Question: There are two rooms, one room has nothing but three switches. The other room has nothing but three light bulbs. You can only enter each room once. How do you determine which switch corresponds to which light bulb? Also: the walls aren’t transparent.
Answer: Flip one on, wait a couple minutes, repeat. Feel the heat of the bulbs in the other room.
The participant likes this riddle because it’s a bit longer than most of the ones he tells. I talked a little about his story in my post ‘A Dog Walks into a Forest…’ But essentially, he likes these riddles because they remind him of him and his dad growing up telling them to one another. He also said “Usually I’d ask riddles that have more to do with word play, I don’t know. But this one is just like a fun variation on that and makes the person think a little bit harder.
I actually guessed this one right, and he was pretty impressed. He asked, “You hadn’t heard that one before?” It was originally being told in a battle of wits between him and a friend of mine, who were asking riddles to one another trying to out-riddle the other. He usually will tell it if someone else will tell one first, or he might do it just to break the ice between he and someone he knows.
Just like the other riddles, this one was told as a back-and-forth exchange between two informants. What I find to be most interesting is the competitive aspect of this folk telling. The informant actually seemed to be legitimately surprised, and even almost a bit annoyed, that I had known the answer. As with traditional riddles, like this one is, there are traditional answers. Typically, those answers are not supposed to be easy to think of; they wouldn’t be considered good riddles if they were. Riddles almost give the person telling them the power to drive the conversation; only they know the answer, or other people who may have heard it.
Also intriguing is the competitive aspect between the two participants. I asked for different riddles, or jokes, but it seemed that just as one ended, another began. I didn’t say that the best one won some sort of prize, or that the most clever would be included. However, it seemed that they were more interested in telling one another these riddles than to me. Why might this be?
I would argue that these participants had learned these riddles throughout their childhood and early adulthood; to them, they own their histories and the memories of them. These riddles, actionable to recall at any time, act as a way to show the history of their wits. Whoever is able to stump the other repeatedly, or has more clever riddles, is the one that has had superior intellectual exposure to riddles. It’s common after someone tells a riddle to say “Ooooh, that’s a good one!” This qualification of which riddles are the most clever can act as an actual social agent in determining the wits of an individual.
Question: You’re standing in a room which is centered perfectly on the south pole. You see a polar bear walk by the window. In what cardinal direction is the polar bear?
Answer: North. It can be northeast or northwest.
“I don’t even know where I heard this. Probably when I was in middle school? I don’t know, I definitely remember telling it to people in high school – it’s one of my favorite riddles. It’s just like, simple, but sort of like fucks with your mind a bit? You can almost, like, feel your head spinning as you think about it”
“I usually tell this story only when other people bring riddles up. I don’t, like, just casually whip out some riddles because I want to. But they are fun and entertaining, I guess.”
This, along with “A Dog Walks into a Forest” and “Three Light Bulbs, Two Rooms, and One Answer…” were part of an exchange between two informants that went back and forth with riddles they knew. While the first informant had familial connections to the riddles he was telling, this informant seemed to have less attachment to his riddles. Still, however, it was a point of pride for him when no one could answer. For more analysis on what this competitive aspect of riddling might mean, reference my post “Three Light Bulbs, Two Rooms, and One Answer…”
As for the piece itself, I think it’s interesting that this riddle would probably have been easier in years past. As we become more removed from our transportation and travel around our world, so too does our sense of direction become lost. I know many people who do not know the difference between East and West. While that is certainly not standard, and not a good thing in any way, it was still interesting for me to have to mentally orient myself on a map on the South Pole, spinning my head around trying to make sense of it all.
Informant “J” is a 19 year male old college student at the University of Southern California, he is studying Neuroscience and is a Sophomore at the time of this interview. He was born in Danville, California to a Jewish father and as a result J has regular exposure to Jewish traditions and customs. Though he does involve himself with Jewish traditions, he does not practice Judaism and considers himself non-religious.
Bolded portion is a quick summation of the the particular piece of Folklore.
“J: So when I was growing up, and, to this day, my Grandma, what she liked to do was, she liked to challenge me to see who loved each other more and we would do that by someone saying “I love you” and someone saying “I love you more”, and someone would say I love you the most.
