Reginald Braithwaite's favorite interview question is an offbeat one: sketch out a software design to referee the game Monopoly.*
I think it's a valid design exercise which neatly skirts the puzzle question trap. But more importantly, it's fun.
Interviews are a terror for the interviewee. And they're stressful for the interviewer, too. A design excercise centered around a salt-of-the-earth game like Monopoly is a great way to put both parties at ease. Lots of people have played Monopoly at some point, so you have a nice, common base of familiarity to work with.
Anything is better than the "how would you write a routine to copy a file" interview question, but any company that asks an entertaining and useful interview question like this is already a winner in my book.
But what I love most about the Monopoly question is how it sucks me in. Maybe it's because I'm a gamer at heart, but my mind immediately starts racing through all the different possibilities. It's a little embarrassing to admit, but I'd love nothing more than to sit in a room with another programmer and hash this problem out.
Because it's fun.
And isn't programming supposed to be fun?
* Monopoly is in the process of permanently updating their game board. Was anyone really complaining that Monopoly wasn't grounded in modern locations and current property valuations? I hope this doesn't devolve into another "New Coke" fiasco. At least the classic edition of the game will still be available.