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Lateral Thinking Challenges

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These puzzles require you to step to one side, mentally, ask questions and parse carefully to reach the answer.

The Man Who Returned Too Soon

One bright sunny morning a man left his home. After some time he decided to return home and came back straightaway. When he got home he died. If he had not gone home so quickly he would have lived. What happened?

No Flash Photographs, Please!

In Iran, a Westerner cannot take a photo of a man with a turban. Why not?

Three Notes

One morning a woman wrote the same note to three different people. The first was a bank robber, who laughed at the note and threw it away. The second was a Bolivian, who also threw the note away. The third was a priest, who was very sad to receive the note. What was happening?

The Secretary’s Error

A secretary went on vacation. She inadvertently took something from the office. Her boss sent her a message asking her to return it immediately. She did return it to the office that same day. Yet when she returned from vacation, she was dismissed. Why?

And the classic:
Expense Account

An executive who was based in New York was posted to Hong Kong on assignment. When he was due to return, he faxed his manager the following request: “Is it okay for me to transport back to New York, at the company’s expense, my personal items, household effects, and the junk I’ve bought here in Hong Kong?” He was given approval, so he did just that. But once he was back in New York, a furious argument ensued. The company refused to pay the transport bill, and the executive had to sue the company. (He won, but that is not the issue.) What was the cause of the argument?

Have fun! Use the comments to guess and debate. I’ll post some hints if it seems to be taking too long…

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About DrPat

  • Alright:

    No Flash: You cannot take a photo with a turban, you need a camera

    Expense Account: He shipped a boat back to England from Hong Kong

    Hope this becomes a feature:)

  • I’m clueless on all of these…

    Hints! I need hints!

  • gonzo marx

    Man who returned too soon, caught his wife with her lover, who shot him

    they don’t wear turbans in Iran

    and Expense accoutn…a “junk” is a chinese boat, kinda big..and one helluva Fed Ex bill

    i’ll look at the rest again tomorrow, nothing pops into my mind immediately


  • Does it make a difference (the man who came home too soon) how he leaves his house and returns? (Maybe he has a car accident because of traffic that would not be there if he returned later.)

  • uao

    On the man who returned to soon:

    The morning sun reached an angle where it shone through the man’s backyard magnifying glass farm just so, igniting the stick of dynamite in his back pocket just as he was turning the key.

    Had he been just a little slower, the angle would’ve been off.


  • On the secretary, did she return the item taped to a brick, by heaving it through the office window?

  • The Man Who Returned Too Soon: HINT – His death was accidental, and no other person was involved. PS: No dynamite!

    No Flash Photographs, Please!: Aaman’s right, it takes a camera.

    Three Notes: HINT – The woman had never met any of the three people, and had no intention of ever meeting them, but her note was a serious communication.

    The Secretary’s Error: HINT – She mailed the item back.

    Expense Account: Yes, Aaman’s right, and so is Gonzo.

  • Looks like no one is able to skull-bust the tougher puzzles here…

    Home Too Soon: It matters where his home is. When he left and when he returned, he wasn’t operating any wheeled vehicle OR traveling by foot.

    Three Notes: The woman’s job is a factor in the men’s varied reactions. The Bolivian was a tourist.

    Secretary: The item was small and metallic.

    C’mon, guys — you can do this!

  • The man who returned too soon left his home by ascending straight up into the sky in the gondola of a hot air balloon. When he decided to return home, he impatiently leapt out of the gondola, relying on his trusty parachute to harmlessly interrupt his speedy fall just before he hit the ground. The bright morning sun had raised a dense fog from the damp ground, and he misjudged the timing of the precise moment when he needed to pull the ripcord.

