I’ve had riddles on the brain recently, because I keep seeing them everywhere. Over the last few weeks, they’ve popped up in games, TV shows, books, and even emails to the blog.
It all started with our twice-monthly office D&D game. Every other Thursday, a group of us commandeers one of the conference rooms at lunchtime and enjoys an hour of dice-fueled storytelling, adventure, and fun.
As is often the case with a fantasy-inspired game, there was a river to cross and a riddle to answer in order to pass.
A murderer is condemned to death. He has to choose between three rooms. The first is full of raging fires, the second is full of assassins with loaded guns, and the third is full of lions that haven’t eaten in a year. Which room is safest for him?
This is a classic riddle, usually titled “Three Doors” or “The Murderer’s Riddle.”
And when you’ve got a team of puzzle solvers in your D&D group, this riddle is no challenge at all.
(If you’re curious about the solution, you pick door #3. After a year of not eating, the lions would be dead, so it would be safe to enter that room.)
Later on in the game, we again had to barter passage across a body of water, either answering a riddle or battling a demon to the death.
Naturally, we chose the riddle.
What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?
This is another classic riddle — the Riddle of the Sphinx, most famously solved by Oedipus — and posed no challenge to our merry band of misfit adventurers.
(If you don’t know this one, the answer is “man,” since you walk on four legs as a child, aka crawling, two legs as an adult, and with a cane when you’re older. The day — morning, noon, and evening — represents a lifetime.)
We crossed the lake, and our adventure continued, and I thought I was done with riddles for a bit.
Then a few days later, I got caught up on the latest season of MTV’s The Challenge, a reality/competition game show. (I’ve written about some of their puzzly challenges in the past.)
And, wouldn’t you know it, this week’s challenge involved a riddle.
Both teams would start on this platform, sending pairs of swimmers out on a long swim to retrieve keys. Those four keys would then open both a chest full of letter tiles and a riddle to be solved. The first team to solve the riddle with the letters available would win the challenge.
Once all the drama of selecting partners — given that many of the players weren’t strong swimmers, and the slowest-swimming team would be eliminated from the game — there was plenty of tension to be had.
But finally, all four keys were retrieved by the teams, and the riddle revealed:
I am a 5 letter word.
I am normally below you.
If you remove my 1st letter, you’ll find me above you.
If you remove my 1st and 2nd letters, you can’t see me.
The teams were initially baffled, playing around with different words and various combinations of letter tiles in the hopes that it would spark something.
Eventually, competitor Ashley came up with a three-letter word that you couldn’t see — AIR — and her team quickly came up with the correct answer: CHAIR.
(A chair is normally below you, hair is above you (sorta), and air can’t be seen.)
So, three riddles in a matter of days. It’s officially a pattern. And so far, I’m three for three on solving these riddles.
A week or so later, though, yet another riddle arrived, this time by email. And I admit, I’m a little stumped.
What has a bell but isn’t a church. Is full of air but is not a balloon?
What do you think, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Any ideas? Let me know in the comments section below. I have a few theories, but nothing that feels like a conclusive answer.
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