Critical Thinking Brain Teasers

Instructor: David Raudenbush
Brain Teasers are puzzles or riddles that test your critical thinking, which is the ability to use logic to connection information in a way that allows you to make a decision or find a solution. Practicing brain teasers will help you develop your critical thinking skills.

Teasing your sister will get you grounded, or maybe even a black eye. Teasing your brain, on the other hand, can make you a better thinker by teaching you how to assemble clues in a way that leads to an answer. Here's a brain teaser to test your current critical thinking ability.

A cowboy rode his horse into town on Sunday. He took a room at the hotel, slept most of the time, and he left two days later on Friday. How is it possible that he could leave two days after Sunday on Friday?

Finding the Answer

If you said it was not possible, you aren't thinking critically. Yes, Friday is six days after Sunday, not two days later. So the cowboy could not have left on the calendar day Friday. However, that didn't stop him from hopping on a horse named Friday and riding off.

Solving a brain teaser requires you to decide on an answer based on a given amount of information, such the fact that the cowboy in question arrived on a horse. He came to town on a Sunday. The information about sleeping in the hotel isn't relevant. You know that names of the days of the week don't change, so Friday didn't magically take the place of Tuesday. Therefore, the Friday in question wasn't a weekday. It had to be the name of the cowboy's horse.

Thinking Critically

You can define critical thinking as a series of steps in a decision-making process. You use critical thinking whenever you use logic to connect ideas or information in order to make a decision, draw a conclusion, evaluate a position, or reach an answer.

Think about this classic brain teaser. A man walked into a coin collector's store and told the shopkeeper that he wanted to sell an ancient Roman coin dated 64 BC. Without even looking at the coin, the shopkeeper knew it was a fake and told the man to leave. How did the shopkeeper know the coin was a fake?

You don't need to know anything about Roman coins to answer this question. The obvious clue here is the date on the coin, 64 BC. If BC stands for 'Before Christ', how could a Roman coin maker know about the birth of Christ 64 years before the event occurred? The coin maker couldn't have known, so it had to be a fake.

Skip the Distractions

Brain teasers can be far more complex than these. This one tests your creative problem-solving ability. Your last ping pong ball tumbles down a narrow length of pipe embedded in concrete. How could you get the ball out if you only have a ping pong paddle, a pack of chewing gum, and a bottle of water of water?

The first thing you need to see is that there are no conditions in the problem requiring you to use the paddle or the gum. To get the ball out, you just have to fill the pipe with water and let the ball float to the top.

Avoiding Assumptions

Critical thinking brain teasers will often test your ability to overcome preconceived notions that can cloud your thinking. For example, a boy and his father are in a car accident. The father, sadly, died at the scene. Paramedics rush the boy to the hospital, where doctors rush him into surgery. The surgeon takes one look at the boy and says, 'I can't operate on this child, he's my son.' How is this possible?

First, erase any thought of stepfathers from consideration. This puzzle confounds people who immediately assume that the surgeon has to be a man. The brain teaser doesn't identify the gender of the surgeon, who happens to be the boy's mother.

Here's another brain teaser that requires the same type of critical thinking. Romeo and Juliet lie dead on the floor in a room with one open window. Around them, there is a puddle of water and broken glass. How did Romeo and Juliet die?

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