Pelican Soup


“Alright, here’s the riddle. A guy walks into a restaurant and asks for Pelican Soup and they serve it to him. And then, after he drinks the soup, he walks out of the restaurant and kills himself. Why did he kill himself?”

[For around the next twenty minutes there is a back and forth conversation between me and the riddle teller, where I ask questions about the given scenario and the riddler responds with yes/no and guiding comments. The conversation is too long to record completely in this post, but the general trend of the questions went from asking about the quality of the pelican soup, asking about the man’s family, discovering the man’s wife is dead, and uncovering the circumstances surrounding her death. The text is recorded from the end of the discussion.]

Me: “So the spouse’s body parts are not in the pelican soup.”

Teller: “Not in the one that he’s drinking at the restaurant.”

Me: “Oh! So did they make pelican soup out of her? …She’s not a pelican.”

Teller: “Um… You’re like on fire right now but you’re still not exactly there. Why did they make pelican soup out of her?”

Me: “Cause they were hungry.”

Teller: “Why were they hungry?”

Me: “Cause they were stranded on an island.”

Teller: “So why did the man kill himself?”

Me: “I’m sure that it would be bad to eat your spouse. I don’t think it would be very enjoyable, and to eat pelican soup and be like ‘hm, this pelican soup tastes different from the one that I had before – oh it was human flesh…’”

Teller: “Ok, so just for the sake of understanding, could you phrase what the story was then.”

Me: “I think they got stranded on the island, they did something with the spouse and she fucking died, I don’t know exactly… and then the friend was like ‘well I guess we’re going to have to cook her!’ and they didn’t tell the dude, and then they ate ‘pelican soup.’ And then he went back and was like “I’m so sad about my wife, this pelican soup tastes different.”

Teller: You got it! Let’s go. 


I collected this riddle/game in a group call where this riddle was performed on me. The person telling the riddle had originally learned of it online from a video, but also had heard it from his friends throughout the years. Other members of the call also noted that they had heard the riddle from various different settings while growing up, such as summer camps, from friends at school, etc.. During this call of around 6 people, I was the only one who had not known of the riddle beforehand, and thus was the only one attempting to find the solution. Typically, as both the teller and other members of the group informed me, the riddle would be performed on a group of people who would collectively try to solve the riddle together. 


The Pelican Soup problem provides very little information in the initialization itself, and thus requires the solver to continuously interact and question the teller and form a solution based on the information gained in this process. In this way, “Pelican Soup” acts closer to a logic puzzle or game than an actual riddle, with the main source of amusement coming from its dynamic interactivity between teller and solver. While there was only one solver in this particular performance of the puzzle, the typically communal context that this problem is given in also adds an additional level of interaction amongst the various solvers as well, as they each contribute a variety of questions to reach the truth. The Pelican Soup Problem, in this way, greatly resembles “20 Questions” – a game where solvers must identify a specific item that a teller is thinking of within twenty questions – though “Pelican Soup” possesses a more complex solution that warrants an unlimited number of questions. 

An additional level of entertainment comes from the morbidity of the scenario itself, based around an event of suicide and cannibalization. Given that this particular instance of the problem was learned in childhood and through programs like summer camps, I would argue that the level of morbidity in the puzzle acts as a sort of test of adulthood for those still in their youth – the better that they are able solve the puzzle and comprehend its darkness, the greater they are prepared for the more serious and severe “adult world.”