Date: April 4, 2022
Source and Relationship: W, friend
Folklore/ Text: “A man is walking down the boardwalk in San Francisco, he sees a sign outside of a restaurant that says “Today Only – Pelican Soup.” He goes inside, sits down, and orders the pelican soup. He takes one bite, walks back outside, and kills himself. Why did he do it?”
Answer: “This man had been previously stranded on an island with his wife for a very long time, and out of delirious hunger, he ate her after having convinced himself it was pelican soup. Once the man got back to civilization, he tried the pelican soup to compare it to what he had on the island. When he discovers that it tastes completely different, he walks outside and kills himself, realizing what he had done to his wife while they were deserted.”
Performance Context: My friend W told us this riddle during a break in our Thursday discussion section that his mom used to tell his siblings to keep them occupied on long car rides. He is a 20 year old USC student with two siblings and high family values.
Explanation: When I first heard this riddle, I threw out a myriad of potential answers that made sense in my head, but W simply sat and looked at me sympathetically, knowing I would never guess it. My other classmate who I was sitting next to insisted on figuring it out himself, but I eventually surrendered and begged for the solution.
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 informant, TB, was recounting a riddle she heard that made her laugh. I will be listed as AK.
TB: “What’s something so delicate that even saying it breaks it?”
TB: “You have to guess.”
AK: “Okay… trust?”
AK: “Wait- a secret!”
TB: “Hmm, close actually.”
AK: “I can’t think of anything else.”
The informant had heard the riddle in an online video where two people were playing a drinking game of trying to get the other person to drink by presenting a riddle their opponent couldn’t crack.
Notably, two of TB’s friends were around who had also seen the video, and when I said that I hadn’t, she wanted to test out one of the riddles on me. The others were laughing throughout as I struggled through multiple silences between responses, each time not hearing the answer that was in plain sight.
The riddle has a witty twist of humor that almost makes the person subjected to the answer feel a bit stupid and silly for not knowing it. While being the most obvious response, it makes there a clear insider to the riddle and if you aren’t, the humor is a little bit at your expense. And this is something applicable to most riddles, but for this one it is a large point of contention.
“What can you catch but not throw?”
This riddle is a series of short riddles that are told for fun that are not that difficult to figure out. These riddles are mainly made up by the students themselves or occasionally found in joke or riddle books that some students have acquired during childhood.
Context of the Performance:
This riddle, along with other riddles that are of a similar difficulty level are often told in elementary school through high school. They are normally told by the students themselves and are aimed at stumping the other students for fun. They occur within the classroom or passing periods and are used as a way to pass the time.
I have heard this riddle before, but I have not heard it again since high school. I never really enjoyed these types of riddles, but that is mainly because I could never get the correct answer. I am also aware that there are many other riddles that take on a similar form and are at a similar level of simplicity.
Main Piece: Imagine
“Imagine you’re in a room with no windows, doors, or any openings. How do you plan an escape?”
This riddle is one of a series of riddles where you have to imagine yourself in a particular scenario that usually takes place in a type of nebulous room that you have to escape from. Oftentimes in these sorts of riddles, there are objects within the room that you can use to escape from the room. These are often challenging puzzles that require creativity and careful thought to figure out. However, this riddle is a play off of those riddles because there is nothing you can do to escape the hypothetical room other than stop imagining yourself within that room.
Context of the Performance:
These riddles, and riddles with the same premise as this one, are often told in a group of friends to try to stump people. There are many situations that the telling of this riddle is appropriate and there is no set time where this riddle should be performed. It is up to the teller of the riddle to decide when to tell it. However, due to the fact that this riddle is lighthearted, there are certain situations where it may not be appropriate, such as a funeral.
I have heard countless variations of this style of riddle where you are stuck in a room and have to escape using the explanation of the layout of the room and what is inside of it. I was not able to solve this riddle because I was used to hearing the other riddles where there really is a way that you can escape the room using the tools and scenarios outlined by the speaker. With this riddle, you must think outside the box and essentially dismiss the riddle completely and stop imagining the scenario in order to arrive at the correct answer.