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
Tropes involving riddles: