A pickle of a puzzler!

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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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Alice in Wonderland edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I want to follow up on a classic unsolved riddle from Lewis Carroll.

Last week, I mentioned in my mondegreens and malaprops post that I often preferred the nonsensical, silly misheard lyrics of songs to the actual lyrics. And I received a private comment from author Mary Hammond, who likened my position on mondegreens to a topic that deeply interested her: Why is a raven like a writing-desk?

You see, many Carroll fans and scholars believe that the riddle is purposely nonsensical, taking Carroll’s word at face value when he claimed that the riddle was designed with no answer in mind. But Hammond believes that Carroll, wordsmith and gamesman that he was, hid the true answer to the riddle in plain sight.

Check out her solution to Carroll’s riddle, wonderfully summed up in this short YouTube clip:

Now, this is a Follow-Up Friday post not only because it calls back to my mondegreens post, but because over a year ago, I penned a post where I presented my own solution to Carroll’s riddle.

So I leave it up to you, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Did Mary crack Carroll’s riddle? Did I? Or is the riddle simply destined to baffle and delight more puzzlers and scholars in the years to come?

[Thank you, Mary, for reaching out and sharing your solution with the PN readership. Click here to check out Mary’s book The Mad Hatter: The Role of Mercury in the Life of Lewis Carroll, and be sure to follow her on Twitter (@Hg4words) for all things Hammond (and Carroll).]

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Carroll’s classic conundrum!

After my post on Brain Melters (the diabolical siblings of brain teasers), I’ve had riddles on the brain, one in particular.

There’s a famous riddle that compares a raven and a writing desk. It was first penned by the brilliant, controversial, and utterly ridiculous Lewis Carroll.

The Hatter asked Alice, “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”
“I give up,” Alice replied. “What’s the answer?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter.
Alice sighed wearily. “I think you might do something better with the time,” she said, “than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers.”

It was purposely devised as a riddle with no answer — prime Brain Melter territory — but that hasn’t stopped people from trying to solve it in various silly, pragmatic, and clever ways through the years.

A practical answer is “They both have legs”, but not only is that terribly boring, but it seems to abruptly ignore Carroll’s legacy of whimsy and logodaedaly.

(Come on, it wouldn’t be a truly Lewis Carroll-worthy post without some curious vocabulary. *smiles* And a pat on the back to those who didn’t have to look it up!)

Many people have incorporated assonance, rhyme, and wordplay into their solves. Here are some of the possible solutions people have conjured over the years:

–It is used to carry on work and work carrion.
–Because the raven has a secret aerie and the writing desk is a secretary.
–It understands its tails and quills would nevar [sic] work with the wrong end in front. (This is a variation on the answer Carroll eventually provided)

Carroll himself was quoted as saying that a raven is like a writing-desk “because it can produce very few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar [sic] put with the wrong end in front.”

Despite Carroll’s typically obtuse and curious response, several sources have stated that the correct answer is that “dark wing site” is an anagram for “a writing desk”.

Ignoring all of these possible solutions, I prefer the one I consider the most simple, the most clever, and the most sensible…

How is a raven like a writing desk? Poe wrote on both. =)

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