10 Word Puzzles That Will Test Your Thinking 3 Ways
Odd-one-out challenges are used on IQ and employment tests, for good reason.
Posted Feb 04, 2016
If you have ever taken an IQ-type test, then you are familiar with “odd-one-out” puzzles. Most such puzzles present figures, images, or symbols in a sequence, with the goal being to spot the one item that does not belong in the sequence for some logical reason. For instance, we might be given a square, a rectangle, a parallelogram, and a triangle. The triangle is the odd one out, because it is the only three-sided figure, while the others all have four. Language-based odd-one-out puzzles, like the ones below, typically involve finding a word that does not belong in a set. For example, in the first list below, the word HELMET, unlike the other four words, does not refer to a sport (although helmets are used in several of the sports), so, logically, it is the odd one out.
Solving this type of puzzle involves several thinking strategies in unison that are worth noting here:
- Pattern recognition is clearly implied—that is, solving the puzzle presupposes the ability to discern regularity in a set of data and, thus, to detect what item does not belong in the set.
- These puzzles also entail what linguists call lexical competence—that is, knowledge of words and their meanings and how they form categories. In the puzzle above, the lexical category is, of course, “terms referring to sports.”
- This type of puzzle forces us to think about the nature of similarities and differences and how they relate to each other.
The last strategy reveals something about puzzles in general that has always intrigued me academically. It seems to mirror an unconscious need to “synchronize” things that are similar in a holistic way. We can see this manifest itself in all areas of human life. In fashion, we require that clothing items match each other in some way to produce a coherent whole. If something doesn’t “fit in,” such as sneakers with a tuxedo, then we are jarred—not by the sneakers of themselves, but because they “do not belong” in the “tuxedo code.” A similar story could be told about virtually anything we do, from decorating rooms to writing computer algorithms: The parts must fit into a consistent whole. If a part does not fit in, we are compelled to take it out. Although this might be stretching the basis of for the odd-one-out puzzles a bit, when considered together with other kinds of puzzles, this need for symmetry, as we might call it, seems to jut out as a general pattern.
Nothing is known about the origin of these puzzles, other than that they are commonly found on IQ tests, and used to assess candidates for job positions. Outside of those contexts, they remain very popular as puzzles. A fascinating “take” on them is the book Odd One Out: The Devilish Quiz for History Lovers (2014) by Paul Sullivan, which contains 60 such puzzles, which, once solved, enable the reader to discover various facts about British history.
You will find four types of puzzles here to help you test your pattern recognition skills:
- Those that involve recognizing the meanings of words as belonging to specific lexical fields (like the one above).
- Those that involve recognizing some grammatical category, such as whether the words are in the singular or the plural.
- Puzzles involving words that are written in a specific way, such as starting with a certain letter.
- Puzzles involving historical or cultural knowledge, such as the names of composers or painters.
There are two restrictions in solving the puzzles below:
- The number of letters in a word is excluded as a criterion or pattern. So, selecting the word with the greatest or smallest number of letters as the odd one out does not count in this particular version of the puzzle.
- Lower and upper case letters are also excluded; that is, it doesn’t matter if the words are written in lower or upper case as the criterion for selecting the odd one out.
Are these puzzles conducive to brain health? One of the purposes of this series is to entertain the possibility that puzzles are neurologically good for us. However, I always express caution and even skepticism at claims that puzzles improve brain functioning or can help stave off dementia or memory loss. The ongoing scientific research studying the correlation between puzzles and the brain is often ambiguous, although it tends to support the hypothesis that puzzles are beneficial. I know of no specific research that examines the possibility of a correlation between odd-one-out puzzles and the brain. Many teachers use these, as I have in the past, to enhance learning in specific areas, such as building vocabulary knowledge, letter and word recognition, perception of word functions, among others.
[Note: There could be different answers to the ones I provide. If so, please leave a comment. I have found over years of creating puzzles that other possibilities are always out there, showing how diverse and versatile the human intellect is.]
1. GASOLINE is a liquid; the others are solids.
2. MEMORANDUM is the only singular noun; the others are all plural.
3. Vladimir ZWORYKIN was an inventor (a television pioneer); the others were classical music composers.
4. DO is the only verb; the others are all nouns.
5. SYMPHONY is a musical composition; the others are literary compositions.
6. CUBE is a three-dimensional figure; the others are all two-dimensional.
7. TOMATO is a fruit (although often served as a vegetable); the others are vegetables.
8. SELF is not written with double vowels (“ee,” “oo,” “aa”); the others are.
9. WINE is a drink; all the others are types of food.
10. PICASSO is a painter and sculptor; the others are writers.