Category Archives: Riddle

Elementary School Riddles

Background: 

My informant, NK, is 19 years old and of South Korean descent from both her mother and father’s sides of the family. Her grandparents live close to her, so she spends a lot of time with them. She is very passionate about cooking. Even though she is majoring in biochemical engineering at UC Berkeley, she has always been, and remains to be, extremely interested in conspiracy theories. While she may not necessarily believe them, she enjoys hearing lore from across the world. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

NK: I remember there used to be a lot of riddles from when I was a kid, like you describe a situation, what it looks like after something happened, and you have to guess what happened. There’s only one I remember, where you go into an empty room. It’s 4 walls blocked off and the only way in or out is like teleportation, and there’s a guy hanging in the middle of the room, like dead, and there’s a puddle of water below him on the floor, so what happened?

SW: Um..I’m not sure. What’s the answer?

NK: So, he stood on a block of ice with the rope around his neck, so as it melted he was hanged and he died. 

SW: Oh. Very dark.

NK: Yeah, I feel like I remember most of those were pretty messed up.

Thoughts: 

It was interesting to hear about these riddles that kids would tell, because as NK was describing them, I realized I remembered hearing similar riddles when I was in elementary schools. I think kids liked to one-up each other and prove how clever they were by stumping the other kids, or solving their riddles. I didn’t realize how dark these riddles were until now looking back and I wonder how we were so casual about topics like suicide at 8 or 9 years old.

Mexican riddle

Main piece: 

The following was transcribed from a riddle between the informant and interviewer. 

Informant: De qué color es el caballo blanco de Napoleon? 

Interviewer: el color? Uhhh haber… 

Informant: Hay de veras? Esta no la tienes que pensar! Ya ni laces!

Interviewer: Ahh blanco verdad? 

Informant: Pues si. De qué otro color podría ser un caballo blanco?

Full Translation: 

Informant: What color is Napoleon’s white horse? 

Interviewer: The color? Uhhh let me think…

Informant: Really? You don’t have to think about this one! Cmon…

Interviewer: Ahh white… right? 

Informant: Well yes. What other color can a white horse be? 

Background: My informant was my mom. She was born in Mexico City. According to her, this is a joke that appeared on tests as a “free point” but most people would get it wrong because since it was a test, they’d overthink and write a different color. She uses it to mess around with people. 

Context: I was helping her with dishes and asked her if she knew of any jokes or riddles from when she was a kid. She immediately referred to this one. She made fun of me for not getting it right away. 

Thoughts: This one is to make a quick joke on the textbook overthinkers, including myself. I also panicked a little because I felt like I knew the answer but hesitated to say “white”. I can see why students would miss this free point. They probably thought to themselves it was too easy to be true. Overall I liked the joke because the answer is right there in the question, literally but still missable.

English riddle

Main piece: 

The following is transcribed from a riddle between the informant and interviewer.

Informant: A red guy lives in a red house 

Interviewer: A red guy lives in a red house. Ok. 

Informant: A blue guy lives in a blue house.

Interviewer: Blue guy in blue house.

Informant: yes, uhhh a green guy lives in a green house. 

Interviewer: Ok. 

Informant: Who lives in the White House. 

Interviewer: I know it’s not a white guy right? 

Informant: Oh my god. I thought you would get this one. 

Interviewer: What is it?

Informant: The president. The president lives in the white house. 

Background:  My sister was born in LA and she goes to school in Downey. She first heard this riddle about 5 years ago and says it whenever she’s saying any jokes. She tells this joke specifically to see if people fall for it and say “white guy”. 

Context: The setting was in my room during the day. I asked her if she knew of any other joke or riddle and threw this one at me. After failing to find the joke in the first one (the pinecone and pineapple one), she was disappointed I failed at this one too. 

Thoughts: I think I’m not a riddle or joke person. The answer can be right in front of me and I won’t be able to detect it. I can also deduce I’m not a very good listener. It seems like I take things literally and think logically. I followed the pattern of a color person living in the same color house but that’s not it. One has to think outside the box and look at the bigger picture.

English riddle

Main piece: 

The following is transcribed from a riddle the informant gave the interviewer. 

Informant: A pine tree grows 10 pineapples. 

Interviewer: Ok. 

Informant: Two of the pineapples out of the 10 fall. How many pineapples are left on the tree?

Interviewer: On the tree? Or are there? 

Informant: Are there on the tree. 

Interviewer: I would say ten minus two so 8 left. But it’s probably wrong. 

Informant: Correct! You’re wrong. There are 0 pineapples on the pine tree.

