A Question About Staircases

Imagine that you were running a race on one of three escalators. Which race would you rather be in?

1. An escalator that is helping you up.

2. A broken one that is not moving at all.

3. An escalator that is going down while you head up, making it harder to reach the top.

Lots of people are racing, and you want to win. Which race do you choose?






88 responses to “A Question About Staircases”

  1. yliharma Avatar

    number 2, the broken one!
    the third one is for masochists and the first one is for people with good running skills…everytime I tried climbing a moving escaltor I risked falling onto the steps 😀

  2. CV Avatar

    I go with #2.
    #1 is hard to get on and off without falling and making a bigger ass of oneself than an escalator race runner already is.
    #3 I go with yliharma’s answer as well.

  3. Sean M Avatar
    Sean M

    I’d go with #1. I’m more of a sprinter in general so that option shortens the course improving my success chances. Additionally, most people haven’t ran up an escalator like that; my relative comfort level with that sensation wouldn’t hurt either.

    1. Steve Mulry Avatar
      Steve Mulry

      I agree with #1. Since there’s only three escalators, if you’re on #1 you don’t have to run as hard as the others & therefore would have less chance of being off balance during the race 🙂

  4. Gaetan Lanthier Avatar

    My first answer is :”I would ask a friend at the top to throw a rope at me and climb on the space between the escalators” (http://imgur.com/CSWif)

    If I “really” have to answer 1,2 or 3, I would choose the least crowded one. So probably number 3.

    1. Superilldopefreshmoneykid Avatar

      Number three, with my fingers crossed that the first two are plugged up with traffic from my competition.

      1. Mistraldor Avatar

        You know, maybe some people would go downstairs by taking the third escalator…

  5. Murli Avatar

    1) if the race is to go up or down.
    2) the number of floors.

    If the race to win is to get down quickly, I would take #1 else #3. The broken lift may serve its purpose. and it may be faster to walk the stairs assuming one can.

    1. tim Avatar

      Sorry mate but are you an idiot???

      1. helping you UP.
      3. while you HEAD UP

      1. Tukie Avatar

        It’s always annoying when people don’t read posts carefully enough, but there’s also no need to be rude.

  6. piotrBe Avatar

    if you finish the race you’ll win with your weakness, sometimes it’s more important

  7. James Chartrand - Men with Pens Avatar

    Hm. I think this is a trick question – don’t they say it’s healthier to take the stairs?

  8. LBL Avatar

    #2 is basically an ordinary (stationary) staircase. If it’s about getting to the top in the quickest amount of time, I’d take #1 for the added speed. Can’t wait to see what analogy this is meant to represent…

    1. Steve O'Brien Avatar
      Steve O’Brien

      It’s pretty simple, I think.

      From “Shit I Did And Later Came To Regret”:

      2. I believed that I could do everything I wanted alone, without a support structure. I believed in willpower instead of putting systems in place that would help me.

      That’s escalator #1. Well, the support systems are. What he regrets would have been #2 I suppose.

      This isn’t some trick question… I’m glad there are so many ‘clever’ people though. The ego comes first

  9. Dave Avatar

    #2, lots of people racing, everybody else takes the easiest route and caught up in the jam. and #3 just doesn’t make sense.

    1. Ray Avatar

      I agree that this is somewhat of a trick question and with lots of people racing, they will take the easiest route.

      So depending on how many people take 1 & 2, #3 may be the easiest.

      This is a great example how people approach life and their goals. From all the comments you can see how people are thinking outside the box. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer. It’s only important that you keep moving

  10. Drew M Avatar

    Number 2 for me – however it depends on how many racers on one escalator.

    If nobody is on 3, then I would hit 3.

  11. Marc Ensign Avatar

    I prefer to leverage the people around me by sending one person up each escalator and let them fight it out while I take the elevator.

  12. José Avatar

    If anyone never did this as a kid, I highly suggest that whoever never tried to run up on a downward escalator does it next time they see one.

    I win my own race for the challenge and the fun on escalator # 3.

