Jed's List of Situation Puzzles

(last updated: 18 July 1999.)


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").

My list of situation puzzles consists of two sections. Section 1 consists of puzzles which are set in a realistic world; the situations could all actually occur. Section 2 consists of puzzles which involve double meanings for one or more words and those which could not possibly take place in reality as we know it, plus a few miscellaneous others. Note that a puzzle's number in this edition may not be the same as its number in earlier editions.

See the end of the list for more notes and comments.

The answers to these puzzles are available in a separate file, most likely very close to where you found this puzzle list.

Section 1: "Realistic" situation puzzles

1.1. A man goes into a restaurant, orders abalone, eats one bite, and kills himself. (TeM and JM wording) (answer)

1.2. A man lives on the twelfth floor of an apartment building. Every morning he takes the elevator down to the lobby and leaves the building. In the evening, he gets into the elevator, and, if there is someone else in the elevator -- or if it was raining that day -- he goes back to his floor directly. However, if there is nobody else in the elevator and it hasn't rained, he goes to the tenth floor and walks up two flights of stairs to his room. (MH, from How Come?) (answer)

1.3. A man sitting on a park bench reads a newspaper article headlined "Death at Sea" and knows a murder has been committed. (from How Come?) (answer)

1.4. A man lets go of a bowling ball. A short while later, he is rushed to the hospital. (JC original?) (answer)

1.5. Two men enter a bar. They both order identical drinks. One lives; the other dies. (CR; partial JM wording) (answer)

1.6. A man walks into a bar and asks for a drink. The bartender pulls out a gun and points it at him. The man says, "Thank you," and walks out. (DVS; from How Come?) (answer)

1.7. Two women are talking. One goes into the bathroom, comes out five minutes later, and kills the other. (answer)

1.8. Beulah died in the Appalachians, while Craig died at sea. Everyone was much happier with Craig's death. (JM, originally from How Come -- Again?) (answer)

1.9. An avid birdwatcher sees an unexpected bird. Soon he's dead. (RSB original) (answer)

1.10. He was killed by breakfast. (JM original) (answer)

1.11. Two brothers are involved in a murder. Though it's clear that one of them actually committed the crime, neither can be punished. (This is different from #1.78.) (from "Unreasonable Doubt," by Stanley Ellin) (answer)

1.12. A woman in France in 1959 is waiting in her room, with all the doors locked from the inside, for her husband to come home. When he arrives, the house has burned to the ground and she's dead. (JM, originally from How Come -- Again?) (answer)

1.13. A man lies dead next to a cactus. Stuck to the cactus is a slip of paper. (TO) (answer)

1.14. Passing by a window, you see two dead men in a room, with a gun and a deck of cards. (KK2) (answer)

1.15. There are a carrot, a pile of pebbles, and a pipe lying together in the middle of a field. (PRO; partial JM wording) (answer)

1.16. Two dead people sit in their cars on a street. (AG) (answer)

1.17. A man is found shot to death in the front seat of his car; a gun lies out of his reach in the back seat. All the windows are closed and the doors are locked; there are no bullet holes anywhere in the car. (SP, from The Next Book of OMNI Games; partial AC wording) (answer)

1.18. A man is sitting in a room. Another person enters, carrying a closed cardboard box, and sits down nearby. Though the first man can't see, hear, or smell the box's contents, he knows what's in the box. (ES original) (answer)

1.19. There is blood on the ceiling of my bedroom. (MI original) (answer)

1.20. A man in uniform stands on the beach of a tropical island. He takes out a cigarette, lights it, and begins smoking. He takes out a letter and begins reading it. The cigarette burns down between his fingers, but he doesn't throw it away. He cries. (RW) (answer)

1.21. A woman is heating her coffee in a small microwave oven. She puts it in for exactly two minutes. She then opens the door, closes it, then heats her coffee for two more seconds. (JC original?) (answer)

1.22. A man tries the new cologne his wife gave him for his birthday. He goes out to get some food, and is killed. (RW original) (answer)

1.23. A man takes a two-week cruise to Mexico from the U.S. Shortly after he gets back, he takes a three-day cruise which doesn't stop at any other ports. He stays in his cabin all the time on both cruises. As a result, he makes $250,000. (MI, from "The Wager") (answer)

1.24. A man is lying face down, dead, in the desert, with a match near his outstretched hand. (This is different from #1.25, #2.2, and #2.12.) (JH; partial JM wording) (answer)

