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Riddling Sphinx
"Ha ha! Hey Sphinxie, I got yer riddle right here: What's hard in the morning, soft most of the day, and hard again all night?"
"I don't know, but I think you've got one in your pocketses!"

In Classical Mythology, Oedipus encountered a Sphinx and was, famously, forced to solve the Riddle of the Sphinx in order to pass. Ever since, it's been a tradition that all sphinxes ask riddles. So if you see a sphinx, be prepared for a game of Riddle Me This.

The classic Riddle of the Sphinx still appears occasionally, but most sphinxes will come up with their own new ones, since, let's be honest here, everyone knows the answer to the original.

Subtrope of Riddle Me This. Related to Only Smart People May Pass.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Fan Works 
  • Shadowchasers mentions several sphinxes.
    • The sphinx Athentia was a seer who gave advice to powerful individuals, but inflicted a "conundrum curse" upon them as a result, turning the recipient into a type of living riddle who could do nothing but try to solve it until he succeeded. Jamor Stormbringer challenged her to a game of riddles, offering his eternal servitude as a slave if he lost, if she would grant him immortality if he won. Too egotistical to believe she would lose, Athentia accepted, and the resulting contest lasted days. She missed one, but that was enough for Jamor to win. This was an important motivation for the villain in the original story, who was Athentia's daughter.
    • It is briefly mentioned that one sphinx cheated because the answer to her riddle was "Kill Me." The other sphinxes admired her for being so clever and wanted to use her riddle, but sphinxes are not allowed to copy riddles. However, one sphinx thought her trick was dishonorable and helped the Shadowchasers capture her.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • Mirrormask has gryphons and sphinxes, which are similar catlike creatures with human heads, but mixes up their properties. In the film, a gryphon guards the area known as Giants Orbiting, requiring Helena answer the classic Riddle (she succeeds by giving a literal answer) and stump him in return (she gives him something unsolvable and sneaks off while he's thinking about it). Meanwhile, the 'sphinxes' are ravenous beasts which speak seldom and pounce on anyone who seems vulnerable.

