Some of my: Inventions | Magazine interviews | Sheds | Favorite ER memories

Information for people contemplating
a career in emergency medicine and
other medical specialties

By Kevin Pezzi, MD

Brain Teasers

If you want to increase your IQ, you must challenge your mind in novel ways. Traditional school, with its emphasis on memorization and robotic regurgitation of that information, is far too easy.

In my ER sites (this one and, as well as Fascinating Health Secrets, I explain how I transformed myself from dunce to doctor and became what one of my bosses described as "the smartest doctor" he ever knew. On this page, I will present some brain-teasers of varying difficulty that will make your mind do what it was designed to do: find a solution to new problems.

Note that you do not necessarily need to solve any of these questions to boost your brainpower; merely "straining your brain" (as I colloquially term it) on a regular basis is sufficient.

Incidentally, I know the correct solutions to these intellectual puzzles, all of which have applicability in the real world. If you want me to judge whether your answers are correct, contact me.


Odometer model

2. You're a teenager who travels 30 miles (one way) from home to work each day. Your girlfriend lives an additional 2 miles away (i.e., 32 miles from your home). You want to visit her every day you work, but your strict father inspects your car's odometer daily to ensure that you drove to work and not a tenth of a mile further. Without tampering with your odometer, how can you drive your car to your girlfriend's home every day without your father knowing?

Want this free book? Contact me.

3. Let's say that you commit a heinous crime and readily confess your culpability in court. "Yes, judge, I did it. I am guilty." This crime is so morally outrageous that people would ordinarily love to see you behind bars until the day you die. What could you do to make the criminal justice system throw up its arms in exasperation and grudgingly admit that it has no choice but to let you remain free forever? (Hint: The correct solution does not involve a legal technicality; instead, it is a way to force the courts to back down for any crime in any jurisdiction.)

4. You are widely suspected of being a killer, and are in court being tried for murder. The prosecutor disparages your ethics, which infuriates you. How could you kill him in court with a hundred people seeing everything you do, without anyone knowing that you killed him? Hint: The correct answer does not involve a bomb or any similar Neanderthal tool.

Note: If you contact me to see if your answers are correct for the above two challenges, I will not give you the solutions because this would undermine the authority of the entire criminal justice system and indelibly affect the world, permitting savages to kill, rape, and plunder without fear of legal repercussions. I've always loathed criminals, but after two of them killed my father and dumped his body in a swamp, my contempt for them is now even greater. Obviously, I do not want to do anything to help those scumbags, which is why I will not publicize the "how to kill and get away with it" methods that popped into my head. It's not that I sit down and try to think of ways to beat the legal system. I just happen to be exceptionally creative, and my brain generates ideas about almost everything under the sun, even when I don't consciously think of a given topic. For example, a few days ago I ran outside during a cold, rainy, windy day to replace a piece of vinyl siding on my home that was partially detached and flapping in the breeze. It took only a minute to do that, during which time my only conscious thought was to get back inside as soon as possible. While I snapped the siding together again, I suddenly conceived of a new way to remove stumps (other than using heavy equipment such as a backhoe, stump grinders, or "takes forever to work" stump rot accelerators). The technique I invented was simple, safe, quiet, low-cost, non-toxic, and wouldn't make a mess. Great idea, but why did I think of it—and why did I think of it THEN? I don't know. A few of my inventions resulted from a conscious effort to solve a problem that I'd been working on, but most of my innovations pop into my conscious awareness for reasons that I cannot explain. (BTW, I later prototyped this idea and it worked very well.)

Update: I thought I had a good idea of what criminals are like after working for years as an ER doctor, but after watching true crime documentaries on TV, I now have a better conception of the unbelievably shocking and horrifying things that criminals do every day. This realization strengthened my conviction that we're not being as tough on criminals as we should. Criminals have a very powerful ally: the Constitution of the United States, which prohibits punishments that are cruel and unusual. I am no fan of cruelty, but with all due respect to our Forefathers who wrote the Constitution, I think they were not looking at the big picture. If you look at this from a societal perspective, wouldn't it be better to decrease the overall level of cruelty in society, especially cruelty toward innocent people? Of course! If we administered harsher, more cruel punishments, we could reduce crime, and therefore lessen the suffering endured by the victims of crime, and their families. I've read enough research to know that criminals are deterred by more severe punishments. Once the potential penalty becomes severe enough, most criminals would decide that earning a living by mowing a yard or picking apples doesn't look so bad after all. (Incidentally, this would also reduce our problem with illegal immigration, because they are filling a void left by Americans who think they're too good for manual labor.)

