Q: I have a head and I have a tail, but I do not have a body. What am I?
A: A coin
Background: Y is a 20 year old who was born and raised in New Jersey. She now resides in Los Angeles, California.
Context: This riddle was told to me at a hangout among friends.
Analysis: I liked this riddle because of its simplicity. It relies on knowledge that everyone would have about coins and, perhaps, animals. The barrier to entry for understanding this joke is very low, which is what makes it so compelling. Like most riddles, the answer is not impossible, but just out of reach. It’s simple enough for the audience to have an “oh, of course!” moment when the answer is revealed. This shared moment among audience members and the performer of the riddle works well with the riddle’s wordplay.
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?
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.
The informant grew up in Southern California and spent a lot of time in and around planes. His father is a pilot and he is also the first person who told him the joke. Although the inclusion of a plane is more of a device to produce humor, the joke could be considered a piece of pilot’s lore.
Informant: “Uhm…let’s see…alright. So, a plane crashes right on the border of the U.S.-Canadian border. Right in the middle, no closer to one side than the other. Where do you bury the survivors?”
Interviewer: “Uh…wherever they’re from?”
Interviewer:”Um…I don’t know”
Informant: “You don’t bury them because they survived”
The informant was told this joke by his father when he was a young child. He calls it a “gotcha” joke because it is actually a very simple, straightforward question disguised as a clever riddle. When it is asked, one does not initially think that there is anything humorous about the riddle; the answer seems to be a logistical question about the burying the dead. When the answer is revealed the person being told the joke is supposed to be embarrassed that he or she was unable to answer this easy question. The informant remembers being fooled by it the first time his father told it to him, and that feeling of being “had” stayed with him, imprinting the joke in his memory. Although it does deal with death, the riddle’s impact does not come entirely from the incongruity of morbidity and humor, but rather the incongruity of being stumped by a question anyone should be able to answer. Everyone knows that survivors are not buried; the way it is phrased leads one to overlook this fact in favor of a more complicated answer.