Trick Questions

What is bigger than the universe and if you eat it for a week, you will lose some weight?

This is a trick question. Think about it for a minute or so.

If you know the answer, you probably heard it before from a kid.

If you figured out the answer without any previous exposure, congratulations!

If you haven't figured out the answer and want to give up, check Answer 1 at the end of this article.

In addition to becoming popular with children and torturing grown ups, trick questions reward you for thinking laterally, outside the box. They provide you with “aha” moments. They teach you to ignore irrelevant noise and focus on the critical piece of information.

I have been collecting trick questions like this one for the past couple of months. In case you are curious, here's the earliest trick question that is included in my collection. It is incorporated in an eighteenth-century nursery rhyme:

As I was going to St. Ives
I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits,
Kits, cats, sacks, wives,
How many were going to St. Ives?

Try to solve this puzzle.

If you figured out the answer as 75-1, you are a mathematical genius—but completely wrong. Read the rhyme again and see if you can figure out the correct answer.

If you want to cheat, take a peek at Answer 2 at the end of this article. I have incorporated the trick questions in a game that I used during a conference. Here are the unique features of this game:

  • In the beginning, different participants begin to play at different times.
  • In the middle of the game, participants make their own choice and pair up with each other at their own pace.
  • At the end of the game, participants gather together to compete in a contest.

Basic Idea

Different people are supplied with a different trick question and the answer. They exchange the questions and answers with each other whenever they feel like it. At the close of the activity, a contest is held during which the facilitator asks 10 trick questions one at a time. Players who cannot give the correct answer sit down. The last player standing is the winner.


  • To listen carefully, ignore red herrings, focus on critical information, think laterally, and give the correct answer.
  • To use networking, partnership, and collaboration to share knowledge among participants.


Any number


This is a distributed game; it is played in the background during other activities (such as a conference). The game can last for several hours or several days. Announce the start time and the specific scheduled period (typically 10 minutes) for the ending contest.


  • One copy of How To Participate in Trick Questions for each participant.
  • Different trick question cards, one for each participant.


Prepare your own question cards with a trick question and the creative answer. You can collect such questions from interviewing children, reviewing puzzle books, or surfing the Internet. To give yourself a head start, see the List of Trick Questions below. If you have more participants than questions, simply use duplicate question cards.


Distribute instructions and question cards. When participants check in, give each participant the same instruction sheet and a different trick question card.

Leave them alone. Let participants figure out how they want to participate and who they want to partner with.

Conduct the contest. At the scheduled start time, welcome participants who turn up. Don't be disappointed if all participants don't show up. Ask everyone to stand up and read a random trick question. Ask those who don't know the answer to sit down. Ask the remaining participants to say the answer to someone near them (either sitting or standing).

Give the correct answer. Announce the correct answer and ask participants who did not give this answer to sit down.

Identify the winner. Repeat the procedure, eliminating more participants during each round. To speed up the process, use some trick questions that were not used in the question cards. If more than one participant remains standing at the end of the scheduled period, declare them to be joint winners.

Answer 1

What is bigger than the universe and if you eat it for a week, you will lose some weight?

Answer: Nothing. (Nothing is bigger than the universe, and if you eat nothing for a week, you will lose some weight.)

How to Participate in Trick Questions

What do you get? You receive one question card. This card has a trick question and the answer.

Here is an example:

QUESTION: What English word do most people spell incorrectly?

ANSWER: The word “incorrectly”

What do you do? Pair up with as many of the other participants as possible and share your questions and answers. Do this at your own pace and your choice.

How do you win? We will conduct a trick question contest for 10 minutes at a pre-announced time. You win if you give the most correct answers.

Answer 2

How many were going to St. Ives? Just one—you. Read the first line of the nursery rhyme again.

List of Trick Questions

  1. QUESTION: A shirt and a tie cost $50. The shirt costs $10 more than the tie. What is the price of the shirt?
    ANSWER: $30
  2. QUESTION: Why are 2006 pennies worth more than 1998 pennies?
    ANSWER: Because 2,006 pennies are worth $20.06 whereas 1,998 pennies are worth only $19.98.
  3. QUESTION: Divide 10 by ½ . Double the answer. What do you get?
    ANSWER: 40. (If you divide 10 by 2, you get 5. But when you divide 10 by ½, you get 20.)
  4. QUESTION: Do Australians have a 4th of July?
    ANSWER: Yes, they do. The calendars in all Western countries have a Fourth of July.
  5. QUESTION: What seven-letter word becomes longer when you remove a letter?
    ANSWER: Lounger
  6. QUESTION: Do this simple addition problem in your head: Take 1000 and add 40 to it. Now add another 1000. Now add 30. Add another 1000. Now add 20. Now add another 1000. Now add 10. What is the total?
    ANSWER: 4100. (This is the correct answer. Many people get 5000, which is incorrect.)
  7. QUESTION: How can you stand underwater for more than 5 minutes without using any special equipment?
    ANSWER: Simple! Just hold a glass of water above your head.
  8. QUESTION: How many birthdays does an average woman have?
    ANSWER: Only one: the day she was born.
  9. QUESTION: You can break this simply by saying it. What is it?
    ANSWER: Silence
  10. QUESTION: How many times can you subtract 10 from 100?
    ANSWER: Only once. After the first time, you will be subtracting 10 from 90 (and so on).
  11. QUESTION: A Swiss barber claims that he'd rather cut the hair of three French-speaking men than one German-speaking man. Whey do you think he feels that way?
    ANSWER: Because he will make three times as much money.
  12. QUESTION: If there are 10 dollars on the table and you take away 8, how many dollars do you have?
    ANSWER: 8, because that's what you took away.
  13. QUESTION: In Sri Lanka, why can't a man marry his widow's sister?
    ANSWER: In order to have a widow, the man must be dead. Dead men cannot marry.
  14. QUESTION: John and Mike are born to the same mother on the same day. But they are not twins. How come?
    ANSWER: They are two members of a set of triplets.
  15. QUESTION: Some months have 31 days. Others have 30 days. How many months have 28?
    ANSWER: Twelve. All months have at least 28 days.
  16. QUESTION: Tracy's father is an astronomer and he has three daughters. He named one of them Venus and the other one Mercury. What's the name of the third girl?
    ANSWER: Tracy.
  17. QUESTION: Two boys play seven games of chess. There are no ties. Both boys win the same number of games. How is this possible?
    ANSWER: The boys are not playing against each other.
  18. QUESTION: Why do women in India have more shoes than women in the neighboring country of Pakistan?
    ANSWER: Because there are more women in India.
  19. QUESTION: You are a racecar driver. If you overtake the last car, what position are you in?
    ANSWER: You cannot overtake the last car.
  20. QUESTION: You are a racecar driver. Just before the finish line, you overtake the second car. In what position do you finish?
    ANSWER: Second. (You finish first only if you overtake the first car.)