Antedating of "Outside the Box" (UNCLASSIFIED)

Mullins, Bill AMRDEC Bill.Mullins at US.ARMY.MIL
Mon May 3 20:39:55 UTC 2010

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE

There is a moderately famous puzzle in which a 3x3 grid of nine dots is
to be traversed by four connected straight lines (the easiest way to see
the puzzle is to do a Google Images search for ("nine dots" AND "four
lines") or see the Wikipedia page for "thinking outside the box").  The
only way to solve this puzzle is for the lines to extend far past the
boundaries defined by the 3x3 grid of dots -- they must go "outside the

I've seen it claimed that this puzzle is the origin of the phrase.
Pittsburgh magician Paul Gertner has an extended set-piece built around
this premise.

The puzzle itself is old.  Here are some references to it found by David
BIBLIOGRAPHY" This is his 2005 edition, but it is a work in progress
(found in various editions on the web), and he may have updated it

Loyd, Sam. In G. G. Bain., The prince of puzzle-makers. An interview
with Sam Loyd. Strand Magazine 34 (No. 204) (Dec 1907) 771-777.
Solutions of Sam Loyd's puzzles. Ibid. 35 (No. 205) (Jan 1908) 110.. He
gives the 3 x 3 lattice in four lines as the Columbus Egg Puzzle.
[However, the Columbus Egg Puzzle was a mechanical puzzle in which one
attempted to stand an egg up on one end, made popular at the 1892
Columbus Exposition].

A. Cyril Pearson. The Twentieth Century Standard Puzzle Book.
Routledge, London, nd [1907]. Three parts in one volume, separately
paginated. The parts were also published separately. Each part has
several numbered sequences of problems.  Part I, no. 36: A charming
puzzle, pp. 36 & 152-153. 3 x 3 lattice in 4 lines.

Anon. Prob. 67. Hobbies 31 (No. 782) (8 Oct 1910) 39 & (No. 785) (29 Oct
1910) 94. 3 x 3 lattice in 4 lines "brought under my notice some time

C. H. Bullivant. Home Fun, 1910, op. cit. in 5.S. Part VI, Chap. IV. No.
3: Joining the rings. 3 x 3 in 4 segments.

Will Goldston. More Tricks and Puzzles without Mechanical Apparatus. The
Magician Ltd., London, nd [1910?]. (BMC lists Routledge & Dutton eds. of
1910.) (There is a 2nd ed., published by Will Goldston, nd [1919].) The
nine-dot puzzle, pp. 127-128 (pp. 90-91 in 2nd ed.).

This cite would lend credence to the puzzle origins of the phrase, I

Anthony Westell, "Moving Into The Big League of Research Spending,"
_Lethbridge [Alberta CA] Herald_ 6/2/1970 p 4 col 3
"The problem, says William David Hopper, is to think "outside the dots"
about the questions of how to feed a hungry world."
Later in the same article, col 5
"Hopper, 43, has been handpicked for the critical job of launching the
IDRC because he has expertise and stature in the world community of
foreign aid experts coupled with the independence of spirit needed to
break loose from the bureaucracy and because he has a good record of
thinking outside the dots and drawing new patterns."

Possibly related to the phrase:
Advertisement [for Birdsboro Corporation] _Barron's National Business
and Financial Weekly_; Nov 29, 1965; 45, 48; pg. 9 col 3
[picture of large circle] "Who's thinking outside the circle?  You are .
. .  and Birdsboro is, too.  You know that conventional thinking will
not solve today's marketing and manufacturing problems.  And to stay
with you, your suppliers have to be thinking "outside the circle" of
conventionality, too.  Here at Birdsboro thinking outside the circle is
a way of life."

Bill Mullins

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On
> Behalf Of Shapiro, Fred
> Sent: Saturday, May 01, 2010 7:43 AM
> Subject: Antedating of "Outside the Box"
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> --------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Shapiro, Fred" <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Antedating of "Outside the Box"
> --------
> The files of the forthcoming Yale Book of Modern Proverbs have this
> antedating of the phrase "outside the box" (OED 1975):
> 1971  Michael R. Notaro, Jr., "Management of Personnel:  Organization
> Patterns and Techniques," Data Management 9, no. 9 (Sep.) 77:  "THINK
> OUTSIDE THE BOX [section subtitle, capitalization as shown] /  If you
> have kept your thinking process operating inside the lines and boxes
> [of organization charts], then you are normal and average, for that is
> the way your thinking has been programmed."
> Fred Shapiro
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -
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