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If be it your hubby,
wish you to see,
this haunting be-riddle
answer you'll me!
When Only Smart People May Pass
, a challenge is often given in the form of a riddle. The solution to said riddle is often, in itself, the means by which the characters may continue. (Unless the characters are Genre Savvy
, in which case it may turn into Only the Knowledgable May Pass
This sort of riddle game is sometimes also used for other purposes than determining whether someone may pass. For example, it may be for a reward of an item or information.
include Riddling Sphinx
(the tendency of sphinxes to do this), Riddle of the Sphinx
(a particular riddle that's very popular), These Questions Three
(combining this trope with the Rule of Three
Not to be confused with the comedy podcast Answer Me This
open/close all folders
Film - Live-Action
- The Director's cut of Legend has Gump ask Jack this riddle: What is a bell that never rings, yet its knell makes the angels sing? Answer:A bluebell. To hear it ring means that your life is at an end.
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail parodied this trope:
Bridge Keeper: What is your name?
Lancelot: My name is Sir Lancelot of Camelot.
Bridge Keeper: What is your quest?
Lancelot: To seek the Holy Grail.
Bridge Keeper: What is your favourite colour?
Bridge Keeper: Right, off you go.
Bridge Keeper: What is the capital of Assyria?
Robin: Wh- I don't know that! *Tossed into the chasm below*
- The St. Ives Puzzle was used by a villain this way in Die Hard with a Vengeance. The hero got the right answer, but not within the time limit; fortunately, there was no bomb because the villain did not say "Simon Says".
- In The Hobbit Gollum challenged Bilbo to a riddle contest. Famously, Bilbo's final "riddle" is actually a question: "What have I got in my pocket?" Gollum protests that it shouldn't count, but goes for it anyway (demanding three guesses); the book itself wonders if it's fair, concluding that since Gollum tried to guess the answer anyway, it passes. Also, he demands three guesses but then guesses four things. What did Bilbo have in his pocket? The Ring.
- Then a subversion in The Lord of the Rings, where the Fellowship thinks this is the way to open the door to the mines of Moria, but it turns out they're seriously overthinking it.
- In Larry Niven and Steven Barnes' novel Dream Park, one of the PCs must answer a series of riddles to save the party.
- Harry Potter
- The entrance to the Ravenclaw common room, unlike those of the other Houses, requires students to answer a riddle rather than give a password to enter.
- In Goblet of Fire, Harry encounters a sphinx in the final maze and manages to solve its riddle (which is a simple word puzzle rather than the Riddle of the Sphinx).
- The key to unlock the way into (or perhaps it was out of, it's been a while since the source if this reference read it) a secret tunnel in the tenth A Series of Unfortunate Events novel, The Slippery Slope.
- Blaine, the Ax-Crazy monorail from The Dark Tower, challenged his passengers to a riddle contest. They had to win or else he would kill them. Subverted when the heroes win by asking it nonsense jokes that fry its brain.
- In The Last Watch, Merlin left a riddle to any others who sought the Crown of All Things.
- An extreme version of this trope appeared in the original novel version of The Neverending Story when Atreyu came to the first of the three gates barring him from the Oracle Uyulala, which was a pair of sphinx-like statues that sat facing each other. The gnome researcher Engywook explained that if the sphinxes opened their eyes while someone passed between them, they would telepathically bombard the passer by with all the riddles in existence, which would paralyze the passer until they solved them all- in other words until they died. Rather than solving the riddles, the only way to pass the gate was to hope the sphinxes didn't open their eyes while you passed. This was simplified in the movie to just shooting energy bolts at the unlucky victim.
- Doubly Subverted in Poison, the titular heroine bluffs her way into a criminal's hideout in order to get information on how to access the world of the Fae. The criminal, Lamprey, asks her a riddle, which Poison objects to; she has enough money to pay for the information and that way they both benefit. She notes that the encounter is playing out like one of the old stories she'd been told as a child. Even Lamprey doesn't seem to have any other reason to ask her a riddle. She ends up giving him the answer anyway, and he gives her the information, leaving her highly suspicious about the tropic nature of the encounter.
