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The following is a classic puzzle. It has a canonical solution, but I'd also like any other creative or unusual solutions you can think of. This is a popularity contest - the highest voted answer after 48 hours will be accepted.

You have at your disposal: A candle, a box of thumb-tacks, and a book of matches.

Your task is to attach the candle to a cork board on the wall and light it without the wax dripping onto the table below.

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closed as too broad by A E, skv, SQB, Joe Z., Psychemaster Nov 17 '14 at 10:31

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Step 1. Burn the table... $\endgroup$ – Dennis Jaheruddin Nov 14 '14 at 9:49
  • $\begingroup$ Move the table. $\endgroup$ – A E Nov 15 '14 at 10:43

15 Answers 15

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You have at your disposal: A candle, a box of thumb-tacks, and a book of matches.

Your task is to attach the candle to a cork board on the wall and light it without the wax dripping onto the table below.

Mew already posted the classical answer, so I'll suggest some lateral thinking approaches.

  • The puzzle doesn't say you have to leave the board up, so take it off the wall and set it on the floor. You can tack or melt the base of the candle to the board to satisfy the attachment requirement.
  • Attach the candle to the board however you like. Light it, then put it out before any wax melts and drips. The puzzle doesn't say how long it has to stay lit.
  • Interpret "it" to refer to the cork board rather than the candle, so light that. No wax will melt.
  • Attach the candle to the board however you like and light it. Move the table so the wax falls on the floor instead.
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Here is what I think is the "correct" answer to the riddle. First empty the box of thumbtacks, put the candle into the box, use the thumbtacks to nail the box (with the candle in it) to the wall, and light the candle with the match.

enter image description here

A few thoughts on some creative approaches:

Step 1: First tear up the thumbtack box and use the cardboard to tape the candle to the board, using thumbtacks to hold the cardboard tape on. The friction between the cardboard and the candle should keep the candle on the wall. To ensure it won't fall out, you could a third thumbtack piecing the cardboard and candle together. If the thumbtacks are large enough you may be able to attach the candle directly to the board with the thumbtack alone, or else you could also use the match stick to penetrate the candle and the cork board (first pierce a small hole in the cork with the tack).

Step 2: Light the candle and simply move the table below - then no wax will drip on it. Or light up the candle (as in "illuminate") with light from another match without actually lighting the wick.

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  • $\begingroup$ I cam to this conclusion, but what if the thumbtacks won't go through the box (this is possible for some boxes)? You could then hold the box sideways on under the candle, light it, and dribble enough molten wax to stick it on the cork board and then do as you suggest. $\endgroup$ – Francis Davey Nov 14 '14 at 11:13
  • $\begingroup$ @FrancisDavey, since the tack goes through the box in the canonical solution, I assumed it would go through in my creative solution too, but I like your idea as well. $\endgroup$ – Kenshin Nov 14 '14 at 11:15
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    $\begingroup$ The most interesting thing about this puzzle is how its presentation effects the solve rate. When subjects are presented with "a box of tacks" they are much less likely to solve it than when they are presented with the same tacks and the same box separately. $\endgroup$ – Jaydles Nov 14 '14 at 18:11
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The problem here is not mounting the candle, or stopping the wax. It's just which way "down" is.

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Leave the room, exit the building and dig a hole under one side of the building until it topples over onto the wall that has the cork board on (please ensure this is done in line with all relevant Health & Safety legislation). Re-enter the building, ensure that the table and cork board are approximately where they were before (in relation to the original floor, wall etc.), stand the candle on the cork board, and light it with the matches.

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I have a couple answers. If you want me to split them up, just let me know.

Answer 1

Attach the candle to the board with the tacks. Light the candle, then blow it out immediately. No wax will drip down.

Answer 2

Attach the candle with tacks again. Move the table so it isn't under the cork board.

Answer 3

Stick the candle near the edge of the table, then tilt it slightly so the wax will not drip onto the table, just onto the floor.

Answer 4

Put the candle on top of the cork board, and light it there. The wax will hopefully drip on the top of the board.

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Light the candle and let the wax drip on its side and then push the candle against the wall. Keep your hand under the candle at all times so it doesn't drip on the table.

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Take the cork board down off the wall.
Optionally place it on the table for ease of working.
Set candle on cork board and light it.

Sell box of tacks on eBay.

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  • $\begingroup$ We must share the same hive mind. I came to post this exact thing. Even the selling of tacks. +1 $\endgroup$ – TyCobb Nov 14 '14 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ The hive appreciates your contribution TyCobb-Drone-934. $\endgroup$ – Sam Axe Nov 15 '14 at 9:02
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Put some thumbtacks into the body of the candle.