I have a challenge for you: If you think our current response to crime is adequate, begin watching true crime documentaries and then see if your opinion doesn't change. It is not a question of whether we're going to have cruelty, because there are enough evil people to ensure that cruelty is commonplace. Instead, the real question is whether it is morally preferable for society to inflict cruelty upon criminals to reduce their cruelty upon US, or whether it is better to continue our present policies that obviously do not do nearly enough to deter criminals from raping and butchering young girls, frail grandmothers, and everyone in between.

5. How can you lose weight without dieting, drugs, herbs, exercise, or surgery? (Hint: People who've read my weight loss book know the answer to this one!)

6. You're an average guy: not particularly handsome, rich, famous, or otherwise appealing. How could you make a gorgeous woman eagerly want to marry you, even if she would ordinarily be so far out of your league that she would never otherwise give you a second look?

7. According to the law governing the conservation of energy and reams of experience in the real world, electric generators require more input power as their load increases and more power is drawn from them (essentially, that is why you pay more to your electric company when you turn on your air conditioner or more lights). How can you make a generator that draws LESS power as its load increases? Yes, I know this contradicts seemingly insurmountable principles of physics … speaking of which:

8. How can you make a current flow in a circuit without a return wire or other conductor to complete the circuit? (See this page for a more detailed description.)

9. How can you tap (i.e., cut threads in) a hole from the inside out? (See this page for a more detailed description.)

10. Snowmobiles, ATVs, and automobiles typically have springs and shocks to improve their ride quality (smoothness). Snowmobiles, in particular, have evolved from having little suspension travel to more, because more can give a smoother ride. How can you make a snowmobile with ZERO inches of suspension travel give a better ride than the latest ones with over a foot of travel?

11. You're a hot young woman intent on retaining her virginity until marriage. A carjacker jumps into your car and forces you to drive to a secluded spot, where he plans to rape you. How could you get the thug to kill himself before he does that?

12. How can you protect your home from burglars without the usual ineffective countermeasures, such as burglar alarms, warning signs, dogs, and lights? (See this page for the solution.)

13. How can you make people eagerly want to live in homes that are MUCH smaller than average? (See this page for the solution.)

14. Imagine that you have a time machine and set the dial to return to Flight 93 on the morning of September 11, 2001. What could you tell your fellow passengers so they could successfully defeat the terrorists and regain control of the jet instead of nosediving into a field in Pennsylvania? (Hint: They had everything they needed and more, but were too blind to see it, and too much of "inside the box" thinkers to utilize those tools and tactics.)

Where did the time go???

15. The passage of time seems to accelerate with increasing age. To a child, a year can seem like an eternity, but to an adult, a year can be fleeting, leaving that person wondering where the time went. People could extend their lifespans by following my tips in Fascinating Health Secrets and even The Science of Sex (most of the info in the latter book is salubrious in addition to being conducive to sexuality), but most people are too busy watching TV to read. (Why everyone wouldn't spend a week reading to gain additional years of life AND have better, happier, more productive lives is beyond me. If you don't buy my books that discuss those topics, perhaps you could clue me in on why illogical brains make the illogical decisions that characterize them.) In any case, while most people are too shortsighted to do anything to extend their lifespans, almost universally people would like to live longer or at least make those years seem to pass more slowly. How can you achieve this? (Hint: If you understand why time seems to pass more quickly as you age, the remedy for it is obvious.) Note: If you want the solution to this, consult me and pay $100. Why that figure? According to the November 12, 2007 issue of Time magazine (how apropos!), the current average cost of a meal at the best restaurants is $143 in New York City, $103 in San Francisco, and $90 in Chicago. If you don't think that making 75 years seem like 200 is worth the price of a good meal, you have enigmatic priorities, or are depressed and want life to pass more quickly, in which case you should see a therapist and read what I have to say about depression in Fascinating Health Secrets.

