Riddle – Concept, origin, characteristics and examples

We explain what a riddle is, its origin, characteristics and various examples. Also, how does it differ from a riddle.

Solving a puzzle requires reasoning, intuition, and imagination.

What is a riddle?

A riddle is a certain type of mental challenge, game, or pastime, in which someone is offered an enigma, formulated in a punctual and specific way, so that they can try to find their solution. This often requires reasoning, intuition, and imagination, often in unconventional ways (such as lateral thinking).

The word riddle comes from Latin certum (“True”, “certainty”) and the prefix to- (“toward”). These mental puzzles, in their different forms and appearances, have a very ancient presence in human history, either as a form of entertainment, or as a challenge imposed by divinities on mythological heroes.

In fact, one of the most famous and ancient riddles that are known comes from Greek Antiquity, specifically the myth of Oedipus, who on his way to Thebes came across a sphinx guarding the access to the city. The creature imposed a riddle on all passersby, and devoured all who failed in its resolution. The riddle was the following:

“What is the creature that walks on all fours in the morning, two at noon, and three at night?”

To which Oedipus replied: “Man, since he crawls in his childhood, he walks during his life and when he becomes old he leans on a cane to walk.” The myth says that, upon being defeated, the sphinx became so enraged that it threw itself off a cliff, and the city of Thebes was liberated, crowning Oedipus as its king.

On the other hand, puzzles can be of many types, from mathematical and logical, to linguistic and verbal, and can be expressed in many different ways. Some of them, rhymed and with a simple answer, constitute riddles.

Examples of riddles

Some examples of riddles with answers are:

  • How many apricots can a single person eat on an empty stomach?
    Answer: Only one, since from the first one the person will not be fasting.
  • A man and his young son have a traffic accident. Upon arriving at the hospital, the doctor in charge of operating on the little boy says: “I can’t do it, it’s about my son.” How is that possible?
    Answer: The doctor is a woman and it is the mother of the child.
  • An explorer gets four chests, in one of which there is a treasure. Upon inspecting them, note that on the lid of each chest there is an inscription:
    Chest 1: The treasure is not here.
    Chest 2: Chest 1 tells the truth.
    Chest 3: The treasure is not in chest 2.
    Chest 4: Chest 3 is empty.
    Only two of the inscriptions tell the truth. Where is the treasure?
    Answer: The treasure is in chest 1.
  • The neighbor on the eighth floor takes the elevator up to the room every day and takes the rest of the way up the stairs, except on days when it rains or when he shares the elevator. Why?
    Answer: The neighbor is very short and cannot reach the button for the eighth floor, except with the tip of the umbrella.
  • In one photo you can see three women in bathing suits: one cries, but is happy. The other two are sad, but they smile. Why?
    Answer: This is a beauty pageant. The winner cries with emotion, while the others smile to hide their disappointment.

Difference between riddles and riddles

While riddles are a type of riddle, generally riddles are riddles posed in verse, through word games and going to lyrics.

They are therefore considered a form of popular poetry, very common in basic and initial education, and in family or folk oral tradition. Riddles, on the other hand, are a much broader category, in which there is room for formal problems (logical and mathematical), philosophical enigmas, etc., posed in a narrative way.