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Christopher "Tanoro" Gray is a web programmer and science advocate especially concerned with resource management technologies, biology, and artificial intelligence. He is a student of epistemology and philosophy as well as an Atheist competent in Christian theology.
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To Insult the Riddler
Posted by: Tanoro - Feb 15, 2012 2:59PM

For those of you who don't know, I'm a gamer. I find online gaming to be an amusing and convenient way to socialize and have some fun with my friends who are not within driving distance. The game I play is called Mabinogi, a Korean game based on Celtic mythology.

I want to go on a little rant about a Valentines Day rigmarole that ocured on Mabinogi last night and use this as an opportunity to illustrate a point useful to anyone wanting to organize a public game involving the use of riddles. Not only was the event a total disaster for a bunch of reasons, but I often see riddles abused this way for "entertain value" and doing little more than causing confusion. I have watched players get pissed off for not understanding a poorly-written riddle properly only to be called "poor sports" as if a badly articulated statement is the fault of the player who points it out. Twice a year, in Shreveport, a public treasure hunt occurs where the participants visit a local promotional website for a new element to a riddle every night until the treasure is claimed.

I've become so disgusted by these riddles that I no longer even care to participate in such events. People are BAD at writing riddles! Many of the failed attempts are clearly by individuals who don't even know what a riddle is suppose to be!

Here was the riddle given to the players in Mabinogi last night:

Lassar's hair is red,
Goro's skin is blue,
She's in a dungeon,
Choose one of the TWO

For those of you who don't know, Lassar and Goro are two characters in the game. "She" refers to the organizer of the event who players were suppose to meet in the location described by the riddle.

Now, let's consider what a riddle is suppose to be. A riddle is defined as, "A set of cryptic and/or ambiguous statements that resolve to one solution when considered in unison." The cognitive challenge of solving riddles is that it is difficult to mentally resolve the meaning behind unclear statements that must be considered together. The more unclear elements you have, the more challenging it becomes to resolve a clear answer that accomodates them all. Possible solutions start off infinite. Each element in a well-written riddle should be ambiguous, but contribute to eliminating some of the infinitely conceivable solutions, leaving only one logical result.

The ryhme element in riddles is simply an artistic component meant to make the riddle easier to remember and fun to recite. You know you have a person who can't write riddles well when they are sacrificing the riddle's solvability just to make the damned thing ryhme.

The first element that jumps out at me is the first two lines. I become instantly perturbed when someone must force themselves to rhyme by using the classic "Roses are red, Violets are blue" scheme. That tells me that "red" and "blue" are probably not elements meant to be considered as part of the solution. They are just "padding" to make a ryhme because the writer couldn't create their own rhyming scheme that is within the context of the riddle. So if we extract those, we're left with this to consider.

She's in a dungeon,
Choose one of the TWO

Ok, perhaps the location has something in common with those two characters. Both characters are within one town and the town has two dungeons (Alby and Ciar), so we know where to look. The third line isn't cryptic at all. Now, which dungeon? This is where the trail goes cold, because this riddle resolves to TWO possible solutions and we're left to guess. Thus, we have a riddle with unneeded padding elements, insufficiently cryptic, and resolves to TWO solutions instead of just one. FAIL!

Goro is located in Alby dungeon and Lassar has a flashback scene early in the game that occurs in Alby. Naturally, this is where I went along with a considerable number of others. That turned out to be wrong. The organizer appeared in Ciar. The solution was never explained, so I'm inclined to believe there was no explanation. I am so not kicking myself for getting this one wrong. What horrible instruction.

Let's compare this to a well-written riddle.

The legend writ,
The stain affected,
The key in Silence undetected,
Fifty-five in iron pen,
Mr. Matlack can't offend.

This is a riddle used in the movie National Treasure with Nicholas Cage. This riddle not only has a pleasing and creative ryhming scheme that is within context, but each element is indepedently cryptic and contributes to one solution only when you consider them all together. There are no "padding" elements here to dilute the effect and force the ryhme. It even includes a really obscure clue: the word "Silence." As pointed out in the movie, it is capitalized because it is meant to be understood as a name.

If you are going to organize a public event and use a riddle to test your players' cognitive metal, do us all a grand favor and have your riddle written by someone who knows how to do it.

This blog is an editorial and contains only the opinions of the author. The author claims no expertise on most topics of discussion and this blog is not to be cited as an alternative for properly vetted journalism or scientific sources.

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