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Once there was a certain wonderful creature called the sphinx, which had been a terror to Thebes for many days. In form half woman and half lion, she crouched always by a precipice near the highway, and put the same mysterious question to every passer-by. None had ever been able to answer, and none had ever lived to warn men of the riddle; for the Sphinx fell on every one as he failed, and hurled him down the abyss, to be dashed in pieces.

This way came Oedipus towards the city Thebes, and the Sphinx crouched, face to face with him, and spoke the riddle that none had been able to guess.

"What animal is that which in the morning goes on four feet, at noon on two, and in the evening on three?"

Oedipus, hiding his dread of the terrible creature, took thought, and answered, "Man. In childhood he creeps on hands and knees, in manhood he walks erect, but in old age he has need of a staff."

At this reply the sphinx uttered a cry, sprang headlong from the rock into the valley below, and perished. Oedipus had guessed the answer. When he came to the city and told the Thebans that their torment was gone, they hailed him as a deliverer. Not long after, they married him with great honour to their widowed queen, Jocasta, not knowing that she was his blood mother. [More]

The inquiring mind may want to figure out more, such as: "If none survived meeting the sphinx, how did the Thebans know it existed, and was a terror?

A dictionary says that a riddle is a mystifying, misleading, or puzzling question that is put as a problem to be solved or guessed - so it is something that can be difficult to understand until you know the answer. Most of the things we know too little of, may seem difficult. But as soon as we know the best answers, or "know how to do it", much tends to become easy.

Historically, the riddle is a form of guessing plot that has been a part of the folklore of most cultures. There are two sorts of riddle: the descriptive one and the shrewd or witty question.

The descriptive riddle describes someone or something enigmatically. For example, "What is black as coal, round as the sun and with a black tail"? The Moering answer was "The frying-pan", because the heavy iron pans in use were black before new materials like teflon got into them.

If you know the answer or can figure it out, the riddle - based on figurative descriptions - is solved.

Descriptive riddles deal with how things or others look, not how they work or are put to use. Thus, an egg is "A little white house without door or window."

Shrewd questions and catch questions may call for divergent thinking first of all, and some for a measure of frivolous folly. Thus:

"Why is six afraid of seven?" — "Because seven ate nine". (Say it).

"What European capital used to lie in the middle of another country?" — "OSLO in the middle of CzechOSLOvakia."

"What is in the middle of Paris?" (Not Hilton) — "R".

"How can we know the elephant was in the refrigerator last night?" — "By the footprints in the paté."

"Who was the first whistler?" — "The wind."

"When is love deformed?" — "When it is all on one side."

"What do liars do after death?" — "They lie still."

Some puzzles are a bit elaborate. A few examples follow.


A Few Old Riddles

A Cuckoo

I am a merry creature,
In pleasant time of year,
As in but certain seasons,
I sing that you can hear:
And yet I'm made a by-word,
A very perfect mock;
Compared to foolish persons,
And silliest of all folk.

The Sun

I view the world in little space,
Am always changing place;
No food I eat, but, by my power,
Procure what millions do devour.

The Wind

There's not a kingdom on the earth,
But I have travelled over and over,
And though I know not whence my birth,
Yet when I come, you know my roar.
I through the town do take my flight,
And through the fields and meadows green,
And whether it be day or night,
I neither am nor can be seen.

A Tree

In Spring I look gay,
Decked in comely array,
In Summer more clothing I wear;
When colder it grows,
I fling off my clothes,
And in winter quite naked appear.

A Drum

My body is light,
My head it is white,
With a cord I am laced around;
I am beaten with sticks,
Yet not for bad tricks,
But to animate, by my sound,
The unthinking youth,
Not heeding the truth,
Which would save them from every alarm,
To fight, kill, and die,
And cause much misery,
To those who have done them no harm.

The Key

Great deeds with little strength I do,
I close the open, open the closed for you.
I keep the master's house, the master keeps me, too.

- Symphosius ('party boy')

The Shoe

Through all my days, I've been trampled under feet;
At length, I'm gone and quite decayed,
And he whose power and wisdom made
Me—cannot save my sole!

The Windmill

Four wings I have, which swiftly mount on high,
On sturdy pinions, yet I never fly;
And though my body often moves around,
Upon the self-same spot I'm always found,
And, like a mother, who breaks her infant's bread,
I chew for man before he can be fed.

The Fish

Though it be cold, I wear no clothes,
The frost and snow I never fear;
I value neither shoes nor hose,
And yet I wander far and near:
My diet is forever good,
I drink no cider, port, nor sack,
What Providence doth send for food,
I neither buy, nor sell, nor lack.

A Ship

I fly to any foreign parts,
Assisted by my spreading wings:
My body holds an hundred hearts,
Nay, I will tell you stranger things:
When I am not in haste I ride,
And then I mend my pace anon;
I issue fire from my side:
You witty youths, this riddle con.

Old riddles, Literature  

Berrington, Benj. S., and John S. Berrington. English Riddles: With Explanations and Notes in Dutch. Purmerendm NL: J. Muusses, 1905.

Byers, Amanda. Riddle Collection: 300 Best Riddles and Brain Teasers to Feed Your Mind: Tricky Questions, Math Problems, Funny and Classic Riddles, Puzzles, Brain Training and Games For Kids, Improve your Memory. Kindle ed. Seattle, WA: Amazon Digital Services, 2015.

EB: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Go to Britannica Online.

Keyne, Peter, and Rudolph Amsel. The Great Book of Riddles. Kindle ed. Seattle, WA: Elsinore Books / Amazon Digital Services, 2014.

Raine, Will H. Riddle Me This: The Ultimate Collection of Riddles and Brain Teasers. Np.: Wire Publishing, 2015.

Symphosius. The Hundred Riddles of Symphosius.. Tr. Elizabeth Hickman du Bois. Woodstock, VT: The Elm Tree Press, 1912.

The Riddle Book (1828) Wendell, MA: J. Metcalf, 1828. ⍽▢⍽ Some of the riddles in the second chapter are from this book.

The Riddle Book for the Entertainment of Boys and Girls. New Haven, CT: J. Babcock and Son, 1826. ⍽▢⍽ Several riddles in the second chapter are from this one too.

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