The riddle as performed by Laila: So, you are on a path and you come to a fork in the road and your path diverges into two paths and, um, theres a man and a wo a person standing there who is from, you dont know where theyre from, but theyre either from a village that you get to if you take the left side of the road or a village you get to if you take the right side of the road. And, um, you have to figure out… oh, okay. So one village they tell nothing but lies. And the other village they tell nothing but truths. And you have to get to the village where they only tell truths. You can find out which way to go by asking the guy only one question. What question do you ask?”
The answer to the riddle as explained by Laila: The answer to the riddle is you ask the guy which village he’s from. This is the answer because if hes from the village where they only tell the truth, he can only tell things that are true, so hell point you to the right village. If hes from the village where they can only tell lies then he has to lie and say hes from the other village, which is the village where they only tell truths. So, either way, he points you to the village that tells the truth.”
Laila said that she learned this riddle in her International Relations class at USC from Professor Manning. She said that they were learning about terrorists, and the teacher just started the class that way one day. She said that every one was stumped, and it took them about twenty minutes to think about the riddle. Finally, the teacher had to tell the class the answer.
Laila said that she thinks people tell this riddle because its fun to trick people and its satisfying because its such a simple answer. She said it was related to terrorism because it brings up the question of how to correctly interrogate people. It’s hard to get the truth from terrorists, so you have to be smart in the way that you phrase your questions.
I think this riddle is told for the same reason most confusing riddles of a similar nature are told. The person who knows the answer takes pleasure in the fact that the others do not possess the same knowledge, and enjoys watching them struggle in order to come up with an answer. Since the person performing the riddle likely learned it from some one else and struggled to come up with an answer, the performer feels excited to make others go through the same process. This is almost like a little rite of passage as those that perform the riddle feel superior to those that do not know the answer to the riddle… but afterwards both sides possess the same knowledge and are intellectual equals on the subject.
In Laila’s case, it’s interesting that her professor was able to relate this to questions about carrying out interrogations with suspected terrorists. In that sense, the riddle shows how fear of terrorism is widespread in modern American culture. Even though the common person might never think to link the riddle to terrorism, the USC professor was able to use it as an example on the topic in his class.