1.25. A man is lying, dead, face down in the desert wearing a backpack. (This is different from #1.24, #2.2, and #2.12.) (answer)

1.26. She lost her job when she invited them to dinner. (DS original) (answer)

1.27. A man tells his boss, "Don't take your planned flight today! I had a dream last night that if you do, your plane will crash and you'll die." The boss fires the man. (From How Come?) (answer)

1.28. A man finishes getting dressed, lies down and dies. (CH original?) (answer)

1.29. Every day a man drinks his breakfast and drinks his lunch. When his boss finds out, he is immediately fired. The man moves to another job and begins doing the same thing; this time, when his boss finds out, the boss jokingly tells him that he'll be fired if he stops. (RSW) (answer)

1.30. A car without a driver moves; a man dies. (EMS) (answer)

1.31. A man gets onto an elevator. When the elevator stops, he knows his wife is dead. (LA; partial KH wording) (answer)

1.32. A man is killed on a train. He is found to have written "elf" on the floor in his own blood. (MB, from "The Problem of the Locked Caboose," by Edward D. Hoch) (answer)

1.33. A man lies dead next to a feather. (PRO) (answer)

1.34. A man ran into a fire, and lived. A man stayed where there was no fire, and died. (EW original) (answer)

1.35. Four people are on a grass-covered island. A fire burns from one end of the island to the other, but no one gets severely burnt. (BJ) (answer)

1.36. A flash of light, a man dies. (ST original) (answer)

1.37. A man is running along a corridor with a piece of paper in his hand. The lights flicker and the man drops to his knees and cries out, "Oh no!" (MP) (answer)

1.38. Mr. Browning is glad the car ran out of gas. (JM, originally from How Come -- Again?) (answer)

1.39. A dying man gives another man a gift, and then the dying man dies. Shortly after that the second man dies. (HJS) (answer)

1.40. A man is lying dead in a room. There is a large pile of gold and jewels on the floor, a chandelier attached to the ceiling, and a large open window. (DVS; partial JM wording) (answer)

1.41. A man enters the elevator of a high rise apartment building, takes off one glove, and pushes the button for the tenth floor. The next day, the same man enters the elevator, puts on one glove, and pushes the button for the tenth floor. (RA original) (answer)

1.42. A woman came home with a bag of groceries, got the mail, and walked into the house. On the way to the kitchen, she went through the living room and looked at her husband, who had blown his brains out. She then continued to the kitchen, put away the groceries, and made dinner. (partial JM wording; from How Come?) (answer)

1.43. The king dies and two men both claim to be his long-lost son. One of the king's advisors proposes a test to determine the identity of the true heir. One claimant agrees to the test; the other refuses. The one who agreed is sent packing; the one who refused is identified as the rightful heir. (SP, from The Next Book of OMNI Games; earlier from How Come?) (answer)

1.44. An old man gets the hiccups. Soon, he is rushed to the hospital. (JC original?) (answer)

1.45. A man is found dead outside a large building with a hole in him. (JM, modified from PRO) (answer)

1.46. A man dies in his own home. (ME original) (answer)

1.47. A body is discovered in a park in Chicago in the middle of summer. It has a fractured skull and many other broken bones, but the cause of death was hypothermia. (MI, from Hill Street Blues) (answer)

1.48. Three men die. On the pavement are pieces of ice and broken glass. (JJ) (answer)

1.49. If he had wanted chocolate ice cream, his brother would be alive today. (TiM original) (answer)

1.50. A man kills his wife, then goes inside his house and kills himself. (DH original, from "Nightmare in Yellow," by Fredric Brown) (answer)

1.51. If he'd turned on the light, he'd have lived. (JM) (answer)

1.52. A man is found dead on the floor in the living room. (ME original) (answer)

1.53. A man went into a restaurant, had a large meal, and paid nothing for it. (JM original) (answer)

1.54. A U.S. Navy sailor on the deck of a cruiser noticed an explosive mine in the water directly in the path of the ship. With no time to communicate the situation to the captain of the ship, the sailor saved the lives of the crew and the ship. (BB) (answer)

1.55. A man leaves a motel room, goes to his car, and honks the horn. (AS original) (answer)

1.56. As I drive to work on my motorcycle, there is one corner which I go around at a certain speed whether it's rainy or sunny. If it's cloudy but not raining, however, I usually go faster. (SW original) (answer)

1.57. A man opens his mouth and dies shortly afterwards. (answer)

1.58. A married couple goes to a movie. During the movie the husband strangles the wife. He is able to get her body home without attracting attention. (from Beyond the Easy Answer; earlier from How Come?) (answer)

