How To Tell a Riddle

Riddles are word puzzles of varying levels of difficulty. Some riddles, of the "what is black and white and read all over?" variety, are familiar to practically everyone and if they are told to anyone but a child who is benefiting from a first hearing, they come off as annoying and trite.

More complicated riddles are intricate challenges, and these are the most fun. To solve a truly mind-boggling riddle, you must have command of the language in which the riddle is told, understand the meaning of the words used in the riddle and appreciate that subtle variations can sometimes alter the word meanings.  

Riddles are best told, not read, because the words require a close listening. So, the success of a riddle - its ability to amuse and to challenge - depends on the skill demonstrated in the telling:

  1. Before mustering the courage to tell a riddle, you should read the riddle a few times, first silently and then aloud, so you clearly understand its meaning and are able to pronounce all the words correctly.
  2. Memorize the riddle. That way, when you tell the riddle to someone, he will think you are clever, possibly even believing that you made up the riddle yourself. Nothing is more boring than listening to someone read aloud. Riddles are meant to be told, not read.
  3. Rehearse your delivery. Tell the riddle with enthusiasm, and use inflection in your voice for key words. If it is obvious that you are having fun telling the riddle, the other person will be more likely to view the riddle as an enjoyable experience.
  4. If your friend asks you to repeat the riddle, do so happily, again with appropriate zest.
  5. Give your friend sufficient time to answer, but don't allow him to leave your presence. It's not fair for him to ask someone else or research the answer.
  6. Be polite, no matter what your friend's response is. If he answers correctly, compliment him for being so smart. If he gives a wrong answer, reply, "Good try, but here's the answer I had in mind." And if your friend reluctantly says, "I give up," avoid laughing at him or making him feels inadequate.
  7. Most important, invite your friend to tell the riddle to someone else. A good riddle deserves to be shared with as many people as possible.


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