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Answers to 5 famous riddles

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The original Words With Friends, riddles have pleased puzzlers for thousands of years. They're often deceptively hard at first, then glaringly obvious once you figure out the answer.

Some are timeless, like the old standard "What's black and white and red all over?" (Note to children of the digital era: It's a newspaper. Ask your parents.) Some are confounding. But a handful have achieved a fair bit of fame.

Here's a look at five of the best known riddles, their answers, and how they rose above the rest.

(To reveal answers, highlight the empty space next to 'Answer:')

Question: "What creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening?"

Answer: A man.

Behind the riddle:

Arguably the oldest and best-known riddle around, this gem dates back to Greek mythology, which tells the story of the Sphinx.

Sent by the goddess Hera (or, in some versions of the story, the god Ares) from her Ethiopian homeland to guard the entrance to the city of Thebes, the Sphinx would ask all travelers that encountered it this riddle. If they answered incorrectly, the creature killed them. When Oedipus answered correctly, though, the Sphinx threw herself from her high rock and died. (An alternative version of the story says she devoured herself.)


Question: "Why is a raven like a writing desk?"

Answer: There is no correct answer.

Behind the riddle:

Sometimes, the best riddles are the most confounding. This one, from Alice in Wonderland, was presented to Alice during her tea party with The Mad Hatter, the Dormouse and The March Hare. When challenged for the answer, though, he too pleads ignorance.

"Have you guessed the riddle yet?" the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.
"No, I give it up," Alice replied. "What's the answer?"
"I haven't the slightest idea," said the Hatter.

That wasn't good enough for many readers, though those who questioned the riddle's answer always irked author Lewis Carroll (so much so that he addressed it in a preface to a later edition of the book). Undeterred, people have come up with their own answers, like "Because Edgar Allen Poe wrote on both" or "Because the both come with inky quills."

[Related: U.S. regional dictionary gets in last word as it wraps up work]


Question: "Here there is no north, west, nor east - and weather fit for not man nor beast."

Answer: The North Pole.

Behind the riddle:

This brainteaser has anonymous origins, but has become a favorite of riddle fans. It's obscure enough to sound like something the Sphinx would have come up with — but the ancient Greeks didn't know of the Polar Regions.

These days, you're likely to find it in the fan fiction of die-hard Harry Potter or Percy Jackson fans.


Question: "Four hang, four sprang, two point the way, two to ward off dogs, one dangles after, always rather dirty."

Answer: A cow. It has four feet and four teats, two horns and two eyes, and then the tail.

Behind the riddle:

Famous though it might be, don't kick yourself if you haven't heard this one. It comes from a 13th century Norse legend called Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks. Odin (Thor's dad) disguises himself as Gestumblindi, a powerful man who had angered King Heidrek by refusing to pay him tribute.

Upon meeting the king, he challenges him to a battle of wits in the form of riddles. Heidrek eventually figures out it's Odin posing the question and moves to attack him. Odin quickly turns into a hawk and flies away, but not before Heidrek's sword cuts off a piece of the bird's tail. And that, according to Norse legend, is why the hawk has a stubby tail today.

More importantly, the book was one of J.R.R. Tolkien's biggest inspirations when writing the Lord of the Rings trilogy.


Question: "While at the funeral of her own mother, she met a guy whom she did not know. She thought this guy was amazing, so much the dream guy that she was searching for that she fell in love with him immediately. However, she never asked for his name or number and afterward could not find anyone who knew who he was. A few days later the girl killed her own sister. So… Why did she kill her sister?"

Answer: She thought if the man had appeared at her mother's funeral, then he might appear at another family funeral.

Behind the riddle:

If you guessed this one quickly, it might not be cause for celebration. It's commonly known as "The Psychopath Riddle." According to legend, an American psychologist used this as a test to see if subjects had the same mentality as a killer.

Legend, though, appears to be wrong. Original Mythbuster Snopes notes this story began to make the rounds online in 2002, but no one can seem to find the elusive psychologist.

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