Follow TV Tropes


Riddling Sphinx

Go To
It's a f**ing book, okay?
"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.

Exactly why sphinxes are driven to do this varies from work to work. Sometimes sphinxes will be depicted as enjoying mental challenges and games of wits, sometimes they'll have mental compulsions driving them to engage others in this manner, and sometimes they'll simply ask riddles without any specific explanation provided for why they do this.

Subtrope of Riddle Me This and Our Sphinxes Are Different. Related to Only Smart People May Pass.



    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Tamagotchi: Mametchi and his friends come across one resembling Kuchipatchi in episode 136. It asks the standard Riddle of the Sphinx ("What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, three legs in the evening, and no legs at night?"), which Mametchi almost answers with a Tamagotchi before realizing not all Tamagotchis have legs in the first place, with the Gotchi King in particular coming to mind. He changes his guess to a human, which is the correct answer and allows him and his friends to continue their search for the Crystal Crown.

    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering: This is a standard theme for sphinxes, where they are the iconic large creatures for Blue, the color of knowledge and the mind, and often get mechanics related to knowing and guessing.
    • 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 and which to put into your graveyard.
    • 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; 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.
    • The Sphinx of the Steel Wind, however, gives the impression that she isn't really interested in this kind of thing, given her favorite riddle — which, the card notes, nobody's ever answered to her satisfaction: "Why should I spare your life?"
    • In Test of Metal, Tezzeret's attempts at solving riddles left by the mad sphinx Crucius are a major plot point.
  • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • All-Star Superman: Atlas and Samson have tricked Superman into facing off against the Ultra-Sphinx, a kind of cosmic version of the original creature, with Lois Lane's life hanging in the balance. To save her he must answer the unanswerable question. Atlas and Samson are time travelers, and therefore know that Superman will be able to answer the question, but they do not know what the answer will be. Superman has to solve it himself.
    Ultra-Sphinx: Question: What. Happens. When. The. Unstoppable. Force. Meets. The. Immovable. Object?
    Superman: How about this? They surrender.
    Ultra-Sphinx: Response. Acceptable.
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • Shadowchasers Series 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.
  • Through The Well Of Pirene: Amelia, Wire and the CMC meet one in the Cup palace, who offers them the typical three riddles or death trial. Amelia answers the first two through a combination of clichedness on the sphinx's part and genre savvyness on hers, but the third proves much trickier. They don't answer it — Sweetie Belle has an emotional breakdown and starts crying and begging the sphinx not to kill them, which guilts her into just letting them go.
  • The Rigel Black Chronicles: Harry has to face two of them, one in the first Triwizard Task, the other in the last. For the first one, Hermione is present and answers for both of them, but for the second, Harry is alone.

    Films — Animation 
  • Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: In the second film, two sphinxes, one with a goat's head and one with a wolf's head, guard the temple of the totem and ask Weslie and Wolffy how many stars are in the sky. Weslie replies by saying there are as many stars in the sky as there are grains of sand in the desert, prompting the sphinxes to start counting the grains of sand. By the time Weslie and Wolffy make it out of the temple with the totem, the sphinxes are still counting the grains of sand.

    Films — 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.

