(last updated: 18 July 1999.)
This is the list of answers to the puzzles in my situation puzzles list.
This document also contains variant setups and variant answers for many of
In the game of situation puzzles, a mysterious situation is presented
to a group of players, who must then try to find out what’s going on by
asking further questions. The person who initially presented the situation
can only answer “yes” or “no” to questions (or occasionally
My list of situation puzzles consists of two sections. Section 1
consists of puzzles which are set in a realistic world; the situations could
all actually occur. Section 2 consists of puzzles which involve double
meanings for one or more words and those which could not possibly take place
in reality as we know it, plus a few miscellaneous others. Note that a
puzzle’s number in this edition may not be the same as its number in earlier
See the end of the list for more notes and comments.
Section 1: “Realistic” situation puzzles
1.1. A man goes into a restaurant, orders abalone, eats
one bite, and kills himself. (TeM and JM wording)
1.1 answer: The man was in a ship that was wrecked on a desert island.
When there was no food left, another passenger brought what he said was
abalone but was really part of the man’s wife (who had died in the wreck).
The man suspects something fishy, so when they finally return to
civilization, he orders abalone, realizes that what he ate before was his
wife, and kills himself. (In a slight variant, from Stories With
Holes, he simply faints rather than killing himself.)
1.1a. Variant: same problem statement but with albatross instead of
1.1a answer: In this version, the man was in a lifeboat, with his wife,
who died. He hallucinated an albatross landing in the boat which he caught
and killed and ate; he thought that his wife had been washed overboard.
When he actually eats albatross, he discovers that he had actually eaten his
1.1b. Variant: A man kills himself rather than order albatross.
1.1b answer: The man already knew that he had eaten human flesh under
the name “albatross.” He asks the waiter in the restaurant what kind of
soup is available, and the waiter responds, “Albatross soup.” Thinking that
“albatross soup” means “human soup,” and sickened by the thought of such a
society (place in a foreign country if necessary), he kills himself. (from
Mike Neergaard) I’m afraid this version doesn’t make a whole lot of
1.2. A man lives on the twelfth floor of an apartment
building. Every morning he takes the elevator down to the lobby and leaves
the building. In the evening, he gets into the elevator, and, if there is
someone else in the elevator — or if it was raining that day — he goes
back to his floor directly. However, if there is nobody else in the
elevator and it hasn’t rained, he goes to the tenth floor and walks up two
flights of stairs to his room. (MH, from How Come?)
1.2 answer: The man is a midget. He can’t reach the upper elevator
buttons, but he can ask people to push them for him. He can also push them
with his umbrella. I’ve usually heard this stated with more details: “Every
morning he wakes up, gets dressed, eats, goes to the elevator…” In the
other direction, for a shorter problem statement, leave out the “someone
else in the elevator” and “if it was raining” parts, and just say on his
return to the building he always goes to the tenth floor. Ron Carter
suggests a nice red herring: the man lives on the 13th floor of the
1.2a. Variant: Emily regularly visits the twelfth floor of an apartment
building by going to the tenth floor and walking up two flights of stairs.
Last year she only took the elevator to the ninth floor. (Math for
1.2a answer: Emily is a child; she can only reach the tenth-floor
button, and last year she could only reach the ninth-floor button.
1.3. A man sitting on a park bench reads a newspaper
article headlined “Death at Sea” and knows a murder has been committed.
(from How Come?)
1.3 answer: The man is a travel agent. He had sold someone two tickets
for an ocean voyage, one round-trip and one one-way. The last name of the
man who bought the tickets is the same as the last name of the woman who
“fell” overboard and drowned on the same voyage, which is the subject of the
article he’s reading. This may have derived from a story done by Alfred
Hitchcock, if the following Hitchcock quotation is accurate: “If you take
your wife on a sea voyage, buy her a round-trip ticket no matter what your
plans may be.” According to How Come?, it’s loosely based on
the real-life case of a killer named Henry Landru.
1.4. A man lets go of a bowling ball. A short while
later, he is rushed to the hospital. (JC original?)
1.4 answer: A physics professor is demonstrating conservation of energy
by suspending a bowling ball from a piece of rope. He pulls the ball back
until it’s right in front of his nose, then lets go. It is supposed to
swing away from him, then back at him, stopping just in front of his nose.
Unfortunately, he gave the ball a slight push, resulting in the ball
crashing into his nose upon its return.
1.5. Two men enter a bar. They both order identical
drinks. One lives; the other dies. (CR; partial JM wording)
1.5 answer: The drinks contain poisoned ice cubes; one man drinks
slowly, giving them time to melt, while the other drinks quickly and thus
doesn’t get much of the poison. The fact that they drink at different
speeds could be added to the statement, possibly along with red herrings
such as saying that one of the men is big and burly and the other short and
1.6. A man walks into a bar and asks for a drink. The
bartender pulls out a gun and points it at him. The man says, “Thank you,”
and walks out. (DVS; from How Come?)
1.6 answer: The man has hiccups; the bartender scares them away by
pulling a gun.
1.7. Two women are talking. One goes into the
bathroom, comes out five minutes later, and kills the other.
1.7 answer: Both women are white; the one whose house this takes place
in is single. A black friend of the other woman, the one who goes into the
bathroom, was recently killed, reportedly by the KKK. The woman who goes
into the bathroom discovers a bloodstained KKK robe in the other’s laundry
hamper, picks up a nail file from the medicine cabinet (or some other
impromptu weapon), and goes out and kills the other.
1.7a. Variant: A man goes to hang his coat and realizes he will die that
1.7a answer: The man (who is black) has car trouble and is in need of a
telephone. He asks at the nearest house and on being invited in goes to
hang his coat, whereupon he notices the white robes of the Ku Klux Klan in
the closet. (from Bernd Wechner)
1.8. Beulah died in the Appalachians, while Craig died
at sea. Everyone was much happier with Craig’s death. (JM, originally from
How Come — Again?)
1.8 answer: Beulah and Craig were hurricanes.
1.9. An avid birdwatcher sees an unexpected bird. Soon
he’s dead. (RSB original)
1.9 answer: He is a passenger in an airplane and sees the bird get
sucked into an engine at 20,000 feet.
1.10. He was killed by breakfast. (JM original)
1.10 answer: A man is camping in the mountains. He makes breakfast,
then puts pepper on his food (eggs, perhaps). The pepper makes him sneeze
loudly, which starts an avalanche, which kills him.
1.10a. A man lay dead in a field. Next to him was a gun. One shot had
been fired and because of that shot the man had died. Yet the man was not
shot; in fact, there was no wound or mark on the body. (BGT)
1.10a answer: He fired the gun and caused an avalanche.
1.11. Two brothers are involved in a murder. Though
it’s clear that one of them actually committed the crime, neither can be
punished. (This is different from #1.78.) (from “Unreasonable Doubt,” by
1.11 answer: One of the brothers (A) confesses to the murder. At his
trial, his brother (B) is called as the only defense witness; B immediately
confesses, in graphic detail, to having committed the crime. The defense
lawyer refuses to have the trial stopped, and A is acquitted under the
“reasonable doubt” clause. Immediately afterward, B goes on trial for the
murder; A is called as the only defense witness and he confesses.
B is declared innocent; and though everyone knows that one of them
did it, how can they tell who? Further, neither can be convicted of perjury
until it’s decided which of them did it… I don’t know if that would
actually work under the US legal system, but someone else who heard the
story said that his father was on the jury for a very similar case
in New York some years ago. Mark Brader points out that the brothers might
be convicted of conspiracy to commit perjury or to obstruct justice, or
something of that kind.
1.11 variant answer: Scott Purdy says an L.A. Law episode
had a similar plot: A petty criminal and a mob boss were accused of
murdering someone. The lawyers offered to drop the charges on the criminal
if he’d testify against the boss. He said he would, got his charges
dropped, and confessed on the stand. Both got away without being punished:
the charges couldn’t be reinstated for the one, and there was reasonable
doubt for the other.
1.12. A woman in France in 1959 is waiting in her room,
with all the doors locked from the inside, for her husband to come home.
When he arrives, the house has burned to the ground and she’s dead. (JM,
originally from How Come — Again?)
1.12 answer: This is apparently a true story. The hot sun reflected
from the woman’s large mirror (which I speculate may have been imperfectly
flat and therefore focused the sunlight, but I don’t know for sure) and
heated the lingerie she was wearing to the burning point. She was absorbed
in a book at the time and didn’t notice the heat until her clothing was
afire. Nobody could get to her to help because her doors were locked from
the inside. Please disregard the version of this answer from previous
editions of this list; it’s not true.
1.13. A man lies dead next to a cactus. Stuck to the
cactus is a slip of paper. (TO)
1.13 answer: The man was lost in the desert for days. He couldn’t find
any landmarks, so he started sticking slips of paper to cactuses he passed.
After another day of walking, with almost no water left, he came across this
cactus, which had a slip of paper on it already; he knew that he was walking
in circles, so rather than wait to die of thirst he shot himself. (See also
#1.24, #2.2, and #2.12.)
