Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Giraffe Riddle

 On an unrelated note, this is me with my giraffe painting titled "Tall, with freckles". OK now, our story:

It’s not you. It’s “The Giraffe Riddle”.  It has nothing to do with giraffes. It’s a riddle on Facebook and it went sort of viral.

Here’s the riddle:
“It’s 3 a.m., the doorbell rings and you wake up. Unexpected visitors! It’s your parents and they are here for breakfast. You have strawberry jam, honey, wine, bread and cheese.
 What is the first thing you open?”

As riddles go, it’s screwy, in that it’s written in second person and present tense and it’s supposed to be designed to trip you up so that you get the “wrong” answer. If you get the wrong answer you have to change your Facebook profile pic to a giraffe for a week, or three days, or something. It’s a bad riddle because it immediately garnered not one but two potentially right answers and a lot of people are disagreeing about which one makes more sense. Others meekly agreed to just be a giraffe, and I guess to try to trip others up. So, you know, spoiler alert, I’m going to get specific.

You’re supposed to guess quickly and guess wrong. If this was a good riddle it wouldn’t have gone viral. This is the “hanging chad” of riddles. It drew accidental attention. Somebody even made up a hoax that it’s a virus or an insidious plot of some kind. It isn’t. Wrong guesses would be any one of the food choices or the wine. Right guesses, depending on who you talk to, are “the door” or “your eyes”. These two choices are now hotly debated on the internet as to which is the right answer. News stations have picked up this riddle and broadcast it. And there are giraffes galore, and people refusing to be giraffes because they’re sure they’re right, and/or pressuring their friends to be giraffes because they got it wrong.

This reminds me of poorly written tests I’ve had to deal with ever since I was a kid, and through college, and hopefully never again. One question I remember said “Can you give three examples of. . . blah blah blah” and so I answered it, “No, I can’t. And that’s the right answer.” I didn’t get credit. It was the right answer. Not to worry, I’ve graduated with three degrees, Cum Laude. And I have other funny things to say about college some other time.

But back to the giraffes: any answer you give is the right answer for at least two reasons. Given that the riddle is written in second person (you) and you’re the one reading it, you get to decide what you’d do in that circumstance. After all, the actual question is, “What is the first thing you open?” Well the first thing you open is the first thing you open. Free will. It could be anything. They ask (and presumably, “they” are a consortium of giraffes who have learned to type, go online, and join Facebook) essentially, “what do you do?” Well you’d do whatever you’d do. For the purposes of illustration, some of the first things I’d open if my parents rang the doorbell at 3am expecting breakfast: the gun safe, a box of ammo, the closet where the baseball bat is stored, things of that nature. One clever respondent stated that the first thing they’d do is “open fire”. In a calmer moment, the first thing I’d open is a competency hearing if both my parents showed up at 3am for a light snack, or any other meal.

I’m just getting started.

We know that any of the food choices are deemed wrong. But seriously, depending on your relationship to your parents and/or the possibility that one or both of them are dead, you might indeed open the wine if they’re ringing your doorbell at 3am for any reason. You might not be in so all fired up of a hurry to break bread with the undead who walk the earth seeking, oh, I don’t know, to eat your brains? Yeah. Have a glass of wine first and ponder the options. Given this scenario, however ironic it may seem, any of the food choices opened with the intention of feeding the zombie parents would be wrong again, because in fact, your brains are the only thing they’ll eat. Nothing else is palatable. But again, given this scenario, opening the door is also the wrong choice if you’d rather keep your brains. And the other “right” answer, opening your eyes, was probably a bad idea too, assuming that your door is locked. Better for your psyche to sleep through the parental zombie show.

This might bring us to the fact that the second-person present-tense riddle also appears to be written from an omniscient narrator perspective. Sure. Why not. You’re asleep, the bell rings, you wake up, now be careful here— you may or may not have opened your eyes— it’s present tense and we don’t know, not yet, because everything is happening right now. Perhaps through extraordinary psychic abilities you know, you just know with absolute certainty, even though this is entirely unexpected, that it’s your parents at the door wanting breakfast, that the time is 3am, you’ve an accurate mental inventory of the foodstuffs available and some vague sense that something must be opened. Don’t forget now, that the correct answers are either “the door” or “your eyes”. Here’s the deal, second person omniscient in the present tense means. . . you are now God. What need have I of “doors”? And my eyes are all seeing throughout the universe and all of time. My choice is going to be to open the gates of heaven, and me and the zombie parents are walking right in. This honestly feels like the right choice, intuitively, and being omniscient I’m sure I’m right.

As an aside, however, I have to mention that it’s downright bizarre that God has wine but no coffee. Must be an oversight in the Giraffe theory of the cosmos.