  13. Brad Wesley Avatar
    Brad Wesley

    If this race is taking place in the US, at least 70% of the participants are going to be fat fucks. So, I like my odds on any of the 3.

    1. Saket Avatar

      good point?

  14. Joe Avatar


    Because it is broken, inside the box thinkers will not take it, so there will be no one on it.

    At that point it is just a staircase with no obstacles.


  15. Ross Avatar

    Somehow I doubt Julien’s point in this article was to illicit smartass responses. That may well just be me taking esclator #3 though…

  16. Tania Avatar

    overall, i’d say #2 because i want to say i’ve done it all on my own.

    but in a race, i’d pick #1, to get all the advantage one can get.

    no one would pick #3 in a race…except in practice, as a way of getting exercise and building stamina.

  17. Carol Avatar

    #3 seems the one i will have more fun on and will be a great work out. and yeah, it will be less crowded; most people will go to #2 & #1
    let’s have fun!

  18. Alex @ Searching for Happy Avatar

    Whichever one has the least people on it. Crowding will be more of an obstacle for me than the stairway/escalator.

  19. Jeff S. Avatar

    As I reread the question, it seems to be asking about three different races, one on each escalator. So the people that have entered the same race as you are all doing the same thing as you in one separate race. So I think each race will be the same no matter what. Of course, it all changes if this is one big collective race.

  20. Abhi Avatar

    useless post … do u just want to increase # of comments on ur blog ! 🙂

  21. Klack Avatar

    I wait and watch. I learn what not to do from the mistakes made by those who fail. I then study the steps of success from those who excel in their “race”. I put what I have learned into practice, and compete at the next event. In my opinion success begins with knowledge and preparation.

  22. Bob Avatar

    Studies have shown that 95% of people find a broken escalator psychologically more difficult to climb than the stairs option that sometimes runs parallel. Their minds cannot get past the fact that the escalator should be helping them.

    44% of people over think this problem. You’d have climbed any of the stairs by now if you’d just started already.

    I’d press the stop button on number 1 and number 3 and run up number 3.

    1. Sacha Avatar

      Seems the best answer to me.

  23. Isolde Avatar

    The third one, because I am faster and more fit than most people 🙂

  24. Dave Avatar

    #1 – Inclusive, everyone can race and you even make progress while you rest.

    #2 – “An escalator can never break, it can only become stairs” – Mitch Hedberg

    #3 – Challenging, pushes everyone to go their hardest, also gives those in good shape a bigger advantage than the other two escalators

    I would need more information to pick I think, 😛

  25. Michael Epstein Avatar
    Michael Epstein

    If everyone got to go at the empty rack of three escalators and then the fastest person wins, I’d take #1. The rules however state lots of people are racing, and it would be chaos. I don’t know chaos theory ;), but I would hope to have the advantage of quickness to get to the 1 or 2 escalator ahead of the others and run like hell. 3 would depend on a lucky win based on chaos keeping the people on the better choices working against each other. I recently watched two women run up a down escalator while hundreds of people leaving a speech blocked the only up escalator. They weren’t racing, but they made it look pretty futile. I took the stairs wich were slightly out of site behind the bank of escalators and had them to myself.

  26. Julie Avatar

    I would take number three. Life is too short not to enjoy the fun of running up a down escalator!!

  27. Redplumptomato Avatar

    I’d rather eat a doughnut

  28. Burton Kent Avatar

    Amazing how people manage to complicate and over-think a simple question. I guess that is part of why in real life so few people take #1.

    For all those people who like #3, why? What do you care what other people are doing?

    See you at the top. Or not.

  29. Dave Avatar

    #1. I’d like to say I would risk all and run on the rubber hand rail, but I probably wouldn’t.

  30. FJR Avatar

    If they really were escalators, I would probably take the one with the fewest runners on it. That said, I know I have had a tendency in my career to jump ship only very late off of downward-heading escalators if I thought I had a chance through energy, determination, and good ideas to change their direction.

