Situation Puzzles

Situation puzzles are more fun than ordinary riddles.

Albatross SandwichA 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) attempt 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.)

Lateral Thinking PuzzlesA 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 are welcome to submit puzzles by sending them to or posting them in the comments below. You may also enjoy the book Hall of Fame Lateral Thinking Puzzles, which contains more great situation puzzles.

The Situations

1. The Man in the Mask
The man was afraid to go home because the man in the mask was there.

See Answer
They are playing baseball. The man in the mask is the catcher. The other man is afraid to advance to home base.


2. Albatross Sandwich
A man walks into a restaurant and orders an albatross sandwich. He takes one bite and then kills himself.

See Answer
The man is blind and he has been lost at sea for weeks, in a lifeboat with two other men, after a shipwreck in which the man’s wife drowned. After some time in the lifeboat, the starving men encounter the body of the blind man’s wife, and they decide to eat it. Knowing the blind man would never agree to eat his wife’s flesh, the other two convince him that they have only found a dead albatross. The blind man is suspicious, and upon being rescued and reaching shore, he walks into a dockside restaurant and orders an albatross sandwich. After one bite of an unfamiliar meat, he realizes what he has been eating.


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.

See Answer
The man has been wandering lost in the desert. He fears he has been walking in circles. To test this, he pins a blank piece of paper to a cactus and sets off walking. When he encounters the paper again, his fears are confirmed and he knows he will never find his way out.


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?

See Answer
The host served everyone drinks with poisoned ice cubes. The other party guests sipped their drinks while the poison slowly melted. The survivor drank his immediately in one gulp before the ice melted.


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.

See Answer
The man is unusually short. He can only reach the button for the 11th floor. If someone else is in the elevator, he asks them to press the button for his floor. If it has been raining, he uses his umbrella to press the button.


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.

See Answer
The man is a lighthouse keeper. He accidentally turned off the lighthouse beacon. In the morning he sees a shipwreck that he realizes he has caused.


7. Radio
A man is driving his car and turns on the radio. He listens for a few seconds and then kills himself.

See Answer
The man is a radio DJ who had planned to murder his wife. Intending to create the perfect alibi, he put a long-playing record on the air, left work, went home, and killed his wife. Driving back to the station, he tunes in and realizes the record has been skipping.


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.

See Answer
They are playing Monopoly. One player is using the car token and has landed on the other player’s property with a hotel.


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?

See Answer
He was stabbed with an icicle.


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?

See Answer
It’s daytime. (And it’s a cloudy day, which is why the star we call the sun is not visible.)


11. Cabin in the Woods
A man is found dead in a cabin in the woods. How did he die?

See Answer
It’s the cabin of an airplane that crashed in the woods.


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?

See Answer
He stood on a large block of ice and waited for it to melt. (And, depending on the teller’s preference, there is either a puddle of water on the floor or the water has since evaporated or soaked into the floor.)


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?

See Answer
The surgeon is the man’s mother.


14. The Kiss
A man kisses his daughter, then regrets it.

See Answer
The man is King Midas.


15. Backpack
A man lies face down in the middle of a field, dead, wearing a backpack. How did he die?

See Answer
His parachute didn’t open.


16. Little Susie
Little Susie was told by her parents to never open the basement door. Why?

See Answer
Susie lived in the basement and her parents had never let her out.


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?

See Answer
He said, “Hi, Jack!”


18. The Yacht
Several corpses are floating in the water near a yacht.

See Answer
Far out at sea, everyone on the yacht decided to go swimming, but they forgot to lower a ladder. With no way to climb back up, they drowned.


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.

See Answer
The woman is a student in medical school. She has her photo taken with a human skeleton in the classroom, used for instruction. She does not know that the skeleton is that of her grandfather, who donated his body to science.


20. Draws Picture, Then Suicide
A woman completes a drawing, and then commits suicide. Why?

See Answer
Long suspicious of her family history, the woman does the research necessary to draw her family tree. Upon completing it, she confirms that she is the product of incest, a fact she cannot live with.


21. The Stranger
A man finds his wife dead and a stranger in the room.

See Answer
His wife died in childbirth.


22. The New Shoes
A women buys a new pair of shoes in the morning, and she goes to work that night. She dies at work. How?

See Answer
The new pair of shoes she bought were high heels, which made her taller. Since she works at a circus in the knife throwing act, the man who throws knives at her is used to her regular height. So when he starts throwing knives at her, he hits her by accident.


10 thoughts on “Situation Puzzles”

  1. The headlights off one contains a lie. If it’s daytime, then the sun is out and so are other stars — even though you can’t see them because of the sun’s light. The only way I see of making it right is to state that it is daytime AND a cloudy day, so all the stars, including the sun, are hidden by the clouds. You can still see a car in a cloudy day, so there.

      1. Do you admit alternate backstories? I’m translating that one with the headlights off into my language to play with my friends and it dawned on me that according to the known details, the cars might as well be toys in a boy’s hand — he stopped them shortly before crashing them into each other because his mother called him to stop playing and go have lunch. 😀

  2. I was thinking the exact same thing about the car story! Haha, these are awesome! And you are right, the difference comes down to the story teller’s choice; once a question is asked that makes the difference between one backstory and another, the story becomes more and more detailed.

  3. I love to do these with kids, but a bit bothered that people are dead or kill themselves. I found several books for kids on Amazon called 5 minute mysteries with lots of great puzzles that are a little bit more G rated. 🙂 (Good for schools and churches!)

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