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January 21, 2011


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These are the questions the we often encounter in our daily lives. Some may seem strange but we have to consider that there are reasons why they ask this. These may arise from the kind of economy we have, the society we live in, the people we meet, the job we spend eight hours a day or even the workplace we do our jobs. It is indeed a year of ups and downs but with 2011, we have to face the year with optimism. Thanks a lot for the share.

These are all interesting questions, but in my experience, I have never had any of these questions. Maybe my interview experience is not enough?

pshaw! I've never been asked any of those questions, but I'd find them easy to answer.

The hardest question to answer that I've ever been asked in an interview? "If your kid was sick and you had a big work project also due at the same time, what would you do?"

KH --

So? Your answer?

Maybe: "Take the work home and tend to my child at the same time."

Best to answer riduculous questions with ridiculous questions of your own:
“If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?”
How was I shrunk down?
“How many ridges [are there] around a quarter?”
An American or Canadian quarter?
“What is the philosophy of Martial Arts?”
Karate or Kung Fu?
“How many basketball[s] can you fit in this room?”
NBA regulation or junior size?
“If you could be any superhero, who would it be?"
Marvel or DC?
“Given the numbers 1 to 1000, what is the minimum number [of] guesses needed to find a specific number if you are given the hint ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ for each guess you make?”
What if I guess it right on the first guess?
“An apple costs 20 cents, an orange costs 40 cents, and a grapefruit costs 60 cents, how much is a pear?”
How much is a banana?
“How many traffic lights in Manhattan?”
The island or the burough?
“A train leaves San Antonio for Houston at 60 mph. Another train leaves Huston for San Antonio at 80 mph. Houston and San Antonio are 300 miles apart. If a bird leaves San Antonio at 100mph, and turns around and flies back once it reaches the Huston train, and continues to fly between the two, how far will it have flown when they collide?”
Is the bird an African or European swallow?

“If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?”

A: The length of a pencil is less than the width of a blender so you could shimmy up by pressing your arms and legs against the width to get enough friction to move up. Once you get to the top you can get out. Hopefully there is no crushed ice and nobody is turning the blender on!

“How many ridges [are there] around a quarter?”

A: Looking at a section of a quarter (1/12 or the equivalent of 5 minutes on an analog clock face), I count 20 - 25 ridges so total ridges are 240 - 300. Note this may be a test to see how old you are, my vision isn't able to see the ridges so clearly but if I were 10 years younger it would be easier! Maybe claim age discrimination with HR later!

“What is the philosophy of Martial Arts?”

A: Respect yourself and your opponent. Only use force to defend.

“How many basketball[s] can you fit in this room?”

A: Figure a normal office is 20' X 20' X 8' = 3200 cubic feet. A basketball is about 1 cubic foot (1' diameter) so you could put 3200 basketballs in pretty easily, keep in mind you can get better stacking density (figure 1.44 for hexagonal packing, somehow remember that from chemistry), 3200 X 1.44 if about 4600 basketballs (doing the math in my head).

“If you could be any superhero, who would it be?"

A: Depends on the job given, if it's in journalism the answer would be Clark Kent. If in management I guess it would be Doctor X (uses mind control so can get all the subordinates to work 100%)

“Given the numbers 1 to 1000, what is the minimum number [of] guesses needed to find a specific number if you are given the hint ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ for each guess you make?”

A: 9 guesses. (Start with 500, then 250, 125, 62, 31, 15, 7, 3, 2) That's all you need to narrow it down.

“An apple costs 20 cents, an orange costs 40 cents, and a grapefruit costs 60 cents, how much is a pear?”

A: Cannot tell from the information given, but here's a SWAG (sophisticated, wild-ass guess): Apples are cheaper than oranges which are cheaper than grapefruits. This means you may be near an area where apples are grown (cold winters, cold nights, warm days)- could be upstate NY or New England or Eastern Washington state. Oranges need to be trucked in, so do grapefruits. Pears are grown in climates near where apples are grown (I think) but are a bit more expensive as there are less pears per tree. Therefore I would guess 30 cents.

Then ask: Am I correct or did I miss something?

“How many traffic lights in Manhattan?”

A: Manhattan has roughly 30 avenues east to west and about 160 North to South. This is a total of 4800 intersections approximately. Assuming 90% have traffic lights (the rest are stop signs) you can calculate the number to be about 4320 lights.

