Riddle Me This, Riddle Me That

It’s Amazing Words Wednesday, the day we enter the labyrinth of the English language, peek around the shrubbery, and see what we can find.

This past week I was perusing my Fun Encyclopedia, the one I previously mentioned in a post about word games. You’ve got to love a book published in 1940 with the subtitle “An All-Purpose Plan Book for Those Interested in Recreation for Clubs, Schools, Churches, and the Home.” This was my grandfather’s book which has found its way down to me, much to my ongoing delight.

RiddleI came across a section of riddles. You know, those wordplay conundrums like, “What’s black and white and red [read] all over?” A newspaper.

Riddles often make use of interesting wordplay to stump us or make us laugh. Sometimes the riddle uses a word that can be understood in more than one way, sometimes it’s a fresh way of looking at a word, and sometimes it’s just a silly observation about a word. You can see what I mean by looking at a few more riddles from the Fun Encyclopedia that you might, or might not have, heard.

  • What is the smallest room in the world? A mushroom.
  • Why wouldn’t mother let the doctors operate on father? Because she didn’t want them to open her male (mail).
  • What is it that you ought to keep after you have given it to someone else? A promise.
  • What is the longest word in the English language? Smiles, because there is a mile between the first and last letters.
  • What starts with a T, ends with a T, and is full of T? Teapot.
  • What asks no questions but requires a lot of answers? A door bell.
  • What is the oldest piece of furniture? The multiplication table.
  • What has four legs but cannot walk? A chair or a table.
  • When is a clock dangerous? When it strikes one.

Funology also offers a slew of riddles. Could you answer these?

  • What can you catch but not throw? A cold.
  • What has one eye but cannot see? A needle.
  • How many months have 28 days? All twelve of them.
  • What goes up a chimney down, but can’t go down a chimney up? An umbrella.
  • What travels around the world but stays in one spot? A stamp.

Some riddles are longer, more challenging, more outside-the-box. For instance, this classic riddle:

A young boy and his father are in a car accident.  The father dies at the scene. The boy is transported to the hospital and taken immediately into surgery, but the surgeon steps out of the operating room and says, “I can’t operate on this boy: He’s my son!” Who is the surgeon?

In previous years, this one tripped up plenty of people. It was featured in both All in the Family and The Cosby Show (with Clair stumping Cliff). But apparently, in today’s world, most children have no problem coming up with the correct answer: The surgeon is the boy’s mother.

Try out another one from Buzzle.com:

A magician was playing some smart tricks across the street. A boy approached him, and the man said, “I will just touch your forehead and write your actual name on this yellow paper. If I am wrong, then I will give you some of my magic stuff; otherwise, you have to give me $10.” The boy agreed, for he thought that no matter what name he writes down, he will deny it. But it was the boy who lost the bet. How is this possible? 

Did you guess? Were you stumped? Take the magician at his word:

The magician wrote “your actual name” on the piece of paper.

Riddles like these rely on how you tell them–the words chosen to relate the story, the order in which they are spoken, the set-up to lead you into a way of thinking that you must break out of to solve the puzzle.

Other riddles are less about the words and more about the circumstances (e.g., this Sherlock Holmes riddle). Although a word gal through-and-through, I am often perplexed by a good riddle. As soon as the answer is revealed, however, I feel like an idiot for not getting it sooner.

Riddles were a part of my childhood–not so much from friends and family, but from the villain of a campy superhero series. Indeed, this was one of my favorite memories of childhood:

The Riddler from Batman (Frank Gorshin)

I’ll leave off with some of The Riddler’s gems:

  • What do you call a sleeping bull? A bulldozer.
  • What does no one want to have, but no one wants to lose? A lawsuit.
  • How many sides has a circle? Two–inside and outside.
  • What has neither flesh, bone, nor nail, yet has four fingers and a thumb? A glove.
  • How do you divide seventeen apples among sixteen people? Make applesauce.
  • What kind of machine has ears? A train–it has engineers.

Yep, I ate that stuff up as a kid. I was ecstatic if I solved one before the Dynamic Duo. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen often.

Do you like riddles? What are your favorites? Do you get stumped easily?