    Fortunately his parachute was equipped with a safety trigger linked to an altimeter, and it opened in time. After safely landing, the man then decided to retrieve his balloon (which was still attached to his home by a very long piece of extremely strong fishing line, just like the ones often employed during attempts to capture and photograph giant squid). He attempted to do this by using a remote control device designed to slowly let out the hot air. Sadly, the remote transmitter malfunctioned and let the hot air out too quickly. The balloon fell from the sky like a stone, landing on the man and killing him.

    If the man had patiently remained in the balloon, he could have maintained manual control, it would have descended more slowly, and he would still be alive today.

  • Victor, surely that wins a prize for something. I’m not sure what, though!

  • The secretary took a key. Mailing it back wouldn’t help, as her office-mates couldn’t enter the office to retrieve the mail.

    Alternatively, it was the mail key.

  • Phillip, you nailed the Secretary — she inadvertently took the mailbox key, and was fired because she mailed it back. (What was she thinking?)

    Victor, you’re so close to solving the Home Too Quickly puzzle, it’s scary — GREAT lateral thinking there!

    And no one has even tried the Three Notes, yet. HINT: The bank robber’s role in the robbery is a STRONG factor in why he threw the note away laughing.

  • Three Notes:

    “If you’re reading this, I died during a bank robbery”

    The bank robber laughed because he killed the woman (his accomplice) so he didn’t have to split the money with her.

    The Bolivian (her gardener) couldn’t read English, so he just tossed the note aside.

    Hre Priest was sad because she died in sin.

    Er, yeah… :-/

  • So…are we ever going to learn the correct answers? 😉

  • kk

    she had taken key

  • Douchbuster

    Did I mention already that there are several answers that would apply to each of these?

    Also, that I would like to hire a secretary that can figure out how to mail something and have it arrive the same day!

  • g.h

    THREE NOTES: The woman works in the bank asn she is deaf. So to each person in the cue she writes”i am deaf.How can i help you”.The robber is robbing the bank and The Bolivian is a tourist who cannot read english so they both take no notice of it. The priest is very sad upon hearing her news and pities her.

  • Trenton

    The woman was passing out parking tickets. The bank robber just laughed and threw away the note. The Bolivian couldn’t read it and also threw it away. The priest was the only one who could be sad about his own sin.

  • Trenton

    The man returned too soon because he lived in a houseboat. He was diving at a deep level at the time and suffered a serious attack of the bends coming up because he was too impatient.

  • Trenton

    btw, heres one.

    A man died because his number was 88 too big. How come?


    i think im silly

  • Mateo

    for Home Too Soon, the man had one of those floating houses that is surrounded by water. he went sucba diving, and he returned home too quickly. Because he returned home too quickly, he got the bends, and died because of it.

  • Willaim Yates

    Another answer for the secretary’s Error: She mailed her resignations, when she returned she was dismissed.

  • scaddy


  • Willaim Yates

    Another answer for the secretary’s Error: She mailed her resignations, when she returned she was dismissed.

  • Mr. Awesome

    No autographs please

  • cierra

    I need help a man killed a man with a stcik what happened please tell me as sonn as yall know the answer!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • madelyn

    the man who returned too soon-
    maybe the man was in the hospital on a medication and he decided that he had been on it long enough so he went home and he probably had a heart attack or something and died

  • madelyn

    On secratary-
    I give the same answer as philip so she took the mail key and her boss messaged her and told her to return it immediatly. so she mailed the key back but it didnt do any good because then to get the mail they had to have the key to get inside the mailbox which had the mail key inside it.

    PS. Im only in fourth grade!!!!!

  • Holly

    the man who returned too soon-
    he left his house and he came home.

    when he came home there was a robber at his house, who spotted him as he opened the door and shot him.

    So, if he would have waited a little longer the robber would have stolen the stuff already and he would have lived.

    Thats the only one I could think of,
    but the three notes one is probably the most difficult

  • madelyn – yes the fourth grader

    SO this was a little hard for you so I think I might have a problem that would be a little easier… acutally A LOT EASIER.


