Created By: HorticulturistJuly 5, 2011 Last Edited By: ParadisesnakeAugust 20, 2013

Riddle Contest

Two characters formally battle each other in a contest to solve riddles.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Alternative name: Game Of Riddles
A kind of duel of wits in which two characters have a formal battle that tests the ability to solve riddles of one or both participants.

There are three ways to play a Game of Riddles:
  • The challenger poses riddles to the challenged
  • The challenged poses riddles to the challenger
  • Challenger and challenged pose riddles to each other alternately

The winner is whoever first asks a riddle the opponent cannot solve. Should somebody run out of riddles who is expected to ask one, the opponent wins. Also, it is usually an implied rule that the asker must know the answer to his own riddle.

While riddles in reality are only a game, Riddle Contests in fiction tend to be played over much higher stakes than is realistic, which may go up to riddle contests to the death.

Contrast Riddle Me This, wherein a single riddle is used as a challenge or test to be passed.

Examples:

Comic Books
  • Batman: The Riddler got into a riddle contest with The Question once, and ended up going mad from it. Question let him go free for answering his final philosophical question correctly.

Literature
  • In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins defeats Gollum in a riddle contest.
  • Maurauders of Gor: During a Fantasy Counterpart Culture version of a Thing Ivar Forkbeard enters a riddle-guessing contest, but loses.
  • Larry Niven and Steven Barnes' novel Dream Park. During the South Seas Treasure game the Lore Master, Chester Henderson, is affected by the deadly gaze of a magical snake. Several party members go to the New Guinean heaven to play a riddle game, with Henderson's life as the stakes.
  • A variation in the Septimus Heap book Queste. Jenna, Beetle, and Septimus arrive at the House of Foryx and play a riddle contest to be allowed inside.
  • The Dark Tower series mentions that riddle contests were a common event in Roland's childhood city of Gilead. In the third book, a riddle contest is held between Roland's ka-tet and Blaine the insane monorail. The "goose", or prize, is their lives.
  • In The Saga Of King Heidrek The Wise, Heidrek vows he will parole every offender against him if the latter asks a riddle which Heidrek cannot solve. Gestumblindi, who betrayed Heidrek, but sees no chance to win the riddle contest, sacrifices to Odin so that Odin assumes Gestumblindi's shape and takes on Heidrek's challenge.

Theatre
  • In the musical Floyd Collins, the ending of act I is "Riddle Song", in which Floyd and his brother homer trade riddles. In song.
  • In Siegfried by Richard Wagner, the Wanderer (who is actually Wotan in disguise) challenges Mime to a contest in which each stakes his head on answering three questions.

Video Games
  • In Planescape Torment, the Nameless One can wage a riddle contest against an undead in the Undead Nations.

Western Animation
  • In an episode of Arthur, Arthur is going on a TV gameshow called "RiddleQuest", a Jeopardy style show where the hosts asks riddles and the contestent has to buzz in to answer them. Arthur gets concerned that if he's too successful he'll have to stay on the show forever.

Real Life
  • Some renaissance fairs will feature riddle contests where participants try to beat the fair's designated riddler.

Community Feedback Replies: 19
  • July 5, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Maurauders of Gor: During a Fantasy Counterpart Culture version of a Thing Ivar Forkbeard enters a riddle-guessing contest, but loses.
  • July 5, 2011
    Horticulturist
    A Howard & Nester comic about Mega Man II had Nester challenging a robotic Howard built by Dr. Wily to a contest asking each other questions about the game. Nester wins after a long battle when, instead of a game question, he wonders aloud how to get out of Wily's Castle. The robot had never been outside of the castle, so it didn't know how, making Nester the winner despite Wily's protests.
  • July 6, 2011
    Horticulturist
    Literature
    • Larry Niven and Steven Barnes' novel Dream Park. During the South Seas Treasure game the Lore Master, Chester Henderson, is affected by the deadly gaze of a magical snake. Several party members go to the New Guinean heaven to play a riddle game, with Henderson's life as the stakes.
  • March 14, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    bump
  • March 14, 2012
    lebrel
    edit - nevermind.
  • March 14, 2012
    IridescentIndividual
    A variation in the Septimus Heap book Queste. Jenna, Beetle, and Septimus arrive at the House of Foryx and play a riddle contest to be allowed inside. [spoiler: The answers are all drawn on the map they used to get there, courtesy of Snorri.]
  • March 14, 2012
    Duncan
    In The Musical Floyd Collins, the ending of act I is "Riddle Song", in which Floyd and his brother homer trade riddles. In song.
  • March 15, 2012
    HaggisMcCrablice
    In the third Dark Tower book, a riddle contest is held between Roland's ka-tet and Blaine the insane monorail. The "goose", or prize, is their lives.