Interviewer: How come? What do you mean? 

Informant: Because pine trees do not grow pineapples. 

Background: My sister was born in LA and she goes to school in Downey. She first heard this riddle about a year ago. She usually says when there’s “usually nothing to talk about”. She remembers it because “it was pretty good and easy to follow”. 

Context: After giving me a myth, I asked if she knew of any jokes or riddles. She responded with “yes I know this one” and continued with the above riddle. This was taken from my room. Casual. 

Thoughts: I fooled myself. I consider myself a numbers person so when I heard 10 and 2 I just did basic subtraction but I didn’t pay attention to the pine tree and pineapple detail. In a way, I guess it shows I’m not a good listener. All in all, it was a short and concise riddle that served its purpose. It made me say “oooh yeah” after getting the joke. I tried to fool my dad later on but he said 0 so he actually listens. This can be a listening test now that I think about it. A good listener would say 0 and a poor listener would say 8 just like I did. 

Doctor playing a prank to get money

Main Piece:

Informant: There was this man. He was older and kinda wanted to make money. So he did this thing, it’s kinda like a riddle or funny story. So the man wanted to get money quick, so he opened up a doctor’s office. And he said, “if you come in you have to pay me $500, but if I kill you I have to give you $1,000.

Interviewer: What happens if he kills you?

Informant: You have to give him $500, but if he doesn’t cure you he gives you $1,000. And so this man thought it was an easy way to get money, because he didn’t think he knew that much. He came in and said, “I lost my taste. I can’t taste anything.” And the man says “Open box #22.” And he gives him something. And he tastes it and says “Oh, this is gasoline.” And the doctor said, congratulations, you have your taste buds back. That’ll be $500. And then the man got really angry and he came back there and said something about, I forget what it was. Oh yea, he was like “I can’t see. I’m losing my eyesight.” And he said, “Open box 22” or something like that. And then he did something and um, “congratulations you have your eyesight back.” 

So that day he lost $1,500.

Background:

The informant is a ten-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in fourth grade.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. I asked her is she knew any jokes or riddles.

Thoughts:

Proverbs, riddles, and.charms are three of the shorter forms of folklore. They are not necessarily confined to oral expression, having appeared in written literature for ages. The purpose of the riddle is usually to deceive its listener regarding its meaning. A descriptions is given where the answer must be deciphered. Many times riddles are used as a contest of wits. She kind left out a few bits or jumped around a bit. Sorry if the piece is a bit contradictory. I think this joke reflects the growing distrust that people have toward doctors and the overall healthcare system while simultaneously showing the greed of the populace.

Wealthy Man Riddle

Main Piece:

Informant: There was a very wealthy businessman and a woman on a flight who was sitting right next to each other. And the woman was just trying to get some sleep on her flight. But the wealthy businessman was like bored out of his mind so he decided to give the woman a trick. He said, “I’ll ask you a question and if you don’t know it, you pay me $5. Then you ask me a question and if I don’t know it, I pay you $500.” The woman was like “ok, fine.”

So the guy asked the woman, he asked her a riddle and she had no idea was it was, so she went ahead and gave him $5. Then the woman asked the man, “What goes up a hill with 4 legs, but comes down with two?” The man spent a really long time thinking about it. He called his friends, he looked it up, but he couldn’t find the answer anywhere. And then he finally asked her what was the answer. And she hands him back his $5. Because, she didn’t know the answer either.

Interviewer: Wait, what?

Background:

The informant is a twelve-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in sixth grade.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. I asked her is she knew any jokes or riddles.

Thoughts:

Proverbs, riddles, and.charms are three of the shorter forms of folklore. They are not necessarily confined to oral expression, having appeared in written literature for ages. The purpose of the riddle is usually to deceive its listener regarding its meaning. A descriptions is given where the answer must be deciphered. Many times riddles are used as a contest of wits. Regarding this particular riddle . . . story? The rich man was bored and used his money for entertainment. I honestly really don’t know what to say. It was kind of funny. (also, between us, could it be a murderer who went to bury a dead body . . .? Hopefully something much more pleasant).

What happens in a minute?

Main Piece:

Informant: What hap– this is a riddle, what happens once in a minute, twice in a moment, but never in a thousand years?

Interviewer: I don’t know.

Informant: The letter ‘M’

Background:

The informant is a nine-year-old Native American boy from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. He was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. He is in elementary school.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger brother. I asked him is he knew any jokes or riddles.