Next scenario: Maybe we assume the narrator is not omniscient. So, even though it’s still written in present tense we make a huge leap of logic to presume that you woke up, opened your eyes, discovered with absolute certainty without opening anything (blinds, drapes, window. . .) that your parents are behind the door and that they want breakfast. You’ve looked at a clock or your watch and you know that it’s 3am. Have you “opened a light” ? My partner is from the East coast and that’s what they say there, “open the light, close the light.” Sorry, no, that would be a wrong answer. The gods of meme have determined this. Somewhere in there you’ve either checked the food inventory without opening anything like the frig or pantry, or your razor sharp mind at three a.m. with no coffee already knows exactly what you have and have not. Remember the question is not “what do you open next?” it’s “What is the first thing you open?” I may have opened my mouth to yawn. Wrong answer. I may have opened my mouth to speak— which may have been part of the conversation with the parents telling me they want breakfast. Wrong answer. OK, ok, we give the benefit of the doubt that all kinds of stuff have already been opened, even though, peculiarly, we’re speaking in present tense. “What is the first thing you open?” Which should actually read, “What is the next thing you open?” I’m giving enormous amounts of presumption here. With the presumptions, “your eyes” is the wrong answer because you’ve already been up for awhile so of course your eyes are already open. And you aren’t blind. Or deaf, because you had to have already had a conversation through the door to determine that it’s your parents and they’re here for breakfast. The remaining right answer is “the door”, given all the presumptions and, oh yes, this presumes that the door has not already been opened, even though this is not stated, not anywhere.

Wait, wait now, that’s funny, why would we presume all that PLUS the idea that the door has not yet been opened? Why, indeed. Dropping the idea of omniscience, everything stated in the scenario has been verified by the senses. Heard the doorbell, opened your eyes, looked at the clock, went to the door and opened it. It’s your parents, rather unexpected, but there they are and they want breakfast. You invite them in and check the pantry for a rather paltry list of foods—(where is the coffee, damn it?). And now the question. “What is the first thing you open?” In this scenario and in present tense, all eyes are open. Mom and pop are on the couch. Door has been safely opened and closed again. The food is waiting and everyone is hungry. Any food choice would logically be the right answer. “The door” or “your eyes” makes no sense whatsoever in this scenario, because with eyes wide open you already invited your vampire parents through the front door at 3am. Dang it. Open your veins and become a creature of the night. It’s a family tradition. But see, that’s the “wrong answer”.

The really funny part is this: Some of my friends said, “Duh! The door.” and they were deemed correct. Some others said, “Your eyes.” And they were deemed correct, or not, because then fights broke out. Friendships were lost forever. People became giraffes. Anybody who named a food or a drink was “wrong”. At least one of my friends said, “I felt really dumb when I heard the right answer.” Yeah, that’s the funny part, because the riddle was written badly. Every interpretation could be right, or wrong. “Your eyes” means you interpret the question as “What is/was the first thing opened?” “The door” means you interpret the question as “What is the next thing that is to be opened?” oddly presuming that the door has not yet been opened, despite all evidence to the contrary, and that choosing to open the food is a trick and is therefore the wrong answer. In order to answer the question you have to presume or guess what the questioner is looking for. You have to censor, judge, presume, rule things in, rule things out, and most of all suspend your disbelief at this preposterous and likely dangerous scenario.

For the record, I first guessed "the door" and then “your eyes” and about ten seconds later determined that the riddle itself was a fail with no absolute right or wrong answer. Now it seems to be that the internets have decided that the first thing you open is the door. I don’t know man, the door to consciousness would be a better idea. Open the conversation with the parents as to why they’re ringing your bell in the wee hours for breakfast, but by all means do that before you open the door because even if they are neither zombies nor vampires they’ve probably been kidnapped and are in the company of terrorists and therefore breakfast is the least of your worries. Inventory the food at some future time when the threat has passed. But seriously, who shops for you? No coffee, no tea, no cream or eggs? At least stock up on some brains or whole blood for marauding relatives with an odd sense of timing.

Here it is again, that crazy riddle: “It’s 3 a.m., the doorbell rings and you wake up. Unexpected visitors! It’s your parents and they are here for breakfast. You have strawberry jam, honey, wine, bread and cheese.
 What is the first thing you open?”

If you no longer have any compunction to even try to answer this riddle, then my work is done.


Alys Milner said...

I've been wondering what this whole thing was about. Funny sometimes what gets traction.

Nice write up, Paul.

Paul Hood said...

Thanks, Alys! I think Sheryl has no idea why this particular issue caught my attention.

Priscilla/Mom said...

My answer was the Door! Why not? Existencially speaking, your parents are crazy and you already know that (how do you spell that word?), and you are not surprised they're there, and your eyes are already open because you got to the door, and you still suffer from the belief that you must do the "right thing" for your parents, so there's NO choice here!
Love, Mom

Paul Hood said...

Mom, there will be no snacks at three in the morning. Nice try.

Santa Jerry said...

Happy blog anniversary!