Created By: LordGro on August 16, 2013 Last Edited By: LordGro on August 25, 2013


A verbal puzzle that describes a thing or concept in an intentionally obscure way.

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A riddle is a verbal puzzle that describes a thing or a concept in circumlocutory language. It can be phrased as a question or a statement. Asking a riddle means to challenge the listeners to see through the veiled or "coded" description and uncover the riddle's true meaning, which means to "solve" the riddle.

A true riddle is neither of the following things:
  • A test of knowledge, as in a quiz.
  • A logical or mathematical problem.
  • A game of luck, where one can only guess the answer randomly.
  • A test of character or allegiance.
  • A trick question which has no correct answer.
Instead, a riddle is supposed to be a test of acuteness, mental versatility and ability to think outside of the box. A good riddle asks for something which the listeners do know; the difficulty is to detect what the riddle refers to from the hints that are given.

Three types of riddle can be distinguished by the "coding technique" used:

  • Straightforward: A factual, though possibly unconventional description of the wanted answer. Example:
"You hear my sound, you feel me when I move, but see me you never will." (Answer: The wind)

  • Enigma: Speaks of the solution in metaphorical and allegorical ways. Example:
"What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, three legs in the evening, and no legs at night?" (Answer: Man)

"I can run, but never walk, Often a murmur, never talk, I have a bed but never sleep, I have a mouth but never eat. What am I?"(Answer: A river)

Composite riddles may combine various types.

Riddles are a very old amusement and examples are known from all the world over. They are a typical genre of Oral Tradition, and may be composed in verse.

Compare Koan.

Tropes involving riddles:

Community Feedback Replies: 3
  • August 16, 2013
    A page for a genre of Oral Tradition / Literature. The answers to the examples are supposed to go in labelnotes, but the markup doesn't work in YKTTW.
  • August 17, 2013
    Somehow I'm thinking of Tom Marvolo. :P

    BTW is this going to be an index, or a supertrope?
  • August 18, 2013
    The only trope we have to which this is a supertrope is Riddle Of The Sphinx. Otherwise, it is a page that defines riddles in itself, like Nursery Rhyme does for nursery rhymes.

    Riddle Me This is the standard trope for when a riddle is used as a test or challenge in a work, but Riddle Me This doesn't actually talk about what a riddle is. This is where this page comes in.

    It won't be an index so long as we don't have pages for individual riddles, which I doubt we will have (Riddle Of The Sphinx is the exception). I guess we could collect examples of riddles here. But I don't think it necessarily needs examples.

    Edit: Any feedback? Or hats? Also, does somebody know a different example for "enigma" type riddles? The Riddle Of The Sphinx is somewhat dated.