You could try yelling "Halt!",
but it won't do any good.

16. You are stranded in the woods with nothing but your clothing. Initially, you had five companions, all of whom were attacked and killed by hungry grizzly bears. A particularly large bear has been stalking you for the past few days, charging toward you, but stopping just short. You fear that his bluff attacks will soon turn into the real thing. How can you use his immense mass against him and kill him, rather than being digested by him? Bear in mind (pun intended) that grizzly bears are smart enough to methodically plan how they stalk and attack humans, according to researchers. Hence, assuming that bears are easily outwitted could be a fatal mistake.

17. You are a contestant on a reality TV show in which you must devise ways to defend yourself from attacks by increasingly deadly animals. No contestant has yet survived past Week 10, when the producers stock the island with bears that attack only at night and, atypically for bears, in packs of several animals, like wolves. The producers offer to quadruple the million-dollar prize if you agree to take a sleep med that's so effective you wouldn't hear a jet taking off from 50 feet away. You are determined to win that $4,000,000, but show rules prohibit building a cabin to fend off the bear attacks, specifying that you must sleep on the ground, with nothing but your sleeping bag between you and the stars . . . and possibly eternity, too. What could you do to prevent the bears from snacking on you that week?

18. How can you freely post your contact info on various Web pages so that legitimate users can easily contact you, but spammers cannot?

19. How can an online service help you meet people in the offline real world even if they do not participate in online dating?

20. How can an online service enable you to contact people on paid dating sites without paying those sites? (Hint: For the answer to the last three items, see

21. How could you reinvent the wheel so it provided vastly improved traction, ride quality (smoothness), and tip-over resistance?

22. What simple device could you add to automobiles to slash the fatality rate of head-on collisions?

23. Name three ways in which you could parasitically sap the energy in nearby vehicles to power your car without their drivers knowing what you're doing. (While these techniques are highly effective, they are also highly unethical. If you want ethical ways to save fuel, read my free Gas Saving Tips e-book.) While you're at it, name two ways to extract energy from passing vehicles to power your home.

24. Without tampering with your meter, how could you get free power from your electric company? (To the best of my knowledge, this technique—and the parasitic extraction of energy mentioned above—are unethical but not yet illegal, because something must be described in order to be outlawed, and no one except me has evidently thought of these ideas yet.)

25. If the civilian and military leaders in the federal government were more creative, how could they have used the power of the Internet to safeguard our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan?

26. In the snowbelt areas, county Road Commissions are responsible for plowing the public roads during the wintertime. All counties have a limited number of trucks and manpower, so it may take several hours to a few days after a snowfall to clear the roads. Without using high-tech (but exorbitantly expensive) methods such as heated roadways, how could counties clear the roads much more quickly than they do now without using their snowplows?

27. Without using a robotic vacuum or maid, how could you keep your floor clean without manually vacuuming it or otherwise taking time to cleanse it?

28. (Based on a true story) A couple built their $660,000 dream home only to later discover that the soil in their neighborhood was loaded with asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that can cause mesothelioma, a very aggressive form of cancer. That beautiful home is now sitting vacant because its owners decided that losing $660,000 was preferable to living there and possibly dying from cancer. Other than suing (which isn't feasible in this case), name two things they could do to recoup their loss.

29. People typically fall backward if they slip while descending a slippery slope but forward while ascending a slope. For a number of reasons, falling backward is more likely to produce injury. An elderly woman who lives alone previously broke her hip while walking down her paved driveway in the wintertime. She is now terrified of falling again, and with good reason (hip fractures are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality). However, she won't wear ice cleats, because she found those cause her to easily stumble while walking even on flat ground. She cannot afford to salt her driveway because of its length. Her mailman refuses to bring the mail up to her house; he insists on depositing it in her mailbox, as per USPS regulations. She cannot take an alternate path to her mailbox because of her land's topography. She has no neighbors or family members who could help her. You are her doctor, and she asks you what she could do to retrieve her mail without having to walk down the driveway (she can ascend it without difficulty). Your nurse is yelling for you to see a baby with difficulty breathing stat, so you have only a few seconds to think of a solution to your patient's problem. You're a smart doctor, however, and can easily devise clever solutions to problems. Name two of them in the next ten seconds.