1.14. Passing by a window, you see two dead men in a
room, with a gun and a deck of cards. (KK2)
1.14 answer: You’re a diver, going past a window of a sunken submarine
(or ship). The two men were in a sinking vessel; they had a gun but only
one bullet. Neither wanted to drown, so they played cards to see who would
get the bullet. The loser shot the winner (or else the winner shot
himself), and then the loser drowned when the room filled up with water.
(See also #1.13, #2.4, #2.9.)
1.15. There are a carrot, a pile of pebbles, and a pipe
lying together in the middle of a field. (PRO; partial JM wording)
1.15 answer: They’re the remains of a melted snowman.
1.16. Two dead people sit in their cars on a street.
1.16 answer: Because there was a heavy fog, two people driving in
opposite directions on the same road both stuck their heads out of their
windows to better see the road’s center line. Their heads hit each other at
high speed, killing them both. Andreas says this is based on an actual
1.17. A man is found shot to death in the front seat of
his car; a gun lies out of his reach in the back seat. All the windows are
closed and the doors are locked; there are no bullet holes anywhere in the
car. (SP, from The Next Book of OMNI Games; partial AC
1.17 answer: The car is a convertible; the top was down. (Or the
sunroof, or something else that’s neither window nor door.) The murderer
shot him and then dropped the gun into the back seat of the car.
1.18. A man is sitting in a room. Another person
enters, carrying a closed cardboard box, and sits down nearby. Though the
first man can’t see, hear, or smell the box’s contents, he knows what’s in
the box. (ES original)
1.18 answer: The man is allergic to cats, and feels the allergy symptoms
coming on, so he knows the box contains a cat. (It could be argued that he
must be able to smell the cat, but I’d say that “smell” implies consciously
noticing a smell, and is not the same as reacting to unnoticed dander.)
1.19. There is blood on the ceiling of my bedroom. (MI
1.19 answer: A mosquito bit me, and I swatted it when it later landed on
my ceiling (so the blood is my own as well as the mosquito’s).
1.20. A man in uniform stands on the beach of a
tropical island. He takes out a cigarette, lights it, and begins smoking.
He takes out a letter and begins reading it. The cigarette burns down
between his fingers, but he doesn’t throw it away. He cries. (RW)
1.20 answer: He is a guard/attendant in a leper colony. The letter (to
him) tells him that he has contracted the disease. The key is the cigarette
burning down between his fingers — leprosy is fairly unique in killing off
sensory nerves without destroying motor ability.
1.21. A woman is heating her coffee in a small
microwave oven. She puts it in for exactly two minutes. She then opens the
door, closes it, then heats her coffee for two more seconds. (JC
1.21 answer: She opens the door and sees that the handle of her cup is
facing the back of the microwave. She then sets the oven for two more
seconds so that the turntable will turn 180 degrees so that she can reach
the cup-handle, to avoid burning her hand.
1.22. A man tries the new cologne his wife gave him for
his birthday. He goes out to get some food, and is killed. (RW
1.22 answer: The man is a beekeeper, and the bees attack en masse
because they don’t recognize his fragrance. Randy adds that this is based
on something that actually happened to his grandfather, a beekeeper who was
severely attacked by his bees when he used a new aftershave for the first
time in 10 or 20 years.
1.23. A man takes a two-week cruise to Mexico from the
U.S. Shortly after he gets back, he takes a three-day cruise which doesn’t
stop at any other ports. He stays in his cabin all the time on both
cruises. As a result, he makes $250,000. (MI, from “The Wager”)
1.23 answer: He’s a smuggler. On the first cruise, someone brings the
contraband to his cabin, and he hides it in an air conditioning duct.
Returning to the U.S., he leaves without the contraband, and so passes
through customs with no trouble. On the second trip, he has the same cabin
on the same ship. Because it doesn’t stop anywhere, he doesn’t have to go
through customs when he returns, so he gets the contraband off safely.
1.24. A man is lying face down, dead, in the desert,
with a match near his outstretched hand. (This is different from #1.25,
#2.2, and #2.12.) (JH; partial JM wording)
1.24 answer: He was with several others in a hot air balloon crossing
the desert. The balloon was punctured and they began to lose altitude.
They tossed all their non-essentials overboard, then their clothing and
food, but were still going to crash in the middle of the desert. Finally,
they drew matches to see who would jump over the side and save the others;
this man lost. Minor variant wording: add that the man is nude.
1.25. A man is lying, dead, face down in the desert
wearing a backpack. (This is different from #1.24, #2.2, and #2.12.)
1.25 answer: He jumped out of an airplane, but his parachute failed to
open. Minor variant wording (from Joe Kincaid): he’s on a mountain trail
instead of in a desert. Minor variant wording (from Mike Reymond): he’s got
a ring in his hand (it came off of the ripcord).
1.25 variant answer: The man was let loose in the desert with a pack
full of poisoned food. He knows it’s poisoned, and doesn’t eat it — he
dies of hunger. (from Mike Neergaard)
1.25a. Silly variant: same problem statement, with the addition that one
of the man’s shoelaces is untied.
1.25a answer: He pulled his shoelace instead of the ripcord.
1.25b. Variant wording: A man with a pack on his back enters a field and
dies. (from David Norman)
1.25b answer: Same as #1.25.
1.25c. Variant wording: A dead man lies in front of the post office;
next to him is a parcel. (CB)
1.25c answer: Same as #1.25. Can a parachute be called a “parcel”?
Perhaps “package” would be better. (It’s “Paket” in the original
1.26. She lost her job when she invited them to dinner.
1.26 answer: Let’s say “she” is named Suzy, and “they” are named Harry
and Jane. Harry is an elderly archaeologist who has found a very old
skeleton, which he’s dubbed “Jane” (a la “Lucy”). Suzy is a buyer for a
museum; she’s supposed to make some sort of purchase from Harry, so she
invites him to have a business dinner with her (at a restaurant). When she
calls to invite him, he keeps talking about “Jane,” so Suzy assumes that
Jane is his wife and says to bring her along. Harry, offended, calls Suzy’s
boss and complains; since Suzy should’ve known who Jane was, she gets
1.27. A man tells his boss, “Don’t take your planned
flight today! I had a dream last night that if you do, your plane will
crash and you’ll die.” The boss fires the man. (From How
1.27 answer: The man was the night watchman; he should’ve been on duty
the previous night, not dreaming. (He tells the boss about the dream out of
concern for his safety.)
1.28. A man finishes getting dressed, lies down and
dies. (CH original?)
1.28 answer: There is a poisonous spider in the toe of his shoe. The
last things he puts on are his shoes. He gets bitten, feels ill, lies down
on his bed, and then dies of the poison. (It’s a particularly poisonous
spider, like the Australian Funnel-Web, whose bite can kill an adult human
in 5 minutes, or the brown recluse, which I gather is also pretty
1.29. Every day a man drinks his breakfast and drinks
his lunch. When his boss finds out, he is immediately fired. The man moves
to another job and begins doing the same thing; this time, when his boss
finds out, the boss jokingly tells him that he’ll be fired if he stops.
1.29 answer: The man is drinking diet shakes for his breakfast and lunch
in order to lose weight. Unfortunately, his first job is at a weight-loss
clinic, so he is fired for patronizing the competition. His second job is
at a health-food store, and his boss wants him to lose weight so he looks
1.30. A car without a driver moves; a man dies.
1.30 answer: The murderer sets the car on a slope above the hot dog
stand where the victim works. He then wedges an ice block in the car to
keep the brake pedal down, and puts the car in neutral, after which he flies
to another city to avoid suspicion. It’s a warm day; when the ice melts,
the car rolls down the hill and strikes the hot dog man at his roadside
stand, killing him.
1.31. A man gets onto an elevator. When the elevator
stops, he knows his wife is dead. (LA; partial KH wording)
1.31 answer: He’s leaving a hospital after visiting his wife, who’s on
heavy life-support. When the power goes out, he knows she can’t live
without the life-support systems (he assumes that if the emergency backup
generator were working, the elevator wouldn’t lose power; this aspect isn’t
entirely satisfactory, so in a variant, the scene is at home rather than in
1.31a. Variant: The music stops and a woman dies.
1.31a answer: The woman is confined in an iron lung, and the music is
playing on her radio or stereo. The power goes out. (RW) (See also #1.59,
#1.70a, and #1.75c.)
1.31b. A man lives in a high-rise apartment building in the city. One
day, as usual, he gets up, has breakfast, showers, dresses, kisses his wife
good-bye, and leaves for work. He walks down the corridor to the elevator.
After standing there for a minute or so, he realizes his wife is dead.
1.31b answer: Same as #1.31.
1.32. A man is killed on a train. He is found to have
written “elf” on the floor in his own blood. (MB, from “The Problem of the
Locked Caboose,” by Edward D. Hoch)
1.32 answer: Attached to the train was a caboose with a safe carrying a
shipment of jewels. The victim, Schmidt, was the conductor guarding the
shipment; he had robbed the safe himself, and had an accomplice traveling on
the train under a false name to remove the loot. The accomplice killed
Schmidt to keep his share. Schmidt didn’t know the accomplice’s false name,
so he wrote the killer’s berth number, 11. For greater clarity he spelled
out the number as a word — in his native German. (In the original story he
didn’t want “11” to be misread as two parallel lines, but Germans don’t
write “1” as a straight line.) This arguably belongs in section 2 for double
meaning, but the double-meaninged word here is explicitly called out, so I’m
going to leave it in section 1 for now.