Thoughts:

Proverbs, riddles, and.charms are three of the shorter forms of folklore. They are not necessarily confined to oral expression, having appeared in written literature for ages. The purpose of the riddle is usually to deceive its listener regarding its meaning. A descriptions is given where the answer must be deciphered. Many times riddles are used as a contest of wits. In America, riddles are very popular with children though in most cases age segregation does not apply.

How many people are in family?

Main Piece:

Informant: There is one grandma, two mom’s and two daughters and one granddaughter. How many people are in the family?

Interview: Oh, shoot, my brain is running slow. How many?

Interview: Three. Because the grandmother, uh, two mothers: the grandmother and the mother (2), two daughters, the daughter and um . . the daughter and the daughter’s daughter and there is one granddaughter.

Background:

The informant is a ten-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in fourth grade.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. I asked her is she knew any jokes or riddles.

Thoughts: 

Proverbs, riddles, and.charms are three of the shorter forms of folklore. They are not necessarily confined to oral expression, having appeared in written literature for ages. The purpose of the riddle is usually to deceive its listener regarding its meaning. A descriptions is given where the answer must be deciphered. Many times riddles are used as a contest of wits. In America, riddles are very popular with children though in most cases age segregation does not apply.

“One Up, One Down” Folk Game and Riddle

Main Piece

Informant: This is kind of a camp riddle and game mashup and it is called One up One down. I like it because it is difficult enough to take days to figure out, so people can spend time figuring it out. One person will run it, and will introduce the riddle. They are the keeper, of the uhh game I guess. It goes in a circle, and you have three options: two up, one up one down, and two down. And so like, each person will give one of the three and try to figure out the pattern that would consistently allow them to say the correct answer. The person in charge tells them if they are right or wrong, because they know the secret to the pattern. Then it keeps going in a circle, people guess, and the keeper tells them if they are right or wrong and it keeps going until people figure out the right answer. The correct answer is based on the orientation of their arms. So right now, I would be two down, because both of my hands are in my lap. But, if I left one hand on my lap and one to rest my chin on, the correct answer would be one up one down. Basically, people overthink and start trying to guess elaborate patterns, and you kinda just win when you figure it out and you usually can’t tell the people still figuring out what the right answer is. 

Interviewer: Where did you learn this?

InformantI learned this in high school during my freshman river trip, where we would canoe down the Colorado river for four days. It was a game my group’s guide taught us, and I didn’t get it until our bus ride back. It drove me crazy, but when I got it I felt so frustrated but like I was part of a secret club!

Background

The informant is a great friend and housemate of mine, and he is a senior at USC. Coming from Oxnard, CA he and his family are very connected with their Mexican roots and he has grown up practicing and identifying with many aspects of Mexican culture. He is also a very big raver, as he enjoys going to many EDM festivals and aspires to do lighting design for different raves as well. He also identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community, comfortable identifying as a bisexual man.

Context

While on a road trip with some of our other housemates the informant taught us this game and began to play it with us. At the end of the trip, I was the only one in the group who could still not figure it out. During the interview I had him explain the rules and origin of the game. 

Analysis

I think this game is a great combination of a kinesthetic folk game mixed with a folk riddle, as there is a secret pattern you have to find out in order to comprehend the game as a whole. It is also inherently folklore as the rules are never shared, you either understand the pattern of the game or you don’t. Being intended for longer trips, it also proves to be a great way to pass the time as it could take a while for players to figure it out.

隔夜油炸鬼——冇厘火气

Main piece: 隔夜油炸鬼——冇厘火气

Original piece in Cantonese: 隔夜油炸鬼——冇厘火气

In Chinese: 隔夜油条——没有一点点阳刚气

Translated: A overnight deep-fried dough stick, doesn’t have any hardness left.

Explain: Deep-fred dough stick is a popular snack in Guangdong area. It is crunchy and tasty when it’s fresh made. But after a night, it will be soft and cold, not as good at all. Guangdong people use this two-part riddle to descrive some one doesn’t have any vitality, or someone who is too good temper and never got mad.

Background Information:

Q is a friend I met on Internet. She was from Guangzhou, China, where they speak Cantonese and Mandarin as their daily language. I asked Q to share some Cantanese proverb with me through internet and she agreed. The category pf proverb we are talking about has a specific name called “歇后语”. It is a kind of two-part allegorical saying. There are some content connection between the first part and the second part as well. Normally, they can form a simple story.

Context:

I was casually interviewing my internet friend Q through a chinese social media.

Thoughts:

This one is different from all the other Cantonese proverb I’ve heard because I have never heard anything close to it in Chinese. At first, I thought it is used to describe someone doing belated action because of the term “overnight” in Chinese. But the usage of this is far different from it. It is very interesting to me.