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A riddle is a task that must be solved by thinking . Puzzles can be used to pass the time, entertain, and educate the puzzle solver. Your solution is sometimes made more difficult by misleading, ambiguous information. Difficult to solving puzzles will redensartlich as a stumbling block or Sap called, since they are "hard to crack" a nut similar. Occasionally puzzles are asked that have no solution. The aim of such puzzles is usually to fool the guesser.

The quiz in particular became a puzzle competition in which knowledge counts . With the Internet , a number of online puzzles, some of which are very difficult, arose, for which the answers often also have to be researched on the web. The nature of the tasks is quite different. Solutions can often be found on the web under the term " cheats ".


Almost all peoples and cultures have a riddle in the oldest traditions . It occurs both in the older form of the non-guessable riddle (religious or philosophical interpretations and prophecies) and later in the guessable (rather entertainment and gaming) version.

The word itself gained common meaning through the Luther Bible and has been attested as a riddle since the 16th century . It comes from the verb guess in the sense of guessing, interpreting and can also be found in the English verb to read , which originally meant runes to interpret . The Strasbourg riddle book, the first known printed riddle book in German-speaking countries, dates from around the same time . It first appeared around the year 1500/1505.


The oldest documented puzzles come from a clay tablet from the ancient Sumerian Lagash (approx. 2350 BC). Questions of the following kind are listed: “His channel is a, his god is b, his fish is c, his snake is d. We are looking for a city that is located on canal a, whose city god / goddess b is and which has the symbolic animals c and d. ”Other puzzles of various kinds can be found in the Sumerian literature and somewhat less in the Akkadian literature of Mesopotamia . The oldest riddle from Egypt is recorded on a papyrus roll that was acquired in Luxor in 1858 by the Scottish Egyptologist Alexander Henry Rhind , later named after him for the Rhind papyrus . The author of this papyrus roll was called Ahmes (also Ahmose ). The document itself was created around 1550 BC. In a note in the margin, the author notes that he copied from another source - probably more than two centuries older - so that the riddle is probably over 3800 years old. Today in the British Museum preserved scroll is also known as Cat and Mouse puzzles become known (79th) task: "There are seven houses, each house live seven cats. Each cat catches seven mice, each of which has eaten seven ears of corn. There are seven seeds in each ear. ”The number of objects involved is .

The Israelite King Solomon and Hiram of Tire entered a puzzle contest which, according to Flavius ​​Josephus , Hiram won with the help of Abdemon .

The Bernese puzzles go back to the 7th century .

Puzzle types


The kinds of the solvable puzzles are generally regarded as the real puzzles . No mystifying or magical elements play a role here, only reason and shrewdness count. Homer has woven several riddles into his epics, and the Nordic songs also know that narrative and tension element. In the Middle Ages there are numerous fairy tales about clever puzzle solvers like in Grimm's The Clever Farmer's Daughter , who is abandoned by the king: “Come to me, not dressed, not naked, not ridden, not driven, not in the way, not out of the way , and if you can do that, I will marry you. ”The riddle poems of the Biedermeier and the late Romantic period were mainly triggered by Schiller's treatment of the Turandot material, in which the princess has every applicant killed who does not pass her riddle.


The unsolvable riddle, to be understood more as a mystery , has magical and cultic elements and serves to identify the “knower” as a member of a social association or a cult community. This was already found at the initiation of priests in the Vedic religions of India, as well as later in the question books with theological and philosophical content, the catechisms .

A special feature of the unsolvable puzzle can be found where it is based on an individual experience that only the puzzler himself knows. An example here is Samson's wedding, from the Book of Judges ( Ri 14.1-20  EU ). His question to his wife's relatives, "Food comes from the eater, sweet comes from the strong", could only be known by himself ( solution ). The throat-solving puzzles , in which a condemned man gives his judges an unsolvable riddle (for them), also belong to this category.


In the natural sciences, puzzles are known to which a solution has not yet been found. In the case of such puzzles, in addition to the distinction between “solvable” and “unsolvable”, further type assignments are conceivable if the formulation of the puzzle was based on incorrect assumptions or inapplicable boundary conditions. Later solutions to these puzzles lead to a correction of the original formulation, for example the question "Why does the sun rotate around the earth?"

Puzzle shapes

Text based puzzles

The texts in verse or prose raise questions that are not answered. What is to be queried appears in complete encryption, the image area (as in the allegory ) must be resolvable. Because of this, puzzles can be viewed as reversed definitions . This genre includes crossword puzzles , syllable puzzles , knight jump as well as word puzzles (paraphrasing a single target term) such as anagram , palindrome , homonym and puzzles in which letters are replaced by digits ( arithmogriph ).

Riddle poems

Riddle poems or literary riddles are a very old, popular literary form. Some of these puzzles can be traced back to oral tradition or from the early days of Scripture. Oracle's sayings were also often one of those puzzles. The dramatic poets and lyric poets of antiquity liked to mix enigmatic sayings into their poems. The riddle of the Sphinx, solved by Oedipus, is well known . The puzzle received further training in the 18th and 19th centuries, where attempts were made to give it greater charm through its poetic form. Schiller's well-known puzzles in the Turandot stand out due to their poetic content and beauty of form . The puzzles by Johann Peter Hebel and Friedrich Schleiermacher , as well as by Wilhelm Hauff , Franz Brentano and Otto Sutermeister , are more distinguished by humor or by wit and sagacity .

Children's puzzles

Children's puzzles, including puzzle questions, can be understood as sunken “normal” puzzles.

  • What is on the wall that burned your back? (The frying pan)
  • What is hanging on the wall, shaking hands with everyone? (The towel)
  • Or as a transition to the joke question : What is on the wall, makes tick tock and if it falls down, is the clock broken? (The wall clock)

Again and again writers have taken up this form of the puzzle. There are riddles by Goethe , Schiller , Arnim , Edgar Allan Poe and Grillparzer . The classical philologist Tolkien refers to this old tradition when he makes the riddle the most popular literary form of the Hobbits as well as of Gollum in his works .

A riddle from the literature of Goethe:

It is one brother of many brothers,
completely equal to them in everything,
a necessary member of many members
in a great father's kingdom;
however, one sees him only seldom,
almost like a pushed-in child;
the others only
accept it where they are incapable.
       (Solution on the discussion page)

Brain teaser

The following areas are often referred to as brain teasers .

Logic puzzle ( nine point problem ); Task: All squares are to be connected in one move by exactly 4 straight lines
Solution (If the squares are really defined as squares and not just as points, it is also possible with three lines by drawing them almost parallel.)

See also

Web links

Commons : Puzzles  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Riddles  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Riddles  - Quotes
Wikisource: Puzzles  - Sources and Full Texts


Individual evidence

  1. dtv-Lexikon, Volume 15, p. 58, Munich 1976, ISBN 3-423-03065-8
  2. Robert Biggs, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 32 (1973) 26-33.
  3. ^ Reallexikon der Assyriologie Volume 11, p. 224, Berlin / New York 2007, ISBN 978-3-11-019544-6 .
  4. The treasure trove for brain teasers and puzzles ( Memento from November 3, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  5. ^ Jewish Antiquities 8, 5
  6. The clever farmer's daughter KHM 94 (1857) ,
  8. Metzler, Lexikon Literatur , Rätsel, p. 627, Weimar, 2007