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What are some examples of *real* conundrums?
July 22, 2010 4:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of conundrums in the *technical* sense: riddles with answers that are puns.

I was recently enlightened to the fact that a conundrum, colloquially used to refer to a seemingly unanswerable question or the like, is technically a riddle with a pun for an answer.

After my friend had mentioned this fact to a group of us, we spent a good 45 minutes trying to think of an actual example, but alas, we failed. I have not sense been able to think of one.

So I implore you, hivemind, can you give me your best conundrums?
posted by Lutoslawski to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
since wikipedia tells me that the answer can either be a pun or an "unexpected twist", I present you the riddles of the Turtle Society:

1. What is round, hard, and sticks so far out of a man's pajamas that you can hang a hat on it?
2. What four-letter word ending in K means "intercourse"?
3. What is it that a man can do standing up, a women sitting down, and a dog on three legs?
4. What is it that a cow has four of and a woman has only two of?

The answers, of course, are:

1. His head
2. "talk"
3. shake hands
4. legs
posted by luvcraft at 4:15 PM on July 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Your question made me think of Fair Day riddles. (Stephen King's term for them; it seems apt, if not widespread. See the link for examples.)

Q: What is it that leaps and runs and has no feet?

A: A ball.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:33 PM on July 22, 2010


Also, Wikipedia offers this pertinent commentary on riddles: "A riddle is a statement or question or phrase having a double or veiled meaning, put forth as a puzzle to be solved. Riddles are of two types: enigmas, which are problems generally expressed in metaphorical or allegorical language that require ingenuity and careful thinking for their solution, and conundrums, which are questions relying for their effects on punning in either the question or the answer."

You may turn up more examples if you include both "riddle" and "conundrum" in your searching.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:36 PM on July 22, 2010


Q: Why will one never starve in the desert?

A: Because of all the sand which is there. (Say it aloud -- it's a pun!)
posted by trip and a half at 4:36 PM on July 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


Q: What is a foot long and slippery?

A: A slipper.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:42 PM on July 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


What's brown and sticky? A stick!
posted by jozxyqk at 4:55 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's Lewis Carroll's infamous unanswered riddle from Alice in Wonderland:
"Why is a raven like a writing desk?"

[...]

"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.

"Nor I," said the March Hare.

Alice sighed wearily. "I think you might do something better with the time," she said, "than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers."
After being harangued by frustrated readers, Carroll devised a punny answer after the fact:
Enquiries have been so often addressed to me, as to whether any answer to the Hatter's Riddle can be imagined, that I may as well put on record here what seems to me to be a fairly appropriate answer, viz: 'Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is never put with the wrong end in front!' This, however, is merely an afterthought; the Riddle, as originally invented, had no answer at all.
Over time, fans of the book came up with their own solutions:
* Because the notes for which they are noted are not noted for being musical notes. (Puzzle maven Sam Loyd, 1914)
* Because Poe wrote on both. (Loyd again)
* Because there is a B in both and an N in neither. (Get it? Aldous Huxley, 1928)
* Because it slopes with a flap. (Cyril Pearson, undated)
I'm getting this information from The Straight Dope, whose readers wrote responses to the original article with a few answers of their own:
* Because they both come with inky quills.
* Because you cannot ride either one of them like a bicycle.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:04 PM on July 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Does the wordplay have to be in the answer, or can it be in the question? If not:

What's gray and comes in quarts?
An elephant.

Does the pun in the answer have to be any good? If not:

What's green and makes girls faint?
Elvis Parsley.
posted by The Bellman at 5:24 PM on July 22, 2010


When is a door not a door?
When it is ajar. (a jar)
posted by mhum at 6:01 PM on July 22, 2010


What's brown and sticky? A stick!

In the same vein: What is orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot!
posted by jedicus at 6:15 PM on July 22, 2010


Why is it rare to find conundrums?
Well, someone else usually does it for him.
posted by oulipian at 6:29 PM on July 22, 2010


How much does a pirate pay to get his ears pierced?

A buck an ear (buccaneer).
posted by ajackson at 7:24 PM on July 22, 2010


Oftentimes, the concept of a "pun" is particularly hard to separate out from other types of jokes--at least in the narrow definition of "pun." Wikipedia's pun page has several examples.

Most of the puns I'm familiar with are not riddles, but rather very, very long stories with long puns as their last lines--the Rabbi and the Trids; Nate the snake; the twin bell-ringers; Gloria's barbecue; etc. They're quite long; if you want me to post them here, just ask.

My favorite pun-riddle, though, is simple and to-the-point:

"Why do the French only have one egg for breakfast?"
"Because one egg is un oeuf."

Pretentious and stupid at the same time! I win!
posted by tzikeh at 8:01 PM on July 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


What's another word for Thesaurus?
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:38 PM on July 22, 2010


Oftentimes, the concept of a "pun" is particularly hard to separate out from other types of jokes

The puns are the onse that don't survive translation.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:39 PM on July 22, 2010


What's green and makes girls faint?
Elvis Parsley.


Frank Snotra?
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 5:23 AM on July 23, 2010


What's brown and rhymes with Snoop?
Dr. Dre

rimshot
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:13 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


After being harangued by frustrated readers, Carroll devised a punny answer after the fact:
Enquiries have been so often addressed to me, as to whether any answer to the Hatter's Riddle can be imagined, that I may as well put on record here what seems to me to be a fairly appropriate answer, viz: 'Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is never put with the wrong end in front!' This, however, is merely an afterthought; the Riddle, as originally invented, had no answer at all.
Ah, you missed the best part of that story. Carroll originally wrote "...and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front." A clueless editor or proofreader thought it was simply a mistake on Carroll's part and "corrected" it to "never."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:20 AM on July 23, 2010


Hey! Great! Thanks everyone. I guess I'm particularly interested in the riddles that have actual puns as answers...but this raises the question: is a conundrum then just a joke with a punny punchline? Or is there some other, more subtle distinguishing factor?
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:00 AM on July 23, 2010


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