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Always Take the Third Option


If be it your hubby,

wish you to see,

this haunting be-riddle

answer you'll me!


When Only Smart People May Pass, a challenge is often given in the form of a riddle. The solution to said riddle is often, in itself, the means by which the characters may continue.

This sort of riddle game is sometimes also used for other purposes than determining whether someone may pass. For example, it may be for a reward of an item or information.

Sub Tropes include Riddling Sphinx (the tendency of sphinxes to do this), Riddle of the Sphinx (a particular riddle that's very popular), These Questions Three (combining this trope with the Rule of Three).

Not to be confused with the popular comedy podcast Answer Me This.



  • This is the standard MO of The Riddler in the Batman comics. Depending on the Writer, it could be a game he plays, or it could be an outright psychotic compulsion he feels he has to play.
    • Cluemaster, also from the Bat family comics, started out with pretty much the same MO, leaving little clues at his crime scenes, until he was caught and sent to Arkham. The doctors there were actually able to cure him...of his compulsion to leave clues. It figures the one time the shrinks there can do their job, it makes a criminal tougher to catch.

Film - Live-Action

  • The Director's cut of Legend has Gump ask Jack this riddle: What is a bell that never rings, yet its knell makes the angels sing? Answer:A bluebell. To hear it ring means that your life is at an end.
  • Monty Python and The Holy Grail parodied this trope.


  • In The Hobbit Gollum challenged Bilbo to a riddle contest. Famously, Bilbo's final "riddle" is actually a question: "What have I got in my pocket?" Gollum protests that it shouldn't count, but goes for it anyway (demanding three guesses); the book itself wonders if it's fair, concluding that since Gollum tried to guess the answer anyway, it passes. What did Bilbo have in his pocket? The Ring.
  • Then a subversion in The Lord of the Rings, where the Fellowship thinks this is the way to open the door to the mines of Moria, but it turns out they're seriously overthinking it.
  • In Larry Niven and Steven Barnes' novel Dream Park, one of the PC's must answer a series of riddles to save the party.
  • The entrance to the Ravenclaw common room in Harry Potter.
    • In Goblet of Fire, Harry encounters a sphinx in the final maze and manages to solve its riddle (which is a simple word puzzle rather than the Riddle of the Sphinx).
  • The key to unlock the way into (or perhaps it was out of, it's been a while since the source if this reference read it) a secret tunnel in the tenth A Series of Unfortunate Events novel, The Slippery Slope.
  • Blaine, the Ax Crazy monorail from The Dark Tower, challenged his passengers to a riddle contest. They had to win or else he would kill them. Subverted when the heroes win by asking it nonsense jokes that fry its brain.
  • In The Last Watch, Merlin left a riddle to any others who sought the Crown of All Things.
  • An extreme version of this trope appeared in the original novel version of The Neverending Story when Atreyu came to the first of the three gates barring him from the Oracle Uyulala, which was a pair of sphinx-like statues that sat facing each other. The gnome researcher Engywook explained that if the sphinxes opened their eyes while someone passed between them, they would telepathically bombard the passer by with all the riddles in existence, which would paralyze the passer until they solved them all- in other words until they died. Rather than solving the riddles, the only way to pass the gate was to hope the sphinxes didn't open their eyes while you passed. This was simplified in the movie to just shooting energy bolts at the unlucky victim.

Live Action TV

  • One of the tests to find the Holy Grail in Stargate SG-1 was to answer a series of riddles.
    • The whole quest was basically a giant riddle, since they had to figure out the instructions for each individual test plus the general instructions for the quest.
  • So Weird had a variation that subsituted trivia questions for riddles and instead of answering correctly to pass, the characters had to answer correctly to survive. (An incorrect answer would result in the character being turned into an eggplant.) The monsters of the week were very sneaky and would con people into playing without realizing it. (By asking a seemingly innocent question and then changing the person when they didn't know the answer, even though the person hadn't actually agreed to the game.) Fi ends up having to play the game in order to save her friends and family.

Mythology and Religion

  • The Riddle of the Sphinx, a trope in its own right, is Older Than Feudalism. The first author to mention it is Apollodorus in the 2nd century CE.
  • Riddles are an important part of Norse Mythology, and in particular Odin is a fan of riddle games to the DEATH. This is also the inspiration for the riddle battle in The Hobbit between Gollum and Biblo, down to the unanswerable question.