30. How could you rob a bank or person—or even a thousand of them—with virtually no chance of being caught? How could you burglarize a home or business you never enter and don't even know about? (See note above. This is an intellectual exercise, not a Ph.D. course for would-be bank robbers, so I'm not going to help you with this one, either. After watching several crime documentaries lately, I've come to the conclusion that virtually all criminals are incredibly stupid and devoid of imagination. For that, we can be thankful. A truly clever man intent on a life of crime could do incalculable damage. If all criminals were that gifted—or even a tenth of them—it would mark the end of society as we know it.)

A surprising number of crime writers contacted me after seeing my other ER site (, even though the only references to crime in that site pertained to specific ER cases. In dealing with crime writers, I've learned that they often seek input from doctors to enhance the realism of their books, shows, and movies. A few days ago, I caught a few minutes of a broadcast showing a group of authors attending a workshop for writers hoping to solve what that program termed "the ultimate intellectual challenge": how to commit a perfect murder. Apparently, crime novelists look upon the perfect murder as a means to enchant their readers. Heaven knows why there is such an obsession with this topic, but I agree that it is quite an intellectual challenge, although hardly the ultimate one.

In any case, I was dismayed by the simplistic ideas proposed by the writers, such as, "How about injecting someone with an undetectable toxin?" Oh, come on, I thought, can't you do much better than that? Use some imagination! I've thought of many ways to commit the perfect murder, but I have no desire to perpetrate murder or any of the other crimes discussed above. I am an inventor, so by definition I think of new ways to do things. After watching a number of true crime documentaries on television while washing dishes or scrubbing my floor, I was stunned by the utter lack of creativity exhibited by criminals. With no conscious effort on my part as I am rinsing dishes or whatnot, my brain easily generates novel ways to commit perfect crimes as I watch numskull criminals exhibit an amazing absence of ingenuity.

Therefore, if you're a crime writer looking for tips on "the perfect murder" or "the perfect bank robbery," I could help you . . . but will I? Probably not. Knowing how to commit a perfect crime is knowledge that is best not disseminated for the good of mankind. Therefore, for the time being, I'll confine my creative endeavors to things with societal value. You're going to love the robot I'm working on now! :-)

31. Magicians use various tricks to make people seem to vanish. How could you make people truly vanish so they are never heard from again? You must make the person vanish in a split-second: Now you seem 'em, now you don't . . . forever. How on earth could you do that? Let's make this a bit more challenging. Let's say that you want to rid the world of every human, except yourself and a few of the cutest chicks from HotOrNot. You would be crazy to do that, of course, but this is beside the point. Purely as an intellectual exercise (see my comments in #30), how could you do it?

32. Imagine that you enter a contest to move a 300-pound load across the country, using your own power only, with the least possible expenditure of energy. (Yes, it is easily possible to measure that.) Design a device to carry the load, which you would then push or pull across the continent.

33. Assume that every square foot of habitable land on Earth has been claimed by some country. You and a thousand of your closest friends conclude that the United States, and every country you can think of, is inexorably headed on the path to hell: higher taxes, less freedom, political correctness and other manifestations of the thought police, excessive reverence for vacuous idols, etc. You and your friends want to start with a clean slate and build a new country, without starting a war with any existing country, or otherwise taking any territory from them by other means. (Even though many of them acquired "their" land by stealing it from others, today's countries won't readily acquiesce if land is stolen from them. "We did it, but you can't. The game was over once we won, and now no one can play the game. Ha, ha.") Where and how do you create territory for a country without taking any territory from other nations? Name two ways to do this.

