''"What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, three legs in the evening, and no legs at night?"''

The classic riddle presented to Theatre/OedipusRex by [[RiddlingSphinx the Sphinx]] in Myth/GreekMythology. He was the first one to solve it--all the others who failed were eaten by the Sphinx--after which she threw herself down a chasm. This is [[OlderThanFeudalism one of the oldest]] {{Stock Puzzle}}s out there, going back to the Greek writer Apollodorus in the second century AD.

The answer? As a baby, a human goes about on all fours ("four legs in the morning"; morning = childhood), until he learns to walk, which he does so well into adulthood ("two legs in the afternoon"; afternoon = adulthood), until old age requires him to use a cane to support himself ("three legs in the evening", evening = old age), finally he dies ("no legs at night", night = death). So the answer is "a man".

Versions of the story itself was told by oral tradition [[OlderThanDirt long before Apollodorus]], and in the earliest versions, the exact riddle asked by the Sphinx was not specified by early tellers of the stories, and was not standardized as the one given in Apollodorus' version. (An additional part of the riddle, "The more legs it has the weaker it is", is usually omitted now.)

This trope is about the riddle; it may or may not be delivered by a sphinx. The more general trope for sphinxes that ask riddles is RiddlingSphinx.

Also see RiddleMeThis, TheseQuestionsThree.



[[folder:Anime & Manga]]
* Used by a riddle-based time-shifter in ''Anime/FlintTheTimeDetective''. The QuirkyMinibossSquad, stumped, tries to guess a chimpanzee.
* Sakon from ''Manga/KarakurizoushiAyatsuriSakon'' corrects a man who tells him about the Egyptian riddle of the sphinx.
* ''Anime/{{Ulysses 31}}'': "The Secret Of The Sphynx" had this. Strangely, most mythology used in the show was based on Greek mythology, and the Riddle is also Greek, but it was all done in an Egyptian setting.
* Parodied in ''Anime/FinalFantasyUnlimited'' episode 16, where the "correct" answer is the Hemoran bacterium. The person who answers "a human" gets it wrong. The riddle giver in that episode is cheating, so the person answering is always wrong. The only "true" correct answer was to point out that the riddler is cheating.
* Nine and Twelve present the riddle in ''Anime/TerrorInResonance'' as part of a bomb threat. The myth is directly referenced, being tied in with the group's name, Sphinx.

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* ''ComicStrip/{{Nero}}'': In ''De [=IJzeren=] Kolonel'' ("The Iron Colonel") Nero and a British colonel are stuck in an Egyptian tomb where the sphinx tells them they are not allowed to leave unless they solve his riddle, which is the famous one from Greek mythology. Nero finally solves it and they are allowed to leave.

[[folder:Comic Strips]]
* Spoofed, along with many other stock riddles, in ''ComicStrip/{{Sovisa}}'' when Alexi is confronted by a riddle-telling old man (a further spoof, in that the man states it's one of the few jobs a man of his age can hold down), Alexi antagonizes him by answering his riddles ''before he's finished telling them''. A section of the text is as follows:
-->'''Man:''' Listen well to your first ''fiendish'' riddle, foolish boy! "What walks on four legs in--"\\
'''Alexi:''' Man.\\
'''Man:''' What? What do you mean "man"?\\
'''Alexi:''' It's the answer, I've heard that riddle around a hojillion times.\\
-->'''Man:''' Well then get ready for round two! "As I was going to St. Ives, I--"\\
'''Alexi:''' One. One was going to St. Ives.\\
'''Man:''' OK, wise-ass, no more Mr. Nice Granddad. "I'm the beginning of Eterni--"\\
'''Alexi:''' The letter "E". You know, you could ''try'' to put some effort into this.\\
'''Man:''' Do I come to you at work and tell you how to do your job? No. Startin' to piss me off, boy. Right, "I occur once in a minute, tw--"\\
'''Alexi:''' The letter "''M''", I see we're stuck on ''letters'' now.\\
'''Man:''' All right. I see I'll have to pull out all the stops. "You come to two doors, guarded by a pair of men, one tells only the truth, wh--"\\
'''Alexi:''' [[KnightsAndKnaves The truth or lies guys riddle]]? Seriously? You know, I don't think you eve-- Ow! You kicked me!
* Subverted in ''ComicStrip/WhatsNewWithPhilAndDixie'', in which a sphinx insists that everybody knows the "four legs, two legs, three legs" riddle, so instead asks: "[[TongueTwister How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck would chuck wood]]?"
* ''ComicStrip/{{Curtis}}'' tries to make a bet with his dad with this riddle in one Sunday strip; either he doesn't know how old it is or discredits his dad's intelligence - or both - but he loses the bet.

