What’s YOUR Solution to this Classic Test?

Life Lesson #17: Think Outside the Box

Today’s lesson was inspired by Erich Fromm (a German Psychologist) who said “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” What you’re about to read is story about a puzzle test you’ve probably seen before, but with a new twist – a solution you may never have imagined…and most importantly a challenge to you to come up with one even better!


First, Let’s Talk about Problem Solving…

Think about a time when you were faced with a problem and the obvious solution just didn’t work – and neither did any of your other ideas. It’s likely you got pretty frustrated, right? If you’re like most people and tried a few ‘standard’ solutions for your problem but things didn’t go well, you’d probably just give up, get angry, and say “it can’t be done!” I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way and if you apply this lesson to your life you may well change the world!


Become a Dreamer

In addition to what we learned in Lesson #13 about The Power of Perspective, there’s something else you can use to solve your problems – The Power of Thinking Outside the Box. This power is a gift that some people are born with and if that sounds like you, congrats – however even if you weren’t born with this skill, don’t worry because it’s a power you can learn and develop over time. The first step towards acquiring this power is making the decision to NOT give up when tackling your problem and instead make the commitment to FIND A WAY to solve it. The people who make this resolution often end up becoming the dreamers and creators who change our world — they do it by not only looking at their problems as opportunities but also by thinking outside the box of normal problem solving – most importantly they remove the restrictions of the rest of the world and create a new path to success. That’s the secret and it’s so important I’ll say it again – remove the restrictions of the problem… from every angle (the problem itself, society’s standard solutions, what you thought was possible or not, etc) and when you do this, the new questions you’ll be asking yourself will offer up a whole new host of exciting solutions you never would have imagined!


Now Let’s Take that Test

One of the best opportunities I can give you to apply this lesson is a very popular test called “The 9 Dots Puzzle” – you’ve probably seen this in school and you may well know one of the solutions, but do you know ALL of the solutions? I’ll bet you don’t.

I remember first doing this test when I was a kid. and I’m proud to say that I did solve it back then without help. (As my friends can tell you I was always one to ‘stretch the rules’ a bit and that trait greatly benefitted me on this test because the solution to this puzzle definitely requires that technique!) Now let’s see how YOU do. (Be sure you scroll through this page SLOWLY so that you don’t see all the answers and thus destroy the challenge – doing that will only rob yourself of the chance come up with new solutions on your own and develop this important skill!).

THE TEST: Take a look at this picture and see if you can link all 9 dots using four straight lines or less without lifting your pen and without tracing the same line more than once?


Let me give you some time to think about it…


And some space…


Any ideas yet?


How about now?


For years the classic solution was the following (and this is the solution I sheepishly came up with the first time)…



Now this solution is certainly out of the box thinking because it involves going beyond the normal restrictions of ‘staying within the lines’ — look closely at the bottom left and top right corners and you’ll see the trick. It’s a clever little solution, however it is not the most efficient one. Do you know a better one?

By now it’s become pretty common knowledge that you can actually solve the 9 Dots Challenge in just 3 lines. Here’s how…


The key to being able to see this solution is to take the task of NOT following directions a step further. Let me explain – there are some people (many people, perhaps even most people?) who are not able to solve this puzzle at all because they won’t allow themselves to see the possibility of drawing their lines OUTSIDE the ASSUMED restrictions of the box itself – the are hampered by self-imposed restrictions! (Now it that describes you don’t worry, there IS hope and you’re learning a valuable skill right now so keep reading). For most of those that do solve the puzzle, they’ll probably do it using FOUR lines — because that’s what the directions say – but again even that group is stuck beneath the weight of self-imposed restrictions related to what they read in the directions about “using 4 lines.” It’s only the rare few who understand that just because it says you can use 4 lines does NOT mean you HAVE to. Those are the ones that solve it in 3 lines. Are you one of them?


But Wait, There’s More…

Can you figure out how to solve this puzzle with just ONE line?

When I was a kid, my first thought actually was “Ha, I can do it in one!” but the way to accomplish it required bending the rules so much that (for someone like myself who was often accused of making up his own rules) I was too afraid to even propose it to my teacher because it seemed too much like cheating and I was afraid I’d get in trouble or laughed at by the other students – in short I allowed society’s presumed restrictions to stop me from doing something unique – what a shame, huh? (Thankfully at least I was bold enough to stick to my guns on the 4-line solution because it was something I could show on paper and so I was confident enough to defend it).

So, do YOU know the ONE line solution?

Think about it.

Remove the Restrictions – there are NO restrictions.

Every solution is on the table.

You can do this. Do you know?

Think about this – if you use a line that follows the curve of the earth and has just a slight tilt, you can actually connect all 9 dots eventually with just ONE line – it’s a long, long, LONG line, but it would work. Here’s how…


So you see, one LINE solves this problem — and nobody said you couldn’t do that, right?




There is actually one more solution to the 9 Dots Test – perhaps the most powerful of all (that I know of). I’ve never seen it done by anyone else so I’m pretty proud of it, but to be honest with you it’s not all that unique because once you start thinking along these lines you’ll surely see it too…

Did you know you can link all 9 dots with nothing more than just one DOT? It’s true, you don’t even have to draw a single line – all you need is a single dot – and it doesn’t even have to be an imaginary dot. You also do not have to BEND the rules (hint, hint).

Think about it.

Do you know the solution yet?

Need help?

The One Dot Solution is simply this — you bend the paper to make all 9 dots appear on top of each other like this…


And now all it takes is a single dot pushed through the paper to link all 9 dots together (using the power of 3 dimensions — and nobody said that was not legal, right?).

Pretty cool, huh?


Say It Ain’t So, Kid…

I’m sorry to say but I just lied to you – did you catch it? My lie was in telling you that the One Dot Solution was the ‘the most powerful solution of all’ for the 9 Dots Puzzle. Friends, this is not true! The One Dot Solution may be the most powerful in MY opinion (because it’s the best that my limited mind has been to come up with so far), but I’d wager that there are MANY, MANY other solutions that are even better. Some so profound and beautiful that the solution to this simple test may end up changing the world. It’s my prayer that YOU will come up with such a solution. If you do, I hope you’ll be kind enough to share it with us.


Don’t Wait, Use this Wisdom Today…

So the next time you are faced with a challenge, try to think outside the box when you solve it, perhaps even bend the rules a bit, and see what happens – who knows, you might just discover the cure for cancer or something!


Did You Know?

Today’s lesson was adapted from a book Jax and I wrote called Diary of a Minecraft Dad

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