1.33. A man lies dead next to a feather. (PRO)
1.33 answer: The man was a sword swallower in a carnival side-show.
While he was practicing, someone tickled his throat with the feather,
causing him to gag.
1.34. A man ran into a fire, and lived. A man stayed
where there was no fire, and died. (EW original)
1.34 answer: The two men were working in a small room protected by a
carbon dioxide gas fire extinguisher system, when a fire broke out in an
adjoining room. One of the men ran through the fire and escaped with only
minor burns. The other one stayed in the room until the fire extinguishers
kicked in, and died of oxygen starvation. (This originally involved a halon
gas extinguisher, but those don’t work that way; fortunately for our
purposes, Gisle Hannemyr pointed out that CO2 extinguishers do work that
way. Gisle says a CO2 extinguisher on a Norwegian ship a few years ago did
go off accidentally when there was no fire, killing everyone in the engine
1.35. Four people are on a grass-covered island. A
fire burns from one end of the island to the other, but no one gets severely
1.35 answer: The fire is slow moving and the four are able to “back
burn” by starting a new fire on the other side of them. When an area is
burnt off, they can safely stand on the burnt patch, as it now contains no
fuel for the grass fire. This is an actual technique used in Australian
bushfires (and, I think, elsewhere).
1.36. A flash of light, a man dies. (ST original)
1.36 answer: The man is a lion-tamer, posing for a photo with his lions.
The lions react badly to the flash of the camera, and the man can’t see
properly, so he gets mauled.
1.36a. Variant: He couldn’t find a chair, so he died. (RM, with KH
wording; from How Come?)
1.36a answer: He was a lion-tamer. This one is kind of silly, but I
like it, and it sounds possible to me (though I’m told a whip is more
important than a chair to a lion-tamer).
1.37. A man is running along a corridor with a piece of
paper in his hand. The lights flicker and the man drops to his knees and
cries out, “Oh no!” (MP)
1.37 answer: The man is delivering a pardon, and the flicker of the
lights indicates that the person to be pardoned has just been electrocuted.
(See also #1.31.)
1.38. Mr. Browning is glad the car ran out of gas.
(JM, originally from How Come — Again?)
1.38 answer: Mr. and Mrs. Browning had just gotten married. Mrs.
Browning was subject to fits of depression. They had their first fight soon
after they were married; Mr. Browning stormed out of the house, and Mrs.
Browning went into the garage and started up the car, intending to kill
herself by filling the garage with car exhaust. But the car ran out of gas
quickly, and Mr. Browning, returning home to apologize, found Mrs. Browning
in time to summon help and restore her to health.
1.39. A dying man gives another man a gift, and then
the dying man dies. Shortly after that the second man dies. (HJS)
1.39 answer: The second man had shot the first man. Before he dies, the
first man gives the second man a grenade pin, which he’s of course just
pulled from a grenade. The first man dies, then the grenade explodes and
the second man dies.
1.40. A man is lying dead in a room. There is a large
pile of gold and jewels on the floor, a chandelier attached to the ceiling,
and a large open window. (DVS; partial JM wording)
1.40 answer: The room is the ballroom of an ocean liner which sank some
time ago. The man ran out of air while diving in the wreck.
1.40a. Variant which puts this in section 2: same statement, ending with
“a large window through which rays are coming.”
1.40a answer: the rays are manta rays (this version tends to make people
assume vampires are involved, unless they notice the awkwardness of the
phrase involving rays).
1.41. A man enters the elevator of a high rise
apartment building, takes off one glove, and pushes the button for the tenth
floor. The next day, the same man enters the elevator, puts on one
glove, and pushes the button for the tenth floor. (RA original)
1.41 answer: The man is blind. His first time in the elevator, he’s
wearing gloves; the elevator uses buttons that work by electrical conduction
through the skin; they light up at the slightest touch, but not through a
glove. The man thus has to remove a glove to get the button to work. But
he discovers that first day that as he runs his ungloved hand over the
buttons to find the tenth floor, all the buttons are activated, and the
elevator stops at all the floors. So from then on, he carries a glove with
him; he puts it on when he enters the elevator, finds the right button with
his gloved hand, then uses his ungloved hand to press the tenth-floor
button. (Note that even if the buttons are labeled in Braille, it’s hard to
avoid brushing against a button and sending the elevator to the wrong
1.42. A woman came home with a bag of groceries, got
the mail, and walked into the house. On the way to the kitchen, she went
through the living room and looked at her husband, who had blown his brains
out. She then continued to the kitchen, put away the groceries, and made
dinner. (partial JM wording; from How Come?)
1.42 answer: The husband killed himself a while ago; it’s his ashes in
an urn on the mantelpiece that the wife looks at. It’s debatable whether
this belongs in section 2 for double meanings.
1.43. The king dies and two men both claim to be his
long-lost son. One of the king’s advisors proposes a test to determine the
identity of the true heir. One claimant agrees to the test; the other
refuses. The one who agreed is sent packing; the one who refused is
identified as the rightful heir. (SP, from The Next Book of OMNI
Games; earlier from How Come?)
1.43 answer: The proposed test was a blood test. Knowing that blood
typing isn’t very accurate, the impostor felt it was worth trying to get
away with it. But the true heir was a hemophiliac and couldn’t give blood
for the test.
1.44. An old man gets the hiccups. Soon, he is rushed
to the hospital. (JC original?)
1.44 answer: The man is a glassblower. His old age has brought about a
decline in his vision, so he must use shorter pipes to blow glass. He gets
the hiccups, accidentally inhales some hot vapors / molten glass and burns
his mouth and throat area. (I’m not sure whether this could actually
happen, but it sounds feasible to me.)
1.45. A man is found dead outside a large building with
a hole in him. (JM, modified from PRO)
1.45 answer: The man was struck by an object thrown from the roof of the
Empire State Building. Originally I had the object being a penny, but
several people suggested that a penny probably wouldn’t be enough to
penetrate someone’s skull. Something aerodynamic and heavier, like a dart,
was suggested, but I don’t know how much mass would be required.
1.45a. Variant: A man is found dead outside a large marble building with
three holes in him.
1.45a answer: The man was a paleontologist working with the
Archaeological Research Institute. He was reviving a triceratops frozen in
the ice age when it came to life and killed him. This couldn’t possibly
happen because (among other reasons) there were no triceratops during the
ice age. (from Peter R. Olpe)
1.46. A man dies in his own home. (ME original)
1.46 answer: His home is a houseboat and he has run out of water while
on an extended cruise.
1.46a. Variant wording: A man dies of thirst in his own home. This
version goes more quickly because it gives more information; but it may be
less likely to annoy people who think the original statement is too
1.46a answer: Same.
1.47. A body is discovered in a park in Chicago in the
middle of summer. It has a fractured skull and many other broken bones, but
the cause of death was hypothermia. (MI, from Hill Street
1.47 answer: A poor peasant from somewhere in Europe wants desperately
to get to the U.S. Not having money for airfare, he stows away in the
landing gear compartment of a jet. He dies of hypothermia in mid-flight,
and falls out when the landing gear compartment opens as the plane makes its
final approach. This apparently happened in real life as well; Mark Brader
provided an AP item from Paris, printed in the Toronto Star on
7/10/93, about just such an occurrence.
1.47a. Variant: A man is lying drowned in a dead forest.
1.47a answer: He’s scuba diving when a firefighting plane lands nearby
and fills its tanks with water, sucking him in with the water. He runs out
of air while the plane is in flight; the plane then dumps its load of water,
with him in it, onto a burning forest. (from Jim Moskowitz)
1.48. Three men die. On the pavement are pieces of ice
and broken glass. (JJ)
1.48 answer: A large man comes home to the penthouse apartment he shares
with his beautiful young wife, taking the elevator up from the ground floor.
He sees signs of lovemaking in the bedroom, and assumes that his wife is
having an affair; her beau has presumably escaped down the stairs. The
husband looks out the French windows and sees a good-looking man just
leaving the main entrance of the building. The husband pushes the
refrigerator out through the window onto the young man below. The husband
dies of a heart attack from overexertion; the innocent young man below dies
from having a refrigerator fall on him; and the wife’s boyfriend, who was
hiding inside the refrigerator, also dies from the fall.
1.49. If he had wanted chocolate ice cream, his brother
would be alive today. (TiM original)
1.49 answer: A young boy is going out to play one afternoon and on his
way out he stops off in the garage to check for an ice cream bar in the
large chest freezer the family keeps there. The freezer is new and almost
empty as yet, so the boy has to prop himself up on the edge to reach into
the bottom to find the ice cream. He loses his balance and falls into the
freezer, with the lid latching shut over him. Right about then, his older
brother arrives home from high school and asks his mom if they have any
popsicles in the freezer. She says no, but she bought some chocolate ice
cream that day and he can have some of that if he wishes. He decides he is
not in the mood for chocolate ice cream and goes up to his room to listen to
some music. His brother suffocates.