[[folder:Films -- Live-Action]]
* Played with in ''Film/MirrorMask''. Helena, when asked this riddle, answers with the name of the performing dog from the circus in which she grew up. The sphinx tells her that the answer is man, and she responds...
-->'''Helena:''' Nuh-uh. I saw him. He was walking on four legs in the morning, two legs during the afternoon show, and he was limping on three in the evening because he hurt his paw! He can skateboard, too.

* Subverted in ''Literature/PercyJacksonAndTheOlympians'' during ''The Battle of the Labyrinth'', Percy and the gang meet the Sphinx who, like everything else in Greek mythology in this series, gets modernized. She now uses an SAT style automatic grader and asks random trivia questions. Annabeth, who was taking the quiz expecting to hear the original questions, takes this as an insult to her intelligence and refuses to take the quiz. [[WhatAnIdiot Guess who has to fight a Sphinx.]]
* Spoofed in the Literature/{{Discworld}} novel ''Discworld/{{Pyramids}}''. Pteppic encounters a Sphinx who asks him this riddle. He's unable to answer, but protests that the metaphor is overly simplistic, forcing it to give a more accurate version covering all possibilities. Pteppic answers this and walks off before the Sphinx remembers that it had already told him the answer.
* Parodied by John Sladek, in a story parodying ''Creator/CordwainerSmith''. "The answer is a coffee table. I fixed four legs to it in the morning but two legs fell off in the afternoon, and by the evening I'd only gotten around to replacing one of them."
* In Creator/GeneWolfe's ''Literature/SoldierOfTheMist'', Latro meets up with the same sphinx. He answers that it is a man going a journey: in the morning, he rides a horse, but when the horse is stolen, he walks, and then in the evening, he cuts himself a walking stick. This answer was also approved by the sphinx.
* In John Barnes's ''Literature/OneForTheMorningGlory'', the Riddling Beast at the edge of the goblin kingdom asks, "What goes on four legs in the morning, shaves the barber at noon, and crosses the road in the evening, and what does it have in its pockets?" Prince Amatus correctly answers "Myself and the things that are mine" because the answer to such riddles is always "myself" -- though the pockets nearly threw him. Later, they turn about the Riddling Beast so it guards the way ''out'' of the goblin kingdom -- which is good, because a goblin can not easily answer a riddle whose answer is "myself and the things that are mine."
* In the book ''[[Literature/KrimPyramid Pyramid Scheme]]'' the Sphinx can only eat someone who fails to answer her riddle. The heroes, of course, know the answer (although there's a certain amount of tension because while the guy being asked knows the answer, he doesn't know Ancient Greek....) After hearing the Sphinx complain about how hungry she is they offer to teach her a new riddle in exchange for her help. After they escape the myth world, the Sphinx gets a job as a greeter / tourist attraction at the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas. She asks guests riddles in exchange for all the food she can eat.
* In ''Literature/TheStressOfHerRegard'', it's revealed that Oedipus only answered correctly '''by accident''': its intended answer is "sentient life on Earth", and the "legs" are the atomic bonds in the skeletal structures of Earth's primordial silicon-boned, present calcium-boned, and future aluminum-boned inhabitants. (The former are the novel's [[OurVampiresAreDifferent vampires]], and the latter are presumably robots.) It's implied that Oedipus actually said "people", and the sphinx didn't grade his answer too harshly.
* In the [[Literature/TheChroniclesOfAmber Amber book]] ''Trumps of Doom'' Merlin briefly encounters a sphinx that asks him a riddle. He gives an answer which, while not the one the sphinx wanted, did meet the conditions of the riddle. Eventually after giving the sphinx a ridiculous one[[note]]about a frog in a cuisinart[[/note]] he just [[TakeAThirdOption threatens the sphinx until it agrees to let him go]].
* The riddle is the reason that the members of the Club in Creator/EstherFriesner's "The Wedding of Wylda Serene" accepted the sphinx that one of their members brought, figuring that everyone knew the answer, so no one would get eaten. Then she learned some new ones...
** In her novel ''Sphynxes Wild'', the sphinx--currently operating as a Greek heiress in Atlantic City--is the villain, and not until the hero finally answers her new riddle can she be defeated.
* Gollum tells a version of this riddle in ''Literature/TheHobbit''. Bilbo answers correctly.
* In a variant from ''[[Literature/MythAdventures Myth-Fortunes]]'', [[UnfortunateName Tweety]] the Sphinx asks Skeeve: "What is it that is dark in the morning, pale at noon, and gone by sunset?" [[spoiler: It's hair.]]
* In ''Literature/{{Pact}}'', Blake Thorburn encounters a Sphinx that specializes in asking questions (if you answer wrong, [[ImAHumanitarian she gets to eat you]]) and manages to evade several of her questions by having answers that are true but nonspecific, admitting to her later that a prospective answer to the question of "who are you?" had been "A man." As she's the daughter of the original, mythological RiddlingSphinx, she informs him that if he had answered that she would have ripped him apart for "being a smartass."
* In the ''Sabrina The Teenage Witch'' novelisation "Witch Way Did She Go", Sabrina and Salem get asked this question in an Other Realm maze. Sabrina is about to answer that it's a human - but Salem answers 'a Purple Spotted Nivek'. He also reminds Sabrina that she's not in the Mortal Realm any more.

