USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Riddle’
Folk speech
Narrative
Riddle

Riddle

Our conversation went as follows:

Matthew: “You walk into a warehouse and see a man hanging 30 feet in the air from a noose. All you see is a puddle of water and a fan that is turned on. What happened?”

Me: “Is this a riddle?”

Matthew: “Yes, what happened?”

Me: “Did he spill the water?”

Matthew: “No.”

Me: “But he is in fact dead?”

Matthew: “Yes, with a noose around his neck.”

Me: “I’m not sure, tell me.”

Matthew: “He stood on the top of a tall block of ice and put the noose around his neck. He had turned the fan on, so it slowly melted block of ice. After time he is left he’s hanging in the air, melted ice is the puddle of water you see.”

 

Background Information: Matthew is a 19-year old male born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. He is currently a sophomore at USC.

Context: Matthew shared this story with me in a conversation about holiday traditions with our families over coffee.

Analysis: I find riddles very compelling because unlike a joke, they require creative thought to be solved or understood. I never think to use riddles, as I do not know many, so I am always fascinated when someone finds a way to integrate a riddle within their everyday speech. I had heard a very different rendition of the riddle that Matthew said to me before, but it was different enough that I couldn’t initially see the relation to remember the answer. This is another quality of riddles that makes them so interesting: they demonstrate extreme multiplicity, and you will always find different wording to the riddle and answer depending on who is saying the riddle.

Riddle

“Agua pasa por mi casa, cate de mi corazón, lleva un vestido verde, y amarillo el corazón,” Mexico

This riddle was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico and is 21 years old. The riddle “agua pasa por mi casa, cate de mi corazón, lleva un vestido verde, y amarillo el corazón” translates into English literally as “water passes through my house, cate from my heart, it wears a green dress, and has a yellow heart.” The answer is avocado, for the word in Spanish for it is aguacate, so if it is split in too it becomes “agua” (the word for water) and “cate,” which isn’t an actual word.

 

My friend says she used to hear it a lot around school as she was growing up. She says she isn’t surprised that avocados were made into a riddle since avocados are very common in Mexico, and she grew up eating them with every single meal.

 

This riddle is a variation of one I grew up with myself, and it is one of the most popular ones that I can remember from my childhood. It seems that Latin American riddles are a bit more symbolic in that they involved more imagery than American ones.

Game
Riddle

Erre con Erre

What is being performed?
TV: There’s this little riddle Venezuelan’s teach their children to learn how to roll their “r’s”
AA: How does it go?
TV: Erre con erre cigarro. Erre con erre barril. Rápido corren los carros, cargados de azúcar del
ferrocarril.
AA: What does it mean?
TV: Nothing real, it’s just a way to practice rolling your “r’s” by saying as many “r” words as
possible.
AA: What could it translate to?
TV: I guess roughly it translates to R with R, uh, cigar, R with R, barrell, the cars go fast and
they’re carrying sugar from the railroad. It’s a lot of gibberish.

Why do they know or like this piece? where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to
them?
AA: Has this helped you?
TV: It actually has. It sticks with you and it’s fun so you get good practice rolling your “r’s.”
AA: What does it mean to you?
TV: I see it as a way I can help my future children embrace their Venezuelan culture and learn
how to speak with an accent when speaking Spanish. The Venezuelan accent is very different
from other Latin American accents, too, so it’s a way to embrace that.
Context of the performance- where do you perform it? History?
AA: Where do you perform this?
TV: It’s mostly performed amongst young children in school as sort of a little competition or
between a parent and a child as practice.

Reflection
I think this is a very catchy and fun way of practicing rolling “r’s”– something that’s fundamental
to proper pronunciation in Spanish. I think it’s a special trick that gets to be shared with families
and passed down. I also think it’s a celebration of Spanish and a language that is very beautiful
because of it’s pronunciation.

Folk speech
Riddle

The Inedible Pear Riddle

Main Piece:

Original:

Весит груша, нельзя скушать.

– Лампочка.

Phonetic:

Vesit grusha, nel’zya skushat’.
– Lampochka.

Translation:

A pear is hanging, but you cannot eat it.

– Light bulb.

Background Information:

  • Why does informant know this piece?

