Riddles aren’t just a few clever puns or plays on words. They have a long tradition of providing intellectually challenging brain teasers that would educate and entertain large groups of people. Riddling was considered a sign of wisdom and wit in medieval Europe. Stories of great riddle masters worked their way into becoming the stuff of legends. Norse, Greek, and Indian mythologies all told tales of prodigious intellects solving difficult puzzles and crafting their own nigh-unanswerable questions.
If riddles were the stuff of gods and heroes, it should come as no surprise that riddles become a popular past time that has remained vital even after all these centuries. Olden riddles might be different from the ones you grew up with. The riddles of today’s childhood tend to be more like jokes than mind-teasers. The originals, though, were more of a carefully worded mystery that challenges a person’s expectations versus their ability to think logically.
For a somewhat contemporary version of these classic riddles, look no further than the stories of J.R.R. Tolkien. The author of the Lord of the Rings series had his hobbit heroes engage in deft wordplay against adversaries such as the corrupted Gollum. Here is one of the many clever riddles this beloved author included in his text.
“A box without hinges, key or lid,
Yet golden treasure inside is hid.”
This riddle “hinges” on the solver’s ability to look past the words used and see the context. The answer to this riddle is the common, everyday egg. If you’re able to reinterpret a shell as a box and a yellow yolk as a golden treasure, it is easy enough to understand. Classic riddles like these encourage people to reevaluate the way they see the world.
Modern riddles are more like jokes, often with a punchline of some variety. Although they maintain the classic “question and answer” format, there is often less critical thinking involved. The popular kid’s riddle “Why was six afraid of seven? Because SEVEN EIGHT NINE!” is a perfect example of how modern riddles have become focused on comedy. There are plenty of riddles available online. But, hey, if you’re more interested in funny fish puns, that’s good too.