outside the box

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The “nine dots” puzzle. The task is to draw a connected path through all nine dots using only 4 straight lines. Many people try to solve it using an additional, unstated constraint that the lines cannot extend beyond the limits of the outer eight dots (“the box”).
One of many solutions to the puzzle.


Probably from the need to draw lines outside the perimeter of the nine dots in the “nine dots” puzzle. See the 1971 citation.


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Prepositional phrase[edit]

outside the box

  1. (idiomatic) Beyond the bounds of convention.
    Synonyms: laterally, out of the box, outside of the box
    The boss wants some new ideas—it's time to think outside the box.
    • 1971 September 1, Michael R. Notaro, Jr., “Management of Personnel: Organization Patterns and Techniques”, in Data Management, volume 9, number 9, page 77:
      "THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX". If you have kept your thinking process operating inside the lines and boxes, then you are normal and average, for that is the way your thinking has been programmed. ... Here are nine dots: If you were asked to pick up a pencil and try to touch every dot using four straight lines only, you would try it this way first. It would be incorrect. That's because this configuration is in the shape of a box and we are conditioned to think this way.


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