Here are some suggested problem-scenarios to get you started.

– How many ways can you think of to make money with a bucket of water and a bar of soap?

– Think of ways to functionally replace as many items in the room as possible, using a roll of masking tape, a newspaper and a pen. You can also use other items in the room.

– Suppose you have been trapped inside a box made of wooden planks. It is nailed together tightly from the outside. You have bow and one arrow, a crayon, a piece of cardboard, plus whatever you are currently wearing and whatever you currently have in your pockets. How many ways can you think of to get out of the box?