Then attach it to the cork board (probably the easiest way is to nail it up by the wick).

Then light it. Take out some of those excessive thumbtacks to ease its burden.

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Now for some frivolous/humorous answers:

Nice easy one:

  • leave everything on the table
  • get my wife to do it, that way I have not let any wax drip on the table

Or:

  • get my children involved
  • wait 10-15 minutes
  • by the time that has all happened, the candle will be smushed into the carpet, the table will be a fort and I will be having a coffee in the garden, and the problem is moot :)

I will wait a bit and post some more proper answers as well, but that's me for now.

Addendum:

Just remembered to post another answer, this one from one of my children (he is 9, and its a real belt and braces approach):

  • get a duplicate set of all items
  • melt wax from the candle onto one edge of the box to make it stick to the board
  • tack through the box and board, ensuring the box has its walls upright
  • manually melt the candle down and ensure that the wax does not overflow the box
  • if it does cut the original candle short by the amount left over on the duplicate candle
  • repeat the process with the original materials, but this time merely light the candle

Takes after his dad this one.... :)

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  1. Take a few thumbtacks and etch some 1-centimeter-diameter holes in the cork board.
  2. Break off a small bit of the candle, tear it into pieces, and stuff a piece in each hole.
  3. Turn these pieces molten by heating them with a match.
  4. Quickly attach the remaining bit of the candle to the bits by "welding" it to the molten pieces with the heat of the match.
  5. Take another tack and tack the box, face-up, to the bottom of the candle, as well as to the corkboard with another tack.
  6. Finally, light the candle.
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  • $\begingroup$ The elaborate attachment isn't necessary if the canonical answer works, right? $\endgroup$ – Daniel Nov 14 '14 at 3:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Daniel None of these answers are necessary if the canonical answer works. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 14 '14 at 3:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Daniel What are you getting at? $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 14 '14 at 3:53
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    $\begingroup$ I meant necessary as far as your answer goes. In the canonical answer, it's assumed that tacks through the box wall is enough to keep the box attached upright and support the candle. All you do here is add a step (or 4). You could also lick the candle first, and it would be a different answer, but it wouldn't be a necessary procedure. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Nov 14 '14 at 3:54
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If the cork board can be lifted from the wall, you can plant some matches close to the edge of the board with a 45° inclination. Then twist the board in order to create a shelf like these:

enter image description here

where the inclined metal rods will actually be many matches.

This shelf wont be able to host some books, but for sure will be capable to hold a small candle on top of it.

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Take some matches and place them next to each other on the table so that they form a raft, leaving only two matches. Light one of the remaining matches and carefully melt the candle's paraffin, so that it drops onto your match-raft, binding them together. Before the paraffin cools, place the candle on the raft.

You now have a wax shield made out of match-sticks. Attach it to the cork wall anyway you like (make sure not to destroy the shield in the process

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Use a thumb-tack to patiently scratch some wax from the candle in order to reduce its diameter, so that when it will be lighted up all the wax will burn and none will drip (as happens with thin birthday candles). You can leave the very bottom larger so that the possible few wax drops will be stopped there.

Then fix it to the cork board as you prefer: heating its bottom on the side with a match, using a couple of thumb-tack, planting a couple of matches into the board and putting the candle on top of them...

You can use the box of thumb-tacks to collect the wax during the scratching phase.

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I would do this:

Take the cork board off the wall. Put it on the floor underneath the table or just on the table. Put the candle on the cork board and light it. When leaving, line up the thumb tacks on the floor under the door to the room. Now wait and watch as your boss (who gave you this shit task in the first place) walks in and screams in agony as he steps on the tacks! :D

Or:

Burn a hole in the wall big enough for the candle stick to fit in. Shove the candle in the hole so that it doesnt fall down. Now take the thumb tacks box attach it below the candle on to the cork board using the thumb tacks (similar to classical solution). Light the candle and watch it wilt.

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Pin the candle to the wall. Light it. If it drips is doesn't matter because the question never says that the candle isn't allowed to drip after it's been lit.

Your task is to attach the candle to a cork board on the wall and light it without the wax dripping onto the table below.

As long as you don't drip any wax whilst lighting it, you're fine.

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I assume the candle is fairly thin and the thumbtacks are fairly large, and push them through the candle fixing it onto the board. Alternatively, I just push them with precision through the wick.

As a little bonus, I fold the thumbtack box into a candle shape and also put that on the board.

Considering I didn't do this in absolute dark, the candle is already lit (illuminated) by sunlight/the room lamp.

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