A Stock Phrase typically used to describe something that is immensely puzzling to figure out or extraordinarily complex to fully understand, often relying on hyperbole and, occasionally, wit and sarcasm.
The phrase is open to great interpretation and variation. Its three distinct-yet-related nouns allow for a variety of setups and gags related to The Triple and dependent on the Rule of Three. Frequently, the last item of the phrase is changed to something completely different and irrelevant to mystery for Rule of Funny, and the exact order of what's wrapped and inside what varies with almost every separate occasion the phrase is evoked. Sometimes, one of the three parts may be dropped for gags and line deliveries that require a faster pacing; conversely, additional clauses can be added for greater exaggeration.
The trope name originates from a statement made by Sir Winston Churchill in 1939 about what role The Soviet Union might play in World War II:
Characters and things described by this turn of phrase may be incorporating a Multilayer Fašade.
Not to be confused with Riddle for the Ages.
- Budget Direct insurance had a parody of the "eccentric genius detective who gets results" being called in to investigate some bizarre happenings, not least being why the victims would pay so much for their life insurance.
Da Chief: Why would anyone throw their money away like that?
Detective: It's a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a conundrum, lost in a Scotch mist.
The Narrator: It's a mystery why anyone would pay more for insurance. Get award-winning cover for less: Budget Direct Insurance.
- An article from January 2008 in The New York Times that explains why fortune cookies are absent from Chinese restaurants in China was titled "Solving a Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside a Cookie."
- In the story "A Tree Grows in Ed" from a comic book adaptation of Ed, Edd n Eddy, the Eds are wondering how a pair of shoes went up to a communication cable. Ed calls it "A riddle wrapped in an egg roll, sitting next to a fortune cookie."
- In The Amazing Spider-Man #26, the narrator asks, "Can Spider-Man solve this dark riddle, cloaked within a grim puzzle, hidden beneath the shadows of a deadly enigma?"
- The Riddler himself is an example of this—his entire identity (Mr. E. Nygma) is a pun on the phrase.
- At one point in the Homestuck fanfic Moirallegiance Is Science, Vriska is described in this manner.
You're complicated. You're like a puzzle, wrapped in a mystery, sealed with obscurity, and shipped through the WTF postal service. That's just the package you come in.
- In I Must Be Going, Dorian informs Solas that "You are an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in no shoes."
- In Rocketship Voyager, the crew are puzzling over a Big Dumb Object that doesn't spin to produce gravity, in orbit around a previously unencountered phenomenon known as a black star. Captain Janeway describes it as "a riddle of a space station, orbiting an enigma."
- i'm not a riddle wrapped in a mystery, i'm you wrapped in blood is the title of an Arrow Tommy/Thea fanfic by kwritten.
- The Rigel Black Chronicles: Harry baffles her friends and teachers when she's being "Rigel Black", with her words and actions not quite adding up with their observations about "him". However, it's actually when Professor Snape meets her in her true identity that he specifically thinks this about her.
The last time Severus Snape had seen Harriet Potter, the stubborn girl had been an enigma wrapped in a mystery, covered again in a glaringly obvious white sheet.
- In Monsters vs. Aliens, General Monger refers to the top-secret prison Susan is taken to as "an X-File, wrapped in a cover-up, and deep-fried in paranoid conspiracy."
- In Oliver Stone's film JFK, David Ferrie refers to the Kennedy Assassination as "a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma" when trying to convince Jim Garrison to drop his investigation during a paranoia-fueled rant.
Ferrie: The fucking shooters don't even know!
- In Holy Flying Circus, the character Alan Dick uses the phrase "he's a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a shit" to describe Malcolm Muggeridge's unpredictability.
- In Halloween: Resurrection, Freddie (Busta Rhymes) hypes up the premise of his reality television show filmed inside the old Myers residence as "a mystery wrapped up inside of a riddle inside of an enigma."
- In The Fifth Elephant, Lord Vetinari describes Uberwald as "a mystery inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma." Sergeant Colon misinterprets this and later refers to it as "a misery wrapped in an enema."
- In Men at Arms, the clowns ask Colon to search for their late compatriot's real nose, despite the fact that he had one. Vimes, reading the report, reflects that "the whole nose business looked like a conundrum wrapped up in an enigma, or at least in Sergeant Colon's handwriting, which was pretty much the same thing".
- From Tiassa, two guardsmen conversing, as rendered by Paarfi of Roundwood:
"An Easterner with an Imperial Title!"
"Well," said Nill, "this is an enigma wrapped in, ah..."
- In Heat Rises, Jameson Rook claims, "What can I say? I'm an enigma inside a conundrum inside a condom."
- Used by Verin Sedai in The Wheel of Time (namely, in The Dragon Reborn): "Name hidden within name shrouded by name. Secret buried within secret cloaked by secret."