1.50. A man kills his wife, then goes inside his house
and kills himself. (DH original, from “Nightmare in Yellow,” by Fredric
1.50 answer: It’s the man’s fiftieth birthday, and in celebration of
this he plans to kill his wife, then take the money he’s embezzled and move
on to a new life in another state. His wife takes him out to dinner;
afterward, on their front step, he kills her. He opens the door, dragging
her body in with him, and all the lights suddenly turn on and a group of his
friends shout “Surprise!” He kills himself. (Note that the whole first
part, including the motive, isn’t really necessary; it was just part of the
1.51. If he’d turned on the light, he’d have lived.
1.51 answer: A man was shot during a robbery in his store one night. He
staggered into the back room, where the telephone was, and called home,
dialing by feel since he hadn’t turned on the light. Once the call went
through he gasped, “I’m at the store. I’ve been shot. Help!” or words to
that effect. He set the phone down to await help, but none came; he’d
treated the telephone pushbuttons like cash register numbers, when the
arrangements of the numbers are upside down reflections of each other. The
stranger he’d dialed had no way to know where “the store” was.
1.52. A man is found dead on the floor in the living
room. (ME original)
1.52 answer: The dead man was playing Santa Claus, for whatever reason;
he slipped while coming down the chimney and broke his neck.
1.52 variant answer: The dead man was Santa Claus. This moves
the puzzle to section 2.
1.53. A man went into a restaurant, had a large meal,
and paid nothing for it. (JM original)
1.53 answer: The man was a famous artist. A woman who collected
autographs saw him dining; after he left the restaurant, she purchased the
check that he used to pay for the meal from the restaurant manager. The
check was therefore never cashed, so the artist never paid for the meal.
1.54. A U.S. Navy sailor on the deck of a cruiser
noticed an explosive mine in the water directly in the path of the ship.
With no time to communicate the situation to the captain of the ship, the
sailor saved the lives of the crew and the ship. (BB)
1.54 answer: The sailor grabbed the fire hose from the deck and used the
force of the water from the hose to push the mine away from the hull of the
ship. The water pressure doesn’t explode the mine; WWII-style mines contain
magnetic sensors which make them explode on contact with a ship’s hull.
1.55. A man leaves a motel room, goes to his car, and
honks the horn. (AS original)
1.55 answer: It’s the middle of the night. The man goes outside to get
something from his car, but as the parking lot is set apart from the
building, he forgets which room he was in. His wife is deaf, so he honks
the car horn loudly, waking up everyone else in the motel. The other
residents all get up and turn on their room lights; the man then returns to
the one dark room.
1.56. As I drive to work on my motorcycle, there is one
corner which I go around at a certain speed whether it’s rainy or sunny. If
it’s cloudy but not raining, however, I usually go faster. (SW
1.56 answer: There’s a car wash on that corner. On rainy days, the rain
reduces traction. On sunny days, water from the car wash has the same
effect. If rain is threatening, though, the car wash gets little business
and thus doesn’t make the road wet, so I can take the corner faster.
1.57. A man opens his mouth and dies shortly
1.57 answer: He annoyed the mafia several hours ago; he’s now underwater
and wearing cement Reeboks. (“Style is everything, and cement Reeboks sure
are stylish.”) (RA)
1.57 variant answer: The man is a vampire, about to bite a girl. Her
boyfriend arrives, realizes what is happening, and kills the vampire by
driving a wooden stick through his heart. (This was the original answer, by
Kari Hautamaki. But this answer would move the question to section 2, and I
like Russell’s answer better anyway.)
1.57 variant answer: The man opens his mouth; some killer bees (which
tend to prefer attacking darker areas) fly inside and sting him; the
swelling of his throat asphyxiates him. (MI)
1.58. A married couple goes to a movie. During the
movie the husband strangles the wife. He is able to get her body home
without attracting attention. (from Beyond the Easy Answer;
earlier from How Come?)
1.58 answer: The movie is at a drive-in theatre.
1.59. Music stops and a woman dies. (DVS)
1.59 answer: The woman is a tightrope walker in a circus. Her act
consists of walking the rope blindfolded, accompanied by music, without a
net. The musician (organist, or calliopist, or pianist, or whatever) is
supposed to stop playing when she reaches the end of the rope, telling her
that it’s safe to step off onto the platform. For unknown reasons (but with
murderous intent), he stops the music early, and she steps off the rope to
1.59 variant answer: The woman is a character in an opera, who “dies” at
the end of her song.
1.59 variant answer: The “woman” is the dancing figure atop a music box,
who “dies” when the box runs down. (Both of the above variants would
probably require placing this puzzle in section 2 of the list.) (See also
#1.31a, #1.70a, and #1.75c.)
1.59a. A woman is murdered in front of hundreds of people, but they all
think it’s an accident. (From How Come?)
1.59a variant answer: The woman is a trapeze artist who times her act
(from starting time to time to jump for another trapeze) by the music. The
organist changes tempo or stops the music too soon, and the trapeze artist
falls to her death.
1.59b. Variant: Charlie died when the music stopped.
1.59b answer: Charlie was an insect sitting on a chair; the music
playing was for the game Musical Chairs. (from Bob Philhower)
1.60. Abel walks out of the ocean. Cain asks him who
he is, and Abel answers. Cain kills Abel. (MWD original)
1.60 answer: Abel is a prince of the island nation that he landed on. A
cruel and warlike prince, he waged many land and naval battles along with
his father the king. In one naval encounter, their ship sank, the king
died, and the prince swam to a deserted island where he spent several months
building a raft or small boat. In the meantime, a regent was appointed to
the island nation, and he brought peace and prosperity. When Prince Abel
returned to his kingdom, Cain (a native fisherman) realized that the peace
of the land would only be maintained if Abel did not reascend to his throne,
and killed the prince (with a piece of driftwood or some other impromptu
1.61. A man is riding a subway. He meets a one-armed
man, who pulls out a gun and shoots him. (SJ; from How
1.61 answer: Several men were shipwrecked together. They agreed to
survive by eating each other a piece at a time. Each of them in turn gave
up an arm, but before they got to the last man, they were rescued. They all
demanded that the last man live up to his end of the deal. Instead, he
killed a bum and sent the bum’s arm to the others in a box to “prove” that
he had fulfilled the bargain. Later, one of them sees him on the subway,
holding onto an overhead ring with the arm he supposedly cut off; the other
realizes that the last man cheated, and kills him.
1.61a. Variant wording: A man sends a package to someone in Europe and
gets a note back saying “Thank you. I received it.”
1.61a answer: This is just a simpler version; the shipwreck situation is
the same, and the man actually did send his own arm.
1.61b. Variant wording: Two men throw a box off of a cliff.
1.61b answer: Exactly the same situation as in #1.61a (one slight
variation has a hand in the box instead of a whole arm), with the two men
being two of the fellow passengers who had already lost their arms.
1.61c. Variant wording: A man in a Sherlock Holmes-style cape walks into
a room, places a box on the table and leaves.
1.61c answer: In this one he’s wearing the cape either to disguise the
fact that he hasn’t really cut off his arm/hand as required, or else simply
in order to hide his now-missing limb. (from Joe Kincaid)
1.62. An ordinary American citizen, with no passport,
visits over thirty foreign countries in one day. He is welcomed in each
country, and leaves each one of his own accord. (PRO)
1.62 answer: He is a mail courier who delivers packages to the different
foreign embassies in the United States. The land of an embassy belongs to
the country of the embassy, not to the United States.
1.63. A man is sitting in bed. He makes a phone call,
saying nothing, and then goes to sleep. (SJ; from How
1.63 answer: He is in a hotel, and is unable to sleep because the man in
the adjacent room is snoring. He calls the room next door (from his own
room number he can easily figure out his neighbor’s, and from the room
number, the telephone number). The snorer wakes up, answers the phone. The
first man hangs up without saying anything and goes to sleep before the
snorer gets back to sleep and starts snoring again.
1.63 variant answer: (slight) It’s a next-door neighbor in an apartment
building who’s snoring, rather than in a hotel. The caller thus knows his
neighbor and the phone number.
1.63a. A man is sleeping in bed at 3 a.m. when the telephone rings. As
the man lifts the receiver, the caller hangs up. (DW)
1.63a answer: Same situation, from the snoring man’s point of view.
1.64. A man tries to buy poison to kill his wife. The
pharmacist figures out what he’s up to and finds a way to ensure that he
can’t kill his wife. (CB, from Flitterwochen in der
1.64 answer: The pharmacist gives the man a cup of coffee to drink while
he’s waiting. After the man has drunk the coffee, the pharmacist says,
“There was poison in that coffee. I’ll give you the antidote if you write a
signed statement that you were planning to kill your wife. I’ll keep the
confession; if anything happens to your wife, I’ll give it to the
1.65. A man was walking down a road when a stone lodged
itself between his foot and his sandal. He leaned against a pole and, with
his head down to watch, he shook his foot to dislodge the stone. Another
man came up and broke the first man’s arm in three places. (RB)
1.65 answer: The chap shaking his foot to dislodge the stone was leanig
against a metal light pole. The other fellow came along and thought that
the pole had become ‘live’ somehow; he thought the first fellow was being
electrocuted (and that the muscles in his hand had contracted and he
couldn’t let go). So the second fellow rushed over and whacked the first
one on the arm, hard. He apologised for it afterwards. (A true story, from
an Australian newspaper.)