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
* The Riddler includes this with several other riddles in his first appearance in the campy 60's version of ''Series/{{Batman}}''. While ''this'' one is easy, finding out the villain's true plan requires combining the answer with many other riddles, which form a larger riddle.
* ''Series/KyoryuSentaiZyuranger'' has this as one of the questions asked by Dora Sphinx- his victim, who'd answered every riddle correctly until then, didn't get this one.

[[folder:Pro Wrestling]]
* ''{{Wrestling/GLOW}}'''s Little Egypt brags in her rap "Even though I may be little/I'm the answer to the Sphinx's riddle". [[AccidentallyAccurate Technically she's right since she is a human after all]].

* The comedian Richard Herring says the answer shouldn't be a man because a stick isn't really a leg. The real answer should be [=Paul McCartney=] and his wives.
* An EmoPhilips routine postulates that the answer is a donkey, "who has four legs in the morning, then in the afternoon you chop two of them off, then in the evening you glue one back on again."

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* The classic sphinx riddle is the FlavorText of [[http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=1628 Petra Sphinx]] in ''TabletopGame/MagicTheGathering''. [[http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=175107 Sphinx Sovereign]] quotes one of the riddles from ''Literature/TheHobbit''.
* ''TabletopGame/DungeonsAndDragons'' Module I3 ''Pharaoh''. Inside the tomb of Amun-re the {{PC}}s can encounter an androshpinx who offers to play a RiddleMeThis game with them. If they can answer one of his riddles he will answer a question from them about the tomb. One of the riddles he can ask is this standard riddle.

* Mentioned in Music/PDQBach's ''Oedipus Tex'' (of course), where a "Bigfoot" plays the Sphinx's role and Oedipus plays that of his brother Rex.
* In ''Radio/CarTalk: TheMusical'', the riddle posed by the Wizard of Cahs is: "What goes on four wheels in the morning, two wheels in the afternoon, and four completely different wheels in the evening?" A scholar recognizes the riddle, and is the first to attempt an answer: a human first riding in a baby carriage, then on a bicycle, and finally in an automobile. The Wizard shows the scholar the TrapDoor. The protagonist offers a more original answer: his [[TheAllegedCar Alleged Car]] driving on its own wheels, then being dragged on its rear wheels by a tow truck, and finally loaded onto a flatbed truck to be scrapped. This isn't the answer the Wizard wanted either, but at least it's passable.
* Theatre/PeerGynt encounters the Egyptian Sphinx at Gizeh, and asks him the question "who are you". This is the same question he asked ''the boyg'' to acts prior. Before he sees the sphinx, the statue of Memnon has adviced him to "die, or solve the riddle of the song".

