Situation Puzzles

(Last change to this page: 18 July 1999. Last update to list: 18 July 1998.)

Welcome to the world of situation puzzles, a sordid world full of rash and mysterious action, rife with double meanings and labyrinthine plots, where murder, suicide, and adultery are the order of the day and vengeance is bittersweet.

In the game of situation puzzles, a mysterious situation is presented to a group of players, who must then try to find out what's going on by asking further questions. The person who initially presented the situation can only answer "yes" or "no" to questions (or occasionally "irrelevant").

These pages do not provide a way to play situation puzzles on the Web; they simply provide a static list of situation puzzles, along with answers, variant problem statements and solutions, and a bibliography. You can look at the puzzles online, or you can print them out and take them on camping trips and to parties. (You may want to print the situations list and the answers list separately; that way people who want to ask the yes/no questions can pick a puzzle from the situations list without fear of accidentally reading the answer.)

There are nearly 130 puzzles on the list now, plus half again that many variants in the answers list. (There were only about 90 on the last major edition of the list, five years ago.) Thanks to all who've contributed.

Situation puzzles list (no answers):
puzzle list in HTML, 33K (with links to individual answer files)
text-only puzzle list, 24K

Full answer list (includes variants):
answer list in HTML, 88K
text-only answer list, 82K

Bibliography (HTML)

Outtakes (text only)

Revision history

Those interested in situation puzzles may also want to check out Paul Sloane's interactive site on what he calls "lateral thinking puzzles." (Which I consider a name for a different kind of puzzle, but anyway.)

By the way, if any intellectual-property lawyers read this page and wouldn't mind furnishing some free advice, I'd love to find out whether I have legal grounds to use some puzzles that come from books of puzzles; I hope to resolve some of those issues by the time of the next edition. (Paul Sloane, for instance, claims that even if a puzzle was common knowledge before he wrote it down, or is based on historical fact, he holds the copyright to it.) Please, nobody send me email that starts "I'm not a lawyer, but..."; I'm pretty informed about this stuff myself, for a non-lawyer, but there are issues here that I want a real lawyer's opinion on.

There's also another site that lets you play interactive situation puzzles online at

Floris Maarten Kleijne also has a page of situation puzzles that you can play interactively.

If you have any situation puzzles that aren't on my list, please send 'em to me at the below address.

I occasionally receive puzzles without answers; I'll post them on my answers wanted page. If you know the answers, please let me know.

On a related note, I've got a brief page about unsolvable yes/no puzzles and games. Warning: this page gives away information about the games in question that may make them less enjoyable. Read with caution.

Thanks to Arlet Ottens for inspiring me to create an HTML version of the list, and for keeping the last edition of the list on the Web via his own HTML version for these past four years.

This page will never carry commercial advertising, but I've decided to include this ad for a magazine I'm associated with:

Visit Strange Horizons,

Feel free to drop me a line about situation puzzles or wordgames, but please don't write me concerning other kinds of puzzles. If you're looking for an answer to a non-situation puzzle, try the rec.puzzles FAQ or the rec.puzzles archive.

Jed Hartman <>