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Can you solve Elon Musk’s brainteaser that he asks in SpaceX interviews?

Getting a job at Elon Musk’s amazing private space company isn’t easy. The latest biography of Elon Musk, by technology journalist Ashlee Vance, has already made controversial headlines.

One thing is for certain – engineers and rocket scientists don’t get into SpaceX easily. There’s a rigorous interview and testing process. And just to make things harder, candidates in key roles are put through a short interview with Musk himself.

During that interview, Musk reportedly asks candidates a brainteaser.

It goes like this: “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?

Elon Musk's Riddle

Elon Musk’s Riddle

If you can answer that riddle intelligently, as well as pass all the other of SpaceX’s tests, you might just have a chance at becoming one of around 3500 employees since the company was founded in 2002.

Want an answer? Ok, but let’s first give you a chance to figure it out. Don’t scroll down yet!

 

 

 

Keep trying.

 

 

 

Don’t give up!

 

 

 

Need a clue?

 

 

 

Clue 1: It doesn’t matter if you walk west or east. The same principle applies.

 

 

 

No more clues!

 

 

 

Ok, look. The answer is actually quite tricky. Last chance – the answer(s) is/are next…

 

 

 

Answer: If you blurted out ‘North Pole’, you’re kinda right.

First – the North Pole is right. But it’s only one answer in a set of answers. As you’re at the North Pole, the three different directions are in clear perpendicular. You actually walk in a triangle. (Any direction from the North pole is South, at least initially.)

The North Pole solution

The North Pole solution

The other answer is what separates the SpaceX rocket engineers from the pretenders. It’s also an infinite set of certain positions near the South Pole. Confused? Well, what if your path around the Earth is one mile long? Meaning you circle the globe in a one mile walk.

We’ll leave it to Preshtal Walker from Mind Your Decisions to explain how this doozy is actually infinite:

About the author

Tristan has a passion for tech, digital life, sport, and being told he looks better in person.

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Comment (8)

    Marjan

    Friday 22 May 2015

    Well technically yes, but maybe there is another view.
    Pick any given point in the surface of the earth apply the rules you’ve posted, rotate the earth of the chosen point to be the new north pole…So it would seam like any place would provide the same expected answer.

    Reply

    Ryan

    Saturday 23 May 2015

    The actual answer is “the surface of the earth”! Riddles are meant to have simple common sense but not obvious solutions. Kind of the thinking you want from an engineer. Your answers might be right. But the intended answer to this question is “the surface of the earth.” The middle section is miss direction.

    Reply

    Jeffrey

    Saturday 23 May 2015

    I’m with Ryan. My first thought was “the surface of the Earth.” SpaceX’s main goal is to get off the Earth and head to Mars.

    Reply

    himagain

    Thursday 28 May 2015

    What is *REALLY* scary is that he asks that question of adults who are going to be doing a dangerous (for others) job!

    It’s a bit like the way they treat Airline Pilots: suckers. Pay ’em a pittance and overwork them ( also dangerous for us).

    Reply

    David Wisdom

    Monday 1 June 2015

    Sorry. I thought you were going to ask something hard. That is child’s play. I was answering stuff like that when I was 3.

    Reply

      Tristan Rayner

      Monday 1 June 2015

      You must be very smart! Well done.

      Reply

    Daniel

    Monday 6 July 2015

    I thought for sure the answer would be “the equator”.

    Reply

    A Angst

    Saturday 27 February 2016

    There is a latitude north of the South pole where walking 1 mile south will bring you to a point such that walking 1 mile east or west will take you exactly once around the world and then walking 1 mile north will re-trace your steps back to the starting point. There are infinitely many points at that latitude where your journey can start. There is another latitude further south such that walking 1 mile south will bring you to a point where walking 1 mile east or west will take you twice around the world and so on.

    Reply