  31. Philip Avatar

    A. it is a race from the bottom to the top and
    B. the 3 escalators are next to eachother, and
    C. that the competitors have a short distance to run across before reaching the chosen escalator channel…

    If, at the start I broke out of the pack among the first few, I would choose the upward moving one as the combination of running up the stairs was augmented by the mechanical speed of the escalator.Good chance of a win.

    If there was a bottleneck at #1, I’d opportunistically take #3 as the overflow of the bottleneck would most likely switch to #2…more jostling & congestion.

    However if #3 already had more than a couple of inexperienced people hesitating, tripping and falling backwards down the elevator towards me, I would be compelled to help them up (or down, actually) and would not finish first, but probably make some friends and allies for the next round.

    So it’s a bit of a lottery –

    – Take the easy route – conform and wait your orderly turn (with a bit of shoving and jostling) on #1, you’ll get there – just not likely first.

    – take the independent, self-powered route on #2 and still have to claw your way past others if you are not first on – you might get there first, but you won’t make many friends along the way.


    Take the “spawning salmon” route.. jumping over carcasses on your way up, and probably glimpsing a few pitying looks from those who witness the extra (unnecessary?) tribulations you are going through, while they decided to just conform and ride #1 to the top – where it was going anyway.


    If you want safety, wait your turn – take #1 you’ll get there, eventually.

    If you want independence, strike out on your own without auxiliary help – you never know, if the rules change halfway, your flexibility will be an advantage.

    If you are a masochist, short-cut artist, uber-optimist or you just like doing things the hard way (like me) try #3 – not likely first to finish, but with a story to tell…

  32. Johnny B. Truant Avatar

    “I like the escalator because it can never break. It can only ‘become stairs.’ You’d never see an ‘Escalator temporarily out of order’ sign. It’d be ‘Escalator temporarily stairs. We apologize for the convenience, that you can still get up there.’ ” – Mitch Hedberg

  33. Ruifang Avatar

    I go with #2.
    I am a runner, so I would like to run with only help from my legs and feet.

  34. Francisco Avatar

    If all the people are running at the same time, any one you choose you’ll depend on the people in front of you. The only way to win the race is be the first on any of the stairs or better more the first on #2

  35. txhrc4 Avatar

    #2, because for me, I don’t want anything getting in my way from reaching the top, I want to go as fast as possible.

  36. Brian Avatar

    Three races to choose from, lots of people in each race, and I want to win.

    I’m going for #1. Less steps up and the last step flings one across the finish. I would be okay on #2, but I am sure there are people in better shape who would kick my ass. I hate going backwards, so #3 is out of the question for me.

    I once OJ Simpsoned (old school cultural reference) it across the entire Minneapolis airport to catch a plane I was late for. Those moving sidewalks flung me to the closing gate just in time. I am fast, but, WOW, I flew!!!

    Yup, it’s #1 for me. Computer spreadsheets or written ledgers? DUH!

  37. Catherine Avatar

    I’d choose #1 – I’ve recently realised that it’s ok to ask for help, even wise to do so. And I’ve also realised that life doesn’t have to be hard it is ok to take the easy option in fact it would be more sensible to do so – we don’t always have to overthink it or reinvent the wheel.

  38. Julie Avatar

    Who says each escalator is competing in the same race? You only asked which race we would rather be in with the choice of only three options. My choice would depend on what the requirements to “win” are and the details of the race for each escalator. The choice will change based on the challenge to stand still vs going up the escalator vs going down the escalator.

    1. loic Avatar

      Okay I’m not alone 🙂

      For me I see it like that: It isn’t ask to chose one of the three escalator for one race, but in which kind of race (1,2,3) you want to be.
      If this is the case, I want the 3. Definitely more challenging and rewarding.

