Author Archives: Charlene Clee


“What is greater than God, more evil than the devil, the rich need it, the poor have it, and if you eat it you die?”


Geoff does not recall where he got this true riddle. He usually tells this riddle at family functions during the holidays because it is all-ages appropriate; he can tell the joke in front of his grandmother and children. He says he likes to tell it because everyone understands it right away, and people like it. He finds it amusing because supposedly more kindergarteners get the answer right than Stanford University graduates.

Just like Geoff, this particular riddle is pretty clean-cut and inoffensive. It is fitting he picks riddles that fit his personality and identity. He is very conscientious so he would never tell a riddle that could possibly offend someone. Also, he is religious, so it would make sense that he would say nothing is greater than God and nothing is more evil than the devil.

For me, this riddle was not a big surprise. The answer seemed really obvious afterwards, and I feel like had I thought about it, I would have eventually gotten it. This riddle does not really seem like much of an intellectual challenge, it seems to be pretty easy. However, I guess that is the point since Geoff says everyone laughs because it is so easy to understand.

I am surprised he tells riddles at family functions. I am not surprised that he tells this kind of riddle at family functions- meaning a completely clean one- but I just did not think people recited riddles very often anymore.

I think this riddle says something about how Americans view what they should be like. Americans tend to repress aggressive or sexual tendencies. It makes sense that Geoff would tell a completely clean riddle in public because that is what he is supposed to do. He is not supposed to tell dirty riddles or jokes at a family function. He is conforming to how society says he should interact at family functions. Society says he should avoid saying anything risqué. I think this is kind of sad because it is not realistic. While I agree that one should not tell dirty jokes or unclean riddles in front of grandparents or young children, I do not think folklore or things in general should be over-censored. Although usually jokes are a way to fight against authority and restrictions, this riddle shows that riddles can also be a way of reinforcing social norms.


“I come in darkness, but fill the mind with light. I bring enlightenment to some, while gripping others in the hand of fear. With me it can be a journey of inexplicable joy and sorrow. What I will show you will often be unreachable. Journey with me and what you see may haunt you. Journey with me and you may never want to return home. Journey with me and you will never know when it will end. What am I?”

“A dream.”

Kimiko, who goes by Kimi, learned this true riddle- a riddle with all the information necessary to figure out the answer- from her friend Daniel, who also attends UNC Greensboro. She was bored and asked him for some sort of entertainment, such as a joke. He told her this riddle instead. She said she will tell it to the next bored person who wants to be entertained.

She thinks of the riddle as a personal challenge. She is the type of person who prides herself on her intelligence. Riddles are difficult and she feels a sense of pride and triumph when she answers correctly.

I was surprised when she said she wanted to tell me a riddle. I do not really consider a riddle a popular form of entertainment. Typically, when I tell someone I am bored I want him or her to tell me a joke or a story, not a riddle. Kimi shows that riddles are still popular to some people. I never really viewed riddles as having much value, but Kimi showed me that they have a lot of intellectual value. They are not a bland, passive form of entertainment. Unlike watching television, one has to really think and struggle when engaged in a riddle.

I really liked this riddle as soon as she told me it. The question is eerie, slightly spooky, and mysterious—exactly like a dream. The riddle sounds dreamlike in quality. The riddle makes complete sense. One typically dreams at night, or “in darkness.” Dreams are usually associated with light; they bring activity to a dormant mind. Dreams can be huge eye-openers for people. They might experience something they never thought they would; it can be very enlightening. Nightmares fall under the category of dreams. Nightmares undoubtedly fill many with fear, doubt, and uncertainty. One can feel a wide range of emotions while dreaming, including joy and sorrow. Dreams have no bounds or limits. For instance, one can dream that he or she is flying. One will never know what it is like to fly unaided in reality though, thus flying is unattainable. Dreams can be haunting, especially if they are nightmares. While dreaming, one might dream something better than reality could ever offer. For example, if one dreamed about a deceased loved one that they missed dearly, they might not want to wake up. One can never tell when dreams are going to end. Knowing the answer to the riddle makes me feel clever and more knowledgeable. The answer seems far more obvious now that I know the answer and I made sense of the prompt. However, I am sure I still would have never guessed the answer had Kimi not told me. Because this riddle really resonates with me, I have already told multiple people this riddle and I plan on telling more.

Sports Ritual – Las Vegas, NV

In high school, Aaron played the position of goaltender for his lacrosse team. Before each game, as a ritual, he would write on a slip of paper “A-game.” He would then stick it in his jock strap right before a game so he could say he brought his A-game to the game.

Aaron performed this sports ritual as a way to bring him luck. He believed that he would, in fact, perform better if he fulfilled this sports ritual before each game. He thought he would play his “A-game” if he did this. He said that he did not necessarily perform flawlessly every single game, but he kept doing it because he thinks he probably would have performed even worse had he not done this ritual. Aaron did not borrow this idea from somewhere else; he had not heard of anyone else doing it. He made it up himself and made it into his own pre-game ritual.