1.59. Music stops and a woman dies. (DVS) (answer)

1.60. Abel walks out of the ocean. Cain asks him who he is, and Abel answers. Cain kills Abel. (MWD original) (answer)

1.61. A man is riding a subway. He meets a one-armed man, who pulls out a gun and shoots him. (SJ; from How Come?) (answer)

1.62. An ordinary American citizen, with no passport, visits over thirty foreign countries in one day. He is welcomed in each country, and leaves each one of his own accord. (PRO) (answer)

1.63. A man is sitting in bed. He makes a phone call, saying nothing, and then goes to sleep. (SJ; from How Come?) (answer)

1.64. A man tries to buy poison to kill his wife. The pharmacist figures out what he's up to and finds a way to ensure that he can't kill his wife. (CB, from Flitterwochen in der Hoelle) (answer)

1.65. A man was walking down a road when a stone lodged itself between his foot and his sandal. He leaned against a pole and, with his head down to watch, he shook his foot to dislodge the stone. Another man came up and broke the first man's arm in three places. (RB) (answer)

1.66. A man is sitting suspended over two pressurized containers. Suddenly, he dies. (NK original) (answer)

1.67. A man is dead in a puddle of blood and water on the floor of a locked room. (This is different from #1.68.) (answer)

1.68. A man is found hanging in a locked room with a puddle of water under his feet. (This is different from #1.67.) (answer)

1.69. Mr. H meets Mr. X in a hotel bar; after a heated discussion, they leave the bar and head upstairs. Partway up the stairs, Mr. X clutches his chest, then punches Mr. H in the face. (answer)

1.70. A man driving his car turns on the radio. He then pulls over to the side of the road and shoots himself. (This is different from #1.71.) (answer)

1.71. A man is driving his car. He turns on the radio, listens for five minutes, turns around, goes home, and shoots his wife. (This is different from #1.70.) (From How Come?) (answer)

1.72. She grabbed his ring, pulled on it, and dropped it. (JM, from Math for Girls) (answer)

1.73. A riverboat filled with passengers suddenly capsized, drowning most of those aboard. (originally from How Come -- Again?) (answer)

1.74. A woman walks into a small room and screams. (NP) (answer)

1.75. A rope breaks. A bell rings. A man dies. (KH) (answer)

1.76. Joe leaves his house, wearing a mask and carrying an empty sack. An hour later he returns. The sack is now full. He goes into a room and turns out the lights. (AL) (answer)

1.77. A woman buys a new pair of shoes, goes to work, and dies. (DM) (answer)

1.78. A woman has incontrovertible proof in court that her husband was murdered by her sister. The judge declares, "This is the strangest case I've ever seen. Though it's a cut-and-dried case, this woman cannot be punished." (This is different from #1.11.) (MH; from How Come?) (answer)

1.79. Hans and Fritz are German spies during World War II. They try to enter America, posing as returning tourists. Hans is immediately arrested. (JM, originally from How Come -- Again?) (answer)

1.80. A man is found dead on a path 200 feet from a gate. Other than his clothes, all he had with him was a stick. (KO original) (answer)

1.81. A man is found dead in an alley lying in a red pool with two sticks crossed near his head. (PRO) (answer)

1.82. A married couple was speeding into town when their sedan ran out of gas. The man went for help after making sure his wife closed the windows and locked the doors of the car. Upon his return, he found his wife dead and a stranger in the car. The windows were still closed, the doors were still locked, and no damage was done to the car. (SP, from The Next Book of OMNI Games; earlier from How Come?) (answer)

1.83. A woman lies dead in the street near a car. (AG) (answer)

1.84. Tim and Greg were talking. Tim said "The terror of flight." Greg said "The gloom of the grave." Greg was arrested. (MPW original, from "No Refuge Could Save," by Isaac Asimov) (answer)

1.85. A woman throws something out a window and dies. (JM) (answer)

1.86. A man is found dead in his parked car. Tire tracks lead up to the car and away. (SD; from How Come?) (answer)

1.87. A man is returning from Switzerland by train. If he had been in a non-smoking car he would have died. (DVS; MC wording) (answer)

1.88. Two men are digging a trench. They look at each other and start to argue. They make a phone call. One man leaves for home and the other angrily continues to dig. (JC original?) (answer)

1.89. Two men are kidnapped and are placed in the trunk of a car. The next morning, when the trunk is opened, one man is alive and the other is dead. (answer)