“A train leaves San Antonio for Houston at 60 mph. Another train leaves Huston for San Antonio at 80 mph. Houston and San Antonio are 300 miles apart. If a bird leaves San Antonio at 100mph, and turns around and flies back once it reaches the Huston train, and continues to fly between the two, how far will it have flown when they collide?”

A: First of all, Huston is spelled incorrectly (LOL). Assuming the trains leave at the same time and the bird leaves at the same time then the bird will have traveled 300 / 160 (combined speed of bird and train 1) or 1.875 hours till it reaches the first train. At that point the distance between both trains is (300 - 1.875* 140 (combined speed of both trains)) miles or 37.5 miles. The bird will fly this distance in 37.5 / 180 (combined speed of bird and train 2) in 0.2 hours or 12.5 minutes. At this point the trains will be (37.5 - 0.2 * 140) 10 miles apart... not much time left.

Total time the bird is flying is about 2.1 hours so the bird would have flown about 210 miles.

Any other "tough" interview questions?


I got a job as a Manager at another company when I was 25 years old and working as an Engineer.

A PhD had a real problem question they were having, he was from Eastern Europe with good but not great English capabilities. He told me: We are making Optical networking systems that cost $1 M per unit but are having problems with a back plane optical connector, a $200 part that is causing problems with the systems talking to each other.

I asked him the nature of the problem and he would give me limited information, with no way to know what is wrong. Any question I asked would quickly be given a dead end (we tried that, doesn't work).

Finally I asked how far away the vendor was. He mentioned they were 200 miles away.

I answered "Well, bring them in here".

He answered, "Exactly! That is what we did, we acquired them and solved the problem with a new design".

The moral of the story: Ask clarifying questions, be friendly, and if you are vague enough in your answers the interviewer may answer the question for you!

By the way, I got the job and was later told that they guy I spoke with was a notoriously tough interviewer and he was very impressed with my discussion with him.

Like in poker, it is better in life to be lucky than skilled!


Arimack --


Mike --

As usual, you're way too smart for me. ;-)

Whether these questions are "strange" depends on the context. For example, the question regarding the number of guesses is a straightforward application of the binary search algorithm that any computer science student should know. The estimation of Manhattan traffic lights could be applicable to estimating the cost or time needed to add them to Google Maps or the difficulty in planning an optimized traffic control system.

Mike - You are gonna bring out the math geek in me.
On the bird question, you are doing some extra calculations. You are not asked how far from San Antonio the bird is at the end, simply "how far has it flown". All you need to do is calculate the time it takes for the trains to collide (distance 300 divided by combined speed of 140 mph which equals 2 hrs 8.5 minutes), multiply that times the speed of the brids flight (100 mph) and you end up with the same answer 214 (in less steps). The birds flight has no relation to when the trains collide. The "fly to the first train" bit is to throw you off the easy solution. Classic attempt to throw you off.
And I stick by my joke answer on the "minimum" number of guesses question: One if you are lucky! That is the minimum!
Of course, arguing during an interview is probalby not the best way to ingratiate yourself with the interviewer...I need to work on that!

Some of them are testing your ability to listen...

“Given the numbers 1 to 1000, what is the minimum number [of] guesses needed to find a specific number if you are given the hint ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ for each guess you make?”

The answer is ONE...guessing it on the first try is the MINIMUM.


Good call on both answers. You can be extra nerdy and say the assumption is the bird has infinite acceleration (like a beam of light) since it can instantly change direction 180 degrees while maintaining 100 MPH. Maybe that's why I tried to calculate it out manually vs the straight division....

Guess that's why I don't work for Microsoft!


I met an Army staff sergeant who used to be a recruiter. When an applicant would come into his office, he would give them a "pocket ASVAB" to get a feel for how they would score on the real test.

The pocket ASVAB was this: He would take a business card and write "chaos" on the back. Then the applicant would be asked to say the word out loud and give a definition. Then the sergeant would write 10.5 and ask them to divide it by 2. After that was done, he asked them to express the answer as a fraction.

That was it, but apparently it was very effective. He said it was scary how many people didn't know the word "chaos." Some even pronounced it as "cheese."

My employer is well known for "The Cult of the Puzzle" and its odd desire to ask puzzle-type questions in interviews. The most famous one:

"How would you move Mt. Fuji?"