This was told to him by his childhood friends

  • Where did they learn this piece?

Ukraine

  • What does it mean to them?

It’s an interesting riddle.

Context:

This is told by children to other children to play riddle games.

Personal Thoughts:

I have heard a different variant of this riddle, where the answer is “boxing punch bag” instead of a light bulb, since the word for “pear” and “punching bag” in Russian is the same (груша).

Childhood
Folk speech
Game
Humor
Riddle

The Lock

Main Piece: The Lock

The following was an interview of a Participant/interviewee about a folk riddle that is passed within his community or his school. He is marked as AO. I am marked as DM.

AO: El dia de ahora les quiero hacer una adivinanza. Haber si la pueden adivinar. Es chiquito come un ratón y cuidad la casa como un león. Que es?

DM: I don’t know.

AO: El candado.  

Translate:

AO: Today I am going to tell you a riddle. Let’s see if you guys can solve it. It is small like a mouse and guards the house like a lion. What is it?

DM: I don’t know.

AO: The lock.

Background/Context:

The participant is 56 years old. He grew up in Mexico City, Mexico. Alberto, who is marked as AO, is my grandpa. When I was growing up, my grandpa loved to tell me and my sisters jokes or riddles. He would tell us it helped us develop a different way of thinking. He learned this riddle and I learned this riddle in Spanish, but it makes sense in English as well. Below is a conversation I had with AO for more background/context of the joke, which was originally in Spanish.

DM: Why do you know/ like this riddle?

AO: I like to tell this riddle because it became a motivation to read. All of my books in elementary contained jokes, which made it easier to read.

DM: Where and from who did you learn this riddle from?

AO: I learned this joke in Mexico from an elementary book.  

DM: What does this riddle mean/ signify to you?

AO: Telling jokes or phrases that make people think is a tradition in Mexico. This was a better way to unfold my learning abilities in an enjoyable manner.  

Analysis/ My Thoughts:

Every time I heard this joke I never thought about it as a way to pass time or a game. I think it is important to know that at one point riddles were a form of entertainment in some communities. The fact that elementary books in Mexico that are full of riddles are being read by students is amazing. The students have no idea that their readings contain so much tradition or folklore. The fact is that the riddles that are authored text can be continued to be passed down to other children.

Folk speech
Game
Humor
Riddle

El Plato de Maiz, el Cayote, y la Gallina

Main Piece: El Plato de Maiz, el Cayote, y la Gallina

The following was an interview of a Participant/interviewee about a folk riddle that is passed within his community. He is marked as AO. I am marked as DM.

AO: Ahora les voy hacer una adivinanza. Haber si pueden resolverlo. Tengo una gallina, un coyote, y un plato de maíz. Que tengo que cruzar por un río. Pero en la lancha que llevo solamente puedo traer una cosa a la vez. Sin perder ninguna de las tres cosas. Tienes que cruzar de un lugar a otro. Creen que se puede hacer? Sin la gallina se coma el maíz ni que el coyote se coma la gallina?

DM: No.

AO: Se les voy a demostrar que si se puede. Tenemos la gallina, tenemos el coyote, y tenemos el maíz. Aqui esta el rio. Como solamente podemos cruzar una cosa a la vez, primero agregamos la gallina, la subimos al bote, y la pasamos del otro lado. Ya tenemos la gallina de esta lado. Nos regresamos y nos tiremos el coyote. Tiremos al coyote, como no más puedes agarrar una sola cosa a la vez, agarramos la gallina y la regresamos para tras y los tiremos el maíz. Y como ya tenemos a la gallina y el maíz el coyote no se puede comer el maíz y la gallina volvemos a tener aqa entonces nos volvemos a traer la gallina de regreso. Y ya tenemos las tres cosas aqa.

Translate:

AO: Today I am going to tell you a riddle. Let’s see if you guys can solve it. I have a chicken, a coyote, and a plate of corn. I have to cross a river. But in the boat I can only bring one thing at a time. Without losing any of the three things. You have to cross from one place to another. Do you think it can be done? Without the chicken eating the corn or the coyote eating the chicken?

DM: No.

