This Mind-Boggling ’16 Circles’ Puzzle Is Driving People Crazy: Can You See Them?

May 28, 2019 Updated: June 4, 2019

How do you feel about optical illusions? Maybe you’re a pro and you’re here to show off (if so, good for you!). Or maybe you’re a brave sort and have joined us to give yourself a much-needed challenge, a “study break” to keep the old cerebral cogs turning. If so, welcome! Let’s begin.

Take a look at the seemingly one-dimensional pattern below. What do you see? Black and white lines and boxes; a panel that looks a little bit like a brick wall, correct? Well, look again! If you didn’t see it straight away (and don’t worry, many people don’t), there are actually sixteen sneaky circles hiding in this complex optical illusion. And it’s no amateur effort; this image was first shared as one of the top ten best illusions in the 2006 Neural Correlate Society’s “Best Illusion of the Year” contest.

But you’ll have to try it first, because that’s all we’re saying for now.

This mind-boggling brain teaser had a wild resurgence after being reposted on Reddit, and it’s still divisive. Some people can see the circles, some people can’t, and some people have been rather vocal about it, to the great amusement of the internet. “I was angry and skeptical thinking I was being trolled,” one user admitted, “and I didn’t really want to even try looking, but I did and they are truly there [..] Good one, thanks for sharing!”

Illustration – Shutterstock | Billion Photos

For some, it was easy: “It’s weird,” one person fessed up. “The second I read your comment, instant circles.” It took others a little longer, but they were keen to share their technique: “It took me a while too,” posted one puzzle-solver, “but if you just look at the center image and try to just look at it as a whole, the circles are more visible.”

Some are forever changed (“Once seen, I cannot un-see!”), while others are forever burdened (“They keep disappearing for me unless I concentrate on them!”), but everyone agrees that it’s absorbing. How did you fare?

Here’s the full scoop. The image was initially created by Anthony Norcia, a vision scientist at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco. It’s called the Coffer Illusion because “coffer” is an architectural term used to refer to a decorative sunken panel in a ceiling, which is exactly what the illusion looks like upon first glance. And guess what? It’s actually pretty controversial!

According to The Illusions Index, experts generally agree that what we see with our eyes while looking at the illusion is constant and unchanging. What they can’t agree on, however, is whether the “visual experience” changes when we switch between looking at squares and looking at circles, or whether it’s something else that changes, a “belief,” “judgment,” or “other mental process.”

Illustration – Shutterstock | pathdoc

Optical illusions are amazing. They manipulate color, light, and a variety of patterns, purely for the fun of confusing the human brain. Perception meets reality, and sometimes it’s a big old mess. Sometimes, however, it’s absolutely out of this world, and that’s why we love it!