Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Test Your Creativity: 5 Classic Creative Challenges

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.

torrance_2

Here are a few completed images from a great Daily Beast piece:

image.img.1302550412426

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. Download a full list of riddles that psychologists use here.

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. For more sample problems, click here.

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.

candle_2_550

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.

More insights on: Creative Blocks, Innovation

Todd Anderson

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Todd Anderson is an editorial assistant for 99U. He is also an NYC-based performance poet and the producer of the Poetry Observed video series.
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