Situation puzzles are more fun than ordinary riddles.
A situation puzzle, also called a lateral thinking puzzle, is played with at least two people, and begins with a sentence describing a scene that is unusual or intriguing. The person describing the scene knows the answer to the question, “What’s going on here?” The other player(s) attempts to find that out, by asking only yes-or-no questions. (If Yes or No are inadequate, answers such as Unanswerable, Be More Specific, or That Depends are permissible.)
A good situation puzzle takes anywhere from a quarter-hour to an hour or more for a guesser to solve, and leaves the teller and the guesser(s) feeling the time was well spent, perhaps leading the players off on interesting philosophical tangents as they work toward the goal. With the very best situation puzzles, the teller’s confidence rests on generations of puzzle telling, and the cultural consensus that no matter how long it takes, upon solving it, the guesser will say, “Ah yes. Good one.” And if told the answer without solving it herself, the guesser will always feel robbed.
What you see here is a selection from the established canon of classic situation puzzles, as well as a few originals. When you’ve done all these, make up your own! You may also enjoy the book Hall of Fame Lateral Thinking Puzzles, which contains more great situation puzzles.
1. The Man in the Mask
The man was afraid to go home because the man in the mask was there.
2. Albatross Sandwich
A man walks into a restaurant and orders an albatross sandwich. He takes one bite and then kills himself.
3. Piece of Paper on the Cactus
A man walks up to a cactus, looks at a piece of paper pinned there, and kills himself.
4. Party Survivor
Several people attend a party at the home of a murderer. All the guests end up dead except for one man. How did he survive?
5. Man in the Elevator
A man lives in a high-rise apartment building. He has an unusual custom regarding the elevator upon his return home from work each day. If it has been raining, he always takes the elevator to his floor, the 17th. If it has not been raining, but someone else is in the elevator with him, then he also takes the elevator to the 17th floor. But if it has not been raining, and he is alone in the elevator, then he takes the elevator to the 11th floor, and walks up the stairs the rest of the way.
6. Time for Bed
A man brushes his teeth, turns out the light, and goes to bed. The next morning he wakes up, looks out the window, and kills himself.
A man is driving his car and turns on the radio. He listens for a few seconds and then kills himself.
8. Man Pushing Car
A man pushes his car until he arrives in front of a hotel. He pays the owner of the hotel some money, and then pushes his car away.
9. Dead Man: Pool of Water
A man is found dead in an empty room, with only a pool of water nearby. How did he die?
10. Headlights Off
Two men are driving toward each other with their headlights off. No moon or stars are visible, and no electric lights are on anywhere nearby. Both cars are painted black, with no reflective surfaces. Yet both men know just when to hit the brakes and narrowly avoid hitting each other. How is this possible?
11. Cabin in the Woods
A man is found dead in a cabin in the woods. How did he die?
12. Hanged Man
A man is found hanged in an empty room. There is no chair or any other object the man could have climbed on to hang himself. How did he accomplish his suicide?
13. “This Man is My Son”
A surgeon is called upon for an emergency procedure, but upon gazing at the patient’s face, the surgeon says, “I cannot operate on this man. This man is my son.” Yet the surgeon is not in fact the patient’s father. How is this possible?
14. The Kiss
A man kisses his daughter, then regrets it.
A man lies face down in the middle of a field, dead, wearing a backpack. How did he die?
16. Little Susie
Little Susie was told by her parents to never open the basement door. Why?
17. Friend on a Plane
A man is seated on an airplane. He sees his friend board the plane and greets him. He is immediately arrested. Why?
18. The Yacht
Several corpses are floating in the water near a yacht.
19. Photo with Grandfather
A young woman has her photo taken with her grandfather, but they have never met before, and neither of them is aware of their relationship.
20. Draws Picture, Then Suicide
A woman completes a drawing, and then commits suicide. Why?
21. The Stranger
A man finds his wife dead and a stranger in the room.