When I was younger, I loved getting the ‘right’ answer. Seven times six is forty-two. What is the capital city of New Zealand? Wellington.

In the what year was the first sliced bread produced? 1928.

I was blessed or cursed with a good memory depending on your perspective and I was able to think a logical step by step manner that traditionally sees many people excel academically.

Obviously, there is more to thinking than what has been most valued traditionally. What about the creatives, the artists, the song writers, the innovators and those who just see the world differently? Puzzles, riddles and jokes aren’t just fun, they are a potential pathway to develop an ability to think laterally, see multiple viewpoints and increase our personal creativity.

Name eight uses for a white linen sheet in sixty seconds. As adults there is discomfort in being put on the spot with a time limit. We don’t like the idea of giving a ‘wrong’ answer that makes us look or feel silly.

Children tend to be less bothered by this. Geniuses such as Thomas Edison had a similar attitude and reaped dividends when he gained the patent for the first commercially practical lightbulb in 1879.

Edison and his team of researchers at Menlo Park, New Jersey had hundreds of ‘failed’ attempts before settling on a carbon filament. When trying new ways of thinking we, like Edison will make errors, but trying to see life in new ways brings rewards that are many and varied. The answers that made me smile over the years to the white linen sheet question include; to pretend to be a ghost, to make a hammock, to have a picnic and as a sail for a boat.

Riddles and puzzles have a unique place in our culture. Many newspapers and magazines have puzzles such as crosswords, sudoku, wordsearches and many more. The crossword is perceived by many as such a traditional puzzle and Irish Country Living has hundred of keen crossword followers. It is in many ways taken for granted and yet is a wonderful promoter and developer of lateral thinking in homes around the world.

The first crossword appeared in a newspaper as early as 1913 but riddles and puzzles have been with us many centuries. In the ancient Greek play, Oedipus had to solve the riddle of the Sphinx before he became king.

What walks on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night? It’s man of course; crawling as an infant, then walking as an adult before using a walking stick in old age.

These riddles that many enjoy because they are maddening and difficult, appear everywhere from Harry Potter to Rumpelstiltskin. A version of a riddle that I am particularly fond of, can be seen in the 1996 comedy film Tin Cup starring Kevin Costner as wayward golf pro and Rene Russo as Doctor Molly Griswold. The riddle goes something like the following:

A father and son are in car crash and sent in two separate ambulances to two different hospitals. The son goes into the operating room and the doctor looks at the boy and says: “I can’t operate on this boy, he’s my son.” How’s this possible?

This riddle is becoming less relevant as the time goes and the number of mothers who also work as doctors increases yet the thought process for someone who is hearing it for the first time is still not easy because of how the question is asked.

As I have grown older, one of the things I now enjoy while out for a walk is coming up with questions that have many correct answers. Movie fans like ones such as “name the seven dwarfs?” They are Dopey, Grumpy, Bashful, Sleepy, Happy and Doc for those of you who were wondering. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that I left out Sneezy. I left him out but as a hay fever sufferer I can assure you that I never forget him.

Our minds work and learn not in straight lines but organically. At every stage of life our thinking and lives are improved by engaging passionately with the world around us, staying curious and creating new experiences and memories.

One last puzzle

Here is one last puzzle that I hope will encourage you to go and find some more. It’s as easy as one, two, three.

Please fill in the blanks in the sequence below.


Answers found below – no peeking!


E, N, T - the first letters of the numbers one to 10.

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