  • Chronicles of Amber: In the second book, Merlin runs into a sphinx. He's able to counter-riddle it and get away.
  • A Fantasy Attraction: A sphinx drops by, spending most of its time asking pointless riddles.
  • Greyhawk: In White Plume Mountain, main characters Escalia and the Justicar encounter a sphinx named Enid when they enter the titular mountain, who asks them to solve her riddle before passing. Escalia, a fairy, instead befriends her with small talk about how much trouble humans have understanding the needs and wants of sapient non-humanoid creatures like fairies and sphinxes, tricking Enid into inadvertently giving the answer (the moon) away. At the end of the novel, Escalia and the Justicar take the time to rescue Enid on the way out and she ends up traveling with them.
  • Harry Potter: 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; however, she does tell Harry that if he decides not to give an answer and just retreat, she won't stop him. 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.
  • The Infernal Machine, a retelling of the legend of Oedipus, gives an Alternative 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.
  • The Neverending Story: The Southern Oracle is protected by two stone 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 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.
  • Ogden Nash: In the 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.
  • Ology Series: Monsterology describes how sphinxes greatly enjoy riddles, a trait they share with dragons.
  • Pact: Isadora 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.
  • 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.
  • Skippyjon Jones: In one story, the title character is asked this riddle by an Egyptian Sphinx parody called "the Finx". The answer is Skippyjon, AKA Skippito Friskito, himself.
    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?
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Referred to, without an actual sphinx. Of Alleras, who is nicknamed "The Sphinx", Maester Aemon tells Samwell that "the Sphinx is the riddle, not the riddler."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger: Dora Sphinx (King Sphinx in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers) takes the human form of a game show host who asks riddles to children (and later, the Rangers), and traps them inside trees when they answer wrong. He even asks the classic sphinx riddle to stump the first kid at the beginning of the episode. The heroes eventually turn this against him, defeating him by tricking him into asking them what his weak point is (because he always reveals the correct answer to riddles after receiving a wrong answer).
  • Inverted in Embers In The Dusk. The local Sphinxes are riddle solvers, and are quite willing to help the humans out with riddles like "what's the access code for this ancient data archive?".
    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Sphinxes are generally associated with either riddles or with knowledge in the broad sense. One supplement lists potential riddles for sphinxes to use; one, which she uses when she's too hungry to play fair, has as its 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.
    • In 4th Edition, 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 challenges 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 and answers them.)
    • Spelljammer: Astrosphinxes are mad, evil sphinxes that compulsively ask inane, unanswerable riddles and questions (such as "what's the speed of down?" or "how loud is blue?"). When an answer inevitably fails to come, the astrosphinx tries to kill the one it was asked to. Since an astrosphinx's madness leads it to interrogate everything it meets, including things like wildlife, insects and plants, they tend to strip entire planets of life if allowed to run free in this manner. They can be defeated by giving them equally mad answers, which has a 1% chance of causing the astrosphinx to explode in a shower of lightning bolts.
  • Pathfinder:
    • Being a derivative of Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder reuses its parent's classic gynosphinx/androsphinx/criosphinx/hieracosphinx setup, with each variety having a different take on the association with riddles.
      • Gynosphinxes love riddles and logical puzzles, and offering one a tempting new riddle to ponder is a fairly efficient way to defuse a bad encounter with one.
      • Androsphinxes are much like gynosphinxes, but far more intellectual and emotionally aloof; they have relatively little interest in riddles and games of wit, but enjoy pondering complex philosophical questions.
      • Criosphinxes are comparatively dim-witted (though still above the average human). They lust ceaselessly after gynosphinxes and, whilst they don't value riddles themselves, they known that gynosphinxes do and will seek out knowledge of riddles in order to bargain their way into a gynosphinx's good graces.
      • Hieracosphinxes are the Always Chaotic Evil branch of the sphinx family (literally), and are too brutal, stupid (this time objectively rather than comparatively) and foul to care about knowledge or wits one way or the other. In general, they will just skip straight to attacking travelers rather than asking them anything.
    • Elder sphinxes have the ability to telepathically project a litany of riddles, puzzles and paradoxes so complex that every creature within sixty feet of them needs to pass a willpower test or become stunned for a number of rounds. Creatures that pass the check, however, gain valuable insights into the sphinx's mind — in game terms, they take a bonus to all Knowledge checks for an hour.
    • Areshkagal, the demon lord of portals, greed and riddles, takes the form of a giant, faceless sphinx with batlike wings, six legs and a snake for a tail. She is often worshipped by evil sphinxes — and worshipped in giant sphinx statues — and her faithful inscribe riddles in their own skin in adoration of her. One of her boons allows her worshippers to tell riddles so vexing that they drive listeners insane.


