Riddle Me This
September 7, 2010 1:34 PM   Subscribe

What do you call this kind of riddle? More importantly, can you tell me a few more of them?

Here's how it works:

In a group of people, someone will start out by making some sort of statement. The statement has to adhere to some sort of unknown rule. After a few statements, someone else in the group will try to see if they know the rule by making their own statement. The person who knows the rule will either tell them that they are correct, or counter their incorrect statement with a correct statement. The idea is to keep going until everybody in the group can consistently make correct statements.

Here are some examples from last night (also, spoilers):

In my world
"In my world there is beer but no wine"
"In my world there are kittens but no cats"

Running with scissors
"I am running with scissors. I drop them. Are the scissors opened or closed?" (at this time, players can guess) "They're closed."
"Now I'm running with scissors. I drop them. Are the scissors opened or closed?" (players guess again, probably guessing "closed") "No, they're open"

The Ball
"I throw a ball. It bounces off the wall. Who catches it?" (wait for response)

What do you call these? Where can I find more? Do you know any?
posted by Zaximus to Grab Bag (36 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
Where are the answers! I must know!

I've done these with little kids... I don't know what they're called though

There is one "We're going on a picnic, do you want me to bring [x]?" The answer is yes only if the thing they want to bring starts with the same letter as their name.

I'll come back if I can remember more...
posted by brainmouse at 1:42 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure what they're called but I can think of two similar ones off the top of my head.

Your first one sounds like a variation of green glass door.
"We're going on a trip through a green glass door. On this trip I'm going to take my mittens since my gloves won't fit. What do you want to take?" (Rule: anything with double letters will pass through the green glass door)

We also used to play one called 2 up, 2 down, 1 up 1 down where you went around a circle trying to guess the answer. Rule: If a person was sitting with both arms pointing up they were 2 up. Both arms pointing down was 2 down. One pointing up and one pointing down was, not surprisingly, 1 up 1 down.
posted by bowmaniac at 1:44 PM on September 7, 2010

The last riddle sounds like one I played at Girl Scouts. It involved making a series of (non-rude) gestures with your hands to "represent another" player, often involving pointing, etc. But the "answer" was whoever guessed first.

(First one: your world can only have things that have a letter repeated next to one another)
posted by Ideal Impulse at 1:46 PM on September 7, 2010

There's lots of "Going on a picnic" options, and you can make them up at different levels of complexity based on the ages of the people playing.

For example, it could be, as brainmouse says, things that start with the same letter as their name, or things that are blue, or things that start with the last letter of the previous answer, or if they say "um" first, or if they start with the next letter of the alphabet (so I'd bring an aardvark and you'd bring a boomerang and the next person would bring a calliope or something). Really, I think it's most fun if you have each person in turn be the one in charge of the "picnic" and pick their own rules.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:46 PM on September 7, 2010

In my world

Sounds like what Wikipedia calls Bobby's World aka The Green Glass Door aka The Green Glass Valley.
posted by jedicus at 1:47 PM on September 7, 2010

Green Glass Door has its own Wikipedia page as well. You may also be interested generally in Games with Concealed Rules.
posted by jedicus at 1:48 PM on September 7, 2010

Response by poster: The answers for the examples can be found by hovering your cursor on "RULE"
posted by Zaximus at 1:48 PM on September 7, 2010

Best answer: This reminded me of the Petals Around The Rose game and while looking it up I came across this list of Games with Concealed Rules.
posted by bondcliff at 1:50 PM on September 7, 2010

Best answer: Our version of the double letter riddle was "Queen Anne but not King George."

(Butter but not Salt, Jelly but not Jam, etc).

There was another one where the goal was to imitate a style of statement. the statement was "(name) brought (thing) to (place)," and whoever was in charge would tell people if they had done it right or not. The key to doing it right was crossing your arms after you said the statement. It drove people up a goddamn wall around the campfire for a good 45 minutes.

That's a misplaced modifier - there wasn't really a wall around the campfire.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 1:51 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think you'll find a lot of these if you search for "group games" or "icebreaker games".

My favorite one from when I was a kid (we played these a lot in drama class) was Psychiatrist. One person in the group is chosen to be the psychiatrist and is sent out of the room. All the other people (the patients) decide on a theme that the psychiatrist must guess when s/he returns by asking yes or no questions. Examples: everyone answers as if they're the person to their left; everyone answers as if they are each the psychiatrist; everyone answers as if they're themselves (and so on).
posted by phunniemee at 1:51 PM on September 7, 2010

The old Zoom tv show that ran on PBS used to have a similar game called "Fannee Doolees". It had the same rule about double letters (which looks like the rule for your first example.)

Don't know what they're called overall though.
posted by NoraCharles at 1:53 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There's one played by forming patterns with cigarettes or matchsticks. Everyone takes a guess as to the number the pattern represents (imagine people sitting on the floor in a circle). The person making the patterns will arrange them very carefully, making it seem like there is some trick to the specific arrangement. After the've created a pattern, they remove their hands and as their hands are sliding back to them, some number of fingers are extended. That number is the answer. There are lots of variations based on people's names or positions in the circle, etc...
posted by whiskeyspider at 1:53 PM on September 7, 2010

Heh.. Thanks, I felt really dumb when I couldn't figure out how to get the spoilers to show. I tried highlighting, double clicking, right clicking, and even double clicking faster. So basically my two were two you already had. Oh well.
posted by bowmaniac at 1:53 PM on September 7, 2010

Wikipedia has a page about the Scissors game, too.
posted by jedicus at 1:54 PM on September 7, 2010

"I like coffee but I don't like Tea." (Player starting the game says this line.)
"I like noodles but I don't like pasTa."
"I like dogs but I don't like caTs."
"I like magazines but I don't like arTicles."
"I like French horns but I don't like TrumpeTs."


The card game Mao is a hyper-evil version of this type of riddle. I will not say more.
posted by athenasbanquet at 1:55 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

As you make the kid's finger-gun gesture at each person in turn: "Click, click, click, bang. Who's dead?"

As with the ball example above, the rule is that whoever speaks first is dead.
posted by Netzapper at 1:57 PM on September 7, 2010

I know this isn't a game, per se, but it's still entertaining. A good "magic trick" for a group of kids at camp or something similar:

Seat the kids in a circle. You, the psychic, bring the "psychic rock" or whatever out of your pocket. Tell them that you're going to leave the room and you want the group to silently decide which person should pick up the rock. That person is to pick up the rock, hold it tight for five seconds, and set it back down. Then they call for you to re-enter the room.

After close examination and whatever cheesy theater you wish to put on, you tell the group who exactly picked up the rock.

This of course requires that much earlier in the day you pick one kid to be your confidant in all this. They are told that once they're in the circle they should sit in the exact same way as the person who held the rock. If the confidant was chosen by the group to hold the rock, obviously they should sit in some fashion that doesn't mimic anyone else in the group.

You can run through this one five or six times and then say, "Well, time to go [do crafts / eat lunch / whatever]" and leave those kids astonished for days. Also, kids by nature are crafty, so make sure and have a contingency plan for when they decide that no one should touch the rock.
posted by komara at 2:01 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh! I just remembered another one called "Black's Magic". You need an accomplice to "know" the rule*.
1. Send accomplice out of the room.
2. Have the group pick an object in the room.
3. Accomplice returns and you begin pointing at things, "Did the group pick this flag?" "Did the group pick this trashcan?"
4. Accomplice replies in the negative until you get to what the group picked and they respond in the affirmative.
5. Everyone is totally amazed.
Do it a few times to see who can figure out the trick.

*The rule is that the item the group picked will always be the first thing AFTER you point to something black. So:
You: Is it the (blue) flag?
Accomplice: no
You: Is it the (brown) trashcan?
Accomplice: no
You: Is it this (black) magic marker?
Accomplice: no
You: Is it the plant in the window?
Accomplice: YES!
Group: WOW!!! That's cool!
posted by NoraCharles at 2:02 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

athenasbanquet: ""The card game Mao is a hyper-evil version of this type of riddle. I will not say more."

Mao is the greatest card game in existence.

A more physical one is "The Man in the Moon". You ask the players/victims to do exactly as you do. Then you say "The man in the moon has two eyes, a nose, and a mouth". As you're reciting it, you use your LEFT hand to draw a circle in the air, dot it with two eyes and a nose, then a curved mouth. Your friends/victims will doubtless try to do it with their right hands (unless they're lefties). You tell them they're wrong and do it with your left hand again, until they figure it out. Some times it takes a while. They'll probably hate you afterwards.
posted by specialagentwebb at 2:07 PM on September 7, 2010

Best answer: Oh man, the first icebreaker game I played in college was a totally hilarious variant of this, called "Sexual fantasy."

One person would be sent out of the room, while the rest of the group "Created their sexual fantasy" - which was really just deciding on a rule to use. The person would be invited back once a rule was chosen and would ask yes or no questions to the group about what the fantasy involved - i.e. "Am I riding a unicorn?" "Is Mrs. Robinson there?" and the group would collectively answer Yes or No based on the question and the rule. Usually the rule was something along the lines of 'if the last letter of the question begins with the letters A to M, say yes" and "If the last letter of the question begins with N to Z, say no." So "Am I riding a unicorn?" would get a universal "No" from the group, while "Is Mrs. Robinson there?" would get a unanimous (and enthusiastic) "Yes!"

if the victim has never played before, you usually can keep 'em going for a long time before they figure it out, and they get totally baffled by how the whole group had come to a consensus on such a detailed fantasy.
posted by ghostbikes at 2:09 PM on September 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

This thread has already gone through all of the games of this type I know, but I have to point out my favorite example of the Green Glass Door game: McCartney, Lennon, Harrison, and Starr, but not Paul, John, George, or Ringo.
posted by emyd at 2:17 PM on September 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

specialagentwebb "Mao is the greatest card game in existence"

Echoing this. Just don't talk about the rules!

All this reminds me of a game called "the petals around the rose (and the name of the game is important!)". How it goes is that everyone in the group takes turns rolling two dice, and you respond with the number of petals, and everyone else has to guess what the pattern is. This tends to be particularly boggling for the more mathematically-minded - it took the postdoc in my lab 2 days to figure it out!

For example:
3 + 4 -> 2.
2 + 5 -> 4.
2 + 6 -> 0.
3 + 3 -> 4.
1 + 3 -> 2.
1 + 2 -> 0.
1 + 1 -> 0.
4 + 5 -> 4.
3 + 6 -> 2.

posted by Arandia at 2:28 PM on September 7, 2010

Best answer: One of my favorites is from a puzzle in Monkey Island II.

Hold up one hand with a number of fingers displayed (let's say, four). Say, "if this is two..." (now change to show some other number of fingers) "...what's this?"

The answer is always the first number of fingers you held up, in this case, four. The second number you show is meaningless, as is the number you say aloud. Everybody will be sure there's math involved, or some sort of cipher required. People will occasionally guess the right number and start to think they're onto it, only to be completely wrong with their next attempt. It's frustrating but so obvious once you get it. To really mess with people's heads, start displaying numbers in odd ways, like with a single pinky up, or a thumbs-down gesture, or "hang ten," or a finger-gun, as if the particular gesture makes some difference for the outcome. It's a great party trick.

See it in the original game here (skip ahead to 6:32; spoilers; and no fun because the player already knows the trick).
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 2:59 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's one played by forming patterns with cigarettes or matchsticks. Everyone takes a guess as to the number the pattern represents (imagine people sitting on the floor in a circle). The person making the patterns will arrange them very carefully, making it seem like there is some trick to the specific arrangement. After the've created a pattern, they remove their hands and as their hands are sliding back to them, some number of fingers are extended. That number is the answer. There are lots of variations based on people's names or positions in the circle, etc...

The person who taught me this game called it "Chinese Writing." There were many people sitting in a circle and supposedly she was spelling out the name of one or more of us. She arranged chopsticks, pens and pencils, and we would guess whose name it was. People tended to think the answer had something to do with how the objects were pointing, but the answer was always the person or people whose sitting style she was imitating.
posted by peep at 3:19 PM on September 7, 2010

Best answer: I don't know what this genre of riddle is called, but I know of a few.

Big Blue Moon: The riddler says, "Um, alright, okay. Big blue moon, [noun 1] [noun 2] [noun 3]." (You can fill in any words you like for the blanks.) The guesser then tries to make a statement that conforms with the unspoken rule. The unspoken rule here is that you must preface your big blue moon statement with "Um, alright, okay." If the riddler can say that preface convincingly (e.g. it sounds natural, like they are just thinking out loud), it can take the guesser quite some time to guess the rule.

Purple Frying Pan: This one is for groups. The riddler says, "I have a purple frying pan, and in my purple frying pan is [name of a person in the group]. Who is in my purple frying pan?" The unspoken rule is that the first person to respond to the riddler is the person in the pan. So if Mary pipes up first and guesses John, she's wrong; if Mary guesses herself, she's correct.

A variation on the game ghostbikes described: When we play this, we reply to sentences ending in a vowel with "yes", sentences ending in a consonant with "no", and sentences ending in 'y' with "maybe." We can keep new victims going with this game for a longgggg time. Especially since we usually don't bother telling them it's a game; instead we say something like "Hey, we made up this story about you, you should try and guess what it was." It takes a gullible sort of person, but when it works it is hilarious. Variations on the "sexual fantasy" theme abound - e.g. "dream vacation", etc.

I used to know a hundred of these from my summer camp days. I'll see if I can think of some more.
posted by pemberkins at 3:37 PM on September 7, 2010

I learned the double-letter game as "poor silly Tillie Williams", who like apples but not pears, etc.
posted by leahwrenn at 4:03 PM on September 7, 2010

A long time ago, in the Mathematical Games column in Scientific American, Martin Gardner described a pen-and-paper game which is a bit related.

In each round of play, one player is the game master. The others compete. Each of them has a piece of graph paper, with an N*N square marked off. The master fills in his square using one of an agreed number of symbols in each box (e.g. numbers 1, 2, 3, or 4).

A player can place a small mark in the corner of as many of the squares on his piece of paper as he wants, and turn it in to the game master. The game master will then fill in the correct answer to each of them. Players may do this as many times as they want, until they think they've figured out the pattern that the game master used. Then they fill in all the rest of the squares themselves, and give that to the game master. He then determines how many of them were right, and that is that player's score.

The game master himself gets as his score twice the difference between the highest player score and the lowest player score. This gives him an incentive to make his pattern discernible but not trivially easy, since he wants someone to guess it and someone else to be stumped.

Each game consists of one round where each of the players is the game master, so if five people compete there will be five rounds. At the end all the scores are totalled up and the highest one wins.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:09 PM on September 7, 2010

I learned Petals around the Rose as Polar Bears around the Ice Hole. In case it helps with googling. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:51 PM on September 7, 2010

Back in college we had a drinking game like this (played with new students), called "One up, one down". On your turn, you could say one of four things: "one up", "one down", "two up", or "two down". If you got it wrong, people who knew the rules would tell you, and you would have to take a sip of your drink.

posted by fings at 7:24 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all pretty great! I look forward to using them.

Here's another one I heard:

"Let's take a trip around the world! Where should we start?"
"Let's start in Algiers. That sounds lovely. Where should we go next?"
"Ooh, I know! We should go to Rochester!"
"Yes, that's our next stop! Where should we go next in our trip around the world?"

Players have to offer a destination, and can receive the following answers:
"Yes, that's our next stop." "That sounds good, but we can't go there yet." or "We can never go to _____."

posted by Zaximus at 9:27 PM on September 7, 2010

I love these kind of games!

In high school, we did a variation of #3 called The Finger Pointing Game. Participants stand or sit in a circle, you start off by randomly pointing at people in the circle while saying "This is the finger pointing game. Watch and listen to see who is It." (The answer is the first person to speak) The more randomly you point, the easier it is to throw everyone off. : )
posted by SisterHavana at 10:37 PM on September 7, 2010

Used to play Scissors at university as a drinking game (well with first years until they work out the rules)

Another variation is Glasses were one person arranges a number of empty glasses on a table, turns some upside down, puts one on top of another, moves them around etc then asks how many glasses there are. The 'answer' is the number of words in the question... so 'How many there then?" would be 4, 'How many?' would be 2 etc

BTW Variations on this sort of thing were the basis for a lot of 'mind reader' musical hall / vaudeville acts in the past.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:42 AM on September 8, 2010

Learned this one in a church youth group in Southern California circa 1990:

(leader folds a handkerchief in three places, then asks...)
"My aunt Emma, she died last night. Did she die?"
(players guess)
"No, she didn't."
(leader folds a handkerchief in three different places, then asks...)
"Now listen... My aunt Emma, she died last night. Did she die?"
(players guess)
"Yes, she did!"

Of course, the handkerchief is just a red herring. RULE: If the sentence starts with "Now listen," then she died. Otherwise, she didn't die. Since the rule's so simple, you can make it increasingly more obvious, practically shouting "NOW LISTEN" until most of the group gets it.
posted by waxpancake at 12:29 PM on September 8, 2010

waxpancake's game reminded me of another I knew (an iteration on that theme).

Hold up your left hand with your fingers making a certain pattern (e.g. hold up two fingers apart, three fingers together...anything.) Hold up your right hand making another pattern.

State: "(Listen!) If this is a stick [indicate left hand] and this is a stick [indicate right hand]..."

Then hold up a hand in a third pattern.

State: "...then is this a stick?"

Like waxpancake's game, if you say "Listen" at the beginning of the whole affair, then the answer is yes. If you don't say "Listen," the answer is no.
posted by pemberkins at 12:51 PM on September 8, 2010

Another less morbid variation of the waxpancakes dead Aunt Emma game I learned was called "The Key Game," played with some keys.

Leader: "OK, I know the key game, the key game, the key game, I know the key game, how about you?"

The leader tosses the key to another player, who must learn that the game has nothing to do with the keys, and all about how the sing-songey phrase is started. "OK" is a common one, but any small utterance works. The more serious the repetition of the non-important actions by other players, the better. Most players will try to repeat the number of key tosses, the back-and-forth-between-hands pattern of key tosses, or the way the song is sung, but miss the first utterance. If no one gets it, make it obvious with an uncommon beginning. "Banana, I know the key game, the key game ..."

A few more are found on this college orientation website under the "Riddle Games" category.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:27 PM on September 8, 2010

I had a children's book of games for the car, and it called this game "My grandmother is very strange," where each round would begin with "My grandmother is very strange..." and end with something like "she likes apples but not oranges."

A Google search for this title yielded only one dubious link (using "grandma" instead of "grandmother"), but I'm virtually certain this is what it was called in the book and we would play it this way.
posted by joan cusack the second at 11:35 PM on September 8, 2010

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