Riddle: You are given a set of scales and 12 marbles. The scales are of the old balance variety. That is, a small dish hangs from each end of a rod that is balanced in the middle. The device enables you to conclude either that the contents of the dishes weigh the same or that the dish that falls lower has heavier contents than the other. The 12 marbles appear to be identical. In fact, 11 of them are identical, and one is of different weight. Your task is to identify the unusual marble and discard it. You are allowed to use the scales three times if you wish, but no more. Note that the unusual marble may be heavier or lighter than the others. How can you identify it and determine whether it is heavy or light?
Answer: Number the marbles from 1 to 12. For the first weighing put marbles 1,2,3 and 4 on one side and marbles 5,6,7 and 8 on the other. The marbles will either they balance or not. If they balance, then the different marble is in group 9,10,11,12. Thus, we would put 1 and 2 on one side and 9 and 10 on the other. If these balance then the different marble is either 11 or 12. Weigh marble 1 against 11. If they balance, the different marble is number 12. If they do not balance, then 11 is the different marble. If 1 and 2 vs 9 and 10 do not balance, then the different marble is either 9 or 10. Again, weigh 1 against 9. If they balance, the different marble is number 10, otherwise, it is number 9. That was the easy part. What if the first weighing 1,2,3,4 vs 5,6,7,8 does not balance? Then any one of these marbles could be a different marble. Now, in order to proceed, keep track of which side is heavy for each of the following weighings. Suppose that 5,6,7 and 8 is the heavy side. We now weigh 1,5 and 6 against 2,7 and 8. If they balance, then the different marble is either 3 or 4. Weigh 4 against 9, a known good marble. If they balance then the different marble is 3 or 4. Then, if 1,5 and 6 vs 2,7 and 8 do not balance, and 2,7,8 is the heavy side, then either 7 or 8 is a different, heavy marble, or 1 is a different, light marble. For the third weighing, weigh 7 against 8. Whichever side is heavy is the different marble. If they balance, then 1 is the different marble. Should the weighing of 1,5 and 6 vs 2,7 and 8 show 1,5,6 to be the heavy side, then either 5 or 6 is a different heavy marble or 2 is a light different marble. Weigh 5 against 6. The heavier one is the different marble. If they balance, then 2 is a different light marble.