- In John Barnes's One for the Morning Glory, the Riddling Beast has a riddle for all who would enter the goblins' lands, and Amatus answers that it is himself and the things that are his, because the answer is always "yourself" in such riddles — and it added "And what has it got in its pockets?" After they escape, they turn the Beast about, which will keep the goblins in, because they can not easily answer a question the answer to which is "yourself."
- In the gamebook Blade of the Guillotine, set during the French Revolution, the protagonist learns that the MacGuffin is in a garden where a plant with underground roots is feeding the hearts and souls of the nation. It means that the MacGuffin is, well, buried in a potato garden. If the player tries to be smart, reads the riddle as a metaphor and visits the National Convention, he gets in trouble.
Live Action TV
- One of the tests to find the Holy Grail in Stargate SG-1 was to answer a series of riddles.
- The whole quest was basically a giant riddle, since they had to figure out the instructions for each individual test plus the general instructions for the quest.
- So Weird had a variation that substituted trivia questions for riddles and instead of answering correctly to pass, the characters had to answer correctly to survive. (An incorrect answer would result in the character being turned into an eggplant.) The monsters of the week were very sneaky and would con people into playing without realizing it. (By asking a seemingly innocent question and then changing the person when they didn't know the answer, even though the person hadn't actually agreed to the game.) Fi ends up having to play the game in order to save her friends and family.
- In the Merlin episode "The Dark Tower", Merlin becomes exasperated with Queen Mab speaking in riddles so she switches to speaking in rhyme. In this case, her riddles explained how to escape the impenetrable forest and her rhyme was a dark prophecy.
Mythology and Religion
- The Riddle of the Sphinx, a trope in its own right, is Older Than Feudalism. The first author to mention it is Apollodorus in the 2nd century CE.
- Riddles are an important part of Norse Mythology, and in particular Odin is a fan of riddle games to the DEATH. This is also the inspiration for the riddle battle in The Hobbit between Gollum and Bilbo, down to the unanswerable question.
- In the biblical story of Samson and Delilah, Samson challenges his wedding guests with a bet on the riddle, "Out of the eater came something to eat / Out of the strong came something sweet." The guests aren't able to guess it, so they resort to cheating by pressuring his wife to extract the answer from him. Samson doesn't take this well at all. (The answer is that Samson killed a lion and discovered that bees had made honey in its carcass.)
- Call of Cthulhu supplement Curse of the Chthonians, adventure "The City Without A Name". The investigators must calculate the five numbers of Cthulhu using the occult science of Gematria in order to enter, use and escape from a special chamber.
- Quite a few in Dungeons & Dragons. For example, in the adventure "White Plume Mountain":
- The party must answer a riddle (asked by an actual sphinx) to get past a Wall of Force.
- The PCs must figure out which of five numbers (5, 7, 9, 11 and 13) didn't belong with the others 9, which isn't a prime number or be attacked by flesh golems.
- Exile II has a dungeon that is supposed to test your mind. In addition to several puzzles are many riddles.
- Professor Layton; regularly lampshaded with Layton ineffectually protesting that he has other things to do other than solve riddles. Ineffectually, as he still has to solve the damn things.
- Nelson Tethers, like Layton, has puzzle his way past all sorts of challenges. In Tethers' case, the reasons for riddling are a lot less funny than Layton's.
- Spyro: Year of the Dragon featured a level called Haunted Tombs, in which the dogs down there would make you solve a riddle before passing certain points or doing challenges.
- Might and Magic: Escaton, the Big Bad of VIII actually has a very good reason for giving you riddles to solve: it allows him to give you information on what to do to stop him without technically giving you information on what to do to stop him (such nuances become important when you really don't want to do something, but are forced by your programming to continue doing it and not deliberately help stop it).
- One optional mission in Privateer 2 involves using math to identify the nav point you need to go to, to complete the mission.
- On two occasions in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Mario and his party meet a Thwomp who asks them a series of questions related to what has previously happened in the game. If the player answers them all correctly, he avoids a rather tough battle. The last question in each case can be the trickiest: "What number question is this?" Harder than you think because you probably won't be keeping track.
