Rich Martello: Independence Pass, Colorado, USA, 2020 (Unsplash)
Two men are dead in a cabin on the side of a mountain — how did they die?
There is a whole host of questions like this — riddles that get grouped under the category of “lateral thinking puzzles.” Another: A man walks into a restaurant and orders the albatross soup. After finishing the soup, he leaves and commits suicide. Why? Or: There is a dead man, naked in the desert, holding a straw. How did he die? You can only ask yes-or-no questions, and the goal is to figure out the precise story. Many of these involve a dead man in one form or another. There is a dead man with a hole in his suit — how did he die?
Sometimes, the mechanism of the answer is something ludicrously complex, a thing that must be pieced out bit by bit. Several people were in a hot air balloon that drifted into the desert and started to lose altitude because of the heat and air pressure. They threw everything they could overboard, including their clothes, but when that wasn’t enough they drew straws to see who would jump overboard to save the others. Other times, though, the solution is simpler, but requires retooling your perspective. You hear “hole in his suit” and you think of a three-piece suit and your mind goes to a bullet wound. Once that image is set in your mind, it can take some work to dislodge it. You don’t necessarily think: “space suit.”
You hear “cabin on the side of a mountain” and you think of a small building built of wood and brick. Smoke out of the chimney from a pleasant fire. You don’t necessarily think: “airplane.”