1.66. A man is sitting suspended over two pressurized
containers. Suddenly, he dies. (NK original)
1.66 answer: He’s riding a bicycle or motorcycle, and he crashes and
1.67. A man is dead in a puddle of blood and water on
the floor of a locked room. (This is different from #1.68.)
1.67 answer: He stabbed himself with an icicle.
1.68. A man is found hanging in a locked room with a
puddle of water under his feet. (This is different from #1.67.)
1.68 answer: He stood on a block of ice (or a mound of snow) to hang
himself. The fact that there’s no furniture in the room can be added to the
statement, but if it’s mentioned in conjunction with the puddle of water the
answer tends to be guessed more easily.
1.68a. Same without the puddle of water.
1.68a answer: It was dry ice instead of water ice. (From Stories
1.69. Mr. H meets Mr. X in a hotel bar; after a heated
discussion, they leave the bar and head upstairs. Partway up the stairs,
Mr. X clutches his chest, then punches Mr. H in the face.
1.69 answer: Mr. H and his new wife are in the hotel for their
honeymoon. Mrs. H is upstairs in their suite; Mr. H has stopped for a
drink. In the bar he strikes up a conversation with a complete stranger,
Mr. X, who turns out to be a hypnotist. Mr. H claims he can’t be
hypnotized; a heated discussion ensues, after which Mr. X hypnotizes Mr. H,
telling Mr. H to kill his wife. (Mr. X intends to stop Mr. H before he
actually commits the crime.) They head for the honeymoon suite, but partway
up the stairs Mr. X has a heart attack; he punches Mr. H in an attempt to
end the trance before Mr. X dies. (JKM original?)
1.69a. Two friends have just had lunch in a restaurant. At the end of
the meal, one draws a pistol and shoots the other. (DW)
1.69a answer: The solution is essentially the same, except (a) the topic
of the lunch discussion was specifically whether someone can be hyponotised
to do something they normally would not do, (b) there’s no mention in the
teaser of the heart attack, and (c) the men are long-time friends. Also,
the hypnotist is a doctor, so he’s sure the heart attack will be fatal. The
shooting is non-fatal and is intended to “wake up” the hypnotized friend to
keep him from killing his wife.
1.70. A man driving his car turns on the radio. He
then pulls over to the side of the road and shoots himself. (This is
different from #1.71.)
1.70 answer: He worked as a DJ at a radio station. He decided to kill
his wife, and so he put on a long record and quickly drove home and killed
her, figuring he had a perfect alibi: he’d been at work. On the way back he
turns on his show, only to discover that the record is skipping.
1.70a. Variant: The music stops and the man dies.
1.70a answer: The same, except it’s a tape breaking instead of a record
skipping. (from Michael Killianey) (See also #1.31a, #1.59, and
1.71. A man is driving his car. He turns on the radio,
listens for five minutes, turns around, goes home, and shoots his wife.
(This is different from #1.70.) (From How Come?)
1.71 answer: The radio program is one of the
call-up-somebody-and-ask-them-a-question contest shows; the announcer gives
the phone number of the man’s bedroom phone as the number he’s calling, and
a male voice answers. It’s been suggested that such shows don’t usually
give the phone number being called; so instead the wife’s name could be
given as who’s being called, and there could be appropriate background
sounds when the other man answers the phone.
1.72. She grabbed his ring, pulled on it, and dropped
it. (JM, from Math for Girls)
1.72 answer: They were skydiving. He broke his arm as he jumped from
the plane by hitting it on the plane door; he couldn’t reach his ripcord
with his other arm. She pulled the ripcord for him.
1.72 variant answer: (sketch) The ring was attached to the pin of a
grenade that he was holding. Develop a situation from there.
1.72 variant answer: The ring is the engagement ring that he gave her.
She’s calling off the engagement. (JD)
1.73. A riverboat filled with passengers suddenly
capsized, drowning most of those aboard. (originally from How Come —
1.73 answer: The boat was moving along a river in India when a large
snake dropped onto the deck. The passengers all rushed to the other side of
the boat, thereby overturning it. This is apparently based on a true
incident reported in the World Almanac.
1.74. A woman walks into a small room and screams.
1.74 answer: The woman is a nun, the room is a bathroom in what is
supposed to be a women-only area, and the toilet seat has been left up.
1.75. A rope breaks. A bell rings. A man dies.
1.75 answer: A blind man enjoys walking near a cliff, and uses the sound
of a buoy to gauge his distance from the edge. One day the buoy’s anchor
rope breaks, allowing the buoy to drift away from the shore, and the man
walks over the edge of the cliff.
1.75a. Variant: A bell rings. A man dies. A bell rings.
1.75a answer: A blind swimmer sets an alarm clock to tell him when and
what direction to go to shore. The first bell is a buoy, which he
mistakenly swims to, getting tired and drowning. Then the alarm clock goes
off. In other variations, the first bell is a ship’s bell, and/or the
second bell is a hand-bell rung by a friend on shore at a pre-arranged
1.75a variant answer: The man falls off a belltower, pulling the
bell-cord (perhaps he was climbing a steeple while hanging onto the rope),
and dies. The second bell is one rung at his funeral. Could also be a
variant on #1.75 (as suggested by Mike Neergaard): the bell-cord breaks when
he falls (and there’s no second bell involved).
1.75a variant answer: The man is a boxer. The first bell signals the
start of a round; the second is either the end of the round or a funeral
bell after he dies during the match. Could also be a variant on #1.75 (as
suggested by Mike Neergaard): a boxing match in which the top rope breaks,
tumbling a boxer to the floor (and he dies of a concussion).
1.75b. Variant: The wind stopped blowing and the man died.
1.75b answer: The sole survivor of a shipwreck reached a desert isle.
Unfortunately, he was blind. Luckily, there was a freshwater spring on the
island, and he rigged the ship’s bell (which had drifted to the island also)
at the spring’s location. The bell rang in the wind, directing him to
water. When he was becalmed for a week, he could not find water again, and
so he died of thirst. (from Peter R. Olpe)
1.75c. Variant: The music stopped and the man died.
1.75c answer: Same as #1.75a, but the blind swimmer kept a portable
transistor radio on the beach instead of a bell. When the batteries gave
out, he got lost and drowned. (from Joe Kincaid) (See also #1.31a, #1.59,
1.75d. Variant: A rope breaks. A bell rings. A boy dies. (WW)
1.75d answer: This allows red herrings involving the homonyms “boy” and
“buoy” (in some pronunciations). Only use this wording if you want to
intentionally confuse your audience.
1.76. Joe leaves his house, wearing a mask and carrying
an empty sack. An hour later he returns. The sack is now full. He goes
into a room and turns out the lights. (AL)
1.76 answer: Joe is a kid who goes trick-or-treating for Halloween.
1.77. A woman buys a new pair of shoes, goes to work,
and dies. (DM)
1.77 answer: The woman is the assistant to a (circus or sideshow)
knife-thrower. The new shoes have higher heels than she normally wears, so
that the thrower misjudges his aim and one of his knives kills her during
1.77a. Variant: A woman sees her husband entering a certain place of
business and insists on dissolving their partnership. (originally from
How Come — Again?)
1.77a answer: The husband is a knife-thrower; the woman is his assistant
as well as his wife. She sees him going into an optometrist’s office and
decides that if he’s having trouble with his eyes she doesn’t want him
throwing knives at her.
1.78. A woman has incontrovertible proof in court that
her husband was murdered by her sister. The judge declares, “This is the
strangest case I’ve ever seen. Though it’s a cut-and-dried case, this woman
cannot be punished.” (This is different from #1.11.) (MH; from How
1.78 answer: The sisters are Siamese twins.
1.78a. Variant: A man and his brother are in a bar drinking. They begin
to argue (as always) and the brother won’t get out of the man’s face,
shouting and cursing. The man, finally fed up, pulls out a pistol and blows
his brother’s brains out. He sits down to die.
1.78a answer: They are Siamese twins. In the original story, the
argument started when one complained about the other’s bad hygiene and bad
breath. The shooter bled to death (from his brother’s wounds) by the time
the police arrived. (RW, based on a 1987 Weekly World News
1.79. Hans and Fritz are German spies during World War
II. They try to enter America, posing as returning tourists. Hans is
immediately arrested. (JM, originally from How Come —
1.79 answer: Hans and Fritz do everything right up until they’re filling
out a personal-information form and have to write down their birthdays.
Fritz’ birthday is, say, July 7, so he writes down 7/7/15. Hans, however,
was born on, say, June 20, so he writes down 20/6/18 instead of what an
American would write, 6/20/18. Note that this is only a problem because
they claim to be returning Americans; there are lots of other
nations which use the same date ordering.