    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed: Odyssey features a Sphinx, who you can fight normally, or choose to answer all three of her riddles to beat her.
  • Born Under the Rain: As seen in a Sphinx's dialogue of a riddle, in an official screenshot.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Fate/Grand Order: The different Sphinx enemies have skills with names like Query and Riddle and their main drops are Scarab of Wisdom, which are said to only be given to truly wise who can solve complex problems.
  • Heroes of Might and Magic: Featured as interactive map objects in 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.
  • The Pagemaster: The game featured a sphinx in the Fantasy World that blocks Richard's entrance to the final part of the game. The riddle is "What is the beginning of eternity, the end of time, and the start of every ending?" The answer is "The letter 'E'", which has to be presented as the "Electric E" item that Richard gets for clearing the Horror World.
  • Shadowgate: One of the tasks is to give a Sphinx three objects that answer three riddles he gives.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Mario Party 2: In the Mystery Land board, 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.
    • Super Mario Odyssey: An Egyptian sphinx appears in various Kingdoms, where it guards passageways. He only lets Mario get past it if he answers a questions. It travels among Kingdoms with a giant sail and will grant Mario a Power Moon if he spots him with the binoculars.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • Mixed Myth: The protagonist 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).
  • Nodwick:
    • The party 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!
    • In another instance, the answer to the riddle is "the moon". Nodwick is annoyed (and disgusted) that the sphinx was willing to accept Yeagar's display of frustration instead of a verbal response.
  • The Order of the Stick: Parodied in an extra strip in the book edition of the fifth arc, "Blood Runs in the Family". The heroes visit a roadside stop with a sphinx (with acne) as a cashier. Not only does the sphinx speak in riddles, but to ask it a question, one needs to phrase it as a riddle as well, even a prosaic question like "which way is the restroom?". Elan, being a bard, is adept at it, but when Vaarsuvius tries it, his/her Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness ends up confusing the sphinx... resulting in a shower of confetti and a reward of a free ice cream cone for managing such a feat. Haley was able to get a second cone by having V ask it how many flavors of ice cream it had.
  • Paranatural: Max and Isaac find a sphinx-like creature that tells them to answer correctly two of his three riddles. The first one seems to be the classic Riddle of the Sphinx but the answer was "that guy" (a random passerby monster). Later on we see Isaac faling the last riddle and so he can't cross the Sphinx's bridge magical barrier... but since the "bridge" is only a plank over a small stream, he just casually walks over it.
  • Skin Deep: Played with. Michelle Jocasta, who is a Sphinx — specially a winged grecian sphinx, as opposed to a wingless Egyptian sphinxes that also exist in the comic — once dressed up for Halloween as the Riddler, because she thinks she's being clever. As a general rule, it's averted with her. Word of God states that she's no more prone to asking riddles than any other person. She does, however, have undeveloped oracular powers, as this is an inborn trait of sphinxes.
  • Skin Horse: Inverted with the Antisphinx. Only Smart People May Pass, but you have to come up with a riddle it can't answer. And there's a further twist: this does not mean a riddle it can't answer correctly.
  • Slack Wyrm: Rene the Sphinx is in the habit of imprisoning people who can't answer his riddles and not letting them go until they get one right, although his "riddles" tend to be less mental challenges and more direct questions about why his wife left him or why you only realize you were happy when you become unhappy.
  • Wapsi Square: Phix 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.

    Web Videos 
  • "Great: The Show": In the first episode, the opening episode follows a band of travelers venturing the desert in search of "the perfect Bar Mitzvah" when they finally find the magic sphinx, which asks them to "explain the global socioeconomic crisis." One of the members of the band, a monochromatic, geometric lion, attempts to answer, only to be cut off with a booming "INCORRECT!"

    Western Animation 
  • The Adventures of Puss in Boots: The Sphinx notes that this makes her way cooler than her twin sister Callista, who doesn't tell riddles at all and just outright attacks people instead. Too bad Puss proves atrocious at riddles.
  • Beetlejuice: In "Brinkadoom", to escape from the eponymous disappearing village, Beetlejuice and Lydia must correctly answer the riddle posed by the Stinx, a giant sphinx-like skunk with the personality of a game show host.
  • Extreme Ghostbusters: A riddling Sphinx appears in "The Sphinx", asking the Riddle of the Sphinx and seeking to drain the intelligence of anyone it deems the brightest minds who fail to answer its riddle. At the end of the episode, Egon is able to answer the Sphinx's riddle, immediately sending it down a Villainous Breakdown since no one answered it correctly before (apparently only Egon had bothered to read up on his Greek mythology), and hence vulnerable to capture.
  • Hercules: In one episode, 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 
  • Kaeloo:
    • In one episode, the cast come across one of these when traveling through a desert.
    • In the episode "Let's Play Prince Charming", Mr. Cat disguises himself as a sphinx and asks a riddle which is clearly a parody of the Riddle of the Sphinx:
      Mr. Cat: I have two arms in the morning, four ears in the afternoon and seven tentacles in the evening. Who am I?
  • 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.)
  • The Mummy: The Animated Series: One episode has the O'Conner family deal with exactly that. After they shout out the correct answer, the attacking Sphinx promptly explodes.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Daring Done?", an extended flashback sequence features a sphinx in the shape of an enormous, winged catlike creature with a vaguely pony-like head. This sphinx terrorized Somnambula's home in the distant past, kidnapping its prince when he tried to stand up to her and taking the crops of the people for no reason except to be cruel. When Somnambula came to rescue the kidnapped prince, the sphinx demanded that she solve a riddle before being permitted to do so.
    Sphinx: I shine brightest in the dark. I am there, but cannot be seen. To have me costs you nothing. To be without me costs you everything.
    Somnambula: ... Hope.
  • 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.
  • The Smurfs: In "Smurfquest", 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.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: One Sphinx appears in "Quest Buy". Marco and Star manage to blow through the riddle thanks to the Internet.
  • Superfriends: In one episode, a 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.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Sphinxes Ask Riddles, Sphinxes Tell Riddles


Odyssey sphynx

Mario Odyssey has a sphynx that tells Mario a "riddle" before letting him pass.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / RiddlingSphinx

Media sources:

Main / RiddlingSphinx