How to Solve Word Puzzles

One Methods:Answers

Many puzzles depend on clever wording of the question so that the would-be puzzle-solver is led to assume something that is not true. Here are several examples of such "word puzzles", and how to solve them. The answer to the first of each pair of puzzles is in the Answers section below. However, you should try them yourself first.


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    Question the gender of each character. By the wording of the puzzle, the listener assumes that he knows the gender of people mentioned in the puzzle (either female or, usually, male). Once the listener has made the wrong assumption, the puzzle becomes "unsolvable".
    • First, know that doctors cannot treat their own family members in many situations. OK, on to the puzzle. A father took his son out for a ride. The car crashed, the Dad was killed, and they rushed the gravely ill son to the hospital. The surgeon scrubbed and came out to the operating table, took one look at the patient, and announced "I cannot operate on this boy, he is my son!" Explain.
    • The detective stood outside a closed locked room with no windows. He heard “NO, MISTER, DON’T SHOOT! … BANG! (the shot of a gun)… PLOP! (the body hitting the floor). He unlocked the door and burst into the room. There was a smoking gun and a body on the floor. Around the body stood, an airline pilot, a plumber, and a Catholic priest. The detective immediately turned to the priest and said “You’ll have to come down to the station with me for questioning on this murder!” How did the detective know who to arrest?
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    Re-examine your assumptions. Sometimes the wording of the problem is such that some other assumption naturally follows, from normal experience.
    • A man ate an egg each day. He did not have any chickens at home. He never bought, borrowed or stole chicken eggs. Explain.
    • My friend says he can flick off the light switch and jump into bed before the room gets dark. If his bed is 20 feet (6.1 m) from the light switch, how does he do it? (No poles, no strings, no audio-enabled switch, etc.)
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    Ignore irrelevant info. Many puzzles contain an impossible number of facts and/or numbers, which, presumably, you must sort through to arrive at the "correct" answer. Invariably, these "facts" have no bearing on arriving at the actual answer.
    • You are a bus driver. At the first stop, 4 people get on. At the second stop, 8 people get on. At the third stop, 2 people get off, and at the last stop, everyone gets off. The question is: What color are the bus driver's eyes?
    • A boat has a ladder with six rungs. Each rung is one foot apart. The bottom rung is one foot from the water. The tide rises at 12 inches (30.5 cm) every 15 minutes. High tide peaks in one hour. When the tide is at its highest, how many rungs are under water?
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    Look for words that have two meanings. In the context of the puzzle, you “automatically” assume one definition, when in fact another is true.
    • There is a teacher born in Texas who went to school in California, and now teaches in Florida. She teaches science, chemistry, and physics. What are her three favorite states?
    • I filled up my coffee cup this morning to the brim with coffee. I dropped my pencil into the cup, but, the pencil did not get wet. Why not?
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    Read the order of the words (syntax) carefully (as if you were an English teacher!). This is one case where knowing How to Diagram Sentences might come in handy!
    • In Alice Springs, Australia, you cannot take a picture of a man with a wooden leg. Why not?
    • I can put a soda bottle down in the middle of the room, and then crawl in to it! How can I possibly do it?
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    Deduce a fact from what is presented.
    • A truck leaves London for Scotland weighing exactly 4 tons. Halfway through the trip, it crosses a bridge with a maximum capacity of 4 tons -- any more weight on it, and the bridge will instantly collapse. Just before the truck crosses the bridge, a 2 pound tree limb falls and lands on the roof of the truck and remains there as the truck crosses the bridge. But the bridge does not collapse. Explain.
    • In New York City, you see a school bus from one side. It is extremely modern. In fact, the front of the bus looks exactly like the back! All you can see is a row of windows on the side of the bus (but, you cannot see in the windows). Which direction is the bus traveling, to the left or to the right?
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    Read each word in the puzzle carefully.
    • A man states that he is able to predict the score of any football game before the game begins. How is this possible ?
    • A husband is driving his wife to the hospital very quickly. A kangaroo jumps out, the man swerves, and crashes into a tree. The man is OK but his wife is badly hurt. He rolls the windows up, locks the car, and goes to the hospital for help. When he returns two hours later to the locked car, alas, his wife has died. The strange thing is, there is someone in the car he has never seen before!!! Explain.
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    Do a bit of extra shuffling about (making 'extra' trips and/or returning things across the river than are not perfectly straightforward) when getting people or things across a river in a boat.
    • You have a fox, a chicken, and a bag of corn feed. If you leave the fox with the chicken, or the chicken with the feed, one will eat the other. You need to get all three across a river in a boat. The boat so small you can only carry one (fox, chicken, feed) at a time. Yet, you get them all across without anything being eaten. How? (Hint: which of the two can you leave alone together on one side of the river?)
    • A regiment of soldiers needs to cross a deep and fast flowing river. The bridge is out and their only chance is a small boat with two boys in it. The boat is so small it can only hold two boys or one soldier. Yet, all soldiers eventually get across the river in the boat. How?
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    Apply what you already know about basic scientific facts.
    • Two barrels contain each the same amount of water. The water temperature in one barrel is 49 °F (9 °C) while the other is at 29 °F (−2 °C). Two golf balls of same dimension and weight are dropped simultaneously into the barrels. The golf balls are dropped from the same height. Which ball will touch bottom first?
    • You are on an island in the middle of a lake deep in the heart of Alaska. There is a tractor on the island that did not arrive by boat or by air. Nor was it built on the island, and there has never been a bridge to the island. How did the tractor get there?
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    Pore over these poor pour puzzles. The last set is not exactly a word puzzle, but, it is common enough, and, is easy to solve, too. To solve any puzzle which gives you containers of different sizes, and asks you to measure out a seeming impossible quantity of water, you start by filling the smaller container and emptying it into the larger one.
    • You are standing next to a flowing water fountain and have two containers, one holds 5 gallons (18.9 L), the other, 3 gallons (11.4 L). You must measure exactly 4 gallons (15.1 L). How do you do it?
    • You are standing next to a flowing water fountain and have two containers, one holds 11 gallons (41.6 L), the other, 4 gallons (15.1 L). You must measure exactly 5 gallons (18.9 L). How do you do it?


  1. 1
    Here are the answers to the first of each pair of puzzles.
    • The doctor was the boy's Mother.
    • He was eating duck (or, ostrich, or any other kind) eggs.
    • Since you are the bus driver, they are the colour of your own eyes.
    • Solid, gaseous, and liquid (the three states of matter).
    • You can't take a photograph with a wooden leg. You need to use a camera.
    • The truck used up more than 2 pounds of petrol before getting to the bridge, and thus weighed less than when it left London.
    • The score before the game is always 0 - 0.
    • Take the chicken across. Return and get either of the others (say, the feed). Take it across. Return with the chicken and leave him on shore as you pick up the fox. The rest you can figure out.
    • The tractor was driven over in winter, when the water surrounding the island was frozen solid.
    • Fill up the 3 and empty into the 5. Fill the 3 again and put as much as you can (2) into the 5. Empty the 5 and pour the 1 gallon (3.8 L) left in the 3 into it. The rest is simple.

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