Jed’s List of Situation Puzzles

(last updated: 18 July 1999.)


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.

The answers to these puzzles are available in a separate file, most
likely very close to where you found this puzzle list.

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) (answer)

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?) (answer)

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?) (answer)

1.4. A man lets go of a bowling ball. A short while
later, he is rushed to the hospital. (JC original?) (answer)

1.5. Two men enter a bar. They both order identical
drinks. One lives; the other dies. (CR; partial JM wording) (answer)

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?) (answer)

1.7. Two women are talking. One goes into the
bathroom, comes out five minutes later, and kills the other. (answer)

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?) (answer)

1.9. An avid birdwatcher sees an unexpected bird. Soon
he’s dead. (RSB original) (answer)

1.10. He was killed by breakfast. (JM original) (answer)

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
Stanley Ellin) (answer)

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?) (answer)

1.13. A man lies dead next to a cactus. Stuck to the
cactus is a slip of paper. (TO) (answer)

1.14. Passing by a window, you see two dead men in a
room, with a gun and a deck of cards. (KK2) (answer)

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) (answer)

1.16. Two dead people sit in their cars on a street.
(AG) (answer)

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
wording) (answer)

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) (answer)

1.19. There is blood on the ceiling of my bedroom. (MI
original) (answer)

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) (answer)

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 original?)

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 original)

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”) (answer)

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) (answer)

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.) (answer)

1.26. She lost her job when she invited them to dinner.
(DS original) (answer)

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
) (answer)

1.28. A man finishes getting dressed, lies down and
dies. (CH original?) (answer)

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.
(RSW) (answer)

1.30. A car without a driver moves; a man dies. (EMS)

1.31. A man gets onto an elevator. When the elevator
stops, he knows his wife is dead. (LA; partial KH wording) (answer)

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) (answer)

1.33. A man lies dead next to a feather. (PRO) (answer)

1.34. A man ran into a fire, and lived. A man stayed
where there was no fire, and died. (EW original) (answer)

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
burnt. (BJ) (answer)

1.36. A flash of light, a man dies. (ST original) (answer)

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) (answer)

1.38. Mr. Browning is glad the car ran out of gas.
(JM, originally from How Come — Again?) (answer)

1.39. A dying man gives another man a gift, and then
the dying man dies. Shortly after that the second man dies. (HJS) (answer)

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) (answer)

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) (answer)

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?) (answer)

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
; earlier from How Come?) (answer)

1.44. An old man gets the hiccups. Soon, he is rushed
to the hospital. (JC original?) (answer)

1.45. A man is found dead outside a large building with
a hole in him. (JM, modified from PRO) (answer)

1.46. A man dies in his own home. (ME original) (answer)

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
) (answer)

1.48. Three men die. On the pavement are pieces of ice
and broken glass. (JJ) (answer)

1.49. If he had wanted chocolate ice cream, his brother
would be alive today. (TiM original) (answer)

1.50. A man kills his wife, then goes inside his house
and kills himself. (DH original, from “Nightmare in Yellow,” by Fredric
Brown) (answer)

1.51. If he’d turned on the light, he’d have lived.
(JM) (answer)

1.52. A man is found dead on the floor in the living
room. (ME original) (answer)

1.53. A man went into a restaurant, had a large meal,
and paid nothing for it. (JM original) (answer)

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) (answer)

1.55. A man leaves a motel room, goes to his car, and
honks the horn. (AS original) (answer)

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 original)

1.57. A man opens his mouth and dies shortly
afterwards. (answer)

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?) (answer)

1.59. Music stops and a woman dies. (DVS) (answer)

1.60. Abel walks out of the ocean. Cain asks him who
he is, and Abel answers. Cain kills Abel. (MWD original) (answer)

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 Come?)