Role Playing Games

  • Quite a few in Dungeons and Dragons. For example, in the adventure "White Plume Mountain":
    • The party must answer a riddle (asked by an actual sphinx) to get past a Wall of Force.
    • The PCs must figure out which of five numbers (5, 7, 9, 11 and 13) didn't belong with the others 9, which isn't a prime number or be attacked by flesh golems.
  • Call of Cthulhu supplement Curse of the Chthonians, adventure "The City Without A Name". The investigators must calculate the five numbers of Cthulhu using the occult science of Gematria in order to enter, use and escape from a special chamber.

Tabletop Games


 I am the stone that comes not from the sea

I am the blood but the blood is not me

I am the key to the door with no locks

I am the mainspring that winds broken clocks

I am your tears on the chains of the rack

I am your gift and you can't give me back


Video Games

  • Exile II has a dungeon that is supposed to test your mind. In addition to several puzzles are many riddles.
  • Professor Layton; regularly lampshaded with Layton ineffectually protesting that he has other things to do other than solve riddles. Ineffectually, as he still has to solve the damn things.
  • Nelson Tethers, like Layton, has puzzle his way past all sorts of challenges. In Tethers' case, the reasons for riddling are a lot less funny than Layton's.
  • Spyro: Year of the Dragon featured a level called Haunted Tombs, in which the dogs down there would make you solve a riddle before passing certain points or doing challenges.
  • Might and Magic
  • Wizardry
  • One optional mission in Privateer 2 involves using math to identify the nav point you need to go to, to complete the mission.
  • Baldur's Gate 2 throws these at you by the bucket load, sometimes in a quest, sometimes to get started on a quest.
  • Appears twice in Dragon Age Origins: a set of three in the Mage origin story, and a set of 10 as part of the gauntlet protecting the Sacred Ashes. The second set particularly fits the trope, because the answer to each ghost's riddle is also symbolic of the part they played in the history of the Ashes. Piecing together the history beforehand helps you figure out the riddle, and the ghosts' spiel lets you better understand the quest itself and which of its outcomes is the good/bad one.
    • When Alistair asks Sten what he did to pass the time during his two week stay in his cage, Sten replies that he would pose riddles to passing travelers and offer them riches in reward. Alistair asks if he really did this, and Sten, being among the resident Deadpan Snarkers, replies with a flat no.
    • In Dragon Age 2, Isabela asks Hawke for advice on how to convince her archenemy's second-in-command to give away his boss's location. Her final suggestion is to challenge him to a riddle game, and make, "Where is your boss?" one of the riddles.
  • In Planescape: Torment the witch Ravel presents travelers with the question "What can change the nature of a man?" Allegedly, she grants wishes to those who get the answer right, and if they got it wrong she killed them. Subverted harshly because she's lying. She kills everyone whatever they answer, as she only cared about the Player Character's answer.
  • Bookworm Adventures has a boss battle with the Sphinx, who asks Lex riddles. Solving them — i.e. spelling the correct answer — empties her life bar immediately, stripping her of one chance to survive. This isn't required, however, as she can be defeated the regular way.
  • Planetarium has three puzzles in each of its twelve parts, and one of them is always in the form of a riddle. You're actually not required to solve them to proceed, as the next part of the game-story automatically opens after one week, but the riddles' answers are an integral part of the Major Puzzle.
  • An important Plot Coupon in Ultima V is guarded by a Daemon who will ask you a riddle. Get it wrong, you'll have to fight him. Get it right, you'll have to fight him anyway, because "never trust a daemon."
  • You must solve a Sphinx's riddle in Fantasy Quest. The modern day port of the game uses a mouse rather than typed commands, simplifying this considerably.

Web Comics

  • Occurs in this The Adventures of Dr. McNinja strip, and is beautifully subverted in the next one.
  • Subverted in the "Oceans Unmoving" arc of Sluggy Freelance: Solving the Riddle of Uncle Time is rewarded with the solver being freed from Timeless Space, except no one has even heard of it, and it is "solved" by accident.
  • Wonderella knows how to deal with this.
  • Inconsequentia's sphinx Trivia is trying to come up with a new riddle. The old one (viz. the classic Riddle of the Sphinx) was so obvious even Phobia saw it coming (she was just letting Trivia finish to be polite, which Gastro has yet to learn).
  • Subverted in this Nodwick where they bribe the sphinx to let them pass.
    • As Nodwick points out, the answer was (ironically, or perhaps not so much) "money".
  • Subverted in Subnormality. The sphinx meets Oedipus' mother. When she learns who she's talking to, the sphinx has a massive flipout about which one of them is considered the monster, and makes Oedipus' mother take her place.
  • A subversion in Order of the Stick. First, there's Haley's famous solution to the "two paths, one honest man, one liar, one question" riddle. The Test of the Mind.

  Varsuvius Gordium called--they have a knot you may want to take a look at.


Western Animation