[[folder:Video Games]]
* ''VideoGame/BlackMirror'' has four books with one riddle each to hide [[spoiler: the coffin of Marcus Gordon]]. Interestingly, the actual riddle doesn't appear, though the riddles were obviously inspired by it in the way they are formulated. [[note]]"You can't see it, but hear it. It only speaks when spoken to." [[spoiler: Echo]] - "You buy it black, use it red and dispose it grey." [[spoiler: Coal]] - "You see it in the cold, but it usually is invisible to the eye. Gentle and light as a feather, but no creature can excist without it." [[spoiler: Breath]] - "The more you take, the more it grows." [[spoiler: Hole]][[/note]]
* Used in ''VideoGame/DevilMayCry 3'', where you were supposed to walk through the doorway with the right number of glowing eyes. Picking the wrong doorway led to a fight against several monsters and a PuzzleReset.
* The third-level boss of ''VideoGame/WarioMasterOfDisguise'' for the Nintendo DS has the player answering a sphinx's riddles, the answers being objects you saw during the level (including the "man" riddle). Miss a question and you die instantly.
* At the end of the Tombs of Amenti in ''ValkyrieProfile'', you are asked this riddle. The choices are "Humans", "Man", and "Homo Sapiens", so it's impossible to get it wrong.
* Referenced in gruesome fashion by the Riddler in ''VideoGame/BatmanArkhamAsylum'': he claims the answer is "a baby", because it walks around on four limbs, ''but it walks on only two if you cut off its legs and three if you give it a crutch.'' When asked how he could make such a sick joke, the Riddler calmly responds "It's not ''my'' baby."
** The Riddler also poses this riddle to Booster Gold in the cold open of an episode of ''WesternAnimation/BatmanTheBraveAndTheBold'' and gives Batman an electric shock when Booster can't answer it.
** In ''ComicBook/BatmanGothamAdventures'' #11, the Riddler robs two men (i.e., four legs) in the morning, one man in the afternoon, and a man with a cane in the evening. Batman realizes that this means the Riddler is hiding out in a building with a giant sphinx statue on the roof. [[spoiler:When Batman explains how he tracked him down, a shocked Riddler reveals that he had been making a conscious effort to commit a crime ''without'' leaving clues, and that the pattern of his crimes was entirely subconscious. The shaken villain surrenders and asks to be taken to Arkham, realizing for the first time that he might really need help.]]
* Averted in the ''Riddle Of The Sphinx'' video game, which has nothing to do with this old trope except the name.
* Shows up in the [[UnexpectedGameplayChange Unexpected Text Adventure]] section of ''VideoGame/{{NieR}}''.
* Played with in MonsterGirlQuest. As part of a trial to be [[EngagementChallenge eligible to marry]] a [[OurDragonsAreDifferent dragon]], a Sphinx gives this question, and it is lampshaded by Luka how almost everyone knows the answer to this question and that it's anticlimactic. [[spoiler:The riddle's true purpose is to illustrate that any monster and human romance will be a MayflyDecemberRomance and to make the trial taker aware of this fact and its implications.]]
* In ''VideoGame/HeroesOfMightAndMagic II'', there is a sphnix on the map "Sudden Siege" that asks this riddle.
* Once scenario for the Facebook flash game ''Ghost Tales'' features a direct equivalent to this riddle: "At dawn, it creeps. At midday, it sleeps. At night, it flies." The answer is expressed by clicking three statues so they transform into a caterpillar, a cocoon, and a butterfly.
* In ''[[VideoGame/{{Scribblenauts}} Scribblenauts Unlimited]]'', one of the Starite Shard quest in the Abjad Dunes is based on this riddle.