    One day two fathers and two sons went fishing. It was noon and by 3:00 they each caught ONLY one fish. Apparently at the end of the day they had ONLY 3 fish. If there were two fathers and two sons, how could they only have three fish?


    HINT:think relatives

  • heres a difficult one-


    there were two sons of the king. Tabias and furlough. But the king was dying and they needed one of the sons to be NEW king. SO, to decide which one of the sons to be the new king they chose to have a boat race. The whole point was for one of the sons to TOUCH the other side of the land before the other.

    At the beginning Furlough was in the lead and was almost at the finish line. Tabias and furlough were both going the same speed and by boat there was no possible way for Tabias to win. So at the very end Tabias ended up the king.
    But if furlough was in the lead how could Tabias win by them going the same speed?

    Tabias didnt win by boat.

    PS. Think hand


    Name the Dog

    Once a dog named Nelly lived on a farm. There were three other dogs on the farm. Their names were Blackie, Whitey, and Brownie. What do you think the fourth dog’s name was?

    Outsmarting the Donkey

    Amir tied two sacks of salt to the back of his donkey and headed for the market to sell the salt. On the way, Amir and the donkey passed a stream. The donkey jumped in to cool himself. As a result, much of the salt dissolved into the water, ruining the salt for Amir but improving matters for the donkey because his load became much lighter. Amir tried to get to the market on the following days, but the donkey always ruined the salt. Finally, Amir decided to teach the donkey a lesson. He once again set out with the donkey and the two sacks.

    What did Amir do differently this time so that after that day the donkey stopped taking a swim?

    Each letter below stands for the name of something. What should the last three letters be?
    M V E M J S ? ? ?

    Rising Tide
    The rope ladder of a boat hangs over the side of the boat and just reaches the water. Its rungs are 8 inches apart.
    How many rungs will be under the water when the tide rises 4 feet?

    Put a coin in a bottle and then stop the opening with a cork. How can you get the coin out of the bottle without pulling out the cork or breaking the bottle?

    Coast to Coast

    Train A and train B are crossing the country, from coast to coast, over 3,000 miles of railroad track. Train A is going from east to west at 80 miles per hour, and Train B is going from west to east at 90 miles per hour. Which train will be closer to the west coast when they meet? (Hint: You don’t have to do any math to get the answer. Just use your head!)

    Can You Explain?

    To answer these questions, you have to let your brain think in different ways than you may be used to. Here’s an example:

    Question:A girl who was just learning to drive went down a one-way street in the wrong direction, but didn’t break the law. How come?

    Im givin answer to all at the end

    See if you can let your brain switch directions to answer these questions:

    How can you throw a ball as hard as you can and have it come back to you, even if it doesn’t hit anything, there is nothing attached to it, and no one else catches or throws it?

    Two students are sitting on opposite sides of the same desk. There is nothing in between them but the desk. Why can’t they see each other?

    There are only two T’s in Timothy Tuttle. True or false?

    ok we are at the end and here are the answers to all of THESE.

    Name the dog-
    Nelly. (If there are only four dogs on the farm, the fourth one must be Nelly!)

    outsmarting the donkey-
    Amir loaded the sacks not with salt but with sand. When the donkey jumped in the stream and got the sacks wet, they became much heavier.

    last three letters-
    U for Uranus, N for Neptune, and P for Pluto

    rising tide-
    When the tide rises 4 feet, the boat and its ladder will also rise. So no rungs will be under the water.

    Push the cork into the bottle, and shake the coin out

    coast to coast-
    When the trains meet, they will be at exactly the same point. Therefore, they will each be the same distance from the west coast.

    can you explain?

    1. She was walking.

    2. Throw the ball straight up in the air.

    3. The two students have their backs to each other.

    4. True. There are only two T’s (upper case). There are also three t’s (lower case).

  • Harry Corey

    Do you know about these visual lateral puzzles written by Daily Telegraph compiler Barry R. Clarke?