- In one episode of Seinfeld, Elaine and Jerry get into a discussion about the nature of Newman.
Elaine: Maybe he's an enigma—a mystery wrapped in a riddle.
Jerry: He's a mystery wrapped in a Twinkie.
- The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Riddles" sees The Doctor refer to the Vulcan brain as "a puzzle wrapped inside an enigma housed inside a cranium."
- In the Supernatural episode "Free To Be You And Me," when Sam takes a 10-Minute Retirement and tries to live a "normal" life, a girl curious to learn about Sam's past but at a loss of words to describe his peculiarity gives Sam the opportunity to quip that he's "a riddle wrapped inside an enigma wrapped inside a taco."
- On Everybody Loves Raymond, Robert once described himself as "an enigma wrapped in a mystery." Ray promptly replied that Robert was more of "an idiot wrapped in a moron."
- On Eureka, when the characters are trying to shut down an extremely powerful Death Ray Doomsday Device in the episode "Dr. Nobel," Henry calls the weapon "a riddle inside an enigma wrapped in ten inches of titanium alloy."
- On Homicide: Life on the Street, when Munch and Kellerman work on a case involving a suicide jumper killed by a stray shotgun blast on the way down from a tall building, Munch describes it as "a riddle, surrounded by a mystery, wrapped inside an enigma, and stuffed inside a body bag."
- On NewsRadio, Jimmy James once referred to himself, saying:
I am a cipher—a cipher, wrapped in an enigma, and smothered in secret sauce.
- A male-to-female transsexual Liz befriends on the first season of Nip/Tuck is called "a conundrum wrapped in a riddle."
- On One Tree Hill, Lucas once observes that despite Peyton's desire to express herself through her art, she doesn't want anyone to know it's her. Peyton responds to this, "I'm just a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a bitch," but Lucas sees something else: A troubled artist.
- Shawn on Psych once spoke of Juliet as being "an enigma wrapped in a little blonde riddle."
- In an early episode of Will & Grace:
Grace: *to Will* You know, I thought I knew everything about you. But you're a mystery. Wrapped in a riddle. Surrounded by enigma. Growing boobies.
- When Stephen Colbert uncovered "lost footage" from an interview with Bill O'Reilly on The Colbert Report, Stephen introduced it as "a conundrum wrapped in a riddle covered with a spicy enigma sauce."
- On NCIS, Tony once refers to Abby as "A paradox wrapped in an oxymoron, smothered in contradictions in terms."
- On Andromeda, Seamus calls Trance "an enigma wrapped in a riddle with a tail in the middle."
- The X-Files episode "Patient X" contains a variant on the trope phrasing. Agent Mulder, who has grown skeptical of the existence of extraterrestrials but, instead, believing the alien conspiracy to be a lie purported by the military to hide a different and all more sinister scheme, describes his belief in "a conspiracy wrapped in a plot inside a government agenda."
- On Human Target, Chance once told Winston, "You're like a... mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in... cashmere."
- On the penultimate episode of Burn Notice's second season, Victor calls Michael "an enigma wrapped in a schizophrenic." (Michael had taken advantage of Victor spying on him to help sell his cover ID to a mark, which involved gunfire.)
- In The Pilot for the Witchblade television series, after the titular artifact gauntlet bonds with Sara, she has the following exchange with Kenneth about what the artifact is.
Sara: What is this thing? What is the Witchblade?
Kenneth: A mystery, wrapped in a riddle, and cloaked in a conundrum.
Sara: That doesn't help very much.
- Mozzie in White Collar sometimes describes himself as this.
- Doctor Who:
- In "A Nightmare in Silver," the Doctor refers to Clara as "a mystery wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt that's just a little bit too... tight."
- In a writing competition where the contestants had to come up with a description of Matt Smith's Doctor In the Style of Terrance Dicks, the winning entry was the following:
Ian Hewett: A slim mismatched jigsaw of a man, paintbrush hair atop a young face with ancient eyes, an enigma wrapped in a bow tie.
- And this runner-up:
sammorgan 11: He looked like an alien crammed into the body of a human who had been crammed into the clothes of a maths teacher.
- In Elementary, Sherlock Holmes' description of Moriarty from the episode "The Diabolical Kind".
Sherlock: The woman is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma I've had sex with. I would be lying if I said I was the strongest assessor of her motives at this point.
- In an episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun, Dick describes an imagined conspiracy as "a riddle wrapped around an enigma fried up in a conundrum with Chinese mustard dipping sauce".
- A segment of the "La Leyenda del Tio la Vara" series of sketches from La Hora De Jose Mota had Father Tornices saying the trope name word for word.
- Lucifer describes Ella as "an enigma wrapped in a hoodie under a jaunty ponytail."
- In Once Upon a Time, Emma describes newcomer August as "a typewriter wrapped in an enigma wrapped in stubble".
