Can YOU answer Elon Musk’s favorite interview question? TikTok users are left stumped by tricky math riddle with MULTIPLE answers that the billionaire Tesla founder uses to grill candidates
Elon Musk ‘s go-to interview question — a tricky math riddle with multiple answers — has stumped TikTok after being shared by a math influencer. Tanya Zakowich, who is known as @pinkpencilmath on the platform, explained in her now-viral video that the billionaire would ask candidates to solve this brainteaser during interviews at SpaceX before posing the question to viewers.
‘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?’ she asked.
Many people didn’t know what to make of the riddle and assumed it was a trick question when they shared their guesses. ‘Exactly where you started on the surface of the Earth,’ one user said.
While someone else joked, ‘SpaceX at Tesla that’s where you are.’
‘Bermuda Triangle! Stuff disappears there, so I figure all sense of direction was lost,’ another deduced.
One TikTok user shared a more philosophical answer, writing, ‘You ended up in [a] better place than you were before, because you took action. You didn’t stay where you were.’
Zakowich never shared the answer to the riddle, but it is widely known after being featured in Ashlee Vance’s 2015 authorized biography ‘Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.’ The SpaceX founder and CEO personally interviewed nearly all of the space manufacturer’s first one thousand workers in the early years, including janitors, according to the book via CNBC.
Musk, now 50, continued to interview engineers as the company grew and used his favorite riddle to see how prospective employees’ minds worked. There are multiple answers to the riddle, but the first and most common correct response is the North Pole. The reasoning was explained by Popular Mechanics when the brainteaser was featured as the publication’s ‘Riddle of the Week’ in 2017.
‘If you are standing directly on the north pole and you walk one mile south, then one mile west, then one mile north, you will arrive back at the North Pole,’ according to the magazine. However, candidates who named the North Pole aren’t given much time to celebrate figuring out the riddle because Musk will reportedly follow up and ask, ‘Where else could it be?’
The second answer is the South Pole, but fewer engineers give this answer, according to Vance’s biography. ‘Imagine a circle with a one-mile circumference that has the South Pole at its center. If you were to start one mile north of this circle, you would travel one mile south, one mile west all the way around the circle, and then one mile north back to your starting point,’ Popular Mechanics explained.
Most people who gave the correct answer on TikTok said the North Pole, but there were some who noted that the South Pole is also correct.
‘There are a few solutions,’ one person noted. ‘One is the North Pole but also anywhere 1 mile north of a place close to the South Pole.’
However, the TikTok users who came up with more creative solutions will be happy to know that Musk wouldn’t disqualify them for getting the answer wrong. Vance explained in his biography that the Tesla CEO cares more about the person’s approach to problem-solving than the answer itself.