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Big Ideas

Test Your Creativity: 5 Classic Creative Challenges

How creative are you? Find out by taking a few quick tests that psychologists have been using to study creativity for decades.

Fascinated by how brains and creativity work, we frequently share new research on the 99U twitter feed, showing how everything from drinking alcohol, to taking vacations, to moving your eyes from side to side can make you more creative. What’s particularly interesting, however, is that most of these studies rely on just a small group of core creativity tests – and you don’t need any special lab equipment to take them.

Below, we’ve collected five of the most commonly used creativity challenges for your self-testing pleasure. While creativity “testing” is far from an exact science, trying your mettle at these challenges could yield insight into when, where, and how you’re most creative. Or maybe it’ll just be fun.

1. Alternative Uses

Developed by J.P. Guilford in 1967, the Alternative Uses Test stretches your creativity by giving you two minutes to think of as many uses as possible for an everyday object like a chair, coffee mug, or brick. Here’s a sample brainstorm for “paper clip” uses:

  • Hold papers together
  • Cufflinks
  • Earrings
  • Imitation mini-trombone
  • Thing you use to push that emergency restart button on your router
  • Keeping headphones from getting tangled up
  • Bookmark

The test measures divergent thinking across four sub-categories:

  • Fluency – how many uses you can come up with
  • Originality – how uncommon those uses are (e.g. “router restarter” is more uncommon than “holding papers together”)
  • Flexibility – how many areas your answers cover (e.g. cufflinks and earrings are both accessories, aka one area)
  • Elaboration – level of detail in responses; “keeping headphones from getting tangled up” would be worth more than “bookmark”

Try it yourself: How many uses can you think of for a spoon? You have two minutes… Go!

Think of as many uses as possible for an everyday object like a chair, coffee mug, or brick.

2. Incomplete Figure


Developed in the ’60s by psychologist Ellis Paul Torrance, the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT) sought to identify a creativity-oriented alternative to IQ testing. One of the most iconic elements of the TTCT was the Incomplete Figure test, a drawing challenge that’s like a game of exquisite corpse. You’re given a shape like the below, and then asked to complete the image. Here are a few completed images from a great Daily Beast piece: Try it yourself: Print out these figures, and give yourself five minutes to see what you can turn them in to. Uncommon subject matter, implied stories, humor, and original perspective all earn high marks.

The Incomplete Figure test is a drawing challenge that’s like a game of exquisite corpse.

3. Riddles

“A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid. What is it?” asks Bilbo Baggins in Tolkein’s The Hobbit. Riddles pose a question to which initially there seems to be no answer until, suddenly, the answer arrives in a flash of insight: “Aha! It’s an egg!” Psychologists use riddles to measure creative problem solving potential, or convergent thinking. Unlike the Alternative Uses Test, the goal here is to arrive at a single correct answer (rather than as many answers as possible). Try it yourself: Here’s a riddle used in a recent study showing that people are more creative when they’re tired: A man has married 20 women in a small town. All of the women are still alive and none of them are divorced. The man has broken no laws. Who is the man?  For the solution, look at the footer of this piece.

Psychologists use riddles to measure creative problem solving potential, or convergent thinking.

4. Remote Associates

The Remote Associates Test takes three unrelated words, such as “Falling – Actor – Dust,” and asks you to come up with a fourth word that connects all three words. In this case, the answer is “star,” as in “falling star,” “movie star” and “stardust.” You won’t have much luck solving this type of problem by methodically going through all the compound words and synonyms for ‘falling’ ‘actor’ and ‘dust’ and comparing them to each other. As with riddles, the solutions typically arise as a flash of insight. (Apparently being drunk also helps.) Try it yourself: Time – Hair – Stretch Manners – Round – Tennis Ache – Hunter – Cabbage Answers to the above are in the footer.

With Remote Association problems, solutions typically arise as a flash of insight.

5. The Candle Problem


The Candle Problem is a classic test of creative problem solving developed by psychologist Karl Duncker in 1945. Subjects are given a candle, a box of thumbtacks, and a book of matches, and asked to affix the lit candle to the wall so that it will not drip wax onto the table below.The test challenges functional fixedness, a cognitive bias that makes it difficult to use familiar objects in abnormal ways. It was recently used to prove that living abroad makes you more creative. Try it yourself: Have you figured it out yet? Here’s a hint: On the table there is a candle, a box of tacks, and a book of matches… For the solution, click here. — Over To You Take one or two of the tests above under two different conditions (e.g. morning and evening, at home and at work) to find out when you’re most creative. Let us know your results! — Answers – Riddle: a priest. Remote Associates (in order): Long, Table, Head.