1.90. A man urinates and dies. (RA original) (answer)

1.91. A man wakes up one night to get some water. He turns off the light and goes back to bed. The next morning he looks out the window, screams, and kills himself. (CR; KK wording; originally from How Come -- Again?) (answer)

1.92. A man is dead in a room with a small pile of pieces of wood and sawdust in one corner. (from "Coroner's Inquest," by Marc Connelly; earlier(?) from How Come?) (answer)

1.93. Two men are dead next to a pile of wood and a rope. (JC original?) (answer)

1.94. A writer with an audience of millions insisted that he was never to be interrupted while writing. After the day when he actually was interrupted, he never wrote again. (JM, originally from How Come -- Again?) (answer)

1.95. In the middle of the ocean is a yacht. Several corpses are floating in the water nearby. (SJ) (answer)

Section 2: Double meanings, fictional settings, and miscellaneous others

2.1. A man is born in 1972 and dies in 1952 at the age of 25. (DM) (answer)

2.2. A man is found dead in the arctic with a pack on his back. (This is different from #1.25, #1.24, and #2.12.) (PRO) (answer)

2.3. A man pushes a car up to a hotel and tells the owner he's bankrupt. (DVS; partial AL and JM wording) (answer)

2.4. A man lies dead in a room with fifty-three bicycles in front of him. (answer)

2.5. A black man dressed all in black, wearing a black mask, stands at a crossroads in a totally black-painted town. All of the streetlights in town are broken. There is no moon. A black-painted car without headlights drives straight toward him, but turns in time and doesn't hit him. (AL and RM wording; from How Come?) (answer)

2.6. Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice all live in the same house. Bob and Carol go out to a movie, and when they return, Alice is lying dead on the floor in a puddle of water and glass. It is obvious that Ted killed her but Ted is not prosecuted or severely punished. (From How Come?) (answer)

2.7. A dead man lies near a pile of bricks and a beetle on top of a book. (MN) (answer)

2.8. Hiking in the mountains, you walk past a large field and camp a few miles farther on, at a stream. It snows in the night, and the next day you find a cabin in the field with two dead bodies inside. (KL; KD and partial JM wording) (answer)

2.9. Two people are playing cards. One looks around and realizes he's going to die. (JM original) (answer)

2.10. A man was brought before a tribal chief, who asked him a question. If he had known the answer, he probably would have died. He didn't, and lived. (MWD original) (answer)

2.11. A very rich man hires a poor man to clean one wing of his extravagant domicile. The poor man, wanting to impress his new boss, cleans the entire house. Soon after, the man quits his job. (JC original?) (answer)

2.12. There is a dead man lying in the desert next to a rock. (This is different from #1.25, #1.24, and #2.2.) (GH) (answer)

2.13. A woman opens an envelope and dyes. (AL) (answer)

2.14. He was killed because of poor eyesight. (JM original, from an Arthur C. Clarke story in Tales from the White Hart) (answer)

2.15. A man rides into town on Friday. He stays one night and leaves on Friday. (KK) (answer)

2.16. A horse jumps over a tower and lands on a man, who disappears. (ES original) (answer)

2.17. Two men are found dead outside of an igloo. (SK original) (answer)

2.18. A man is alone on an island with no food and no water, yet he does not fear for his life. (MN) (answer)

2.19. A man marries twenty women in his village but isn't charged with polygamy. (answer)

2.20. Joe wants to go home, but he can't go home because the man in the mask is waiting for him. (AL wording) (answer)

2.21. Bruce wins the race, but he gets no trophy. (EMS) (answer)

2.22. A woman meets the king, cries "Pain!", and loses consciousness. (MI original) (answer)

2.23. As a man jumps out of a window, he hears the telephone ring and regrets having jumped. (from "Some Days are Like That," by Bruce J. Balfour; partial JM wording) (answer)

2.24. A newspaper reported that Jacques Dubois finished first in a race held in France. His average speed was given, correctly, as 19,475 km/hour. (DA, from an idea by AR and Richard Fowell) (answer)

2.25. At the bottom of the sea there lies a ship worth millions of dollars that will never be recovered. (TF original) (answer)

2.26. A man shoots himself, and dies. (HL) (This is different from #2.27.) (answer)

2.27. A man walks into a room, shoots, and kills himself. (HL) (This is different from #2.26.) (answer)

2.28. Adults are holding children, waiting their turn. The children are handed (one at a time, usually) to a man, who holds them while a woman shoots them. If the child is crying, the man tries to stop the crying before the child is shot. (ML) (answer)