34. Design a novel method to remove leaves from a yard without using electricity, gasoline, or similar sources of power.

35. Imagine that you are home alone when two handsome young men come to your door asking to use your phone. You let them in, but seconds later a flood of panic overwhelms you as you realize that you've seen these two before: on the evening news a few days ago, reporting how these two thugs are on a multi-state crime spree in which they steal various things from their victims before murdering them. "Leave no witnesses" seems to be their motto. What could you say to them to stay alive? Hint: To successfully answer this, you must understand what motivates criminals. Don't bother pleading for your life, because criminals are incredibly self-centered people who think nothing of snuffing out a life just for the chance to get $35 or have sex for five minutes. (Note: This is based on a true story, except none of the victims thought of how to stop the killers.)

36. Minutes after kidnapping someone, you are driving on the freeway with your victim and joyfully contemplating how you'll spend the ransom money you're sure to collect. Seconds later, you see a police car rapidly approaching with his lights on, signaling you to pull over. Being a good little citizen, you readily comply, knowing that the officer will ultimately apologize for the inconvenience and send you on your way. You're not even fazed when the officer asks to search your vehicle, looking for the victim. "Of course, officer, be my guest," you respond with a smile.

Sure enough, the officer finds nothing and tells you to have a nice day. How on Earth could you get off scot-free?

37. People who hike, jog, or bicycle in the woods are occasionally attacked by bears or mountain lions, such as Anne Hjelle. Without using a firearm, pepper spray, or other conventional deterrent or weapon, how could you safely go into the wilderness, confident in the knowledge that any bear or mountain lion that saw you would figuratively pee its pants and run away in sheer terror? Hint: The correct answer does not involve wearing clothing emblazoned with a picture of Michael Moore. (Incidentally, one of my relatives knows him quite well and opines that he is disgusting, even though she is a staunch liberal. Moore seems to actively cultivate his disgusting image by making comments such as the one he uttered about an approaching hurricane being proof of the existence of God, because that storm threatened to cause enough death and destruction to interfere with the Republican National Convention.)

38. Your wife is an avid gardener and has plants covering every square foot of your property. She is determined to grow the same plants next year, but 20% more of them. How can she do that without crowding the plants, stacking them vertically, or buying more land?

39. Before mailing a letter, you weighed it and applied the correct amount of postage. However, the post office weighed it and determined that its weight exceeded the maximum for the postage applied. Both scales were correctly calibrated and the post office did not recently increase their rates. No one made a mistake, and no one opened the letter to insert additional contents. What might explain the weight discrepancy?

40. How could you use scraps of aluminum foil to heat your home in the wintertime?

41. Name one simple, low-tech, inexpensive item you can buy at any lumberyard or home improvement store other than insulation that you could use to reduce your winter home heating bill by at least 50%. If that is too easy, think of a way to achieve the same result without spending a penny. Still too easy? Try slashing your heating bill by 90% for zero cost.

42. How could we eliminate every cell phone company, and every cell phone tower, in the world while giving people MUCH better cell phone coverage at much lower cost? Hint: You and everyone else could make money off this idea, even while you sleep, eat, or browse my many web sites. Why haven't the geniuses at Google or Microsoft thought of this one?

43. Imagine that someone offered you $10,000 if you could escape from an airtight chamber by entering the correct sequence of numbers on a digital keypad. This seemed like an easy way to make ten grand, because you were told that the correct combination was posted on the second page of a notepad inside that chamber. Once the door was closed with you inside, you realized that the chamber is lightproof. There is no standard light source (flashlight, candle, etc.) in the chamber. How might you generate enough light to read the combination so you could unlock the door before the chamber's air supply was exhausted?

44. Let's say that you aspire to become a mega-celebrity. What "take-home" lesson from the Presidential primary elections could you use to increase your chance of achieving your dream?

45. Name three ways in which you could sink a ship without touching it or using a weapon of any sort.

46. Presume that you have a deep (say, 300 feet) well with a standard submersible pump located 300 feet down into your well shaft. One day, your pump dies, as all pumps eventually do. You would like to have it fixed, but you can't afford it, and the Federal government has not yet provided "Well Care." If you cannot fix your pump or buy a new one, how could you obtain water from the well, using common simple household items?

47. A staggering number of Allied soldiers were injured or killed while trying to land on the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day invasion in World War 2. Using technology available at that time, how could you—a smart commander—have safely landed all of your men, without a single scratch?

