A little touch of absurdity never hurts when it comes to a good logic problem or brain teaser.
There’s the classic river-crossing puzzle (with either a fox, a goose, and a bag of beans and or a wolf, a goat, and a cabbage) that challenges you to get all three across without one eating one of the others, but it never explains why you have a wolf or a fox in the first place!
We never really question why we need to know the weights of castaways or why knowing the color of your hat might save your life; we just accept the parameters and forge onward.
Some brain teasers, curiously enough, seem intentionally nonsensical by design. Many claim that Lewis Carroll’s famous Alice in Wonderland riddle “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?” was created without a solution. Of course, that hasn’t stopped many (myself included) from posing solutions to the riddle anyway.
And that brings us to today’s brain teaser — “Pickled Walnuts” by Hubert Phillips — which I discovered on io9.com:
You are given a series of statements which may seem to you more or less absurd. But, on the assumption that these statements are factually correct, what conclusion (if any) can be drawn?
1. Pickled walnuts are always provided at Professor Piltdown’s parties.
2. No animal that does not prefer Beethoven to Mozart ever takes a taxi in Bond Street
3. All armadillos can speak the Basque dialect.
4. No animal can be registered as a philatelist who does not carry a collapsible umbrella.
5. Any animal that can speak Basque is eligible for the Tintinnabulum Club.
6. Only animals that are registered philatelists are invited to Professor Piltdown’s parties.
7. All animals eligible for the Tintinnabulum Club prefer Mozart to Beethoven.
8. The only animals that enjoy pickled walnuts are those who get them at Professor Piltdown’s.
9. Only animals that take taxis in Bond Street carry collapsible umbrellas.
I will tell you, as a starter, that a conclusion CAN definitively be drawn from these statements. (Honestly, if there wasn’t some solution, I wouldn’t waste your time with it.)
So, what conclusion can be drawn from these statements?
Armadillos do not enjoy pickled walnuts!
How do I know this for sure? Allow me to walk you through my deductive process.
We know that all armadillos speak Basque, according to statement 3. Therefore, according to statement 5, armadillos are eligible for the Tintinnabulum Club.
Now, according to statement 7, armadillos prefer Mozart to Beethoven. But, in statement 2, we’re told that no animal that does not prefer Beethoven to Mozart ever takes a taxi in Bond Street, which means that armadillos do NOT take taxis in Bond Street.
Therefore, according to statement 9, armadillos do not carry collapsible umbrellas, which also disqualifies them from being registered as philatelists, according to statement 4. And since only registered philatelists are invited to Professor Piltdown’s parties (according to statement 6), armadillos are not invited to the Professor’s parties.
Finally, statement 8 tells us that the only animals that enjoy pickled walnuts are those who get them at Professor Piltdown’s, which means armadillos do not enjoy pickled walnuts!
Honestly, I didn’t find this brain teaser particularly difficult because you can find those middle links very quickly, and by linking more and more statements, you eventually find the two ends — armadillos and pickled walnuts — and your conclusion is waiting for you.
This would’ve been a more difficult puzzle if some red-herring statements were thrown in that didn’t connect to the rest, like “All squirrels on Beaumont Avenue have Tuesdays off” or “The birdbaths on Bond Street were designed by a German sculptor who enjoyed hot dogs.”
Nonetheless, this is a terrific exercise in finding order in what at first appears to be chaos. It’s what puzzlers do: we make sense of the universe, one puzzle at a time.
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