  39. Barbara Spencer Avatar
    Barbara Spencer

    Running up an escalator going up is always for some reason more difficult; theoretically, perhaps the mind thinks it is easy, hence it wouldnt push as hard as it actually could. Running up a broken escalator again might seem easier but it somehow confuses the brain sending out signals to the muscles. Number 3 will prepare the brain for the push. You know you are in for a rough ride, you know it will be tough, and you will get the best out of yourself. Bit like life. x

  40. Dennis Avatar

    Definitely #2, there would be no worry of the movement causing any kind additional obstacles that are unnecessary to make it to the top.

  41. Bruce M Avatar
    Bruce M

    How wide are the escalators? If they’re those crazy 1-person wide escalators like in some subway stations, then it doesn’t matter. First one on, wins. Unless you’re a real SOB. If they’re 20-people wide, then I’ll take #1 any day.

    In real life, this is like barriers to entry or limited market size.

    Except for the width of the escalator, an almost exactly analogous question is: If you were sailing in a regatta, would you rather sail with the wind at your back, in your face, or dead calm?

  42. Kevin Avatar

    It depends.

    “Imagine that you were running a race on one of three escalators. Which race would you rather be in?”

    The question does not explicitly state that you’d be racing against folk on the other escalators, so different interpretations of the conditions are possible.

    If you take the question at face value (which I do)—i.e., that you are running A race on ONE escalator—then it makes no difference which one you choose, because your competitors are all running on the same escalator as you are, so there’s no real advantage to selecting one escalator over another.

    Now, if you do assume that you are racing against people on the other escalators, then I’d probably choose #1.

  43. Joe Avatar

    If the purpose of the race is to be on the escalator the longest without reaching the end, I’ll take #2. If the “winner” gets to become “dinner” for some local cannibals, scratch that plan. Riddle me this: What does it take to win the race (according to the rules)? And what is the purpose/reason for racing in the first place? Answer my questions and I’ll be able to answer yours…

  44. Alana Avatar

    I would take number three, because if you ran all three at the exact same pace, number three would allow you to cover the farthest distance in the shortest amount of time.

  45. verna Avatar

    The point being what?
    I went to a job interview today and aced it. The guy wanted to pay me $9. an hour. My best friend is in foreclosure and does not want to talk, my husband is in jail. why would I be running up escalators when I have more important concerns?
    BTW, it is harder to climb an escalator that is off. I am not sure why but I think it has something to do with angles.

    1. Dave Avatar

      It’s OK, there are meds available.

  46. Judea Martin Avatar

    I don’t care about what others think about me. I’m taking the escalator thats going to help me. Life has enough obstacles.

  47. screendance Avatar

    No difference, as far as I want to win. Many people
    are racing (in the same race? Eh!?). Fine. Do THEY want to win? Beside are we racing in the same escalator? As far as all material things are equal there is no difference but my own motivation. If we are not not in the same escalator, I choose the one that is going to help me more to win (like any other wise-guy). But details are to be analysed as much as I have informations or intelligence of the situation.
    Simplicity itself or the other way round. :p

  48. Jay Avatar

    I’d find a different race to run, because that’s just silly.

  49. ralph Avatar

    Really? Knowing the guy you are you are going to slam everyone for falling for your inane questions. Let us in on your cruel joke.

  50. Hannah Avatar

    I’d sit on the moving handrail and let it carry me to the top!

  51. liza sperling Avatar

    #3. Did it the other day in a store. I assumed everyone felt that way. Until now. Hmmm.

  52. liza sperling Avatar

    And I forgot it was a race while typing my initial answer. So typical!

  53. JohnAtl Avatar

    I don’t think the question is well defined.
    Is the race a race to the top?
    Is winning getting to the top first?
    The race could be to be a badass (i.e. healthy), in which case #3 would be best.

  54. Dot Maker Avatar

    I’d want to get to a point in my life where it is irrelevant to me which state the escalator is in. For now, if I’m honest, I want the one helping me up, numero uno, and I experience stress in the other scenarios. But, if I’m still being honest, my performance is not impacted in a way that is commensurate to my stress level. There are benefits to each scenario. If I could drop my expectations of what *should* be, I could move forward no matter what context I find myself in.