Rituals, or at least sports rituals, tend to be superstitious. Aaron felt compelled to write “A-game” on a slip of paper and put it in his jock strap because he felt it really would help him perform better in his lacrosse game. He felt like a better goalie. He never deviated form this practice because he did not want to suffer the disastrous consequences and be a terrible goalie.

This ritual made me laugh because I had never heard of men sticking pieces of paper into their jock straps before games as a way to bring them luck and/or perform better. However, I felt bad for laughing because Aaron takes it very seriously. He will not go a single game without this slip of paper in his jock strap.

I think this ritual is interesting because it invites discussion about beliefs. Some people might be skeptical; they might laugh and say that the “A-game” slip of paper has no affect whatsoever on his performance as a goalie. They might say that it is all mental: he just feels more confident when he has the slip of paper, so he plays better as a result of feeling confident and of feeling like he can and will do well, not necessarily because of the slip of paper at all. However, others who also have sports pre-game rituals might completely agree with Aaron. They just feel the need to fulfill these rituals regardless of whether or not others regard it as all mental. To them, their better performance is tied to this ritual; they cannot do well without it. Then, there are all the people who kind of believe the ritual is tied to performance, but also kind of believe their performance is tied to their mental state of mind and the slip of paper helps induce that confident state of mind.

Ritual – University of Southern California

Arvo Lee, as one of the many thousands of USC students and fans, kicks the flagpole on the walk on the way to the Coliseum. One is supposed to kick the flagpole every single time one is walking to the Coliseum to watch a football game. Thus, it is a ritual that has been going on for many years. Kicking the flagpole is supposed to bring us luck; it is supposed to ensure a Trojan victory. Arvo does it because he says it is all in the name of good spirit. He learned it by watching other people- other USC students and fans who have gone to football games at the Coliseum before, and walk by the flagpole every time- do it. He realized that people did it for luck, so he mimicked them to keep the ritual/tradition going.

As a USC student, I also kick the flagpole on the way to the game. I agree with Arvo that the point of kicking the flagpole is for good luck. It is supposed to help us win the football game of the day. Everyone does it in the name of good fun; I do not think anyone thinks kicking the flagpole is a true factor in whether or not we win the game. People just do it unconsciously. They only do it because other students and fans do it. If they had not seen other people do it, it would have never occurred to them to kick the flagpole for luck.

This ritual says that we, as a society, learn by mimicking. We begin kicking the flagpole, and someone says it is for good luck, and soon thereafter we have a whole mass of students and fans that follow suit. At first, I did not even know why I was kicking the flagpole, but since everyone else was doing it, I did it too. This ritual also says that we, as a society, are creatures of habit. Now I do not even have to try to remember to kick the flagpole, I have done it so much now I just do it automatically. Some people might think after many times kicking the flagpole that it is pointless, but they will probably keep doing it out of habit and tradition.


“Don’t walk under a ladder because it’s bad luck.”

Although Lindsey Spiegelman says she does not believe in this superstition very heavily, she still lives by this superstition. Whenever she sees a ladder, she does not walk under it. She will avoid it, if possible, because she does not want bad luck for the rest of her life. She says it is like taking a precaution against a curse being put upon her luck and life. One can find this superstition in publication. It is on page 225 of A Dictionary of Superstitions.

She does not recall who told her this superstition, but she guesses that someone probably told her when she was in elementary school. She brings up this superstition whenever she sees a ladder. If she sees someone about to walk underneath a ladder, she will yell for that person to stop. This superstition has become a kind of ritual for Lindsey. She says she cannot remember a time she has ever walked under a ladder, and now it is complete habit to avoid walking under one.

I agree with Lindsey that one should probably avoid walking under ladders. I am not sure whether or not I believe something bad will happen if one does, but I figure since it is not very much out of my way to avoid walking underneath a ladder, I might as well try to so I do not inflict some sort of bad luck or curse upon myself or someone I care about.

It is interesting that the line between ritual and superstition is blurry. I think that one can have rituals, without being superstitious. However, I think that if one carries superstitions with them, and believes in them, habits and rituals develop as a result of belief in those superstitions.

Superstitions also show what is acceptable in a culture. In our culture, it is acceptable to believe that walking under a ladder could possibly result in bad luck. In other cultures, however, it might be deemed silly that we avoid walking under ladders at all costs. People from other cultures might laugh when they see Americans dodging ladders.

Superstitions also say something about our identity. We are a superstitious group of people. While many people would like to say they do not believe in these silly superstitions, they still do tend to follow the superstitions’ stipulations. Lindsey and myself are examples of people who say they do not really believe in the superstition, yet they still refuse to walk underneath ladders. We figure that there is no harm in avoiding walking under ladders. There is a huge psychological element involved in superstitions; it makes one feel better if they just follow the cultural superstitions present in society.

Annotation: Opie, Iona Archibald, and Moira Tatem. A Dictionary of Superstitions. Oxford [England]: Oxford University Press, 1989.