2.29. Harry dropped a sugar cube in his coffee, then lifed it out intact a minute later. (Math for Girls) (answer)

2.30. A man is doing his job when his suit tears. Fifteen minutes later, he's dead. (RM; from How Come?) (answer)

2.31. A train pulls into a station, but none of the waiting passengers move. (MN) (answer)

2.32. Three large people try to crowd under one small umbrella, but nobody gets wet. (CC) (answer)

2.33. An ordinary woman walks on water. (Math for Girls) (answer)

2.34. Amy drives her car due west for a quarter mile, without turning. When she stops, the car is facing east. (Math for Girls) (answer)

Attributions key

When I know who first told me the current version of a puzzle, I've put initials in parentheses after the puzzle statement; this is the key to those acknowledgments. The word "original" following an attribution means that, to the best of my knowledge, the cited person invented that puzzle. If a given puzzle isn't marked "original" but is attributed, that just means that's the first person I heard it from. Please don't remove attributions from original puzzles.

Items cited as from How Come? may or may not have been original to Agnes Rogers and her friends, but that's almost certainly the first book in which these items saw print. Items cited as originally from How Come -- Again? are all original to Agnes Rogers and Richard G. Sheehan.

Laura Almasy
Russell Ang
Dmitry Apresian
Ranjit S. Bhatnagar
Cici Beilken
Rex Boggs
Bob Bondi
Mark Brader
Adam Carlson
Jeff Chen
Chris Cole
Matt Crawford
John Dalbec
Matthew William Daly
Ken Duisenberg
Sylvia Dutcher
Marguerite Eisenstein
Fil Feit
Tammy R. Franklin
Thomas Freeman
Andreas Gammel
Joaquin Hartman
Marcy Hartman
Karl Heuer
Craig Holland
Geoff Hopcraft
David Huddleston
Mark Isaak
Steve Jacquot
Mike Jarvis
J|rgen Jensen
Bill Jordan
Karen Karp
Kathleen Kim
Nev King
Shelby Kilmer
Tal Kubo
Ken Largman
Andy Latto
Howard Lazoff
Merlyn LeRoy
John K. Miller
Dan Murray
"Reaper Man" (real name unknown)
Ted McCabe
Tim MacDonald
Jim Moskowitz
Damian Mulvena
Jan Mark Noworolski
Kevin O'Connor
Tobias Oetiker
Peter R. Olpe (from his list)
Neil Pawson
Martin Pitwood
Scott Purdy
Charles Renert
Ellen M. Sentovich (from her list)
Annie Senghas
H. J. Simpson
Eric Stephan
Diana Stiefbold
"Brad" (full name unknown)
Simon Travaglia
David Van Stone
Tim Vaughan
R. Serena Wakefield
Eric Wang
Randy Whitaker
Matthew P Wiener
Steve Wilson (not sure of name)
Don Woods

Special thanks to Jim Moskowitz, Karl Heuer, and Mark Brader, for a lot of discussion of small but important details and wording.

Notes and comments

My outtakes list (items submitted but not included on this list for various reasons) is available in a separate file.

There are many possible wordings for most of the puzzles in this list. Most of them have what I consider the best wording of the variants I've heard; if you have better phrasings, or if you have any other comments or suggestions, please drop a note to If you know other situation puzzles not on this list, please send them to me (but you may want to read through all the answers first; I may already have listed your puzzle in the answer list, as a variant of an item already on the list).

In telling a group of players one of these situations, you can add or remove details, either to make getting the answer harder or easier, or simply to throw in red herrings.

Note that situation puzzles are interactive games -- that's what distinguishes them from riddles or logic puzzles. Just reading the questions on the Web or in a text file and trying to guess the answers directly is much less interesting than trying to solve the puzzles by a gradual approach of gathering information. Use the list as a resource, but play the game with other people.

Situation puzzles are also known by a variety of other names: mystery questions, story riddles, lateral thinking puzzles, mini-mysteries, minute mysteries, missing links, how come?, situational puzzles, law school puzzles, quistels (in parts of Europe), mystery puzzles, albatross stories, Intrigue puzzles, Who Dunnits, Please Explains, monkey puzzles, two-minute mysteries, conundrums, computer games, and so on. I prefer the term "situation puzzles," which was once the standard term for them on the rec.puzzles newsgroup.

Contact Info

Please send updates, additions, and suggestions to Jed Hartman at