A good riddle leaves you with an “ah ha” feeling after you learn the answer. Like a bad movie with lots of plot holes, a bad riddle leaves us unfulfilled. There’s a “giraffe riddle” circulating Facebook right now that is, well, bad. The riddle:

“It’s 6:00 am, the doorbell rings and you wake up. You have unexpected visitors; it’s your parents, and they are there for breakfast. You have strawberry jam, honey, wine, bread and cheese. What is the first thing you open?” Remember, message me only! If you get it right I’ll post your name on my status, if you get it wrong you change your profile picture!

The purported answer is “your eyes”… Groan.

Ok, so what’s wrong with that answer? The problem is that the English language provides a means to express tense: past tense, present tense, and future tense.

Past: What is the first thing you opened?

Present: What are you opening?

Future: What is the first thing you [will] open? (the will is optional)

In the giraffe riddle, the first portion of the riddle sets the stage. We have the time, an event, and a description of your current circumstance. Then, we’re asked the question: What is the first thing you open?

So, according to the setup in the first portion of the riddle, we’re awake, the doorbell has rung, and we know it’s your parents who have arrived for breakfast. There is no mention that you have let them in, but it does mention you’re awake.

According to the responses I’ve received, the correct answer is “your eyes”, but that can’t be correct, because earlier in the riddle, it says we’re awake. The question “what is the first thing you open” implies future tense (or is at worst, ambiguous). Had the question been “what is the first thing you opened“, then your eyes would make sense as an answer.

The list of items is clearly intended to throw off the reader. It’s a clever setup, but the answer I’ve heard (your eyes) makes no sense unless the original author was a non-English speaker (some languages treat tense differently), or simply doesn’t understand grammar.

If you like the giraffe riddle (even if you don’t like the lousy answer), you might enjoy the riddle “A Giraffe, an Elephant, and a Refrigerator”:

The following short quiz consists of 4 questions and will tell you whether you are qualified to be a professional. The questions are NOT that difficult.

  1. How do you put a giraffe into a refrigerator?

Correct Answer: Open the refrigerator, put in the giraffe, and close the door. This question tests whether you tend to do simple things in an overly complicated way.

  1. How do you put an elephant into a refrigerator?

Did you say, Open the refrigerator, put in the elephant, and close the refrigerator?

Wrong Answer.

Correct Answer: Open the refrigerator, take out the giraffe, put in the elephant and close the door. This tests your ability to think through the repercussions of your previous actions.

  1. The Lion King is hosting an animal conference. All the animals attend…. except one. Which animal does not attend?

Correct Answer: The Elephant. The elephant is in the refrigerator. You just put him in there. This tests your memory.

Okay, even if you did not answer the first three questions correctly, you still have one more chance to show your true abilities.

  1. There is a river you must cross but it is used by crocodiles, and you do not have a boat. How do you manage it?

Correct Answer: You jump into the river and swim across. Have you not been listening? All the crocodiles are attending the Animal Meeting. This tests whether you learn quickly from your mistakes.

PS – I answered “the door”, and I’m not changing my profile picture :P