Lateral Thinking

“Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic.

Lateral thinking is different from our normal perceptions regarding creativity and innovation, and it is an alternative to pure vertical logic and pure horizontal imagination:

Purely horizontal thinking is known as daydreaming. Fantasy. Mysticism. The purely horizontal thinker has a thousand ideas but puts none of them into action. He or she sees the big picture and all its possibilities but has little interest in linear, step-by-step implementation.

Purely vertical thinking leads to compliance, conformity, and a false sense of knowledge. (False because it’s often just memorization in disguise. The student knows what to do without understanding why.) The purely vertical thinker is a nit-picker, a legalist.”                           Edited from Wikipedia Lateral Thinking

Many Lateral Thinking problems involve people or animals coming to a sticky end, one way or another.

There are always significant clues in the way the problem is stated.  Often the wording of the problem creates misdirection, so that the solver doesn’t focus on the obvious.

It is helpful to approach a lateral thinking problem as a “centre”, which should be examined from as many different angles as possible.  Hence “lateral” thinking: coming at the problem on the same plane, but from different directions.

The complexity of the problems varies immensely.


I would consider the following to be at a beginner’s level.

A man is founding hanging over a pool of water in a barn which is locked from the inside.  There is absolutely nothing else in the barn.  How did the man die?

(Even with this example, you can make it a little harder by cutting “There is absolutely nothing else in the barn.”

The hardest version of the problem is stated: A man is founding hanging in a barn.  How did he die?)


Attack what is most obvious, first.  If the barn is locked from the inside and there is absolutely nothing else in it, then the man must have committed suicide.

Next, if he is hanging, and there is nothing else in the barn, then how did he get high enough to hang himself?  Which brings you to the pool of water and reminds me of the children’s joke, “What do you call an old snowman?  A pool of water… ha ha ha!”  So how did he get up there?   He didn’t stand on a snowman…..


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