Comments (107)
  • Iamchris34

     or they live somewhere where polygamy is legal – and nobody said it had to be today – what about 4000 bc?

  • Todd Anderson

    Haha, I’ve never heard the “move the table” solution before. I guess that would definitely be Ockham’s razor in effect.

  • NatashaO

    I may be wrong, but it is my understanding that the candle puzzle was carried out ‘for real’ originally (i.e. with an actual candle etc.).  Participants found that the only way to attach the candle to the wall was with the box.  It is not possible to ‘melt it’ or otherwise fix it to the wall with tacks.   

  • Temo Xopin

    great exercises, my favorite one is the candle problem.


    These articles are the shit! One a Day 

  • AndrewJE

    The problem with the candle one is that it is not immediately obvious that the wall is not brick. In the UK most internal walls are brick and such you would not be able to attach the box to the wall with a tack. At any rate you would need to assume what the wall is made of since it isn’t mentioned.

  • Afi Scruggs

    Riddle answer: How about a judge?

  • Janet

    Oh good. Living abroad. I may as well have skilled to the end of the article. KIDS! No, actually, I did sit for a few minutes and contemplate spoons. Ant bridge, wind chimes, egg cradle (I do actually set my eggs in an up-turned spoon if I’ve anticipated their use but the pan isn’t hot enough yet… I’ve this unreasonable fear of setting them directly on the counter despite their inability to roll straight) and brooch. The brooch is problematic because it requires another creative experiment: how might one tie a scarf to showcase a spoon brooch?

  • smartass

    took 2 secs empty pin bow, pin box to wall …put candle in box and light it

  • durgesh Khatri

    what i thought about candle is to put it on floor, lit it and put the table vertical (top of table)near to it..haha…..

  • Jordan

    You take the box of tacks and dump the tacks out. Tack the box to the wall and light the candle inside.

  • Charlie Garland

    These are all very interesting, fun, and indeed creative challenges. And I can solve ALL of them using a new creative-thinking tool called “Cubie”. For details, see my LinkedIn profile (InnovationOutlet).

  • babli kala

    The solution of candle problem is just to empty the box of thumbtacks, put the candle into the box, use the thumbtacks to nail the box (with the candle in it) to the wall, and light the candle with the match

  • top essay writing services

    Very great article content that you have able to put it on the blog. I could really say that creativity of your own mind to write some good and informative thoughts that is very fascinated was very rare.

  • siva swarup

    i thought of the same answer what solution kept in wikipedia. i took less than 5 seconds for it. good, but more such problems would test more. i dont think i’m too creative, yet, i need more tests.

  • Brooke Dunford

    It’s true that mormons used to practice polygamy, however, a true mormon would not these days.

  • anonymous

    empty the pin box, put 1 pin in the inside of the box to hold up the candle (like its own little table), put 4 pins a little sticking out at the bottom sides, one on each side assuming the candle isn’t too heavy, according to the size in the image. In order to make it stand on the pins and if you need to add weight to the bottom, add more pins a little above the bottom pins. it might fall but its a creativity test right.. LOL

  • pm

    Visit http://www.remote-associates-t… for more Remote Associates Test problems.

  • Steve Menard

    My solution was to slide the table away from the wall… pretty dumb when I think of it.

  • disqus_f5JkCJ5x0e

    push the nails half through the candle into the wall, move the table away. light candle

  • aljento

    i don’t think there is any point in it cox the purpose of the candle is to lighten up the surrounding or the table in this case

  • Viliami Tuanaki

    When I first looked at the answer to the first riddle ( a priest) i was like Priests can marry 20 women? But then…………

    • billy

      no, the priests married the 20 women to other men, so he “married” 20 women.

  • Jojo

    Or, put the candle on the floor.

    • wow.

      you have to attach it to the wall. did you not read the task?

      • Pablopcb

        the bottom of the wall, between the legs of the table

  • james

    so just move the table – and stick candle to wall. No box or thumbtacks needed

    • youredumb

      How do you just “stick” a candle to a wall?


    ballmanners? mannersball? neither make sense. the words are meant to make a single word. not associate with it.

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