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Team Building - Activity of the Month
May 2011, Puzzle, Bolt in the Bottle
5/2/2011 6:59:46 PM Link 1 comment | Add comment


This is a very clever puzzle.  It is inexpensive to make, and it is very effective at getting people to see the need to creatively “think out of the box.”

It consists of an assembly in a bottle.  The assembly is a wooden dowel with a hole through it.  A bolt and nut is assembled through the hole in the dowel, down inside of the bottle.

The challenge - To get the assembly out of the bottle, without breaking the bottle.

People will work and work at this, usually without a lot of success.  They will turn it, try to twist it, try to stick other thin instruments such as pencils in the bottle, spin it, etc.


The solution - The puzzle can easily be disassembled by simply turning the bottle on its side, and shaking or vibrating the dowel assembly. 

With the vibration, gravity will slowly but surely move the nut to the end of the bolt and off. 

The bolt can then be allowed to fall from the dowel, and the entire contents can be removed from the bottle.

Once this solution is observed, it seems simple and logical.  It is kind of like a screw or bolt can work loose in a car or truck.  People don’t typically key on this, however, because of the “mental model” that most of us have about how to assemble an disassemble nuts and bolts.  We typically do it with some sort of tool, such as pliers or wrench.

The solution requires a different mental model, thus the learning application to creativity.


The equipment:

Bottle - I like a bottle that is much wider at the base than at the neck.  I frequently use a bottle such as barbecue sauce is packaged in.  The neck needs to have an inside diameter of 1” or so, to accommodate the dowel.

Dowel - The dowel needs to be slightly longer (1/4-1/2” longer) than the bottle.  Its diameter needs to be close to the inside diameter of the bottle.  You don’t want a lot of slop in the fit, as it will allow participants to easily stick other objects such as pencils into the bottle, as they attempt the disassembly.  You don’t want a really snug fit either, as the dowel must have room to move.  The hole is drilled through the dowel approximately 1” from the end of the dowel.  The hole must be large enough for the bolt to easily move in and out of.  It can be 1/16-1/8” larger that the diameter of the bolt.

The bolt and nut -  Size isn’t too critical.  The nut should have a really easy fit on the bolt; i.e., you should be able to spin the nut on the bolt freely.  This is important. If any resistance or burrs exist, creating a tight fit between the nut and bolt, it may not be possible to disassemble it.  The bolt must be short enough to be assembled in the width of the bottle you have selected.


Assembly - The assembly is a greater trick than the disassembly.  In fact, if you have a group that quickly masters the disassembly, congratulate them on their accomplishment and creativity, and ask them to kindly reassemble the puzzle for you.  This will stimulate a lot more puzzle solving creativity.

Step 1 - Place the nut in the bottle.

Step 2 - Cut a thin strip of paper.  Make a small slit in one end of the paper, and gently thread the bolt through the slit as shown.  This tool gives you a way to place the bolt through the dowel, while inside of the bottle, (the most difficult part of the task).

Step 3 - Lower the bolt and paper into the bottle.

Step 4 - Insert the dowel into the bottle.

Step 5 - Manipulate the bolt into the hole in the dowel.

Step 6 - Pull the paper from the bottle, tearing it from around the bolt.

Step 7 - Turn the bottle on its side and manipulate the end of the bolt into the opening in the nut.  Vibrate the assembly only slightly in this position, just enough to get the nut to barely start on to the bolt.

Step 8 - Turn the dowel assembly over, so that the nut is on top.  Now, shake and vibrate it, allowing gravity to slowly work the nut down on to the bolt. 


Encourage your group to be creative.  Congratulate them as they think "out-of-the-box."






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