Tag Archives: mission impossible

Door to Life or Death

Form of Folklore:  Folk Belief (Riddle)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised primarily in Glendale, California; he only left the United States for a two year period (from age fourteen to fifteen) to live in London, England.  Most of his knowledge of folklore is from his mother (of Irish decent), his father (of Persian-Armenian decent), and media such as the internet and television.

Context:  The interview was conducted on the porch of the informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item:    So there’s the riddle of two doors and two guards; one door leads to life, one door leads to death, one guard will always tell the truth and one guard will always lie.  And the two guards are not attached to the doors; the truth teller is not, for example, attached to the door of life, nor is the liar attached to the door of death.  It could be in front of either one.  Your objective is to find out which one… your objective, should you choose to accept it… is to find out which door leads to life, by asking one guard one question.

The answer to the riddle is:  you ask whichever guard you wish, “what will the other guard say is the right door?”  If the guard you ask happens to be the truth teller, he will truthfully tell you that the other guard will point to the wrong door.  And if you ask the liar, “what will the truth teller say?” the liar will lie about what the truth teller will say and will point to the wrong door.  So either way, if you ask “what will the other guard say is the right door?” the guard you’re talking to will point at the wrong door.  And you go through the other one.

Informant Comments:  The informant was introduced to this riddle when he was in the sixth grade.  He believes it is an interesting riddle which helps students develop strong analytic skills starting from a very young age.  Personally, the informant enjoys riddles like this one, mainly because he likes to enhance his own way of thinking.

Analysis:  This riddle is mainly used to challenge those who attempt to solve it.  Having to figure out which question, when addressed to either the liar or the truth tell, would eliminate the importance of which guard you are talking to, forces those who are introduced to this folklore to use logical reasoning and laws of negation in order to identify the door to life.  Though they may not be aware of it, people are strengthening their reasoning skills by hearing this riddle and trying to solve it.  As a pleasant addition to the riddle, the informant added some humor by referencing a famous line from the Mission Impossible films.  By pausing to say, “your mission, should you choose to accept it”, the informant gave the riddle a lightened humorous feel.  This offered a nice balance to the performance of this folklore; the riddle was challenging and yet entertaining at the same time.