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Recap / Inside No 9 S 3 E 3 The Riddle Of The Sphinx

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One night Professor Squires, who compiles crosswords under the name of Sphinx, is visited by Nina, with an initial request, to beat her boyfriend Simon at solving his next puzzle They bond as they solve clues together but Squires discovers that Nina has an ulterior motive - revenge following a contest which resulted in the death of a loved one. Squires brings in his friend Tyler, to explain matters, but he too is seeking revenge, regarding a past incident in all their lives.


This episode contains examples of:

  • And I Must Scream: Nina after being paralyzed by the toxin. Discussed by Tyler:
    "She can still see and feel and hear everything, she just...can't move. It's horrible."
  • Ate His Gun: What Squires ultimately does.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Nobody here is really a "good-guy", but Tyler gets away with his sadistic plan scot-free.
  • Best Served Cold: Actually subverted. It's implied that Charlotte and Tyler has been driven to punish Squires for both Simon's suicide and taking their mother away, but Tyler actually lost it after he learned, not so long ago, that Simon and Charlotte were not his children.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Nina acts like one, but Tyler is the real one - and a cold-blooded murderer to boot.
  • Bluff the Impostor: Professor Squires exposes Nina this way when inquiring details of her boyfriend's architecture study.
    Squires: Is he studying under Pugh or Fairbrother?
    Nina: The first one.
    Squires: You do realise that Pugh and Fairbrother are characters from the comedy series Hi-de-Hi!?
  • Chekhov's Armoury: Squires' whole study is full of them.
    • The gun, which appears in the opening moments (when Squires threatens Nina with it), is explicitly called a Chekhov's Gun, and the origin of the name is discussed.
    • The fuzzy photograph of Squires' wife in the cabinet, which also shows a boy on the corner. This is Nina/Charlotte's brother, Simon, and her mother, and her whole motivation for breaking in.
    • The crossword itself is an extremely prominent example. See Kansas City Shuffle for an explanation.
    • In a weird (and probably unintended) way, the first clue Squires shows Nina, 'I teach wild creature without hospital building' could be seen as foreshadowing Nina's darker side (the "wild creature") and her death for lack of hospital care.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A literal one, and Tyler even mentions the origin of the trope.
  • Convenient Photograph: Squires has a blurry picture of himself and his wife at the crossword competition with a partially cut off figure of a young man. That is Nina's, aka Charlotte's, brother Simon, and it was taken at the crossword competition where Squires pushed Simon to commit suicide and set off the events of the plot.
  • Crossword Puzzle: The story centers upon a cryptic crossword thought out by Professor Squires.
  • Defictionalization: The crossword featured in the episode was used as a real crossword in the Guardian newspaper.
  • Dirty Old Man: Squires.
  • Disposing of a Body: Tyler implies they would drop Nina's body into the swamp afterwards.
  • Dramatic Drop: Squires dropping his cup of tea after getting poisoned. It's an act though.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Rolls over various Wham Lines.
  • Dude, She's Like in a Coma: Tyler is not amused about Squires' advances on Nina in her paralyzed state.
  • False Reassurance: Tyler's words to paralyzed Nina ("You hang on in there, OK? Won't be long now.") take on a different meaning once we learn that he did not bring any antidote with him.
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: Nina is not Tyler's daughter but Squires'.
  • Foreshadowing: Tons of it, everywhere.
  • Gambit Pileup: All three characters have secret agendas, so revelations keep piling up.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: When Professor Squires Ate His Gun, the camera pans away and all we see is blood splatter on the crossword puzzle sheet.
  • High-Class Cannibal: Feigned. Tyler forces Squires to eat a piece of Nina for revenge, to make it look as if the snooty Cambridge academic had lost his mind and believed that he was the Riddling Sphinx (who ate her victims).
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Tyler forces Squires to eat a piece of Charlotte's flesh as a Literal Metaphor of "devouring your enemy". Turns into a Familial Cannibalism Surprise when Tyler reveals that Nina was actually Squires' daughter.
  • Impairment Shot: A shot from Nina's blurred POV as Tyler is delivering a False Reassurance to her.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Invoked by Squires who starts coughing as part of his ploy to trick Nina into believing her poisoning succeeded. In comparison, she doesn't cough when the poison starts hitting her system.
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: The whole episode takes over the course of one.
  • Just Between You and Me: Nina reveals her Evil Plan to Squires after he gets incapacitated. Tyler also does some gloating later on.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Squires could have at least tried to save Charlotte, or at least he wouldn't be in the frame for her murder, if he hadn't done a crossword about it. While the crossword part is justified (as Squires is both a Smug Snake and a crossword designer), the problem is that he puts a lot of thinly-veiled hidden clues that point towards Charlotte's eventual fate in there, so he really had no choice but to go along with Tyler's plan.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: A variant where Tyler leaves a bullet behind for Squires to commit suicide with his prop weapon.
  • Meaningful Name: "Nina" is the heroine of The Seagull, which is referenced in the episode and contains a suicide by gunshot (part of Squires's plan). It also refers to a hidden word or meaning within a crossword puzzle.
  • Minimalist Cast: The episode has only three characters.
  • Not Actually His Child: It's revealed that this is the case for Tyler, Nina/Charlotte, and Simon.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Nina.
  • The Paralyzer: The pufferfish poison, although it is eventually fatal.
  • Poison and Cure Gambit: Subverted. Part of Tyler and Nina's plan was for Tyler to bring the antidote along but apparently there isn't any and Nina is destined to die.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Squires had been told by Tyler in advance that Nina would try to poison him, so he switches their teacups when she wasn't looking.
  • The Professor: Both Squires and Tyler.
  • Remonstrating with a Gun: Nina asks twice if Squires could stop waving the revolver in her direction while explaining.
  • Rewatch Bonus:
    • Tyler's words to Nina/Charlotte, as detailed under False Reassurance.
    • Squires' melancholy words about how his now-dead wife didn't want children, heavily implying that he did, or at least that he feels deeply lonely now that he's alone. This foreshadows that his wife is also Charlotte/Nina and Simon's mother and provides a pretty simple explanation for why they haven't seen her in decades, while also adding a whole other layer of sadism to Tyler's plan against Squires.
  • Riddle of the Sphinx: The premise.
  • Riddling Sphinx: Squires is set up to be this, but it's Tyler who ultimately fills the role.
  • Serious Business: Creating Crossword Puzzles. Nina's brother kills himself over unjustly losing a competition.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Nina can't seem to restrain herself from swearing and telling crude jokes.
  • Surprise Incest: Squires kisses Nina/Charlotte and gropes her leg whilst she is unable to move. He subsequently implies to Tyler that he is planning to rape her, but whether he would is left ambiguous.
  • Take That!: Squires doesn't think very highly of the comedy series Hi-de-Hi!.
  • Tastes Like Chicken: Said and lampshaded in the same breath by Tyler, about Charlotte's flesh.
    They say it tastes like chicken. But then again, doesn't everything?
  • Unexpectedly Dark Episode: The darkness in this episode trumps everything else in the series.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Nina tries to puke out the poison on-screen but it's in vain.
  • Wham Line:
    • "There is no antidote."
    • "They're not my kids. They're yours."
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Surprisingly, to Oedipus the King. It's called the riddle of the sphinx, there's a sphinx (Squires), and a riddle. It doesn't appear to be a reference apart from that, until it turns out that Charlotte - whom Squires groped, kissed, and possibly tried to rape - was his daughter. She dies, and he commits suicide in despair.
  • The X of Y: The episode title follows this, possibly as a nod to the title naming convention in Sherlock Holmes stories.