On the surface, it's a stupid question, but what the question is trying to get at is, how can you take a broad problem and narrow it down into the components of the problem, and understand the real requirements. For instance - does Mt. Fuji have to look the same after it is moved or not?

I agree that "Batman" is the answer to "Who is the coolest superhero?" but for the question of which superhero you would choose to be, I don't think there's any way I would choose Batman. He's too much of a self-made superhero, no superpowers, etc. I could turn myself into Batman with enough hard work, and I think I'd have to keep putting in the hard work to be Batman even if I got magically turned into him. I know it's boring, but I'd much rather just have the near invincibility, super strength, super speed, and flying ability of Superman.

(Of course, giving an answer during a job interview that focuses on my lack of desire to expend the energy necessary to be the best I can be may not be the way to go...)

Jeff --

Yeah, I agree. Batman is coolest but I'd pick Superman if I could be one of them. ;-)

These types of questions have become pretty standard in the Computer Science world. Some of them are relatively simple math, (the bird and trains as well as the 1 - 1000 number) and the others are just getting a feel for your problem solving. It isn't about getting a correct answer, it is about how you get to an answer.

I would contend the answer to the 1 - 1000 question is 10 though as opposed to 9. I guess it depends on how you interpret the wording. You can obviously "know" the answer with 9 guesses, but I would assume you actually have to spend one more "guess" on the correct answer.


Actually, I would contend that Speed Weasel's answer of ONE is the correct answer to the 1-1000 question (at least that would be the answer that I would give). The question asks what the MINIMUM number of guesses would be. Obviously, the least number of guesses that you would need to make would be 1, which would occur if you guessed the correct answer right off the bat.

@FMF--I looked him in the eye and said, "Of course, my kids come first. But all moms know how to stay up all night if it's necessary to get the job done". Jerk. He knew he wasn't supposed to ask me that according to HR rules, too.

Of course I got the job--I was far and away the best qualified. Now if my kid's sick, I take vacation time while lying and telling anyone who asks that I'm at a meeting. I got the message, you know?

Here's a good interview question:

Your house is 60 miles from work, you leave your house and there is traffic so that during the first of the trip you average 30 miles per hour. The question is how fast do you have to drive the second half of the journey to catch up and average 60 miles per hour?

Any guesses?


Mike --

You need to be there instantaneously to average 60 mph?

The wierdest interview question I had wasn't a question at all. I went to interview for a operations management position with a manufacturing firm about 15 years ago. I arrived in a suit, had a copy of my resume printed on quality paper in my briefcase, shook hands with the interviewer (the CFO - a professional-looking woman in her early 40's), went about halfway through the interview when she handed me a board with several dozen bolts and nuts screwed into it and asked me to unscrew them all, reverse the bolts and re-fasten them. I was more than a little shocked, but went ahead and did it. She didn't explain why and continued with the interview. I did get a callback, but by then had secured another position (IT director with a small firm). I wonder to this day what that was all about.

Rod - I can tell you exactly what that was. She wanted to see if:
a) you could listen and follow a simple direction, and
b) you could do a relatively simple task under some degree of nervous pressure

Or it might just be that she needed some bolts reversed in her board and took your job interview as an opportunity to multi-task and utilize some free labor.

She may have been testing my hand-eye coordination as well, but I was interviewing for a management position. I'd expect that sort of thing if I was going to be working on a factory floor, but not if I was going to be running their technical operations department; if I can manage a half dozen people, a million or so budget and a few millions in technology, I would think it's assumed I can follow a simple direction and perform simple tasks under pressure. Then again...


Correct, it is impossible to average 60 MPH. You got it! And you got the hypothetical job :-)


Re: the bird and train question

From the wording of the question, "how far will [the bird] have flown when they collide?" you really only need to know how long it takes the trains to collide and multiply it by the speed of the bird because the bird is constantly flying until the trains collide.

So 300miles/140mph (the two trains' combined speed) = ~2.14 hours. 2.14 hrs * 100 mph (bird's speed, disregarding the time it takes for the bird to reverse its own direction) = 214 miles traveled.

The question about how many ridges are around a quarter is very interesting! I think that is just to see how you handle questions that don't necessarily have a set answer. I would probably start with an estimate of circumference and go from there! :)

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