… and your mass is proportionally reduced so as to maintain your original density. You are then thrown into an empty glass blender. The blades will start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?
Answer: This one is all about the judging interviewee's creativity. We'd try to break the electric motor.
The blender question is real. Several Google interviewees recounted to me what happened when they came up against it. And though Google doesn’t comment on the specifics of its hiring process—it likes to maintain an air of mystery, which has led to a cottage industry of samizdat Google questions passed among hopeful future employees and curious outsiders—former and current Google HR specialists have shared rather freely with me what it is that motivates the way they interview job candidates.
We’ll get to the longer answer, but the short answer is that Google isn’t looking for the smartest, or even the most technically capable, candidates. Google is looking for the candidates who will best fit Google.
The blender riddle encapsulates the process of inventing a new product. You begin by brainstorming. There are many possible answers, and you shouldn’t be in a hurry to settle for the first idea that seems "good enough."
The two most popular serious answers to the blender riddle seem to be (1) lie down, below the blades and (2) stand to the side of the blades. There ought to be at least a nickel’s width of clearance between the whirring blades and the bottom or sides of the blender jar. Another common reply is (3) climb atop the blades and position your center of gravity over the axis. Hold tight.
None of the above answers scores you many points at Google. Former and current Google interviewers have told me that the best answer they’ve heard is: Jump out of the jar.
The question supplies an important clue: the word "density." "Being shrunk to the size of a nickel" is not a realistic predicament. For starters, it might mean eliminating 99.99% of the neurons in your brain. To deal with a question like this, you have to decide where to suspend disbelief.
The fact that the interviewer mentions a detail like density is a nudge. It says that things like mass and volume matter in this question and that a successful answer can use simple physics.
In short, if were you shrunk to 1/10 your present height, your muscles would be only 1/100 as powerful—but you’d weigh a mere 1/1,000 as much. All else being equal, small creatures are "stronger" in lifting their bodies against gravity. Were you shrunk to nickel size, you’d be strong enough to leap like Superman, right out of the blender. Think of the feats performed by fleas in a flea circus.
That is the kernel of a good answer to the question. But Google’s interviewers are not just looking for someone who has the basic idea. The best answers to many of the questions begin with, "It depends."
The interviewer looks up from his laptop, grinning like a maniac with a new toy.
"I would take the change in my pocket and throw it into the blender motor to jam it," Jim says.
The interviewer's tapping resumes. "The inside of a blender is sealed," he counters, with the air of someone who's heard it all before. "If you could throw pocket change into the mechanism, then your smoothie would leak into it."
"Right… um… I would take off my belt and shirt, then. I'd tear the shirt into strips to make a rope, with the belt, too, maybe. Then I'd tie my shoes to the end of the rope and use it like a lasso."
Furious key clicks.
"I don't mean a lasso," Jim plows on. "What are those things Argentinian cowboys throw? It's like a weight at the end of a rope."
No answer. Jim now realizes that his idea is lame, but he feels compelled to complete it. "I'd throw the weights over the top of the blender jar. Then I'd climb out."
"The 'weights' are just your shoes," the interviewer says. "How would they support your body's weight? You weigh more than your shoes do."
Jim doesn't know. That's the end of it. The interviewer begins ticking off quibbles one by one. He isn't sure whether Jim's shirt—shrunken with the rest of him—could be made into a rope that would be long enough. Once Jim got to the top of the jar—if he got there—how would he get down again? Could he realistically make a rope in 60 seconds?