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Idea Generation

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

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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. 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

candle_2_550

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 (104)
  • Richard

    1) Thumb tack through candle into wall, move table, light candle
    2) Thumb tack through box into wall, candle in box, light candle
    3) Candle into wall, move table, light wall.

    • cory

      How about nailing the candle into the wall, below where it would drip onto to the table, but above the floor? That’s what I thought was the obvious choice literally the moment I read it, but I haven’t seen it said anywhere.

  • jay

    Empty thumbtack box, then tack the box to the wall, put the candle in the box then light the candle

  • moomoo

    Well I thought of creating a slot for the candle with the thumbtacks. Not depressing them into the wall fully. Didn’t even realise there was a box and would it hold up long enough. And have the matchbox paper catching drips. I don’t think there is one right answer (although the experimenters did) because all of them seem creative and wonderful to me!

  • Fiona

    1) candle through bottom of thumbnail box, so that the drippings are caught in the box. 2) wedge little foldings of the matchbox paper to fill any gaps in the hole in the box to hold the candle in place.
    3) tack the rest of the matchbox paper tightly over the bottom and shaft of the candle to place it upright on the wall and hold it in place

  • Fiona

    that is one successful minister… no divorces!

  • Leoni

    For the remote associates the first answer could also be “line”.

  • http://pornhub.com John Oliver

    Nail the candle to the wall under the table and it will drip onto the floor, not the table.

    • Afi_Scruggs

      Empty the box. Nail the candle to the wall. Put the empty box under the candle so wax drips into the box and not onto the table. Light the candle. (But why tack a candle to the wall in the first place?)

  • Manny

    Tack candle to the wall. Move the table.

  • Jaret Jose T.Ulanday

    There is no single answers for me

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