Making a riddle – creating one from scratch – is about as difficult a task to accomplish as writing a story. Making a good riddle is beyond comprehension; of the billions of people who have lived and died on earth, we still find ourselves repeating the same riddles, hoping our friends haven’t heard them, pretending ourselves that we have some sort a secret in our possession. But all good puzzles, being so relevant to the universal appeal of logic, are rare and too well-known, quickly becoming old and tedious.
So I made it a little undertaking of mine to conjure up a series of original riddles that won’t leave people dissatisfied that they already knew the answer, that the streams and currents of logical reasoning are now running dry. Originality is a treasure. Only recently, I realised it after being stuck on repeat, yearning for just a little creativity.
Here it is: in a town, there is one butcher, one fishmonger and one chef. Yesterday, by the most remarkable coincidence, two of them were cutting up their produce when suddenly, they accidentally chopped off their left hands. They have since been rushed to hospital. At the same time, the last of these three got in a motorcycle accident, and he too lost his left hand. They’re all in hospital, undergoing treatment. Their wounds look identical.
You are an insurance officer. You have been instructed to pay the survivor of the motorcycle accident $10000 in compensation. The other two, for their negligence, will receive no compensation at all. You approach them all at the same time and offer them the same, simple task. The butcher and fishmonger do it quite easily; the chef, however, struggles.
Who do you pay the money to? Why? And of course, what was wrong with the chef, why did he fail to do this simple task that the butcher and fishmonger managed so easily? (Answer at the bottom).
Back to riddles in general. Every riddle, in fact, has a back story. No riddle just pops up into being. Behind it, there must a process, a sequence of time – either long or short – for that brief burst of ingenuity to spark creation. There’s something immaterial about it. Invention is the driving force behind it and of course, where inventing is concerned, it is not the mechanism of flying an aeroplane or lighting the lamp that is the difficult part. Rather, it is the creation of the idea, taking inspiration from objects around yet in essence bringing something to life, taking from the infinite pool of immateriality and channelling it through reality.
Every riddle has a story. Similarly, every nursery rhyme, folk song and fable has a story. Remember the classic riddle – what goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening? This riddle actually comes from Greek mythology and the legend of the Sphinx and Oedipus. Oedipus answered the riddle correctly and the Sphinx, at last beaten, destroyed herself. Oedipus, of course, is the main character of the Theban Plays by Sophocles which Year Eleven MHS kids have the pleasure of studying. And for those who know about Freud, Oedipal Complex is the scientific name given to a boy’s secret, subconscious, supposed desire for his mother.
Who would have thought that so innocent a riddle could play such a massive part in one of the most famous mythological tragedies of all time? More than a thousand years on and still, we’re talking about it. Those who hear it for the first time, still, are stunned by the answer whether they give it correctly or belatedly ask for the answer.
As for that riddle I wrote earlier, it’s an original. It took a while, but I got there and honestly, the pleasure of knowing it is my work and my creation that provides people entertainment for just a few moments is extremely satisfying.
The answer is here, as promised. You pay to the chef (obviously). The simple task is writing down your name. The chef can’t do it because he is left-handed. The butcher and the fishmonger can do it because they are right-handed, and with right hand on knife and left hand on meat/fillet, they chopped off their left hands.