    Literature 
  • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry encounters a sphinx in the hedge maze and has to answer a riddle in order to pass by it safely. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them states this as the reason the sphinx is classed as a beast rather than a being as it only speaks in riddles and puzzles and reacts violently if given the wrong answer. (However, she does tell Harry that if he decides not to give an answer and just retreat, she won't stop him.) Sadly, this scene was not included in the movie version.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: When the half-bloods meet a sphinx in the Labyrinth in Battle of the Labyrinth, it tries to administer a multiple-choice standardized test, with mundane trivia questions. Annabeth, who was expecting a riddle that would test her cleverness, is not amused.
  • In Pyramids, a sphinx asks Pteppic the Riddle of the Sphinx. Pteppic nitpicks the metaphor and manages to leave the sphinx confused enough that he can make a quick getaway.
  • The Southern Oracle in The Neverending Story is protected by two sphinxes whose gazes trap a victim within their own mind until he answers every riddle in the world. All their victims die of thirst long before coming close to finishing. (They let some people by unharmed, but [1] no-one knows just what methods they have for determining who is worthy enough to pass; Engywook, who spent all his life studying them, cannot figure it out, and not for lack of trying.)
  • Referred to, without an actual sphinx, in A Song of Ice and Fire. Of Alleras, who is nicknamed "The Sphinx", Maester Aemon tells Samwell "The Sphinx is the riddle, not the riddler."
  • In one Skippyjon Jones story, the title character is asked this riddle by an Egyptian Sphinx parody called "The Finx":
    Whose ears are too big for his head?
    And who loves to go bounce on his bed?
    Who creeps on all fours,
    through his own closet door,
    straight into the Land of the Dead?
    • It's Skippyjon, AKA Skippito Friskito, himself. He coughs up a hairball and gets it right.
  • In the second Chronicles of Amber, Merlin runs into a sphinx. Similarly to the Discworld example, he is able to counter-riddle it and get away.
  • A sphinx drops by in A Fantasy Attraction, spending most of its time asking pointless riddles.
  • In Odgen Nash's poem "Fables Bullfinch Forgot: The Thirteenth Labor of Hercules", the Roman Gods declared that in order to prove himself worthy of being a god, Hercules had to defeat the Sphinx in a riddle contest.
  • Isadora, in Pact, is the daughter of the original sphinx. Where her mother preferred formal riddles, she enjoys framing them as simple questions that nevertheless demand a complex answer. If you're a smartass and answer "a man" when she asks who you are, though, she'll devour you.
  • Jean Cocteau's The Infernal Machine, a retelling of the legend of Oedipus, gives an Alternate Character Interpretation of the Theban Sphinx, where she is changed to a sympathetic character. She would have won the contest, as Oedipus cannot guess the answer to her riddle, but she tells him the answer, simply so she can end her life and be free of the curse that compels her to kill and also to make him love her. (Explaining why she leaps off the cliff later.) Unfortunately, he leaves without so much as saying thank you. The scene ends with Anubis taking her soul to Heaven.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is a standard theme for sphinxes in Magic: The Gathering:
    • The original sphinx, Petra Sphinx, had players guess the top card of their libraries. This same guessing game was also used for Conundrum Sphinx.
    • Sphinx of Uthuun gives your opponent choice of which cards to put into your hand.
    • Isperia the Inscrutable rewards you if you can correctly guess a card in your opponent's hand. Of course, since they have to reveal their hand if you guess wrong, the riddle is a lot easier the second time.
    • Sphinx Ambassador secretly chooses one of your opponent's creatures, and if they can't guess which one, you get to steal it.
    • Even sphinxes who don't have riddle-related gameplay will often reference riddles in their Flavor Text, because hey, that's what sphinxes do.
    • In the Test Of Metal novel, Tezzeret's attempts at solving riddles left by the mad sphinx Crucius are a major plot point.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • There are multiple subspecies of sphynx, of which the gynosphinx is the most like the Greek one. One supplement lists potential riddles for her to use. One riddle, which she uses when she's too hungry to play fair, has the answer "Kill me."
    • Module I3 Pharaoh. Inside the tomb of Amun-re the PCs can encounter an androsphinx who offers to play a Riddle Me This game with them. If they can answer one of his riddles he will answer a question from them about the tomb. Riddles he can ask include the Riddle of the Sphinx or a Knights and Knaves (Group A always tells the truth and Group B always lies) logic puzzle.
    • The gynosphinx is not present in the 4th Edition, but there are sphinxes with magical powers that make games of riddles more dangerous. A normal sphinx (presented as a guardian of tombs and sacred areas) is bound to ask a riddle and let intruders pass if they can answer it. However, if they answer wrong, the sphinx becomes stronger. (In game terms, it gains a temporary bonus to its attack rolls, defenses, one action point, and a second use of a powerful ability it can use to heal itself.)
    • The sphinx mystery is an even deadlier creature that is much like the gynosphinx (often challenging prey with riddles for fun instead of attacking outright). One powerful supernatural ability she has (called "Riddle Me This", appropriately) is a mild curse that causes mental damage to a victim if he doesn't at least try to answer her riddle once per round, and does not end until he tries to answer it. (If the victim gets help from an ally, the spell is broken, but he takes damage one last time.) The Game Master doesn't even need an actual riddle; the victim needs to make a History Skill check to solve the riddle. Note that while a wrong answer will end the curse, if a wrong answer is given by a victim who is under it, the sphinx mystery gains the ability to reuse a very powerful physical attack called Corrective Mauling; given what the usual penalty for a wrong answer is, this clearly gives her an advantage. (Also, a sphinx mystery is under no real obligation to let a victim go if he answers correctly; Riddle Me This is an At Will ability that it can even use while fighting, so in theory, it could ask riddles over and over again during combat. However, the source does say that it might not attack at all if a potential victim simply plays along an answers them.)
  • Pathfinder, being a derivative of Dungeons & Dragons, reuses the classic gynosphinx/androsphinx/criosphinx/hieracosphinx setup originally used the 2nd and 3rd editions of its parent. The biggest difference is that, rather than tying species to parentage, the four races are born specifically of different kinds of mating between a gynosphinx and any of the three males; couplings born of love or respect produce gynospinxes and androsphinxes, couplings born from selfish desires or simple carnal lust produce criosphinxes, and hieracospinxes are born from acts of hate and violence. (However, a gynosphinx is always fiercely protective of her cubs, no matter who the father was or how they were conceived.)
    • The gynosphinx is the iconic Grecian sphinx, being a lioness with eagle wings and the head of a woman.
    • The androsphinx is the Spear Counterpart to the gynosphinx, but far more intellectual and emotionally aloof; openly described as "prudish", they look down upon sex as messy, fleeting and incomparable to the true pleasures of mental stimulation. Unfortunately for them, the lustier gynosphinxes prefer androsphinxes as their mates and so seek androsphinxes out wherever they can. Not to mention androsphinxes are the most likely to father gynosphinxes in turn and thusly the survival of their species depends on their being brought to bed by gynosphinxes.
    • The crinosphinx is another Always Male sphinx variety, being a comparatively dim-witted beast with the head of a ram. They lust ceaselessly after gynosphinxes and, whilst they don't tell riddles themselves, they will trade knowledge of them in hopes of being able to use those rituals to help bribe or tempt a gynosphinx into submitting to their lusts. Despite their many flaws, they're the only male sphinx species that actually helps care for the cubs they father.
    • The hieracosphinx is the Always Chaotic Evil branch of the sphinx family (literally). With eagle-like heads that make them resemble griffons, they are the most brutal, stupid and foul of their kind, hated and reviled by all others. This is especially because their sole method of propagation is to trap, subdue and rape gynosphinxes.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • Ordeal of a Traveler forces your opponent's monsters to win a guessing game if they want to attack you; the art depicts a traveler being questioned by a sphinx.
    • In the video game Yu-Gi-Oh! World Championship 2008, the player has to solve Duel Puzzles, with the opponent being a monster called Guardian Sphinx.
    • Hazy Flame Sphynx is an essential component to the Hazy Flame archetype (where the usual goal is to summon the incredibly powerful Hazy Flame Basiltrice. One per turn, the player can use the Sphynx's effect to guess whether the top card of his deck is a Monster, Spell, or Trap; if he is correct, he discards it and can Special Summon a Fire Attribute monster from his Graveyard or hand.

