Can You Solve Elon Musk's Favorite Brain Teaser?
"You're standing on the surface of the Earth. You walk one mile south, one mile west, and one mile north. You end up exactly where you started. Where are you?" This is the question that entrepreneur Elon Musk reportedly likes to ask candidates who interview for positions at SpaceX. The brainteaser was divulged in a 2015 biography about Musk, but it was recently revived when CNBC took to the streets of New York City to see if random passersby could get it right.
Before we reveal the answer below, a bit of background first. Big companies—especially ones in the technology industry—have been known to ask tricky interview questions that read like riddles. In the past, Google interviewees have been asked, "How many people are using Facebook in San Francisco at 2:30 p.m. on a Friday?" Hewlett-Packard has opted for the question, "If Germans were the tallest people in the world, how would you prove it?" And you've probably heard some variation of a question related to golf or tennis balls.
The purpose of these questions it not to make you feel dumb, but to see how you process information and solve complex problems. Interviewers are checking your analytical skills, and whether or not you arrive at the correct answer is almost secondary. But for the fun of it, keep reading to see if you nailed Musk's interview question. Are you ready? The answer is the North Pole. If you follow the directions in the question, you'd make a triangular path and end up back where you started.
There's another possible answer, but it's a little more complicated. The place in question is a circle with a one-mile circumference around the South Pole, and you'd start walking one mile north of it. "You'll walk one mile south to reach this circle, trace that mile-long circle's path, and return one mile north to your starting point," CNBC notes. (If you're having trouble visualizing it, check out this video from Business Insider, which offers a handy illustration.)
If you didn't get it right, don't feel too bad. Most of the New Yorkers who were polled didn't know the answer, either. Fortunately, this question probably won't come up in your average interview.