Each person aims to identify what the ‘key’ is to unlock the secret to this puzzle.
Sitting with your legs crossed, start by passing two sticks to the person on your left (or right) and say “I PASS THESE STICKS TO YOU CROSSED. HOW DO YOU RECEIVE THEM?”
As your neighbour receives the sticks, they are required to respond that they are either receiving them crossed or uncrossed (there is only two options.)
Then, invite your neighbour to repeat your example, and pass the sticks to their neighbour, and so on.
This is the key: No matter how the sticks are positioned as they are passed, or received, the ‘key’ will always be related to how the legs of the people are situated at the moment they pass or receive the sticks.
For example, the sticks you receive may in fact be crossed, but you will say “I RECEIVE THEM UNCROSSED” if at that moment your legs are uncrossed.
As each person passes the sticks, and attempts to uncover the key, correct any flawed responses.
Continue to offer more and more obvious clues until everyone has identified the key.
How To Play Narrative
This game is just one of many dozens of lateral-thinking, What’s The Key? type puzzles that invites your group to discover a ‘secret key,’ but is never quite as easy or as obvious as it appears. As they say ‘truth is obvious to those who know it.’
To start, ask your group to sit in a circle – this way, everyone can see what’s going on. Then, explain that each person’s task is to identify the ‘key’ which unlocks the secret to a game, which in this case, involves passing a couple of sticks to one another.
Sitting with your legs crossed, and using any two old sticks you have picked up off the ground, pass them to the person on your left (or right) and say “I PASS THESE STICKS TO YOU CROSSED. HOW DO YOU RECEIVE THEM?” Or, you could simply ask them to nominate “HOW DO YOU RECEIVE THEM – CROSSED OR UNCROSSED?”
As your neighbour receives the sticks, they are required to respond that they are either receiving them crossed or uncrossed (there is only two options.) They will then repeat your example, and pass the sticks to the next person in the circle, and so on.
Here’s the key: No matter how the sticks are positioned as they are passed, or how the person receives them, the ‘key’ will always be related to how the legs of the people are situated at the moment they pass or receive the sticks.
For example, the sticks I receive may in fact be crossed, but I will say “I RECEIVE THEM UNCROSSED” if at that moment my legs are uncrossed.
Get it? That’s right, the key has nothing to do with the two sticks. Yep, subtle.
As each person passes the sticks, and attempts to uncover the key, correct any flawed responses. That is, if a person says that they are passing them crossed, but in fact their legs are uncrossed, offer a gentle correction.
Expect lots of confused looks in the beginning, especially when your group, for example, can clearly see that the sticks in question are very much crossed, but have to believe you when you state that they are being passed or received uncrossed.
Sooner or later, one or two people will catch on to what’s going on. At this point, start to offer more and more obvious clues, such as shifting your legs mid way through your passing, and therefore, alter your passing statement.
Continue until everyone has unlocked the key.
Be sure to review the Leadership Tips described below to present this exercise thoughtfully.
Practical Leadership Tips
This is an ideal game to play to occupy your group when you’re sitting around a camp-fire, or filling in idle time.
As a lateral-thinking exercise, this game is ideal for sparking a little creative and critical thinking in your group. People have to look beyond what is obvious, and discover another truth. As you can imagine, the connections one can draw from the experience of looking for the ‘key’ to the real world are many. For example, I like to connect the fact that while the ‘key’ is very subtle, it impacts significantly on the solution, in much the same way that subtle glances and mannerisms in a training group or classroom can often have a significant impact on people’s learning.
Please note, the point of lateral-thinking types of activities should not be to frustrate your group beyond enjoyment. They are designed to be fun, but don’t play for more than 10 or 15 minutes. Gradually introduce more and more obvious clues so that, eventually, everyone gets the ‘key.’
Ask your group to resist the urge to share the ‘key’ with others once they work it out. Assure everyone that they will ALL know the solution within, say, ten minutes, and it’s more powerful to discover the solution on their own, than have someone tell them the answer. Besides, whispering the answer to a neighbour only reinforces the fact that they couldn’t do it without help, and getting it will not change their lives.
That said, be aware that some people will reel at the very thought of trying to solve this sort of puzzle, because it involves ‘lateral-thinking.’ Often, these folk have had very negative experiences in the past with this sort of exercise, ie when the puzzle is worked on for hours, or perhaps the solution is never revealed. So, be prepared that some people will immediately ‘check-out’ of this exercise. To this end, note my comments below…
Be very careful in your language. Note two important factors in the presentation I describe above:
– The task is to identify what the ‘key’ is. This exercise has nothing to do with the crossing or uncrossing of the sticks – rather, it seeks to sharpen observation skills and heighten awareness of subtlety.
– Everyone is aware that they will know the answer very soon. This is critical to maintain interest, lest some people (often those who never ‘get’ these sorts of puzzles) lose interest very quickly.
Do not present more than one or two of these types of puzzles in a row – seldom do the people who didn’t get it the first time, get it the second time.
Any Object: Same rules apply as you pass any two objects around the circle, eg pens, pencils, cutlery, etc.
Make It Simple: Same rules apply as you pass any one object, eg a book, hat, etc. Clearly, there are no two objects to cross one another, so the focus of your group is necessarily elsewhere.
While not a lateral-thinking exercise, take a look at The Rock to explore a powerful, trust-building experience which focuses on subtlety.
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Useful Framing Ideas
This next experience was presented to me many years ago around a camp fire, and it immediately piqued my interest. It took me a while to work it out, let’s see how long it will take you…
Have you ever had the experience of not seeing something until it was pointed out to you? And then, you could not imagine how you missed it in the first place. I do this all the time, especially with my car keys – I can be staring at them, and still not see them. Well, this next exercise is a little bit like that…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this intriguing lateral-thinking game:
Did it take you a long time to figure out what the key was?
How did you feel during the exercise, especially when you didn’t know the key?
What is the likely outcome when one or more people do not feel a part of the group?
The ‘key’ in this exercise is very subtle. In your life, what areas of subtlety took you a while to figure out?
Fun ‘Community-Building’ Session
What You Need: 8+ people, 60 mins
Props: two sticks or pens