Riddles, Riddles Everywhere!

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.”

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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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Puzzles in Pop Culture: The Challenge: War of the Worlds 2

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[Image courtesy of The Challenge Wiki.]

One of the first reality TV shows to make an impact was MTV’s The Real World, which debuted back in 1992. A show wherein seven strangers would live together in a house and have their lives and interactions taped, it is credited with helping launch the modern reality TV genre.

In the decades since, one of the show’s longest-lasting spin-offs has been The Challenge, a competition show where former Real World alums and other reality show figures compete against each other in physical and mental games, both individually and as teams. There is also a social element to the show, as players form alliances, scheme against other competitors, and often vote out players at regular intervals.

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[Image courtesy of People.com.]

As you might expect, puzzles have worked their way into The Challenge from time to time. Memory games, sliding tile puzzles, and variations on the Tower of Hanoi puzzle.

The most recent iteration of the show, The Challenge: War of the Worlds 2, pits a team of reality show contestants and former Challenge competitors from the UK against a team of previous Challenge competitors from the United States.

At this point in the game, the UK team had lost two players already (as one was sent home at the end of the previous episode, and another left the show for personal reasons).

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In last week’s episode, as the two teams arrived at a secluded lakeside area, there was a puzzly surprise waiting for them: Cryptic Crossbow.

Each team had a giant crossbow, a grid with four four-letter words on it (as well as spaces for additional letters), and a platform from which to jump into the water.

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Eight competitors from each team had to swim out into the water and collect wooden tiles with letters on them. (One letter per tile, one tile per swimmer.) Once eight letters had been retrieved, a second wave of swimmers could jump into the water to retrieve the other eight tiles in the water.

Once all 16 tiles had been retrieved, each team had to add them to the grid in order to form four eight-letter words (using the preset four-letter words as clues). Two things would happen once all 16 tiles were placed on the board:

  • The crossbow would activate, and send one of the competitors out into the lake. That competitor would then swim out, retrieve a giant cryptex on a raft, and swim it back to the rest of the team to be solved.
  • When the four eight-letter words in the grid were properly displayed, six highlighted letters in the grid would spell a code word that could be used to open the cryptex once it was delivered to the group.

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Both teams strategized ahead of time.

CT, the Challenge veteran on the UK team, urged his team to simply place all of the letters on the grid as quickly as possible, so they could launch their crossbow-loaded teammate into the water to retrieve the cryptex.

CT noted that the grid didn’t need to be correct for them to win — opening the cryptex was how a team achieved victory — so the grid didn’t matter, so long as they could mentally solve the puzzle and come up with the correct code word for the cryptex.

It’s a solid plan.

On the US side, Laurel pushed her teammates to solve the puzzle before their teammate was launched from the crossbow (to ensure they’d be able to open the cryptex on the first try), but Johnny Bananas had the same instincts as CT and pushed the idea of loading the grid quickly in order to launch their teammate and retrieve the cryptex.

Once the battle plans were in place, the teams then determined who would swim to which letters (in order to use their best swimmers to travel the farthest distance the fastest).

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As a puzzler, after one glance at the grid, I immediately tried to figure out the possible eight-letter answers in my head. Naturally. AQUA was the easiest, because SEAQUAKE was the only relatively common word that fit.

Though UK competitor Georgia obviously disagreed with me, as she was certain EVACUATE would fit.

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Similarly, HIJACKED was the only common word that would fit for JACK.

TACO was harder, because it took me a while to come up with CATACOMB as the answer. It’s a cool word, but not one that jumped out at me.

LORD was the most challenging, because SLUMLORD, OVERLORD, LANDLORD, and DRUGLORD all came to mind, although some seemed less likely due to unpleasant connotations. (Not only that, but my nerdy brain kept suggesting possibilities like TIMELORD, STARLORD, DARKLORD, HIGHLORD, STALLORD, etc.)

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With stronger swimmers on their side, the US team retrieved all of their letters before the UK team did, and according to plan, they simply filled the grid randomly in order to trigger their catapult, launching teammate Jordan into the water and toward the cryptex. They then began mentally reworking the grid to solve the puzzle.

(We couldn’t see all of the available letters, but teammate Paulie correctly determined that the top word was, in fact, OVERLORD.)

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The UK side, on the other hand, struggled to get all 16 letters back to their grid in a timely fashion, and then compounded this mistake by trying to fill in the grid properly, delaying the launch of their crossbow-loaded teammate.

