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The Real Solution to the Einstein Quiz

Albert Einstein - Ha!

Are you sure you want to read the real answer? Maybe you want to go back to the Einstein Quiz and think about it some more? Once you read the answer, you can't un-read it...

Solution to the Einstein Quiz: the Fifth Pet

Almost all the answers to the "Einstein Quiz" that I have seen on the web go through the same mechanical process to solving the puzzle. They chart out the problem, lay out each clue graphically, and slowly build a picture of which persons, drinks and pets are in which houses. Its a logical, technical and involved process. If you do it correctly you inevitably conclude that it is the German who has fish.

If you identified the German as the fish-owner, you did better than many people and should feel good. But did you get the right answer, is this the correct way to solve the problem? No its not! Nowhere in the problem, except in the question, is the word fish found. Thus the fifth pet might just as well be elephants as fish. After a lot of work you can safely conclude that the German has the fifth pet, but you have to ASSUME that the fifth pet is fish in order to conclude the German has fish. You have no basis for making this assumption, however. Note that the "Facts" are carefully separated from the "Question" in this puzzle.


Once you grasp the nature of the problem its rather simple to solve."

So the correct answer to the Einstein Quiz is that you can't be sure there even IS a fish pet. Once you grasp the nature of the problem its rather simple to solve. The "Einstein Quiz" may or may not have actually been written by Einstein (no one seems to have definitive proof one way or the other). But it would be just like Einstein to give us a puzzle like this, for he stressed examining assumptions.

Some may say this is just a trick answer or a gimmick, since it reduces the puzzle to something thats trivial to solve. The real answer (for smart people) must obviously involve going through the difficult and complex logical process that leads to the German. I disagree. Consider this other "trick answer" to a different problem: Einstein's world-changing conclusion that time slows down and space contracts when objects are moving relative to each other (Special Relativity). This can be derived with no more mathematical knowledge than basic high school geometry — but only if you re-examine a single assumption about why light appears to travel the same speed to two different observers moving relative to each other.

Einstein himself once wrote: "The important thing is to not stop questioning."

The Most Accurate Answer

One of our site visitors reminded me recently that possibly the most accurate answer to the question "Can you determine who keeps fish?" is found by using a combination of both approaches. First you must realize there is no way to know if the fifth pet is even fish. But then you can still use all the clues to exclude certain people. So the answer is then similar to a conditional check in a line of software code, and it is: "not Brit & not Dane & not Swede & not Norwegian." In other words you don't know who (if anyone) keeps fish, but, you do know who doesn't.

Maze Solving Assumptions

Statue of Zeus maze puzzle

Statue of Zeus maze puzzle

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One of the reasons I find the Einstein Quiz so interesting is that when designing a difficult puzzle, a maze artist must also take advantage of the mistaken assumptions that maze-solvers tend to make. This helps keep them confused and lost.

For example, when people come to a junction they rarely choose a path that heads back into an area of the maze they have recently traversed. They unconsciously assume that such backwards-directed new paths take them farther from the solution, not nearer. So a clever maze designer will use this against them, and create many junctions in the maze where the correct path to the solution does in fact appear to be an obvious backtrack. A similar trick involves passage width: people tend to prefer choosing wider passages over narrow ones at a junction. This can also be used against them.

See the page on designing mazes for explanations of other maze creation tricks, or check out the Statue of Zeus maze puzzle on the right. This puzzle utilizes yet another psychological trick to confound maze solvers. See if you can spot the trick that makes it so hard! Its one of the most common mazes people email me about, asking for help. You can also take a look at some of the other maze puzzles that utilize various tricks to confound solvers.

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Ancient legends associated with mazes—such as the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur—speak of danger and confusion, of heroes and transformation, death and rebirth.

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