AO: I’m going to show you that you can. We have the chicken, we have the coyote, and we have the corn. Here’s the river. Since we can only cross one thing at a time, take the chicken to the other side of the river. We’ve got the chicken on this side. You come back and take the coyote. We take the coyote, return with the chicken. You leave the chicken and take the corn. Then you come back for the chicken and take it to the other side again.

Background/Context:

The participant is 56 years old. He grew up in Mexico City, Mexico. Alberto, who is marked as AO, is my grandpa. When I was growing up, my grandpa loved to tell me and my sisters jokes or riddles. He would tell us it helped us develop a different way of thinking. He learned this riddle and I learned this riddle in Spanish, but it makes sense in English as well. Below is a conversation I had with AO for more background/context of the joke, which was originally in Spanish.

DM: Why do you know/ like this riddle?

AO: I like to tell this riddle because I want to make people think.

DM: Where and from who did you learn this riddle from?

AO: I learned this joke in Mexico from a friends.  

DM: What does this riddle mean/ signify to you?

AO: Telling jokes or phrases that make people think was a tradition in Mexico. Also, since there was no internet or tv in my time, this was a way to pass time. Telling stories, jokes, riddles was a game or form entertainment to us.

Analysis/ My Thoughts:

Every time I heard this joke I never thought about it as a way to pass time or a game. I think it is important to know that at one point riddles were a form of entertainment in some communities. The fact that people in Mexico would sit around telling each other proverbs, jokes, and riddles that learn from their families and to not think about it as folklore is amazing. The fact is that one daily conversation can turn into something that will last forever.

Folk speech
Game
Humor
Riddle

Cero y Cruz

Main Piece: Cero y Cruz

The following was an interview of a Participant/interviewee about a folk riddle that is passed within his community. He is marked as AO. I am marked as DM.

AO: Les voy a, a, preguntar otra adivinanza. Haber si pueden resolverlo. Quiero que me dibujen un cero, una cruz, y un pueblo con tres letras I mean con tres líneas.

DM: Haber como se hace?

AO: Okay creen que es posible dibujar un cero, una cruz, y un pueblo completo con tres líneas no más?

DM: Pues no porque no mas con dos linas ya es la cruz.

AO: Pues ahorita les voy a demostrar que si se puede. La primera línea (draws a hill) ahí está el cero, y aquí (draws a cross) está la cruz. See?

DM: Pues donde está el pueblo?

AO: El pueblo está atrás del cero.

Translation:

AO: I am going to tell you guys another riddle. Let’s see if you guys can solve it. I want you to draw me a hill, a cross, and a town with three lines.

DM: Lets see how do you do it?

AO: Okay, how do you think it is possible to draw a hill, a cross, and a complete town with three lines only?

DM: Well no because with only the cross you use two lines.

AO: Well, I am going to demonstrate that you can do it. The first line (draws a hill) here is the hill, and here (draws a cross) is the cross. See?

DM: Wait where is the town?

AO: Behind the hill.

Background/Context:

The participant is 56 years old. He grew up in Mexico City, Mexico. Alberto, who is marked as AO, is my grandpa. When I was growing up, my grandpa loved to tell me and my sisters jokes or riddles. He would tell us it helped us develop a different way of thinking. He learned this riddle and I learned this riddle in Spanish, but it makes sense in English as well. Below is a conversation I had with AO for more background/context of the joke, which was originally in Spanish.

DM: Why do you know/ like this riddle?

AO: I like to tell this riddle because I want to make people think.

DM: Where and from who did you learn this riddle from?

AO: I learned this joke in Mexico from a friend, Rene, at the age of ten or eleven.

DM: What does this riddle mean/ signify to you?

AO: Telling jokes or phrases that make people think was a tradition in Mexico. Also, since there was no internet or tv in my time, this was a way to pass time. Telling stories, jokes, riddles was a game or form entertainment to us.

Analysis/ My Thoughts:

Every time I heard this joke I never thought about it as a way to pass time or a game. I think it is important to know that at one point riddles were a form of entertainment in some communities. The fact that people in Mexico would sit around telling each other proverbs, jokes, and riddles that learn from their families and to not think about it as folklore is amazing. The fact that one daily conversation can turn into something that will last forever.

Folk speech
Game
Humor
Riddle

Luna

Main Piece: Luna

The following was an interview of a Participant/interviewee about a folk riddle that is passed within his community. He is marked as AO. I am marked as DM.