[[folder:Web Comics]]
* ''Webcomic/NerfNow'': If this question ever comes up in ''Series/{{Jeopardy}}'', [[VideoGame/CastlevaniaSymphonyOfTheNight Dracula's]] [[http://www.nerfnow.com/comic/67 got it covered.]]
* Parodied on [[http://gastrophobia.com/index.php?date=2009-03-06 these]] [[http://gastrophobia.com/index.php?date=2009-03-09 two]] pages of ''Webcomic/GastroPhobia'', where ''everyone'' knows the Sphinx's riddle. But they don't have to be so ''rude'' about it. It's to the point where she's now trying to think up a new riddle.
** She's briefly excited when someone incorrectly answers "Goblin"...but then she realizes the speaker is a goblin, and is forced to admit that it counts.
* [[http://www.viruscomix.com/page332.html Same riddle]], same characters, different outcome.
* Subverted in [[http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1308#comic this]] ''Webcomic/SaturdayMorningBreakfastCereal'' comic.
* ''Webcomic/{{Paranatural}}'' subverts this [[http://www.paranatural.net/index.php?id=118 here.]] Two characters are asked the riddle in question by a sphinx-like creature. They both immediately respond, "Man," having heard the riddle before, but are instead told, "Wrong! The answer is that guy."

[[folder: Web Original]]
* ''Podcast/WelcomeToNightVale'' gives this variation at the end of one episode.
--> What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs at evening? I don't know, but I have it trapped in my closet, send help.
* In ''Podcast/{{Hello From the Magic Tavern}}'', this is a common riddle for bridge trolls; when a guest asks it of Arnie, he naturally answers that it's a human, which is wrong, though Chunt and Usidore are impressed when Arnie explains his answer. The correct answer, as it happens, is a Garfunt, a creature native to Food which actually is born with four legs, sheds two of them in the afternoon, and grows a third at dusk.

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* Used particularly badly in one episode of ''WesternAnimation/ExtremeGhostbusters'', where a ghost modeled on the Sphinx asks this of its victims and renders those who answer incorrectly into helpless, mindless beings. This includes ''an entire chapter of UsefulNotes/{{Mensa}}'', the one group of people who you would expect to know the answer.
* Similarly, the opening of an episode of ''WesternAnimation/TheMummy: The Animated Series'' had the O'Connells, a family of {{Adventurer Archaeologist}}s/Egyptologists, oblivious of the answer to the riddle. You'd think at least Evie would know...
* Also parodied in ''WesternAnimation/SabrinaTheAnimatedSeries'': The sphinx gives the riddle, and Chloe answers, "Man." [[spoiler:However, the answer is the nine-legged... some creature that exists only in that world]].
* Used in the ''Franchise/MyLittlePony'' cartoon, in the episode "The Golden Horseshoes."
* Subverted in ''WesternAnimation/TheCritic'' episode Sherman of Arabia. Jay, lost in the desert with some soldiers during the Gulf War, comes across a muscular man who refuses to let them pass unless they answer the Riddle of the Sphinx. Except the 'riddles' are laughably easy ones you can read off of a popsicle stick (Or in this case, the bottom of a cup), and after every answer the guard insists BestOutOfInfinity.
-->'''Jay:''' Oh, what is the point of all this?!\\
'''Riddler:''' I'm just so lonely...
* Used in the ''WesternAnimation/TeenTitansGo'' episode "Crazy Day", where Raven is sucked into her own mind and faces Starfire as the Sphinx. Due to Starfire's less-than-tenuous grip on human culture and speech, HilarityEnsues. Raven is able to outwit Starfire by claiming that she doesn't even know what the answer is, causing her to blurt it out.
-->'''Sphinx Starfire:''' What is running and walks with a mouth, and talks, and has a head, and also, the bed?\\
'''Raven:''' [[FlatWhat ...what]].
* In ''WesternAnimation/TheAdventuresOfPussInBoots'', this is the first of five riddles the Sphinx asks of Puss. His answer of "Yellow" is remarked upon to be the most incorrect answer she's ever heard.
* ''WesternAnimation/BatmanTheBraveAndTheBold:'' One episode's ColdOpen has the Riddler asking Booster Gold this question. Booster Gold somehow concludes the answer is "a nine legged unicorn". Note that the Riddler was playing a deadly game show, and every time Booster got an answer wrong, Batman gets zapped with electricity.
* {{Parodied| Trope}} hilariously in an episode of ''WesternAnimation/{{Kaeloo}}'' where Mr. Cat dresses as a sphinx and decides to ask Quack Quack riddles:
-->'''Mr. Cat''': I have two arms in the morning, four ears in the afternoon and seven tentacles in the evening. Who am I?