J:So what would happen when we were kids, when we were at the pool, is we would try to figure out who loved each other the most, so instead of just saying it more we had to wait five minutes before some could say it again in order for the time to reset. So we’d be doing something, we’d be swimming in the pool and than all of a sudden someone would be like “oh I love you the most” and they would love you the most for those five minutes. And, ever since, ever to this day everytime we finished talking we’d always just go “I love you the most”, “nope, I love you the most” and try to say “No, I love you the most I’ve loved you before you were born”, so it’s something that we do with our family.
Me: Um, when you say, wait five minutes, is it sort of like the first person to say it wins? Or is it that, they sort of, for that entire five minute period they are the winner and then they until they are “challenged again”?
J: It was just kind of like you just couldn’t say it right away and whoever did it was the winner for that five minutes. It would restart five minutes later. Whoever could say it than obviously loved the other the most because they were paying such close attention in order to tell the other person.
Me: So let me get this straight, somebody would say “I love you the most” after a sort of like ‘escalation’, and than you’d wait five minutes…
J: It went to the point where you didn’t even have to start it off, it just began when you said “I love you the most”.
Me: Okay , so who started that tradition?
J: My grandma.
Me: And did she do that with her, uh, family as well with her Great Grandparents or… did it happen spontaneously?
J: Uhhhh… I think it kind of just happened spontaneously, I wasn’t alive for my Great Granparents on her side of the family, it would have been a long time ago. ”
Analysis: The game appears to be a game that reiterates the loving feelings among family members while allowing friendly competition between family members, this sort of ‘endearing competition’ allowing family members to prove their caring for one another. The tradition, started by his grandmother, who is American born (as he told me after the interview), had parents that were Ukrainian, so the tradition could have been generated or duplicated in the United States or Ukraine. His grandma’s use of the game allowed the use of the game to reiterate the feeling she has for her grandchildren, and the competitive aspect could help motivate the children to play along, while allowing them to express admiration for each other and her. As “J” described it, all members tried to answer first, and the competitive aspect was taken seriously.
“D” is a 19 year old female student at The University of Southern California. She is a Chemistry major and interested in pursuing Pharmacy after college. She is Vietnamese on both sides of her family and describes herself as very close with her sister, whom she shares many Folkloric traditions with. She played soccer up through high school and is currently active in the rugby community.
“D: Okay so before each game I would have, it sounds really weird, I would have a chocolate mocha and than I would have to put on my socks left first, than right second. I would also have to put my right cleat on before my left, and my left before my right, in reverse order basically.
Me: Was this because it happened sometime in the past and it worked?
D: It was because it was like a habit, and we won and I kinda just stuck to it.
Me: Do you think there is any validity to that helping you during the game?
D: No, it’s just a superstition. Like I would jump like three times before the whistle blew.
Me: Was it just you do did the team sorta, did the team sort of condone it?
D: The team had their own little things to do, we’d all like get in a circle before and we’d like talk, we all usually said the same things, like to pump each other up and we’d do like a team sprint to like win.
Me: Do you remember when that started, you had to have noticed that and decided to do it again at some time.
D: It was probably when I was like 10 or 11, when soccer really started to get competitive rather than like recreational.
Me: Okay, so when you played recreational you didn’t have any superstitions?
D: No. It didn’t really matter because I beat everyone”
The pre-game ritual is a well known superstition used to enhance one’s luck in a game prior to the game, they are widely used by profession sports teams (Barabbi, 2014),( Yeager, 2014) and non-professionals alike. “D”s attempt to replicate prior conditions that allowed her to win in the past points at an attempt to replicate a past event that had a favorable outcome, possibly by keeping as many variables the same as possible. Though she does acknowledge it plays no effect on her performance, her continued use of the ritual points to it being reinforcing in some respect. Its use after she considered soccer to be more competitive likely means she did believe it to garner some sort of advantage at the time she conceived of the ritual (Tobacyk & Shrader, 1991).
Barrabi, T. (2014). World Cup 2014: 8 Weirdest Pregame Rituals And Superstitions. International Business Times. Retrieved 30 April 2015, from http://www.ibtimes.com/world-cup-2014-8-weirdest-pregame-rituals-superstitions-1603838
Tobacyk, J., & Shrader, D. (1991). Superstition and self-efficacy.Psychological Reports, 68(3c), 1387-1388.
Yeager, S. (2015). Pregame rituals of the pros. Retrieved 30 April 2015, from http://espn.go.com/espnw/training/article/6857252/pregame-rituals-pros