1.80. A man is found dead on a path 200 feet from a
gate. Other than his clothes, all he had with him was a stick. (KO
1.80 answer: The gate is the starting gate of a horse race. The man is
a jockey who fell off his horse shortly after it left the gate and got run
over by the rest of the horses. The stick is his riding crop.
1.81. A man is found dead in an alley lying in a red
pool with two sticks crossed near his head. (PRO)
1.81 answer: The man died from eating a poisoned popsicle.
1.82. A married couple was speeding into town when
their sedan ran out of gas. The man went for help after making sure his
wife closed the windows and locked the doors of the car. Upon his return,
he found his wife dead and a stranger in the car. The windows were still
closed, the doors were still locked, and no damage was done to the car.
(SP, from The Next Book of OMNI Games; earlier from How
1.82 answer: The woman gave birth, and bled to death. Since the father
has never seen the baby before, the kid can technically be called a
1.82a. Two people are dead in a car, which is locked from the inside.
There’s a lot of blood. (“Martin”)
1.82a answer: One of the dead people is a woman; the other is the baby
she’s just given birth to. She died in childbirth.
1.83. A woman lies dead in the street near a car.
1.83 answer: She was on a motorcycle, and her long hair got caught on
the car’s antenna. It ripped out part of her scalp and she bled to death.
Andreas says this is also based on an actual accident.
1.84. Tim and Greg were talking. Tim said “The terror
of flight.” Greg said “The gloom of the grave.” Greg was arrested. (MPW
original, from “No Refuge Could Save,” by Isaac Asimov)
1.84 answer: The setting is America during WWII. Greg is a German spy.
His “friend” Tim is suspicious, so he plays a word-association game with
him. When Tim says “The land of the free,” Greg responds with “The home of
the brave.” Then Tim says “The terror of flight,” and Greg says “The gloom
of the grave.” Any U.S. citizen knows the first verse of the national
anthem, but only a spy would have memorized the third verse. (Why Tim knew
the third verse is left as an exercise to the reader.)
1.85. A woman throws something out a window and dies.
1.85 answer: The object she throws is a boomerang. It flies out, loops
around, and comes back and hits her in the head, killing her. Boomerangs do
not often return so close to the point from which they were thrown, but I
believe it’s possible for this to happen.
1.85 variant answer: (silly) She’s in a submarine or spacecraft and
throws a heavy object at the window, which breaks.
1.86. A man is found dead in his parked car. Tire
tracks lead up to the car and away. (SD; from How Come?)
1.86 answer: The dead man was the driver in a hit-and-run accident which
paralyzed its victim. The victim did manage to get the license plate number
of the car; now in a wheelchair, he eventually tracked down the driver and
shot and killed him.
1.86a. Variant wording: It is winter in the city, and snow lies
everywhere. Two sets of tire tracks lead into a garage. Only one set
leads out again. A man lies dead inside. (RW)
1.86a answer: Same. (There are variant motives for the killing, but all
involve the dead man being responsible for the wheelchair-bound killer’s
condition. For instance, the dead man could be a surgeon who made a mistake
doing spinal surgery.
1.87. A man is returning from Switzerland by train. If
he had been in a non-smoking car he would have died. (DVS; MC wording)
1.87 answer: The man used to be blind; he’s now returning from an eye
operation which restored his sight. He’s spent all his money on the
operation, so when the train (which has no internal lighting) goes through a
tunnel he at first thinks he’s gone blind again and almost decides to kill
himself. Fortunately, the light of the cigarettes people are smoking
convinces him that he can still see.
1.87a. Variant: A man dies on a train he does not ordinarily catch.
1.87a answer: The man (a successful artist) has had an accident in which
he injured his eyes. His head is bandaged and he has been warned not to
remove the bandages under any circumstances lest the condition be
irreversibly aggravated. He catches the train home from the hospital and
cannot resist peeking. Seeing nothing at all (the same train-in-tunnel
situation as above obtains, but without the glowing cigarettes this time),
he assumes he is blinded and kills himself in grief. I like this version a
lot, except that it makes much less sense that he’d be traveling alone.
(from Bernd Wechner)
1.88. Two men are digging a trench. They look at each
other and start to argue. They make a phone call. One man leaves for home
and the other angrily continues to dig. (JC original?)
1.88 answer: The two men started at opposite ends of the trench, digging
toward each other. Instead of meeting up, though, they pass each other,
meaning that one man dug at a skewed angle, or started at the wrong place.
They call their supervisor, who tells them that one man was right and the
other must re-dig his half in the right place.
1.89. Two men are kidnapped and are placed in the trunk
of a car. The next morning, when the trunk is opened, one man is alive and
the other is dead.
1.89 answer: One of them suffocated; the other lived by breathing the
air from the spare tire in the trunk. I’m skeptical that this could work,
so I’m leaving it in section 2 for now; if I get confirmation on
feasibility, I’ll move it to section 1. (From Stories With
1.90. A man urinates and dies. (RA original)
1.90 answer: He urinated on the third rail in the New York subway, was
knocked onto the tracks by the shock, and was hit by a train and killed.
(Experts apparently disagree on whether he died from the electrical shock
before the train hit him.) This is a true story; the man was named Joseph
Patrick O’Malley, and Cecil Adams gives the story in The Straight
Dope, quoting Where Death Delights by Marshall
1.90 variant answer: The man was in a boat on the Amazon. A tiny fish
swam “upstream” into the man whereupon it inflated itself to balloon size,
killing him. (TK) (I don’t know whether fish that can swim up a urethra
actually exist or are an urban legend, but all my sources indicate they do
exist. The self-inflation may not be true, though. Also, the man might
have to be standing in the water (rather than in the boat) for the fish to
enter his body.)
1.91. A man wakes up one night to get some water. He
turns off the light and goes back to bed. The next morning he looks out the
window, screams, and kills himself. (CR; KK wording; originally from
How Come — Again?)
1.91 answer: The man is a lighthouse keeper. He turns off the light in
the lighthouse and during the night a ship crashes on the rocks. Seeing
this the next morning, the man realizes what he’s done and commits
1.91a. Variant, similar to #1.70: The light goes out and a man dies.
1.91a answer: The lighthouse keeper uses his job as an alibi while he’s
elsewhere committing a crime, but the light goes out and a ship crashes,
thereby disproving the alibi. The lighthouse keeper kills himself when he
realizes his alibi is no good. (From Eric Wang)
1.91a variant answer: A man commits a heinous crime, claiming as his
alibi that he was onboard a certain ship. When he learns that (due to a
lighthouse failure) the ship was wrecked without reaching port safely, he
realizes that his alibi is disproven and commits suicide to avoid being sent
to prison. (From Eric Wang)
1.92. A man is dead in a room with a small pile of
pieces of wood and sawdust in one corner. (from “Coroner’s Inquest,” by
Marc Connelly; earlier(?) from How Come?)
1.92 answer: The man is a blind midget, the shortest one in the circus.
Another midget, jealous because he’s not as short, has been sawing small
pieces off of the first one’s cane every night, so that every day he thinks
he’s taller. Since his only income is from being a circus midget, he
decides to kill himself when he gets too tall.
1.92 variant answer: (slight) Instead of sawing pieces off of the
midget’s cane, someone has sawed the legs off of his bed. He wakes up,
stands up, and thinks he’s grown during the night.
1.92 variant answer: There were termites in his cane.
1.92a. Variant wording: If he had seen the sawdust, he would have lived.
1.92a answer: Same.
1.92b. Variant: A pile of sawdust, no net, a man dies.
1.92b answer: A midget is jealous of the clown who walks on stilts. He
saws partway through the stilts; the clown walks along and falls and dies
when they break. (from Peter R. Olpe)
1.93. Two men are dead next to a pile of wood and a
rope. (JC original?)
1.93 answer: The two men were bungee jumpers. They found a secluded
wooden bridge and decided to bungee off of it. One man jumped off after
being tied to the bridge, but at the nadir of his fall, the bridge gave
out. The man who jumped landed on the ground safely since he was fairly
close to the earth, but the collapsing bridge fell on top of him. The
other man fell along with the bridge to his death.
1.94. A writer with an audience of millions insisted
that he was never to be interrupted while writing. After the day when he
actually was interrupted, he never wrote again. (JM, originally from
How Come — Again?)
1.94 answer: He was a skywriter whose plane crashed into another
1.94a. Variant wording: A seated woman is writing a letter. She dies
because there’s a thunderstorm outside. (SP, from The Next Book of
1.94a answer: Same. I really like this version; I may even replace the
older puzzle statement with this one.
1.94b. Variant: A woman is in a Q when there is a flash of lightning and
she dies. (SP original?)
1.94b answer: “Q” sounds like “queue,” suggesting she’s standing in line
rather than writing the letter Q.