While they tried to solve the puzzle (and failed), Jordan had already unlocked the US team’s cryptex and started swimming it back to his team’s platform.

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Finally, the UK team listened to CT and just filled the grid in order to launch their teammate Joss into the water, but by this point, Jordan was more than halfway to the US team’s platform with their cryptex.

Joss had barely reached the UK team’s cryptex when the US team unlocked theirs with the code word DEMISE.

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The US team made it two Challenge event wins in a row, and the UK team was sent off to choose one member of their team for possible elimination.

In short, the UK team was decimated in this challenge. They were outswam, outpuzzled, and outstrategized by the US team. Although they were behind at the start due to some of their slower swimmers, they would’ve had a better chance if they’d follow the US team’s lead and just gotten their crossbow teammate into the water sooner while they worked out the puzzle. But alas, it was not meant to be.

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If only they had a PuzzleNationer on their team, this could’ve all been avoided.

Although this wasn’t the most difficult puzzle-based event I’ve seen in previous editions of The Challenge, it was a nice variation and certainly kept the competitors on their toes. I look forward to seeing if there are more puzzly obstacles awaiting the two teams as the competition continues.


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Puzzles in Pop Culture: The Challenge: Champs Vs. Stars

One of the first reality TV shows to make an impact was MTV’s The Real World, which debuted back in 1992. A show wherein seven strangers would live together in a house and have their lives and interactions taped, it is credited with helping launch the modern reality TV genre.

In the decades since, one of the show’s longest-lasting spin-offs has been The Challenge, a competition show where former Real World alums and other reality show figures compete against each other in physical and mental games, both individually and as teams. There is also a social element to the show, as players form alliances, scheme against other competitors, and often vote out players at regular intervals.

As you might expect, puzzles have worked their way into The Challenge from time to time. Memory games, sliding tile puzzles, and variations on the Tower of Hanoi puzzle.

The most recent iteration of the show, The Challenge: Champs Vs. Stars, pits celebrity guests (athletes, reality stars, actors, etc.) against some of the top competitors from previous seasons of The Challenge. Each player earns money for a certain charity as they win challenges and outmaneuver their opponents.

At this point in the game, there were four teams of two remaining: the all-stars team of Louise and Casper, the all-champs team of CT and Tony, the star/champ team of Kailah and Drake, and the star/champ team of Wes and Robert.

In last week’s episode, as the four teams arrived, there was a puzzly surprise waiting for them: the Text Tile Challenge.

In teams of two, the competitors had to roll a giant crate across a length of beach — one player lifting and rolling the crate while their partner scrambled atop it to avoid falling to the ground — until they reached an empty grid.

An empty crossword grid, complete with clues. (Technically it’s a criss-cross, but hey, most non-puzzlers don’t know the distinction.)

The competitors then broke open their crates to retrieve lots and lots of letter tiles, which then had to be placed into the grid.

The teams had varying strategies. CT and Tony opted to just fill in words as fast as they could, choosing to ignore that other competitors could cheat by looking over at their board. (Kailah and Drake, in fact, did precisely that, stealing looks at everyone’s boards in order to make up time.)

Louise and Casper, on the other hand, laid out their tiles in the sand, spelling words out and eliminating tiles, but not making it as easy for other players to cheat off them.

The criss-cross itself was pretty underwhelming, consisting mostly of straightforward clues for contemporary slang and Internet terms, like NO FILTER, THIRSTY, WOKE, and SHADE.

Although Casper and Louise’s technique was good, and they were the first team to get their crate to the grid area, CT and Tony ended up completing their grid first, and achieving victory.

In the end, CT and Tony would choose Casper and Louise to go into elimination, and the remaining three teams voted Kailah and Drake to join them, meaning that Wes and Robert were safe, and made the finals alongside CT and Tony. The winner of Casper and Louise vs. Kailah and Drake would be the third and last team in the finals. The loser would go home.

Honestly, if the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is looking to beef up the level of competition, this might be a cool place to start. If nothing else, it would make for one heck of a pairs challenge.

Although this wasn’t the most difficult puzzle-based event I’ve seen in previous editions of The Challenge, it was a nice variation and certainly kept the competitors on their toes. I look forward to seeing if there are any puzzly obstacles awaiting the three teams that’ll be competing in the finale of The Challenge: Champs Vs. Stars.


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