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.


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

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.

More insights on: Creative Blocks, Innovation

Todd Anderson

more posts →
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.
load comments (104)
  • Dancing Kirby <(-_-<)

    i was confused at first with the candle but then something clicked and i thought a box has walls

  • ad

    and what if the problem did not include the box that contains the pins? there is a solution I think.

  • John

    cnadle problem is quite sense less

  • Anonymous

    You just tack the candle under the table

    • susanpub

      Now that’s creative!

    • bleh

      That’s just lazy.

  • IMayBeWrong

    The candle problem isn’t creative at all. I thought thumbtacking the match box to the wall, putting the candle in it, and thumb tacking the thumb tack box under the candle so that extra wax drips into that. That’s creative.

    • susanpub

      It’s a matchBOOK, not a box. Won’t support a candle.

      • hajohns83

        you don’t use the matchbook as the support, you use the thumb tack box.

      • freedom rings

        Box of tacks not the matchbook

    • Niobium

      I thought of moving the table…

    • anon

      I was just going to stick it to the wall under the table, that way no wax will drip on the table will it? I genuinely thought that was going to be the answer!

    • John

      Poor retard, there IS no match box

  • Kaya

    ((So I did that creativity test in 11 minutes

    I’m so done))

    This article was interesting; though the candle problem isn’t too difficult and doesn’t quite require much creativity.

  • Heywood Jablowme

    None of your answers make any sense.

  • Rosy Martina

    This is awesome!

  • Superlily

    Hey it’s me, and this is not a creative test! St(stupid test)

  • AriNomNom

    Is the answer to the married 20 women one the pastor? That’s the first thing that came to mind for me :)

    • Tony

      I got the same idea! ^^

  • KP

    the answer for the riddle “a Priest” also shows a limited vision and a high church, Catholic Episcopal, etc. up bringing and does not seem to include protestant or justice of the peace individuals

    • Aj Robidas

      polygamy is legal in some places, why not just polygamy?

      • Tony

        isnt 20 excessive even for polygamy. I personally like the priest answer it seems more logical to me but that may be due to cultural context.

  • F. Michael Furbert

    Most informative and candidly constructed!

    • FLUDDzone .

      Thanks for the link infested with malware.

  • swag

    the answer to the riddle is mitt Romney

  • steddie

    I was thinking of making a twisted rope of sorts out of the paper matches and use the tacks to attach rope to the wall — with the candle attached at the other end hanging below like a pendulum. Set the candle in motion, swinging back and forth — (make sure the radius is sufficient to allow dripping at just the right points on the arc).

    • Henry

      That would literally cause the candle to drip all over the table.

      • Tony

        lol..sounds like a epic fail.Creativity is a iterative process indeed.

  • Madhava Verma Dantuluri

    Good information.

  • asdf

    It’s supposed to be on the wall.

  • Yeewon Chong

    take out all the matches, turn the match box into a candle holder, pin the match box up

    • GalFisk

      Why not pin the pin box up, that doesn’t even need to be turned into anything else first.

      • GalFisk

        Oh, if the pin box turns out to be plastic (it likks like one of those as drawn), heat a pin with the candle so that it can melt a small hole through the side of the box. Otherwise the cheap styrene plastic is apt to crask when a pin is being pushed through it.

  • Alexes

    Utah has gotten to me…. I said Warren Jeffs for the riddle answer. I got everything except the drawing with 8 million diamonds. I couldnt do anything except make a lame shirt or tie. AND (stretch, hair, and time) I said Less….

  • reza rb


  • Anton

    You don´t need the thumbtacks for the candle problem: 1) Throw away all the box of thumbtacks, 2) Flip the table over, and lean it against the wall, 3) Put candle between wall and leaning table, at at an angle so it dont drip on the table, but on the floor. 4) light candle :)

  • nina

    this is so easy

  • SwagWarrior

    i was thinking stick a thumb tack into the candle so it balances. put tumb tacks everywhere leaving no gaps put matches on top to completely seal the gaps, light the candle and eat the match box

  • Anonymous

    Yes, that is what I learned in my psychology class as well.

  • brbrbr

    it’s 7 am and i still haven’t slept and by the time i got to the candle problem the solution was clearly “just light a fucking match you piece of shit”

  • Imtichanul Aliyah

    Can you give me an example of a creative problem in the field of natural science studies?

  • 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”.

  • 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

1 2
blog comments powered by Disqus

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,478 other followers