- Baldur's Gate 2 throws these at you by the bucket load, sometimes in a quest, sometimes to get started on a quest.
- Appears twice in Dragon Age: Origins: a set of three in the Mage origin story, and a set of 10 as part of the gauntlet protecting the Sacred Ashes. The second set particularly fits the trope, because the answer to each ghost's riddle is also symbolic of the part they played in the history of the Ashes. Piecing together the history beforehand helps you figure out the riddle, and the ghosts' spiel lets you better understand the quest itself and which of its outcomes is the good/bad one.
- When Alistair asks Sten what he did to pass the time during his two week stay in his cage, Sten replies that he would pose riddles to passing travelers and offer them riches in reward. Alistair asks if he really did this, and Sten, being among the resident Deadpan Snarkers, replies with a flat no.
- In Dragon Age II, Isabela asks Hawke for advice on how to convince her archenemy's second-in-command to give away his boss's location. Her final suggestion is to challenge him to a riddle game, and make, "Where is your boss?" one of the riddles.
- In Planescape: Torment the witch Ravel presents travelers with the question "What can change the nature of a man?" Allegedly, she grants wishes to those who get the answer right, and if they got it wrong she killed them. Subverted harshly because she's lying. She kills everyone whatever they answer, as she only cared about the Player Character's answer.
- The answer he originally gave was "regret", but he later says that the answer really depended on who was being asked, and that there were many possible answers that were legit.
- Bookworm Adventures has a boss battle with the Sphinx, who asks Lex riddles. Solving them — i.e. spelling the correct answer — empties her life bar immediately, stripping her of one chance to survive. This isn't required, however, as she can be defeated the regular way.
- Planetarium has three puzzles in each of its twelve parts, and one of them is always in the form of a riddle. You're actually not required to solve them to proceed, as the next part of the game-story automatically opens after one week, but the riddles' answers are an integral part of the Major Puzzle.
- An important Plot Coupon in Ultima V is guarded by a Daemon who will ask you a riddle. Get it wrong, you'll have to fight him. Get it right, you'll have to fight him anyway, because "never trust a daemon."
- You must solve a Sphinx's riddle in Fantasy Quest. The modern day port of the game uses a mouse rather than typed commands, simplifying this considerably.
- In The Elder Scrolls: Arena, the player generally had to get through several riddles to access each piece of the Staff of Chaos. They weren't particularly hard, but they weren't easy, either (not least because, unlike in many games, you had to type in the answer rather than select it from a list).
- In King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, the Gate in the Land of the Dead will eat Alexander unless he can solve the following riddle. (The solution isn't impossible to figure out from the question, but it appears in-game on a page torn out from a book.)
My first is foremost legally,
My second circles outwardly,
My third leads all in victory,
My fourth twice ends a nominee,
My whole is this gate's only key.
- Occurs in this The Adventures of Dr. McNinja strip, and is beautifully subverted in the next one.
- Sluggy Freelance: Played with during the Stormbreaker Saga with the Gatekeeper of Yffi.
- Wonderella knows how to deal with this.
- Inconsequentia's sphinx Trivia is trying to come up with a new riddle. The old one (viz. the classic Riddle of the Sphinx) was so obvious even Phobia saw it coming (she was just letting Trivia finish to be polite, which Gastro has yet to learn).
- Subverted in the November 12, 2003 strip of Nodwick where the party bribes the sphinx to let them pass. As Nodwick points out, the answer was (ironically, or perhaps not so much) "money".
- Subverted in Subnormality. The sphinx meets Oedipus' mothernote . When she learns who she's talking to, the sphinx has a massive flipout about which one of them is considered the monster, and makes Oedipus' mother take her place.
- A subversion in The Order of the Stick. First, there's Haley's famous solution to the "two paths, one honest man, one liar, one question" riddle. The Test of the Mind.
- In xkcd, the classic "Knights and Knaves" puzzle is sent up/parodied where there's three guards. One only tells the truth, one only lies, and one stabs people who ask tricky questions.
- In Rusty and Co., the Bottle Fairy is too drunk to remember her riddle.