Overthinking And Your Child-Like Mind

Overthinking And Your Child-Like Mind

Consider the question in the image above. I found this spreading on Facebook the other day and it took me a few minutes to solve. Go on. Try. (If you want to know the answer. It’s at the end of the article.)

Have you seen the Bollywood film 3 Idiots? It’s the highest-grossing Bollywood film of all time in India about the adventures of three engineering students. One of the scenes left an impression on me.


* Let me clarify that I am aware this space pen story is an urban myth. I am only using it as a storytelling device and for some humour (at least for me and the audience in the theatre who laughed at the scene). It made me think about how we overthink which led to this post. Whether it is true or not is besides the point.

As the children we once were, growing up was a process of becoming adults. Not only biologically but also mentally. We learned to be responsible, to pay the bills, to get things done and we learned the complex world of adulthood. To become adults we had to lose our tantrums, silliness, our childhood. And we lost our minds. Our child-like minds.

The mind of a child is the greatest gift we will ever receive. As embryos in our mothers’ womb, our heart, the first organ to develop only to power the next organ — the developing brain which is soon making a quarter of a million new neurons every minute. In the first 10 years of life, our infant brain will have made billions and billions of connections. It is a supercharged engine for learning and creativity. Yet by adulthood we have lost most of this creativity. We now think like adults. That is we think too much and our thoughts are too influenced by our knowledge. We need to get back our ability to think like kids again. How?

Where online would you find a lot of smart and knowledgeable people? Quora of course. I really like to visit Quora and learn from subject matter experts showing off their wits and expertise. Though sometimes they overthink and complicate problems with complicated answers. Many times people are just trying to show off how clever they are with rocket science. Like this question on Quora.



The most popular answer for the question before I answered involved calculations with compasses, concentric circles, Pythagorean theorem and square roots. I have no idea what a concentric circle is, let alone cooks in a pizza kitchen. And who keeps compasses in a kitchen? But since it’s the most popular answer I suppose overthinking is popular in Quora.

I imagined myself with no mathematical knowledge, a cook good with my hands, in a hot and humid kitchen faced with this problem. What would I do? Turns out that the better solution is much simpler and would only required a piece of string and a pen at the very least. Shouldn’t be too hard to find in a kitchen. And so I offered my answer.

All you have to do is circle a string around the pizza to cut a length equal to the pizza circumference. Then fashion a divider of some sort or even use your thumb and index finger. Adjust your thumb and finger and wrap the string eleven times equally around them. This effectively divides the string into eleven equal parts. Use a pen and mark the string. Circle the string around the pizza again and cut using the markings as guides. My answer received more than a hundred votes, went on to become the most voted and the question was made a best source.



Conjuring complex mathematical equations may make you look smart but to become truly creative you need to be able to liberate your mind from the the shell of knowledge, education and adultification you have accumulated. Only then can you think like a child again.

Answer To The Numbers Question

The question has nothing to do with mathematics. Look for the closed loops or shapes in each number and count them. In zero, six, eight and nine. Eight has two of them. 2581 has two. The answer is two.

Overthinking [Principia Arbiter]

Aen writes about his design philosophy at Principia Arbiter and designs software products for his startup Instrumentry and clients. He can use chopsticks with both hands.


  • Since the lh published article only has one of the three pictures of the movie, the intro doesn’t make as much sense as the original article.

  • Lol, it took me around 20 seconds too. The title gave it away
    Firstly, i just added them. nope
    then i thought, ill be an idiot
    and count the circles. wouldn’t you know it, it was correct.

  • Took me about 20 seconds, too, based on the comment that a pre-schooler could solve it quickly. I had to deduce from that, that even basic mathematical operations were not involved.

  • Further comment on how I did it. I chose to partition (yeah, I was a math major) the samples into sets based on the result values. I then looked at what was the same among all items in a given set. But it was a flash of luck that had me observe that so many repeated 4 digit strings were zero, but repeated 9’s were 4, that allowed me to see the pattern.

    • yea john i got it that way. easy as cake. I think using this method allowed us to come to the conclusion by working it out in an Adult manner and not even linking that fact that the numbers correlate to the circles. Even if there were 4 ‘8’s there to give us the answer we would still conclude that each 8 is a 2 because 4 ‘8’s would have equaled 8. Is it just a minor co-incidence that all of the answered correlate to the number of circles.

  • The pre-schooler comment tips the solution for a lot of us because. It’s not because we “overthink” the problem, so much as that we apply Occam’s Razor without even knowing it. As adults, our first impression of the number sets is “those are numbers – therefore there is probably a solution that revolves around numeric data, so I’ll look at the relationships of the numbers first, then their component digits.” But when you say that a pre-schooler can solve it quickly? It should trigger “most pre-schoolers don’t understand basic mathematical principles, so it’s unlikely that the solution has anything to do with math – but they do understand shapes, so I’ll look at the shapes of them first.”
    The pizza solution is brilliant because it solves the problem with the simplest tools – but it’s unlikely that a pre-schooler would come up with it. The puzzle solution is reverse-engineered though from answers that are actually the least useful information about the ‘numbers’ themselves. That’s not the same function at all.

  • The Numbers question appears to have a contradiction in it, as if we are assuming that a pre-schooler doesn’t recognize the number set on the left, they will also not recognize the number on the right, giving them a picture with no explanation.
    Alternatively if they do recognize the numbers on the left then they would run into the same issues that anyone does, which is to attempt to find a relation between the number on the left and the number on the right.

    if might work if you had someone tell a group of people the answer to each set though….

  • It seems that your solution on Quora is more over-thought that a few of the others, and requires a lot more prep and tools that are not likely to be found in the kitchen.

    it also appears that Bob O’Brien proposed much the same idea 1 day before you did, albeit with a little less accuracy

    anyway, overthinking isn’t a bad thing, as if you explore all possibilities you will eventually happen upon the easiest, most efficient and quickest solutions (not always the same one)

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