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The Perfect Murder: From perennial crime writer obsession to practical reality

As I mentioned above (here, here, here, and here), I invented several ways to commit the perfect murder. While I never sought to devise such methods—they're just a byproduct of my multifaceted creativity and technological prowess*—I generally conceive of yet another such technique every few weeks. I previously believed that it was best to not divulge that information, but the recent economic decline of the United States is triggering political instability that may necessitate its usage. I will not release my methods to any Tom, Dick, or Harry because the ease of killing anyone near or far would likely unleash unending waves of revenge murders for trivial reasons. I once believed that most people were inherently good folks who did not need laws to restrain them, but I now think otherwise. Think of how savagely people can behave when they think they're anonymous, such as while driving or using screen names to post flaming content to Internet forums. With trivial provocation, they can behave like petulant infants.

* For example, while speaking with a friend on the phone tonight, I suddenly thought of a way to generate a computer virus that could make it past any firewall or antivirus program. We weren't discussing anything even remotely related to computers, and I have NO desire to write computer viruses (I detest malicious people and malicious acts), so why that idea popped into my mind at that time is a mystery to me.

With something that would boil anyone's blood—such as when a Goliath corporation sues David because their legal staff needs to justify their employment—well, heck, if you can kill the attorney and make it seem like a totally natural death, why not do it? While you're at it, why not take out the entire legal department, the CEO, and Board of Directors? Or why not kill the guy who wrecked your marriage? Or the unbearable boss? Or even the noisy neighbor? Can you say ad infinitum?

If someone really infuriated you, you might decide that death was too good for him, so you might decide to do something that would make his life such a living hell that he'd kill himself. While all of my perfect murder methods are selective in terms of targeting specific individuals, some can only kill, while others can do things that are arguably much worse. Use your imagination.

Incidentally, I have a high threshold for deeming something a perfect murder method. None of them involve guns, knives, bombs, or poisons because police are very proficient in investigating such cases. A truly perfect murder is something that is lethal yet looks like bad luck, and is so unusual that it has never been used before and likely will never be independently conceived by anyone else in the future. Additionally, the method must make veteran detectives scratch their heads in befuddlement, and it must not be traceable to the perpetrator. No accomplices, either. They always talk.

With that as a preface, you can readily understand why I—someone who wants to make this world a better place for everyone (except attorneys, of course)—am very concerned about how such knowledge could devastate the world not only now, but forever. Once the cat is out of the bag, it's too late.

At the risk of having you fall asleep if I mention politics again, I've recently spent hundreds of hours trying to assess how bad our economy is, and what that bodes for the future of the United States. I concluded that, without a miracle, our prosperity will continue to dwindle. That will inevitably weaken us militarily, because our Armed Forces are ultimately fueled by money. The USSR crumbled when its military expenses decimated their economy; the same could happen to us. In the past few weeks, I've been stunned to find several noted people talking about the end of the USA. In From Bailout to Bliss, I discussed how a prominent Russian political analyst predicted long ago that we were headed for the economic scrap heap and eventual disintegration. At the time he made that prediction, the US economy was booming and there didn't appear to be a dark cloud in the sky—except to people who are brilliantly prescient, such as that Russian professor.

Since this is primarily a page of brain teasers, here's another one for you: Can you figure out why I mentioned perfect murders on this page? Yes, they are great fodder for stimulating your brain, but I had an ulterior motive, too. Can you guess what it is? BTW, it is probably the antithesis of what you think. Want a hint? Think globally and long-term. Still too enigmatic? Read From Bailout to Bliss and read between the lines. If you are satisfied with where the world is headed, crank up the volume on your iPod, check out the latest gossip on vacuous celebrities, and be good sheeple. Your grandchildren will curse your complacency.

"To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men." — Ella Wheeler Wilcox

"Millions of men fought to create and defend the United States, while many millions of men and women are now watching it crumble without taking the time to learn what truly went wrong and how they should respond. Judging by how they spend their time, they think that watching American Idol is more important than saving America. The freedom and prosperity that we have enjoyed for so long was a gift from preceding generations, who paid a heavy price for it. We're now flushing that gift down the drain." — Kevin Pezzi, MD