    The Riddler got into a riddle contest with The Question once, and ended up going mad from it. Question let him go free for answering his final philosophical question correctly.
  • March 15, 2012
    TrustBen
    The Hobbit example is probably the Trope Codifier.
  • March 15, 2012
    Shnakepup
    To add to the Dark Tower example: Riddle contests were a common event in Roland's childhood city of Gilead.

    Also, I want to say that some Real Life renaissance fairs will feature riddle contests where participants try to beat the fair's designated riddler.
  • April 17, 2012
    Prfnoff
    In Siegfried, the Wanderer (Wotan in disguise) challenges Mime to a contest in which each stakes his head on answering three questions.
  • January 27, 2013
    Catbert
    Bump
  • January 28, 2013
    Frank75
    More details about the Lay of Vafthrudnir would be interesting. For example: What was Odin's final question the giant couldn't solve?
  • August 17, 2013
    LordGro
    Since this is Up For Grabs, I'm reviving this with a new description. A few points to consider:
    • The former write-up defined this as a contest where the two opponents riddle each other alternately. But there are many instances where the riddling is one-way, and it is always the same character that poses the riddle and the other trying to solve them. I therefore introduced a three-variants distinction.
    • Some of the examples given are not true Riddle Contests, but Tests of Knowledge. I guess these should be treated as a related but different trope.

    I removed these exampls:
    A Howard & Nester comic about Mega Man II had Nester challenging a robotic Howard built by Dr. Wily to a contest asking each other questions about the game. Nester wins after a long battle when, instead of a game question, he wonders aloud how to get out of Wily's Castle. The robot had never been outside of the castle, so it didn't know how, making Nester the winner despite Wily's protests.
    A test of knowledge, not a riddle contest.
    This is the plot of the Lay of Vafthrudnir, from Norse mythology. Odin, disguised as Gagnrath, travels to the hall of Vafthrudnir and challenges the eponymous giant Vafthrudnir, wisest of the Jotuns, to a riddle contest. Vafthrudnir wagers his head against his guest's, and loses. This story, and particularly Odin's winning question, may have inspired the example from The Hobbit.
    Odin's and Vafthrudnir's contest is about knowledge, not about riddles.
    In the Book of Judges in the Bible, Samson wages a riddle contest against his Philistine in-laws. This one was to the death.
    There is only one riddle posed by Samson to the relatives of his bride, and the stake is not death, but thirty sets of fancy clothes. Sufficiently covered in Riddle Me This.
    It should be noted that riddle contests (not to the death) have been a traditional form of entertainment at Jewish feasts and celebrations at various points in history.
    Natter. Can someone confirm that this is true? If yes, it could go (with appropriate rewriting) to the Real Life folder.
  • August 17, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In an episode of Western Animation/Arthur Arthur is going on a TV gameshow called "RiddleQuest," a Jeopardy style show where the hosts asks riddles and the contestent has to buzz in to answer them. Arthur gets concerned that if he's too successful he'll have to stay on the show forever.
  • August 18, 2013
    LordGro
    Any more feedback? Specifically, should the main title be Riddle Contest or Game Of Riddles? And is the first and the second variant really different?
  • August 18, 2013
    kjnoren
    I think Riddle Contest is good, though I think the trope description should make clear that all types of knowledge (or wisdom) contests are fair game. Tropes Are Flexible, the wisdom contest is a very old trope, and the riddles are arguably a special case of them.
  • August 18, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    Linked The Dark Tower example to its own page.
  • August 20, 2013
    LordGro
    ^^ I thought about that, but I am somewhat scrupulous to file a (con)test of knowledge under the title Riddle Contest. Riddles are not about knowledge. Maybe Contest Of Wisdom is the appropriate umbrella term, although that isn't a very intuitive name. Everybody has an idea of how a Game Of Riddles (respectively Riddle Contest) goes, but a Contest Of Wisdom could be a lot of things. (For instance, something in the vein of Battle Of Wits, which is something pretty different from this trope.)

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable