Puzzles with only "yes" or "no" questions
November 25, 2014 5:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm not sure what these types of puzzles are called, but I want to build the canonical list of them. They are usually vague, open-ended descriptions of a situation, and the other players have to figure out what's going on. Players can only ask questions that can be answered by either "yes" or "no," they cannot ask anything else.

Here's an example of one:

A man is running. He is trying desperately to get home. Another man is chasing him. At home, a man wearing a mask is waiting for him.

Via a series of yes-or-no questions, the audience eventually figures out that what is going on here is a game of baseball.

That is one of the easier ones. The hardest one I've ever encountered is the "Albatross soup" puzzle, in which a man walks into a seaside restaurant, orders a bowl of albatross soup, takes one bite, and dies. This one can take days for people to figure out. At first, most people are convinced the soup must be poisoned somehow, or the man is allergic to something. Eventually, they might figure out that he is wearing tattered clothes, and that he clearly hasn't shaved for a long time. The eventual answer: The man is the last survivor of a shipwreck, and for many days, the ship's cook, who is now also dead, has been serving the survivors "albatross soup," which the main character developed a taste for. When he finally made it back to the mainland, he ordered a bowl of his beloved soup, but upon first bite, it became clear to him that the cook had been feeding him soup made with the bodies of his dead shipmates, and that he had unwillingly been a cannibal all this time, leading him to have a heart attack and die.

That one is SO much fun to work with a big crowd, because it is so open-ended and people can go down so many different roads, and the correct answer is something nobody in their right mind would have come up with easily.

So, what are these types of puzzles called, and do you have any you can share? All age levels are fine, but I'm particularly partial to those that are PG or PG-13, because my kids love doing these. Thanks!
posted by jbickers to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (29 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:38 AM on November 25, 2014

I remember these being called "stories with holes" when I was a kid.
posted by marshmallow peep at 5:39 AM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've always called these "Twenty Questions" even though it often takes far more than twenty questions to figure it out. Two of my favorites are: A man is found, dead, lying face down in the desert. There are no footprints around him, only a rock. (Answer: It's Superman who was flying by when he encountered Green Kryptonite.) The other is: A man gets ready for work, kisses his wife goodbye, and listens to the radio as he's driving to work. He suddenly turns around, returns home, and shoots his wife. (Answer: The radio program is conducting a contest in which they call a phone number at random - which turns out to be his home number - and a man answers.)
posted by DrGail at 5:41 AM on November 25, 2014

Best answer: Lateral thinking puzzles.
posted by punchtothehead at 5:43 AM on November 25, 2014 [11 favorites]

I was taught these as "brain teasers."
posted by automatic cabinet at 6:04 AM on November 25, 2014

Best answer: I had a pile of Paul Sloane's books of these as a kid, all called lateral thinking puzzles. I highly recommend the books if your kids are into these.
posted by pemberkins at 6:10 AM on November 25, 2014

Best answer: I once owned the game Crack the Case, which is what you describe. I always loved it, but I had to bribe people to play it with me.

Check out the images for examples of how the game runs.
posted by slipthought at 6:12 AM on November 25, 2014

I've heard them called albatross stories after the one you mentioned above.
posted by crocomancer at 6:13 AM on November 25, 2014

Best answer: Here is a colossal pile of them, I can't vouch for their quality.
posted by emilyw at 6:13 AM on November 25, 2014

punchtothehead has it. These are commonly called lateral thinking puzzles.
posted by methroach at 6:18 AM on November 25, 2014

Twenty Questions.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:20 AM on November 25, 2014

I know them as riddles. Played alot of them at summer camp.
posted by 724A at 6:27 AM on November 25, 2014

One/five/ten minute mysteries.
posted by papayaninja at 6:44 AM on November 25, 2014

Best answer: I've heard them called "Situational Puzzles" and there is a list I have bookmarked here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:21 AM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

nthing Lateral Thinking Puzzles. A site I used to frequent posted one daily; that's what they called 'em.
posted by xbonesgt at 7:33 AM on November 25, 2014

In elementary school we called them "Stories with Holes".
posted by lyssabee at 7:34 AM on November 25, 2014

A man lives on the 30th floor of a hi-rise apartment. Every morning he rides the elevator down to the ground floor in order to go to work. Every night when he comes home, he rides the elevator up to the 26th floor, then gets out and walks up the remaining 4 floors to his apartment. Why? (He's a midget and can't reach the "30" button on the elevator control panel.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:55 AM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Stories with holes.

The version I learned of your initial example was

"The man was afraid to go home, because the man with the mask was there."

There was also one with 53 bicycles, whose framing details I can't quite remember (but the twist is that they're bicycle cards and someone was cheating.)
posted by leahwrenn at 9:13 AM on November 25, 2014

I know them as "stories with a hole."
posted by tckma at 9:16 AM on November 25, 2014

A man shoots his son. Then he frames his wife, and hangs her.

(The man is a photographer.)
posted by tckma at 9:20 AM on November 25, 2014

A man walks into a bar and asks the bartender for a glass of water. The bartender reaches down, takes out a gun and points it at the man. The man says, "Thank you" and walks out. (The man had the hiccoughs and the bartender scared him out of them.)
posted by 724A at 9:37 AM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

There was also one with 53 bicycles, whose framing details I can't quite remember (but the twist is that they're bicycle cards and someone was cheating.)

"A man was found shot to death in a room with 53 bicycles. What happened and why?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:40 AM on November 25, 2014

Yes, they are generally called Lateral Thinking puzzles.
posted by bondcliff at 9:51 AM on November 25, 2014

The music stopped, and she died. (Blindfolded tightrope walker; music ending was supposed to signal it was time to jump to the platform, but the speaker wire came loose early.)

Something something where someone died of being stabbed with an icicle.

Jack and Jill lie gasping on the floor, surrounded by water and broken glass. (They're goldfish and their bowl got broken.)

I used to know a whole bunch, and we called them something with "Computer" in it; the only responses were Yes, No, and Does Not Compute.
posted by daisyace at 10:14 AM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

"A bell rings, a man dies, a bell rings" and "A door opens, a man dies" were the top of the list when we used to play.
posted by komara at 10:41 AM on November 25, 2014

I'm sorry, I totally spaced out - my comment above was supposed to end with, "and I have no idea how anyone ever initiated a game other than saying, "I'm going to tell you a statement and you have to figure out what happened only by asking 'yes' or 'no' questions."" It's odd that as much as we played we didn't have a name for it that I can recall.
posted by komara at 11:09 AM on November 25, 2014

Oh my goodness. You just SOLVED for me the one that's been driving us nuts for literally months. (And I'd tried cheating by looking it up online, and no wonder I couldn't find it - I'd been told the bird was vulture!) At least, if it's not the same darn riddle, it's set-up is awfully close. But I swear I'd been down the path of cannibalism a time or two and been denied.... (I really didn't think I'd find *that* answer in here, especially in the question, just the plethora I've already seen, lol.)

They're also occasionally called teasers, in addition to some of the names given above. Mysterynet used to have a very active forum with this kind of puzzle... after changes, it was closed, and (i think) years later resurrected, but never really came back to what it was previously.
posted by stormyteal at 11:16 AM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I remember playing MindTrap game as a kid, which was like Trivial Pursuit, except with these kinds of puzzles.
posted by Wulfhere at 12:53 PM on November 25, 2014

Re: "the music stopped, and then she died", I heard a much more elaborate version, wherein the bandleader, who was her lover, murdered her.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:22 AM on November 26, 2014

« Older Need an easy-to-use quiz/ questionnaire generator   |   Ditmas Park for a couple/family? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.