The man and the dragon

13.04.14 11:45 PM By Kartheeban Chandramohan

When I go to various schools as part of Team Everest, I get chance to interact with hundreds of students every week. As part of the visit, we use to have a ‘Logical Thinking’ session where we use to ask a set of logical thinking questions to students and give prizes to children who answer it right.

It was a very interactive session with lot of fun in it. Students come up with creative, brilliant answers though it might not be the right answer. Here is one of my favorite questions:

“A man is trapped in a room. The room has only two possible exits: two doors on opposite direction. Through the first door there is a magnifying glass. The blazing hot sun instantly fries anything or anyone that enters. Through the second door there is a fire-breathing dragon. How does the man escape?”

I would have asked this question to more than 5000 children so far in 20 different schools. Below are few of those answers I got from different students:

‘Escape through the Window’.

So, I modified the question as ‘A room with two doors with no windows’.

Next student told, ‘It is a hut. You can escape through the roof.’

I told, it is a proper home with concrete ceiling.

Pat came the answer. ‘It is simple brother. Just dig a hole and escape!’.

I told them that there is no crowbar available inside the room.

With all the possibilities of escaping from the room apart from the two doors are ruled out, students started thinking on how to kill the dragon now.

The next answer was, ‘Kill the dragon with a gun or knife’.

I told them the room is empty and you do not have any weapons to attack the Dragon.

I thought all the options for killing the dragon is shut down now. No, it is not. A student came up with a different idea.

‘Rotate the magnifying glass on one side of the door towards the dragon. Let the dragon die because of the heat and we can escape through the Dragon door’.

OMG! I was thinking how on earth that these kids come up with such creative answers.

So, to get the actual answer that I already have on my paper, I told them that the magnifying glass outside is very powerful and even if you show your hand outside, it will burn your hands into ashes. So, there is no way of rotating those magnifying glasses.

They didn’t give up. I think, movies have influenced them a lot. They came up with another idea to kill the dragon. And, I’m sure, none of us would have thought about this answer even in our wildest dreams.

An intelligent student told, ‘Remove your shirt, and show it towards the magnifying glass. Once it catches fire, throw it on the dragon and run away!’.

I was speechless. And, that is one of the best answers, I have ever heard for this puzzle.

By this time, the kids understood that killing the dragon is almost impossible.

So, they came up with a better idea – Cheating the Dragon.

A student told, ‘Jump over the Dragon and run away!’.

I told that the Dragon is big enough and you cannot jump over it. I told them that it has a size of a Dinosaur.

The next student told, ‘Act like moving towards the left and when the dragon turns left, you run on the right’.

OMG… What can I do now? So, I modified my question and told them that on one side of the door, the dragon is waiting with its mouth wide opened. Its mouth is so big such that, you can see only its mouth and there is no gap between the mouth and the door. So, if you try to step out, you will land your leg only on its mouth.

One student told, ‘Wait till the night and when the dragon sleeps, you can go that way’.

I told it is Australian Dragon and will never sleep :). (How else can I escape and make them say the answer I want? :) ).

Another student told, ‘Then wait for 2 days inside the room itself. The dragon will feel hungry and go out looking for food. You can escape at that time’.

I replied ‘This Dragon likes to eat Human Beings and you are the only Human Being available in that area. So, the Dragon will wait for any number of days for you to come outside and eat you. It is really hungry and waiting to eat you’.

Now, killing the dragon or cheating it is ruled out, they turned their attention towards the ‘Magnifying Glass’.

A student told, ‘Take a stone and break the glass’.

I reminded them that the room is empty and they have nothing in the room to throw it away!

One student who was thinking for a long time and was observing the conversation happening, stood up and asked me,

‘Sir, if one door has a dragon and another has a magnifying glass, how did that man enter the room first of all?’.

That was great thinking. I told them, after he entered the home, the dragon came to eat him and one of his enemies tied the magnifying glass at the other entry door.

These were various answers I got from students 6th to 9th standard students. When, I have put the same question to our volunteers and friends, they struggle to come up with even one answer.

Even in the school, the 6th std students gives more wrong answers before predicting the right answers than the 9th std students. That is, with increasing age, the creativity goes down.

I searched whether there is any scientific reason behind it. What happens to our innate creativity when we age?

The first is that regions of the frontal cortex – a part of the brain responsible for rule-based behavior – are not fully developed until our teenage years. This means that when we are young our thoughts are free-flowing and without inhibitions. Curiosity, not logic and reason, guides our intellectual musings. The second is that current educational practices discourage creativity. Click here for Source.

As famed speaker Ken Robinson said: “the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized.”

Kids are willing to explore, investigate and put their ideas to the test because they are willing to fail. Unlike adults, they don’t care how other people perceive or evaluate their ideas, and they’re unconcerned with the impossible or what doesn’t work.

In short, to be creative think like a child. You did it all the time once. So now do it again.

And the actual answer for the puzzle is,

‘He waits until night time and then goes through the door which has magnifying glass. Since there is no sun, the magnifying glass will not burn you’.

75% of the classrooms where I asked this question told this answer after giving some of the answers I have mentioned above.

In one class after I told this answer, a kid immediately stood up and asked

‘Sir, you told the dragon is hungry. Will it not chase and eat you when you come outside?’.

And, I don’t have an answer for that!