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Creative Blocks

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

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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 (105)
  • Pencilneck

    Um, I believe the correct answer to the first remote associates question is “line”, not “long”…

  • Brittany Miller

    I am not as creative as I thought I was! Interesting tests.

  • Colin Robinson

    These tests are really cool. I think “long” or “line” would work, in the remote associations. In response to pencilneck. Though “line” fits better to me.

  • Aakash Prasad

    These are useful ways to checkout own creativity. Good and innovative ideas to enhance creativity skills. Nice sharing.
    http://www.qstix.com

  • Todd Anderson

    Yeah, ‘Long’ was the answer listed in the source I used (http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~… ), but I find myself liking ‘line’ better too. Extra creativity points to you both!

  • Josh Hogg

    Perhaps the alternative uses test could also be used like the Rorscach test. I came up with ‘shooting heroine’ and ‘sticking into a toaster’.

  • Renata Menta

    I also thought line!!!!!

  • Renata Menta

    Instead of table for the second remote answer i though in ball, I associate manners with ball dance or ballroom.

  • Jake Sullivan

    Priest? I went with Mormon.

  • Risible

    Did anyone else think of a different solution for the Candle Problem?  My thought was to put the candle on the wall under the table…

  • Robin_Hardy

    So being drunk and sleepy in a foreign country is good for creativity…explains the behavior of a lot of artists/writers.

  • Judybeths

    Bwah ha ha!  I had a new solution for the fixed objects test, took apart the match book, lit the candle, and used the matchbook and thumbtacks to attach it to the wall, tolted away from the wall on a 40 degree angle, putting the box of thumbtacks underneath to catch dripping wax.

  • Pamela Knox

    I would thumbtack the box to the wall.  Then thumbtack the bottom of the candle to the bottom of the box.  Box will catch the drips. 

  • Judybeths

    That is what I got, too!

  • Todd Anderson

    Indeed. I’ve yet to find an artist/writer that’s heavily invested in moving their eyes side-to-side all the time though, keep a look out.

  • Geo

    Very cool article. Appreciate the help in keeping the creative juices flowing!

  • CrossYourFingers

    I thought of “static” for the first remote association.  Anyone else?

  • Satorydesigns

     I went with mormon, however it is illegal, but in the state of Utah though it is illegal they do not prosecute.

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  • Jessica Brookman @ N*O

    Do you hear that? It’s the sound of all screenwriters in LA moving their “offices” from starbucks to the bar.

  • Elizablest

    At first I thought to take the matches out of the matchbook and use it as a sort of belt to tape it to the wall. Then realized I wouldn’t be able to light the candle! Then came up with using the tack box. If at first you don’t succeed……

  • Elizablest

    Tack it to the wall… not tape … It’s late. I’m tired! Going to bed. 

  • Iamchris34

     there seem to be a couple of variations that make equal sense –

    3. Riddles: it could aso be a judge, justice of the piece or a Mormon, or lives where poligamy isn’t a crime.  I think the answer shows a bit of bias and assumptions not iclcuded in the riddle.

     4. remote associates:  what about “Line” as in Time Line – Hair Line – Stretch Line?

    5. Candle – was too easy – but how about melting was on the wall and attaching the candle at a slight angle (or any variation) – and attaching the box to the wall under the candle in a way that catches the wax.  Or simply – attach the candle to the wall and move the table?   The list goes on.  Hard to find a right answer in to this one.

    But interesting none-the-less

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