Someone showed me the 5 Room House Puzzle in the third grade. I worked on it a few hours every year until I was in graduate school. (Yes – a few hours every year!)
Only after 20 years, did I realize its complexity. And that it’s impossible.
There was no internet back then. Or at least none that I had access to. So I was unable to discover the futility of my endeavor.
But is working on the 5 Room House Puzzle futile?
Thinking and learning include two things: knowing what the problem is, and struggling to figure out the solution.
The benefit of working on the 5 Room House Puzzle is that you learn, in your gut, how to state the problem.
Various questions on the way to stating the problem are:
- If I worked through this systematically, can I find the solution?
- Is there a different way to look at this?
- Is there some importance behind the five rooms?
- If I change the number of the rooms or the layout of the house, does that make it easier?
The original problem is never stated correctly.
In many explanations of how to solve word problems, you’ll see the statement, “Rewrite the problem in your own words.”
That’s because the question, as it’s written, isn’t always what it seems.
And this is the case with the 5 Room House Puzzle. The solution isn’t the path through the doors. Nor is it the fact that it’s impossible.
The solution is the answers to:
Why doesn’t it work? What would make it work? Am I convinced that it’s impossible, or am I just trusting the Internet?
Assign the 5 Room House Puzzle to your kids!
I will occasionally assign the puzzle to a group of students. I usually offer them a reward of one dollar to each person who can solve it.
If I offered them $1 million, they would be suspicious.
Sometimes I look at it as vengeance: “If I worked on this problem for 20 years, so should you.”
But mostly I know that if I ask the right questions, I’ll encourage thinking and learning.
How about you? Will you assign it?
Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!
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