1.95. In the middle of the ocean is a yacht. Several
corpses are floating in the water nearby. (SJ)
1.95 answer: A bunch of people are on an ocean voyage in a yacht. One
afternoon, they all decide to go swimming, so they put on swimsuits and dive
off the side into the water. Unfortunately, they forget to set up a ladder
on the side of the boat, so there’s no way for them to climb back in, and
1.95 variant answer: The same situation, except that they set out a
ladder which is just barely long enough. When they all dive into the water,
the boat, without their weight, rises in the water until the ladder is just
barely out of reach. (also from Steve Jacquot)
Section 2: Double meanings, fictional settings, and miscellaneous
2.1. A man is born in 1972 and dies in 1952 at the age
of 25. (DM)
2.1 answer: He’s born in room number 1972 of a hospital and dies in room
number 1952. The numbers can of course vary; it was originally set up with
those numbers reversed (born in 1952, died in 1972), but I like it better
2.2. A man is found dead in the arctic with a pack on
his back. (This is different from #1.25, #1.24, and #2.12.) (PRO)
2.2 answer: It’s a wolf pack; they’ve killed and eaten (most of) the
2.3. A man pushes a car up to a hotel and tells the
owner he’s bankrupt. (DVS; partial AL and JM wording)
2.3 answer: It’s a game of Monopoly.
2.3a. Variant: The car came out of the blue and the man came into some
2.3a answer: The same; in this case the car token passes Go and the
player collects $200. (from “Mo,” whose full name I missed)
2.4. A man lies dead in a room with fifty-three
bicycles in front of him.
2.4 answer: The “bicycles” are Bicycle playing cards; the man was
cheating at cards, and when the extra card was found, he was killed by the
2.4a. Variant: There are 53 bees instead of 53 bicycles.
2.4a answer: The same (Bee is another brand of playing cards).
2.4b. Variant: There are 51 instead of 53.
2.4b answer: Someone saw the guy conceal a card, and proved the deck was
defective by turning it up and pointing out the missing ace. Or, the game
was bridge, and the others noticed the cheating when the deal didn’t come
out even. The man had palmed an ace during the shuffle and meant to put it
in his own hand during the deal, but muffed it. (both answers from Mark
2.5. A black man dressed all in black, wearing a black
mask, stands at a crossroads in a totally black-painted town. All of the
streetlights in town are broken. There is no moon. A black-painted car
without headlights drives straight toward him, but turns in time and doesn’t
hit him. (AL and RM wording; from How Come?)
2.5 answer: It’s daytime; the sun is out.
2.5a. Elsa can turn off her bedroom light at the door to her bedroom,
and still make it acroos the room and into bed before the room gets dark.
(Math for Girls)
2.5a answer: It’s daytime; the room is lit by a window.
2.6. Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice all live in the
same house. Bob and Carol go out to a movie, and when they return, Alice is
lying dead on the floor in a puddle of water and glass. It is obvious that
Ted killed her but Ted is not prosecuted or severely punished. (From
2.6 answer: Alice is a goldfish; Ted is a cat. (Or a dog, since the
fish’s body is still there rather than eaten.)
2.6a. A very common variant uses the names Romeo and Juliet instead, to
further mislead audiences. For example: Romeo is looking down on Juliet’s
dead body, which is on the floor surrounded by water and broken glass.
2.6a answer: Same.
2.6b. Minor variant: Tom and Jean lay dead in a puddle of water with
broken pieces of glass and a baseball nearby.
2.6b answer: Tom and Jean are both fish; it was a baseball, rather than
a cat, that broke their tank. (from Mike Reymond)
2.7. A dead man lies near a pile of bricks and a beetle
on top of a book. (MN)
2.7 answer: The man was an amateur mechanic, the book is a Volkswagen
service manual, the beetle is a car, and the pile of bricks is what the car
fell off of.
2.8. Hiking in the mountains, you walk past a large
field and camp a few miles farther on, at a stream. It snows in the night,
and the next day you find a cabin in the field with two dead bodies inside.
(KL; KD and partial JM wording)
2.8 answer: It’s the cabin of an airplane that crashed there because of
2.8a. A man is sitting in a chair — in a cabin — on the side of a
mountain — dead. (DW)
2.8a answer: Same situation, but more concise wording.
2.8b. Variant wording: A cabin, on the side of a mountain, locked from
the inside, is opened, and 30 people are found dead inside. They had plenty
of food and water. (from Ron Carter)
2.8b answer: Same.
2.9. Two people are playing cards. One looks around
and realizes he’s going to die. (JM original)
2.9 answer: The one who looks around sees his own reflection in the
window (it’s dark outside), but not his companion’s. Thus, he realizes the
other is a vampire, and that he’s going to be killed by him.
2.10. A man was brought before a tribal chief, who
asked him a question. If he had known the answer, he probably would have
died. He didn’t, and lived. (MWD original)
2.10 answer: The native chief asked him, “What is the third baseman’s
name in the Abbot and Costello routine ‘Who’s on First’?” The man, who had
no idea, said “I don’t know,” the correct answer. However, he was a major
smartass, so if he had known the answer he would have pointed out that What
was the second baseman’s name. The chief, being quite humorless,
would have executed him on the spot. This is fairly silly, but I like it
too much to remove it from the list.
2.10 variant answer: The question was, “What does the tattoo on my
daughter’s tush say?” or any other question whose answer reveals that you
know more than you should. Of course, for this sort of question one can lie
and say one doesn’t know even if one does. (FF)
2.11. A very rich man hires a poor man to clean one
wing of his extravagant domicile. The poor man, wanting to impress his new
boss, cleans the entire house. Soon after, the man quits his job. (JC
2.11 answer: The poor man is hired by Aladdin to clean his palace.
Aladdin only wants the man to clean part of the palace because he does not
wish anyone to enter his bedroom, where he keeps the magic lamp. The poor
man meticulously scrubs the palace from head to toe, and rubs the magic lamp
in the process. The djinn appears; the poor man wishes for riches, and no
longer needs the job.
2.12. There is a dead man lying in the desert next to a
rock. (This is different from #1.25, #1.24, and #2.2.) (GH)
2.12 answer: The dead man is Superman; the rock is Green Kryptonite.
Invent a reasonable scenario from there.
2.13. A woman opens an envelope and dyes. (AL)
2.13 answer: Should be done orally; the envelope is an envelope of dye,
and she’s dying some cloth, but it sounds like “opens an envelope and dies”
if said out loud.
2.14. He was killed because of poor eyesight. (JM
original, from an Arthur C. Clarke story in Tales from the White
2.14 answer: He was a referee who made a poor call. He was burned to
death by fans reflecting sunlight from their slick-covered game programs. I
suppose this is theoretically possible, but it’s rather silly and
far-fetched, like most of the stories from that collection; I may not keep
it on the list.
2.15. A man rides into town on Friday. He stays one
night and leaves on Friday. (KK)
2.15 answer: Friday is a horse.
2.15 variant answer: The town is near the north pole. Night lasts six
2.15a. Variant with the same basic gimmick: A woman comes home, sees
Spaghetti on the wall and kills her husband.
2.15a answer: Spaghetti was the name of her pet dog. Her husband had it
stuffed and mounted after it made a mess on his rug. (Simon Travaglia
2.16. A horse jumps over a tower and lands on a man,
who disappears. (ES original)
2.16 answer: A chess game; knight takes pawn.
2.16a. Variant: It’s the year 860 A.D., at Camelot. Two priests are
sitting in the castle’s chapel. The queen attacks the king. The two
priests rise, shake hands, and leave the room.
2.16a answer: The two priests are playing chess; one of them just mated
by moving his queen. (from Ellen M. Sentovich)
2.16b. Variant: A black leader dies in Africa.
2.16b answer: The black leader is a chess king, and the game was played
in Africa. (from Erick Brethenoux)
2.17. Two men are found dead outside of an igloo. (SK
2.17 answer: The men have gone spelunking and have taken an Igloo brand
cooler with them so they can have a picnic down in the caves. They cleverly
used dry ice to keep their beer cold, not realizing that as the dry ice
sublimed (went from solid state to vapor state) it would push the lighter
oxygen out of the cave and they would suffocate.
2.18. A man is alone on an island with no food and no
water, yet he does not fear for his life. (MN)
2.18 answer: The “island” is a traffic island.
2.19. A man marries twenty women in his village but
isn’t charged with polygamy.
2.19 answer: He’s a priest; he is marrying them to other people, not to
2.20. Joe wants to go home, but he can’t go home
because the man in the mask is waiting for him. (AL wording)
2.20 answer: A baseball game is going on. The base-runner sees the
catcher waiting at home plate with the ball, and so decides to stay at third
base to avoid being tagged out.
2.20 variant answer: Joe’s in the hospital. He can’t go home, because
the man in the mask is a surgeon waiting to remove his appendix. (FF)
2.20 variant answer: Joe is a bee; the man in the mask is a
2.20a. Variant wording: Johnny is afraid to go home because of the man
in the mask. (DW)
2.20a answer: Same. The diminutive “Johnny” makes it sound like he’s a
little kid, nicely further obfuscating the issue.
2.20b. Variant: Two men are in a field. One is wearing a mask. The
other man is running towards him to avoid him.
2.20b answer: The same, but the catcher isn’t right at home plate; the
runner is trying to get home before the catcher can. (from Hal Lowery, by
way of Chris Riley) This phrasing would allow the puzzle to migrate to
section 1, but I don’t like it as much.
