Nine Dots – Bay Area Discovery Museum

Nine Dots

Try to connect nine equally spaced dots using four lines or fewer without lifting a pen!

This activity literally requires thinking outside of the box in order to solve it.

Materials Required

  • Paper
  • Nine dot template (optional)
  • Pen or pencil


  1. Use the template below or draw a square grid of nine dots, with three rows of three dots spaced evenly apart. Make the dots about 1/4-inch in diameter, or about the size of a pea.
  2. Try to connect all of the dots using four lines or fewer without lifting the pen.
  3. A solution may not be found right away. In fact, it may take a long time. Don’t give up—keep on trying new ways!

Additional Tips

This is a tricky challenge. It is important to observe how these dots are not dots per se, but rather are round discs or filled-in circles. This adjustment in thinking can help children think about how lines can cross at angles other than 0, 45 and 90 degrees. Do not worry about extending the lines “outside the box” of the three rows of three dots. That’s the only way to solve the infamous nine-dot problem!

Questions to consider:

  • Talk about how you felt during this activity. Were you stressed or frustrated? How did you deal with that emotion?
  • Discuss how you came to your solution. Did you imagine drawing the lines or did you try it out on the paper?

Links to Creativity

This activity is one of the staple exercises that evoke creativity. The nine-dot problem literally requires us to think outside the box in order to solve it. Being stuck without a solution to this problem is pretty common. When someone does figure out the solution, it usually comes in an “aha!” moment of discovery or insight.

Supporting research includes:

Gruber, H. E. (1981). On the relation between “aha” experiences and the construction of ideas. History of Science, 19, 41-59.

Dietrich, A., & Kanso, R. (2010). A review of EEG, ERP, and neuroimaging studies of creativity and insight. Psychological Bulletin, 136(5), 822-848.


This activity was contributed by the Center for Childhood Creativity at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. It is a commonly used exercise. Our instructions and sample solutions have been adapted with permission from Keith Sawyer’s “Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity.” Sawyer, K. (2013) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, and adapted from James L. Adams’ “Conceptual Blockbusting” (1974). For more information and resources see

Nine Dots

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