AO: Les voy hacer una adivinanza. Quiero que me digan una palabra de cuatro letras que cuando le quitan una letra queda una.

DM: I don’t know. No puede ser porque si le quitas una letra no mas queda tres letras es impossible.

AO: No si hay. Queres ver?

DM: Si a ver.

AO: Mira la palabra es L-U-N-A (writes down luna on paper). Si le quitas una letra (crosses out L) queda U-N-A.

Translation:

AO: I am going to tell you guys a riddle. I want you to tell me a word that has four letters and when you take one letter away one is left.

DM: I don’t know. It’s impossible because if you take one away you are left with three.

AO: Yes there is away. Want to see?

DM: Yes, lets see.

AO: The word is M-O-O-N (writes it down on paper). If you take away one letter (crosses out M), one is left.

Background/Context:

The participant is 56 years old. He grew up in Mexico City, Mexico. Alberto, who is marked as AO, is my grandpa. When I was growing up, my grandpa loved to tell me and my sisters jokes or riddles. He would tell us it helped us develop a different way of thinking. This joke only works in Spanish since it a wordplay riddle. The word “luna” means moon and the word “una” means one, but “una” is also the last three letters of the word “luna”. The riddle is to find a word that when you take away one letter “una”, “una” is left meaning taking away one letter, which is the L in “luna” leaves “una”. Below is a conversation I had with AO for more background/context of the joke, which was originally in Spanish.

DM: Why do you know/ like this riddle?

AO: I like to tell this riddle because I want to make people think. The word was also very popular in Mexico.

DM: Where and from who did you learn this riddle from?

AO: I learned this joke in Mexico from my brother, Gavino.

DM: What does this riddle mean/ signify to you?

AO: Telling jokes or phrases that make people think was a tradition in Mexico. Also, since there was no internet or tv in my time, this was a way to pass time. Telling stories, jokes, riddles was a game or form entertainment to us.

Analysis/ My Thoughts:

Every time I heard this joke I never thought about it as a way to pass time or a game. I think it is important to know that at one point riddles were a form of entertainment in some communities. The fact that people in Mexico would sit around telling each other proverbs, jokes, and riddles that learn from their families and to not think about it as folklore is amazing. The fact that one daily conversation can turn into something that will last forever.

Folk speech
Riddle

Sumer Riddle

The ancient civilization Sumer is home to one of the earliest riddles known in existence.  The following is the first riddle recited by my old high school english teacher:

“There is a house. One enters it blind and comes out seeing. What is it?

Answer: A school.

That’s why it’s my favorite”

Analysis: My old teacher said he first heard this riddle from another teacher at a school he used to teach at and has been teaching it to his students ever since.  I think riddles are extremely significant pieces of folklore because they make people think but are still lighthearted.  Riddles have had more cultural significance earlier in history when heroes would commonly be asked them in order to enter or pass through an area of some sort such as a temple.  Nowadays, people do not get asked or tell riddles as commonly, but it is not uncommon for people to still have to answer riddles to gain entry somewhere, like a password to a secret party.  For example, there is a riddle each member of my sorority must solve to gain entrance to our weekly chapter meetings.  Riddles are especially prevalent in schools where instructors are constantly trying to help their students gain knowledge by challenging them academically with something like a riddle.  I find this piece of folklore intriguing because the riddle by itself often accompanies a larger story involving key players such as who is asking the riddle and who is answering the riddle.  One can either choose to look at the whole story or simply analyze the riddle.

Folk speech
general
Riddle

Russian Riddles

The 26-year-old informant was born in Russia, but moved to the U.S. at a young age. During his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College, he was a teaching assistant for a Russian folklore class and found these pieces of folklore to be particularly interesting or representative of Russian culture.

“Another sort of interesting thing that occurs in all sort of Russian folklore is riddles. Like, in fairytales you’ll often have heroes having to solve riddles. So one riddle is:

In the morning it’s seven feet long,

At midday it’s seven inches long,

And in the evening, it reaches across the field.

So the answer to that is a shadow.

Another one is:

Can’t be measured,

Can’t be weighed,

But everyone’s got one.

And the answer to that is the mind.”

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