  55. Tsahi Levent-Levi Avatar

    #2 the broken one.
    The other two are going to get used: the one going up by other racers, the one going down by people who want to go down (and those that believe it won’t have other racers in it).

  56. Bill Avatar

    The answer is quite simple I think.

    To win in any one of these races (remember, you have to choose ONE), you have to be the first one on the escalator, in the particular race you are running. Remember, and escalator is only that wide, and if you don’t let anyone past, you will be first at the top.

  57. CK Mak Avatar

    I’ll choose #1.

  58. Neal R. Avatar

    Why not take #1, then kick back, relax & enjoy some time with those fellow travellers who also realize that it’s the delight of the journey that’s most important?

  59. Neal R. Avatar

    Actually, the right answer is to get a team together to fix escalator number two. Who gives a fuck about me? Why not be useful to other people?

  60. Mistraldor Avatar

    I choose #2 because if one escalator is broken, the probability there is nobody on it is high. Then more likely to reach the top 🙂

  61. Ken Avatar

    I choose, #3, as there will be fewer people to get in my way.

  62. Rickard Avatar

    Because you get more credit winning a difficult race, and easy is the route that everyone else takes.

  63. Tess Robinson Avatar
    Tess Robinson

    I would have to go with #2 because if I took the steps 2 at a time I would go alot faster than if it was helping me (#1). And #3 just doesn’t make sense. One step forward, and two steps back!

  64. Susan Cooper Avatar

    I would choose #1. Getting help to achieve any goal is never something refuse.

  65. Vernon Avatar

    Screw that. I’d use my jetpack.
    Just watch me.

  66. Momekh Avatar

    #1. No philosophizing. Strategy is to get up ASAP. #1 is “helping me”. Decision made.

    But I am wrong arent I? 😛

  67. Sasha Avatar

    Well the question is based on 3 different races each on a different type of escalator. So essentially no matter which escalator race you choose, your opponents will be in the same one. So I think the question is: If you are to race on one of 3 paths, what type of race (easy, moderate, difficult) do you want to be in? One where no one is trying and its left to luck? Or one where everyone is trying and the best come out on top??

    1. Tim Avatar

      Good point, I didn’t think of it like that.

      I think the bigger question is, why are we racing? Lets just stop for a second and relax.

  68. Lian Avatar

    Actually it doesn’t matter, because #1 is helping ALL the racers up, #3 is slowing EVERYone, and #2 has no impact whatsoever (on no one).
    Bottom line – in either case, I have only myself to count on.

  69. Dubya Avatar

    If you consistently choose # 3 you probably won’t win, but you’ll get in good shape. The you can kick the other motherfucker’s ass when you get to the top.

  70. Ahmed Khaled Avatar
    Ahmed Khaled

    On the long run, I’d choose #3…
    I’ll lose this race.. but, I’ll have learned running to the marrow of the bones.

  71. Abhishek H S Avatar
    Abhishek H S

    I will see how many people are there for each escalator, then i will decide which to take. i decide based on how soon and conveniently i can reach the end.

  72. Abhishek H S Avatar
    Abhishek H S

    Before running a race I think whether I should be racing?, i will not race only if the answer is no, for all other options(yes, maybe) i will race.

  73. Jason Avatar

    I think most people are missing the point here.

    Lots of people are racing so most people would want take the escalator that’s going up and it’s going to be a mess on that one.
    The people they have more chance to win on the broken one will take that one.
    Hardly anyone will be taken the one that’s going down because it’s damn hard.

    I’ll probably first try to be the first person at the escalator that’s moving up because nobody is in the way and run my ass off.
    If this won’t be the case I’ll take a milisecond to observe how many people are taking the broken one and the one going down.

    You want to take the path that’s giving you the least obstacles and the best help if you REALLY want to win.

  74. S Avatar

    The broken one/regular stairs because I have a fear of moving escalators.

  75. Sean Avatar

    Did anyone else notice that, in the lower right hand corner, the first radiator (at least I think that’s a radiator) section spells out the word “god”?

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