“What Two Coins Make 30 Cents?” and Other Riddles Explained

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Riddles are brain teasers, designed to trick and fool you. Some among us love to rise to the challenge, and others are quick to frustration. But understanding how riddles are designed and the different types of riddles can expand your capacity to solve these linguistic puzzles. Which could prove to be a very useful skill! If you ever find yourself wandering a labyrinth only to be stopped by a sphinx, you’ll probably need to understand how to solve riddles in order to get out of there alive. Perhaps you just want to learn more about riddles to keep your cognitive skills sharp. Either way, in this article we’ll look at how to recognize different types of riddles and help you to solve them. 

How to Recognize Different Types of Riddles

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There are two main types of riddles: enigmas and conundrums. Enigmas are creative problems, while conundrums focus on wordplay. Let’s take a closer look at how these two types of riddles differ.


Enigmas are creative questions, phrases, or statements. They frequently incorporate metaphors, allegories, or word associations that make them difficult to solve. 


Examples of Enigmas

  1. The enigma riddle, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” uses creativity and logic. It could be considered a riddle with no solution (some scientists would argue that amniotic eggs evolved much earlier than chickens, though we think they might be missing the point).
  2. Another creative enigma riddle is, “What can be swallowed, or can swallow a person?” The word “swallow” is used twice, each time, figuratively, and with a different meaning. The answer to the riddle is pride.


Conundrums are a type of riddle that frequently includes puns in the actual answer to the riddle, the riddle itself, or both.


Examples of Conundrums

  1.  “Two fathers and two sons sat down to eat eggs for breakfast. They ate three eggs, one for each of them. Explain how.” In this case, one of the fathers is also a grandfather of one of the sons.
  2. A common example of a conundrum riddle is: “What is black and white and read all over?” Seeing it spelled out may make the answer seem more immediately apparent (it’s a newspaper). But this riddle relies on the wordplay of red/read, which sound the same when spoken aloud. Especially since two of the clues are color words, it’s normal for our brains to hear “red all over.” However, conundrum riddles generally require us to consider multiple meanings of a word.

How to Solve Riddles

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The popular riddle, “What two coins make 30 cents and one of them is not a nickel?” had the janitor from the television show “Scrubs” researching coin history at the library to find the answer to the riddle. Finally, he settled for a penny and a rare, out-of-mint coin valued at 29 cents. However, the answer to the riddle hides in plain sight. J.D, from “Scrubs,” is very specific in saying that only one of the coins is not a nickel, which means the second one is a nickel.

To get you started on navigating seemingly complex riddles, here’s a quick guide on how to solve riddles.

1. Break down the riddle into parts

It helps to understand each part of the riddle as an individual entity. For instance, we can break down the “What two coins make 30 cents and one of them is not a nickel?” riddle into three parts.

  • Two coins — In the United States, the coins that make a dollar are a quarter, a dime, a nickel, and a penny. These value at 25 cents, 10 cents, five cents, and one cent, respectively.
  • Makes 30 cents — Based on the United States coin logic, a quarter and a nickel are the only coins that can make 30 cents.
  • One of the coins is not a nickel — This is the tricky part. The riddler says that one of the coins is not a nickel. It makes sense that out of the quarter and the nickel coin, one of them is not a nickel. Thus, we have our final answer.

2. Think about the actions in the riddle

A riddle like, “What turns everything around but does not move?” has a core action, that is, turning everything around. The solution to the riddle should be something that turns everything around, and you’re likely to start imagining the action of rotation and movement. Pause your thought process and remember that the object itself should not move though. What could turn things around without moving itself? The answer? A mirror.


3. Is there any other useful information in the riddle?

In the riddle “Without fingers, I point, without arms, I strike, without feet, I run. What am I?”, we get a sense of motion. The riddle suggests some sort of human movement, but the object in question lacks fingers, arms, or feet. We can assume that the riddle wants us to think of a person, and we can fight that instinct. Instead consider that your immediate instinct is likely incorrect, and that the object is probably non-living, which narrows down possible solutions to the riddle. There is also some useful information that stands out: “strike.” A popular phrase that might come to mind is “When the clock strikes nine.”


Tips to Solve Riddles

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There’s a multitude of riddles out there. Here are some tips to keep in mind when solving them.

Most Riddles Will Attempt to Confuse You

Riddles can be used to induce humor, especially when they misdirect you through logical associations. For instance, the traditional African riddle, “How do you eat an elephant?” may initially have you pondering the ways you could eat an elephant. However, the answer to this riddle actually hides in plain sight: you eat an elephant one bite at a time like you would with any other meal.


The Answer Is Usually Something Familiar

Riddles rarely require research or further studying to solve. Most riddles assume that the answer should be known. That’s what makes it fun: finding out whether someone knows what they already know. So, even though riddles seem tricky at first, often the answer is something with which you’re already familiar.


Keep an Open Mind

It’s easy to give up on solving a riddle because they quite often use familiar words but instead describe them in a different way than you’re used to. Our tip? Keep an open mind. Riddles can be as simple as an everyday activity you engage in or seemingly complex in the wordplay tactics they use. An example riddle that requires open-mindedness is, “Forward I’m heavy; backward I’m not.” Can you guess what the answer is? We’ve stuck it at the end so you can chew on it for a while. 


Practice Makes Perfect!

To solve riddles faster, you need to keep practicing, including reverse-engineering the solutions to riddles you may already know. There are plenty of riddles available online and in films to practice on. Also, make a habit of playing word games like crosswords. This helps to improve your problem-solving skills as well as your ability to recognize trends and patterns more easily.

The answer: a ton!