    Theatre 

    Video Games 
  • Wario: Master of Disguise has a sphinx as the boss of the third level. It asks you a series of questions, and if you answer them wrong, it kills you.
  • Fantasy Quest: A Sphinx leaps into your path and asks you a riddle. Unless you're playing the original, console game, you get to choose your answer from a list, so this is one of the game's easiest portions.
  • In the Mystery Land board of Mario Party 2, Bowser is cast as the Bowser Sphinx (though he merely wears an Egyptian headdress and isn't winged or lionlike at all) who challenges all comers to identify a silhouette. The Superstar of the board identifies it easily.
  • One of the tasks in Shadowgate is to give a Sphinx three objects that answer three riddles he gives.
  • Chrono Cross has a Sphinx optional boss that you can beat through straight combat, or by correctly answering its riddles by hitting it with the proper color elements. The order of the answers to the riddles is the same as the order you need to use elements in the final battle to get the True Ending... not that there's any indication of this.
  • Featured as interactive map objects in Heroes of Might and Magic 2, where Heroes visiting a Sphinx must answer the riddle asked or disappear, as if they had been defeated in combat or dismissed by the player.

    Webcomics 
  • GastroPhobia features a sphinx who is repeatedly humiliated because she only knows the one riddle, and everyone, even the little kid, knows the answer already.
  • The party of Nodwick encounters a riddling sphinx in a dungeon. They bribe it to let them pass, even though Nodwick knew the answer.
    Nodwick: The answer [to the riddle] was "money", by the way.
    Yeagar: Weren't you paying attention? The answer is always money!
  • Phix in Wapsi Square sets the same riddle to both Monica and Shelly as a test to see if they're ready to fix the Calender Machine. They each give different answers and Phix rewards them both - without, however, saying that either answer is right.
  • The protagonist in Mixed Myth runs afoul of a sphinx early on in the story. The answer she gives sounds like it should be right, which causes the sphinx to realize that it's been so long since someone got it right that she's forgotten what the right answer is, so they'll have to head back to her home to check the answer (our heroine is wrong, but gets points for creativity, which lets her off the hook since she managed to endear herself to the sphinx on the journey).
  • Played with in Skin Deep. Michelle Jocasta, who is a Sphinx, once dressed up for Halloween as The Riddler, because she thinks she's being clever.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of Superfriends, the sphinx asked Batman and Robin, "What builds up castles and tears down mountains, makes some men blind and helps others to see?" The answer was "sand". The sphinx was a Sore Loser and attacked them anyway, but they quickly defeated it.
  • In Sabrina: The Animated Series, a sphinx asks Sabrina and Chloe the Riddle of the Sphinx. Chloe answers "Man." Unfortunately, as it turns out, there's a magical nine-legged creature that fits the riddle a bit more literally.
  • In an episode of Disney's Hercules, the Sphinx is a quizmaster, voiced by game show host Wink Martindale. His riddle was "What does a man do standing up, a woman sitting down, and a dog on three legs?" The answer is shake hands. note 
  • Kidd Video had the Pink Sphinx in one episode, who wakes up every thousand years and can grant a wish to whoever solves a riddle. The heroes intend to use the wish to escape to Earth, and while one of them succeeds in answering the riddle, he makes the mistake of trying to make two wishes at once. (The Sphinx is sort of a Literal Genie, and only grants the first one.)
  • In the four-part "Smurfquest" episode of The Smurfs, where Grandpa Smurf led Papa Smurf, Smurf, Hefty, Handy, Greedy, Sassette (who had stowed away) to the "four corners of the world" to find the components to recharge the Long Life Stone, their second stop was apparently Egypt, where they had to deal with a sphinx like this. Sassette was actually the one who guessed the answer to the creature's riddle which was "a shadow"; probably a good thing she tagged along. However, Gargamel, who was secretly following them, couldn't guess it, and found himself being chased by the now-angry sphinx.


Panthera AwesomeThis Index MeowsRight-Hand Cat
Riddle of the SphinxOlder Than FeudalismRight Way/Wrong Way Pair
Mad OracleCryptic ConversationTrickster Mentor

alternative title(s): Sphinxes Ask Riddles; Sphinxes Tell Riddles
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