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) (answer)

1.63. A man is sitting in bed. He makes a phone call,
saying nothing, and then goes to sleep. (SJ; from How Come?)

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 Hoelle)

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) (answer)

1.66. A man is sitting suspended over two pressurized
containers. Suddenly, he dies. (NK original) (answer)

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.) (answer)

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.) (answer)

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. (answer)

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.) (answer)

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?) (answer)

1.72. She grabbed his ring, pulled on it, and dropped
it. (JM, from Math for Girls) (answer)

1.73. A riverboat filled with passengers suddenly
capsized, drowning most of those aboard. (originally from How Come —
) (answer)

1.74. A woman walks into a small room and screams.
(NP) (answer)

1.75. A rope breaks. A bell rings. A man dies. (KH)

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) (answer)

1.77. A woman buys a new pair of shoes, goes to work,
and dies. (DM) (answer)

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
) (answer)

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 — Again?)

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
original) (answer)

1.81. A man is found dead in an alley lying in a red
pool with two sticks crossed near his head. (PRO) (answer)

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
) (answer)

1.83. A woman lies dead in the street near a car. (AG)

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) (answer)

1.85. A woman throws something out a window and dies.
(JM) (answer)

1.86. A man is found dead in his parked car. Tire
tracks lead up to the car and away. (SD; from How Come?) (answer)

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) (answer)

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?) (answer)

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. (answer)

1.90. A man urinates and dies. (RA original) (answer)

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?) (answer)

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?) (answer)

1.93. Two men are dead next to a pile of wood and a
rope. (JC original?) (answer)

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?) (answer)

1.95. In the middle of the ocean is a yacht. Several
corpses are floating in the water nearby. (SJ) (answer)

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) (answer)

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) (answer)

2.3. A man pushes a car up to a hotel and tells the
owner he’s bankrupt. (DVS; partial AL and JM wording) (answer)

2.4. A man lies dead in a room with fifty-three
bicycles in front of him. (answer)

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?) (answer)

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
How Come?) (answer)

2.7. A dead man lies near a pile of bricks and a beetle
on top of a book. (MN) (answer)

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) (answer)

2.9. Two people are playing cards. One looks around
and realizes he’s going to die. (JM original) (answer)

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) (answer)

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
original?) (answer)

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) (answer)

2.13. A woman opens an envelope and dyes. (AL) (answer)

2.14. He was killed because of poor eyesight. (JM
original, from an Arthur C. Clarke story in Tales from the White
) (answer)

2.15. A man rides into town on Friday. He stays one
night and leaves on Friday. (KK) (answer)

2.16. A horse jumps over a tower and lands on a man,
who disappears. (ES original) (answer)

2.17. Two men are found dead outside of an igloo. (SK
original) (answer)

2.18. A man is alone on an island with no food and no
water, yet he does not fear for his life. (MN) (answer)

2.19. A man marries twenty women in his village but
isn’t charged with polygamy. (answer)

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) (answer)

2.21. Bruce wins the race, but he gets no trophy.
(EMS) (answer)

2.22. A woman meets the king, cries “Pain!”, and loses
consciousness. (MI original) (answer)

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) (answer)

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) (answer)

2.25. At the bottom of the sea there lies a ship worth
millions of dollars that will never be recovered. (TF original) (answer)

2.26. A man shoots himself, and dies. (HL) (This is
different from #2.27.) (answer)

2.27. A man walks into a room, shoots, and kills
himself. (HL) (This is different from #2.26.) (answer)

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) (answer)

2.29. Harry dropped a sugar cube in his coffee, then
lifed it out intact a minute later. (Math for Girls) (answer)

2.30. A man is doing his job when his suit tears.
Fifteen minutes later, he’s dead. (RM; from How Come?) (answer)

2.31. A train pulls into a station, but none of the
waiting passengers move. (MN) (answer)

2.32. Three large people try to crowd under one small
umbrella, but nobody gets wet. (CC) (answer)

2.33. An ordinary woman walks on water. (Math for
) (answer)

2.34. Amy drives her car due west for a quarter mile,
without turning. When she stops, the car is facing east. (Math for
) (answer)

Attributions key

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
G. Sheehan.

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 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
rec.puzzles newsgroup.

Contact Info

Please send updates, additions, and suggestions to Jed Hartman at