2.20c. Variant wording: Instead of “home,” say the man in the mask is
standing on the corner.
2.20c answer: Same.
2.21. Bruce wins the race, but he gets no trophy.
2.21 answer: Bruce is a horse.
2.22. A woman meets the king, cries “Pain!”, and loses
consciousness. (MI original)
2.22 answer: True story: in France, shortly after the fall of the
Bastille, food shortages became a problem again. A mob of people went to
Versaille to petition the king to do something about the problem. A small
delegation was admitted to meet the king. One woman, overcome with emotion,
could only cry “Pain” (French for “bread”) and faint. (Source: Durant,
The Age of Napoleon, pg. 25) Note that this only works in
printed form, not aloud, because the French word is pronounced more like
English “pan” than like English “pain.”
2.22 variant answer: Nine months earlier, this woman had been
impregnated by the previous king, who died soon afterword. Now, she is
giving birth to the new king. (TV)
2.22a. A man enters a store. After a short pause, he says “pain.” The
storekeeper is confused, but then becomes annoyed. (JC original)
2.22a answer: The shopkeeper is a French baker. An American tourist
walks into the bakery, pauses to look up/remember the word for “bread” in
French, which is spelled “pain.” The American says the word as if it were
the English word “pain.” At first the shopkeeper does not understand what
the American is saying. When he does, he gets annoyed with the person’s
horrible pronunciation. (He then becomes happy after realizing that he can
charge whatever exorbitant amount he wishes because the American doesn’t
know any better.) I may eventually make this one the main entry and #2.22
the variant, since this version works better aloud.
2.23. As a man jumps out of a window, he hears the
telephone ring and regrets having jumped. (from “Some Days are Like That,”
by Bruce J. Balfour; partial JM wording)
2.23 answer: This is a post-holocaust scenario of some kind; for
whatever reason, the man believes himself to be the last human on earth. He
doesn’t want to live by himself, so he jumps, just before the telephone
rings… (of course, it could be a computer calling, but he has no way of
2.23 variant answer: A real-world version (with less plausible
motivation) has the man being “lonely and despondent” and hoping for phone
calls but not receiving any; he finally jumps out the window in despair.
(From Stories With Holes.)
2.23a. Variant wording: The phone rang, and he regretted what he had
2.23a answer: Same.
2.24. A newspaper reported that Jacques Dubois finished
first in a race held in France. His average speed was given, correctly, as
19,475 km/hour. (DA, from an idea by AR and Richard Fowell)
2.24 answer: In European numbers, the comma is used the same way
Americans use a decimal point. The man thus (Americans would say) ran
19.475 km/hour, which is a pretty good speed at which to run a
standard-length (42.195 km) marathon. I assume most Europeans seeing this
item would ask “So where’s the puzzle?”, but it might be a good puzzle for
Americans. Thanks to Dmitry for providing a more palatable version than the
version that languished for years in my outtakes file.
2.25. At the bottom of the sea there lies a ship worth
millions of dollars that will never be recovered. (TF original)
2.25 answer: The Eagle landed in the Sea of Tranquility and will likely
remain there for the foreseeable future.
2.26. A man shoots himself, and dies. (HL) (This is
different from #2.27.)
2.26 answer: The man is a heroin addict, and has contracted AIDS by
using an infected needle. In despair, he shoots himself up with an
overdose, thereby committing suicide.
2.27. A man walks into a room, shoots, and kills
himself. (HL) (This is different from #2.26.)
2.27 answer: The man walks into a casino and goes to the craps table.
He bets all the money he owns, and shoots craps. Since he is now broke, he
becomes despondent and commits suicide.
2.28. Adults are holding children, waiting their turn.
The children are handed (one at a time, usually) to a man, who holds them
while a woman shoots them. If the child is crying, the man tries to stop
the crying before the child is shot. (ML)
2.28 answer: Kids getting their pictures taken with Santa. I see #2.26,
#2.27, and #2.28 as different enough from each other to merit separate
numbers, although they all rely on the same basic gimmick of alternate
meanings of the word “shoot.”
2.29. Harry dropped a sugar cube in his coffee, then
lifed it out intact a minute later. (Math for Girls)
2.29 answer: It was instant coffee; no water had been added yet.
2.30. A man is doing his job when his suit tears.
Fifteen minutes later, he’s dead. (RM; from How Come?)
2.30 answer: The man is an astronaut out on a space walk.
2.30 variant answer: It’s a radiation suit. (JD, SP)
2.30 variant answer: It’s a deep-sea diving suit. (How
2.31. A train pulls into a station, but none of the
waiting passengers move. (MN)
2.31 answer: It’s a model train set.
2.31a. Variant: The Orient Express is derailed and a kitten plays
2.31a answer: The Orient Express is a model train which has been left
running unattended. The kitten has playfully derailed it. (from Bernd
2.32. Three large people try to crowd under one small
umbrella, but nobody gets wet. (CC)
2.32 answer: The sun is shining; there’s no rain.
2.33. An ordinary woman walks on water. (Math for
2.33 answer: It’s easy to walk on a lake’s surface when the lake is
2.34. Amy drives her car due west for a quarter mile,
without turning. When she stops, the car is facing east. (Math for
2.34 answer: She drove the car backward.
When I know who first told me the current version of a puzzle, I’ve
put initials in parentheses after the puzzle statement; this is the key to
those acknowledgments. The word “original” following an attribution means
that, to the best of my knowledge, the cited person invented that puzzle.
If a given puzzle isn’t marked “original” but is attributed, that just means
that’s the first person I heard it from. Please don’t remove attributions
from original puzzles.
Items cited as from How Come? may or may not have been
original to Agnes Rogers and her friends, but that’s almost certainly the
first book in which these items saw print. Items cited as originally from
How Come — Again? are all original to Agnes Rogers and Richard
- Laura Almasy
- Russell Ang
- Dmitry Apresian
- Ranjit S. Bhatnagar
- Cici Beilken
- Rex Boggs
- Bob Bondi
- Mark Brader
- Adam Carlson
- Jeff Chen
- Chris Cole
- Matt Crawford
- John Dalbec
- Matthew William Daly
- Ken Duisenberg
- Sylvia Dutcher
- Marguerite Eisenstein
- Fil Feit
- Tammy R. Franklin
- Thomas Freeman
- Andreas Gammel
- Joaquin Hartman
- Marcy Hartman
- Karl Heuer
- Craig Holland
- Geoff Hopcraft
- David Huddleston
- Mark Isaak
- Steve Jacquot
- Mike Jarvis
- J|rgen Jensen
- Bill Jordan
- Karen Karp
- Kathleen Kim
- Nev King
- Shelby Kilmer
- Tal Kubo
- Ken Largman
- Andy Latto
- Howard Lazoff
- Merlyn LeRoy
- John K. Miller
- Dan Murray
- “Reaper Man” (real name unknown)
- Ted McCabe
- Tim MacDonald
- Jim Moskowitz
- Damian Mulvena
- Jan Mark Noworolski
- Kevin O’Connor
- Tobias Oetiker
- Peter R. Olpe (from his list)
- Neil Pawson
- Martin Pitwood
- Scott Purdy
- Charles Renert
- Ellen M. Sentovich (from her list)
- Annie Senghas
- H. J. Simpson
- Eric Stephan
- Diana Stiefbold
- “Brad” (full name unknown)
- Simon Travaglia
- David Van Stone
- Tim Vaughan
- R. Serena Wakefield
- Eric Wang
- Randy Whitaker
- Matthew P Wiener
- Steve Wilson (not sure of name)
- Don Woods
Special thanks to Jim Moskowitz, Karl Heuer, and Mark Brader, for a lot
of discussion of small but important details and wording.
Notes and comments
My outtakes list (items submitted but not included on this list for
various reasons) is available in a separate file.
There are many possible wordings for most of the puzzles in this list.
Most of them have what I consider the best wording of the variants I’ve
heard; if you have better phrasings, or if you have any other comments or
suggestions, please drop a note to email@example.com. If you know other
situation puzzles not on this list, please send them to me (but you may want
to read through all the answers first; I may already have listed your puzzle
in the answer list, as a variant of an item already on the list).
In telling a group of players one of these situations, you can add or
remove details, either to make getting the answer harder or easier, or
simply to throw in red herrings.
Note that situation puzzles are interactive games — that’s what
distinguishes them from riddles or logic puzzles. Just reading the
questions on the Web or in a text file and trying to guess the answers
directly is much less interesting than trying to solve the puzzles by a
gradual approach of gathering information. Use the list as a resource, but
play the game with other people.
Situation puzzles are also known by a variety of other names: mystery
questions, story riddles, lateral thinking puzzles, mini-mysteries, minute
mysteries, missing links, how come?, situational puzzles, law school
puzzles, quistels (in parts of Europe), mystery puzzles, albatross stories,
Intrigue puzzles, Who Dunnits, Please Explains, monkey puzzles, two-minute
mysteries, conundrums, computer games, and so on. I prefer the term
“situation puzzles,” which was once the standard term for them on the
Please send updates, additions, and suggestions to Jed Hartman at