- On Degrassi: The Next Generation, when hanging out with Imogen, Clare describes Eli with the trope name. Imogen comments that he sounds like a burrito.
- One white-paper front cover for MAD greatly exaggerated this trope for laughs.
- The song '"For You" by Barenaked Ladies:
An enigma wrapped in a mystery,"
Or a fool consumed by fear.
- Werewolf: The Apocalypse: Both the Uktena (Magical Native Americans) and the Stargazers (ascetic Far Eastern monks) have been described as such.
- Valve's description of The Spy on the Team Fortress 2 website begins, "He is a puzzle, wrapped in an enigma, shrouded in riddles, lovingly sprinkled with intrigue, express mailed to Mystery, Alaska..."
- Mario Kart: Double Dash!!: Wario's official profile states that he is "a puzzle, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in yellow."
- Minecraft: One of the title screen quips that appears after starting up the game is "A riddle wrapped in a mystery!"
- Advance Wars: Sturm's description is "A riddle within a shadow, revealing nothing."
- Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction: Zephyr describes the Lombax Secret as "a cipher, wrapped in an enigma, smothered in super secret sauce!"
- The Elder Scrolls
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: The Dragonborn expansion has Neloth sending you on a Fetch Quest for a Black Book that he believes he has located:
Neloth: Now, it's only a rumor of a whisper of a conjecture...
- The Elder Scrolls Online: In the Mages Guild questline, Sheogorath describes the trials needed to get his books as "a contest, wrapped in a mystery, with an enigma glaze."
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: The Dragonborn expansion has Neloth sending you on a Fetch Quest for a Black Book that he believes he has located:
- Brawlhalla: The description for the legend of Orion is "A riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in Ivaldic battle armor."
- In Questionable Content, when someone references Raven's indecipherable status (Is she just a Ditz given to being unusually insightful, or a Genius Ditz with Obfuscating Stupidity?), Raven responds, "I'm a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in an AWESOME rack!"
- In Narbonic, when Helen explains to Artie that she hopes sparing Dave what she went through will make up for the terrible things she's done, before adding "And then I can destroy those fools at the Symposium and RULE THE WORLD!", Artie comments "You're just a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a peculiar sense of ethics, aren't you?"
- The Director's Cut commentary says that while there's a backstory explaining why Helen is the way she is, Mell is "a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a very short skirt".
- In Homestuck, WV comments to himself that women are "a riddle draped in a mystery wrapped in post-apocalyptic shroudwear."
- In one Weebl & Bob short, Bob describes the flat-packed pie they bought from Piekia as "a conundrum wrapped in an enigma wrapped in pastry, wrapped in a lie."
- Bunchies, the memetic four-legged green llama-like creature, was described on its official website (now defunct) as "a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a glossy green skin."
- In WrestleCrap's induction for TNA's Last Rites Match from 2007, on the matter of Sting describing death as a "choice" where one of those choices is, in fact, life, RD calls the meaning and exact point of Sting's remarks a "riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a crummy TNA storyline."
- In one of his reviews of nostalgic commercials, The Nostalgia Critic describes Canada as "like a riddle inside an enigma inside a please and thank you."
- The Simpsons episode "Lisa's Date With Density" sees Lisa describe Nelson as "a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a vest."
- On The Penguins of Madagascar, Skipper calls Alice "a riddle, wrapped in mystery, and dunked in nasty sauce" in the cartoon short "All Choked Up."
- Parodied in Histeria!. Winston Churchill is shown saying the trope quote, and then we zoom out to reveal that he's behind the counter of a fast food restaurant.
- In The Tick he says something is "a riddle, wrapped in an enigma and smothered in secret sauce"
- In Duck Dodgers, The Eager Young Space Cadet describes the title character this way.
Cadet: He's so complicated, l-l-l-like a mystery wrapped in a r-r-r-riddle inside an enigma.
Manobrain: I'd say he's more like a halfwit wrapped in a hot dog bun inside a coloring book.
- In one My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode, Rainbow Dash parodies this phrase to describe Pinkie's sister Maud Pie, whose only outstanding characteristic seems to be her obsession with rocks.
Rainbow: That pony is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an igneous.
Rarity: Don't you mean 'inside an enigma?
Rainbow: No, I mean igneous. It's a kind of rock. Ask me how I know that.
- In one episode of Bromwell High, as Mrs. Jackson is explaining her separation from her husband to the main characters:
Mrs. Jackson: As Churchill said, Martin is "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, wrapped in an enigma".
Keisha: Wrapped in a cocksucker.
Mrs. Jackson: I don't think Churchill said that.
- In the Dragons: Riders of Berk episode "Edge of Disaster Part 2", Tuffnut says about Heather, "One might say she's an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in yak bacon."