The Infamous Angry Riddle Contest

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This is not a weekly feature article. This is just a fun bit of site history and an interesting story about how crazy the internet can be. It’s just bonus content.

Let me explain.

Many years ago, I did this occasional series on my website called Angry Table Tales. They were basically short dialogues and exchanges between Angry and his players – whom he had nicknamed Smartass, Suckup, Whiny, New Guy, and one unnamed player. But they weren’t very popular and I ran out of jokes pretty quickly. They were basically my version of Knights of the Dinner Table, but without the art.

One day, I decided to run a contest. The contest was presented as a scene from the middle of one of Angry’s games. The party was attempting to recover an artifact called the Crown of Kings so one of the characters could reclaim his family thrown. The story takes place at the end of a “prove your worth” style dungeon created by an ancient civilization to ensure only someone worthy could claim the Crown. The Crown, it should be noted, would only function for someone with a rightful claim to a throne to begin with. And its powers were never specified in the story. At the end of the dungeon, the players are faced with one final test, a logic puzzle. And one of the players attempts to solve the logic puzzle, fails, and gets blown up. The contest involved answering two questions. First, what did the player get wrong. Second, what should the party have done to find the Crown.

The backlash was beyond belief. Of the two hundred or so answers, only a dozen or two were sufficiently correct. Worse, a small fraction of the people who got it wrong were furious. They felt that the puzzle was unfair. It didn’t help that it was specifically designed to trap people who were good at these sorts of logic puzzles. Some folks also assumed the story was a true account of something I had done at my game. They demanded I give “New Guy” his character back. His death, they insisted, had been unfair and brutal. I also received a few death threats and a few comments that were even more reprehensible. It’s the internet, that’s what happens. Two people stalked me across multiple social media platforms to punish me.

All in all, I considered the contest a roaring success.

When I changed over my website, I didn’t bother to save any of the Angry Table Tales crap. I had no interest in putting it back up. They just weren’t very popular. But I recently discovered the entire puzzle (and it’s solution) in an old backup hard drive of mine. So, I figured I’d share it for those of you who haven’t seen it before. It’s just some bonus content. The sort of s$&% I used to do before I figured out what I was doing with my site.

Anyway, I’m going to present the raw puzzle first, distilled of the dialogue. That makes it easier to understand the puzzle. Below that, you can read the whole story. Next week, I’ll post the solution.

The Puzzle

The party comes into a room with three treasure chests and a statue. Each treasure chest is bound in a particular metal: iron, copper, and bronze. As the party enters the room, a voice emanates from the walls. It says the following:

You have proven your might, but you have not yet proven yourself to be worthy of the Crown of Kings. Rule by might alone is the way of tyrants. A true ruler must temper his might with wisdom. Now, you must prove your wisdom. Each of the treasure chests is unlocked and easily opened. Two of them will destroy anyone who so much as touches them. The third is safe to touch and contains the Crown of Kings. If you would claim the crown, lay your hand upon the statue and listen to its words. If you are not willing to risk death, you may leave. A ruler must take great risks and make great sacrifices. If you are afraid of risk and sacrifice, you are not fit to rule.”

The room has various countermeasures in place to prevent cheating. After the party examines everything in the room and discovers no way around the conditions of the puzzle, they touch the statue and the statue speaks the following:

”I speak only one true sentence. The copper chest is deadly to touch. The bronze chest is deadly to touch. The copper chest is safe to touch and contains the Crown.”

After the statue has finished speaking, one of the players insists that he knows the answer. He explains:

”The statue says that the copper chest is both safe AND deadly. It can’t be both. One of those statements must be true and one must be a lie. Since the statue only says one true statement, then the statement that the bronze chest is deadly must be a lie. The Crown must be in the bronze chest.”

The player walks up to the chest and starts to open it, but as soon as his hands touch the lid, the chest explodes, killing him.

Assuming everything the GM has said is true and that the puzzle is a fair logic puzzle, what did the player overlook? And what should the party have done (or what should they do now) to find the Crown?

I’m not running another contest or anything. This is purely for fun. Feel free to try to solve the puzzle. I’m turning off comments for this post. I will post the correct answer next week and then I will open up comments so you can tell me what an a$%hole I am.

The Whole Story

Angry: Suddenly, an echoing voice fills the chamber. It seems to emanate from the walls of the room. “You have proven your might, but you have not yet proven yourself to be true heroes worthy of the Crown of Kings. For, rule by might alone is the way of tyrants. A true ruler must temper his might with wisdom. Now, you must prove yours. There are three treasure chests here. Each unlocked and easily opened. Two of them, however, will destroy anyone who so much as touches them. The third is safe to touch and contains the Crown of Kings. If you would claim the crown, lay your hand upon the statue there and listen well to its words. It will speak only once until a chest has been touched. You may leave, of course, for a ruler must make great risks and sometimes make great sacrifices for the right to rule. If you are afraid to make sacrifices, you are not fit to rule.” The voice then goes silent. The portcullis slides open, though, and you can easily escape back to the surface.

Smartass: Oh good! A puzzle. Because these always go so well.

Suckup: Oh, it’s fun to try and solve puzzles instead of killing things or making skill checks all the time.

Smartass: Shut up. Look, before we fiddle with the statue and try to figure this out, Karrin, should check the chests for traps and Baramos should see if he can sense any magical auras.

New Guy: Baramos is dead. He didn’t survive the Test of Might. Eagan is trained in Arcana though. I’ll try. I… use Arcana.

Angry: You “use” Arcana? What the hell does that mean?

New Guy: Right… sorry. I close my eyes and, you know, expand my magical senses. Can I feel any magic… ness?

Angry: Does a 22 hit your Will defense?

New Guy: What? Why? I mean… no. It misses.

Angry: As you begin to extend your magical senses, you feel the press of an intense magical field that threatens to overwhelm you. The room is almost blinding to your third eye and the pain causes you to quickly drop your magical senses. Apparently, whoever constructed this room infused the walls with a tremendously powerful aura to disable anyone’s magical senses. You were lucky to drop your senses, or you would have taken psychic damage. And worse. You shouldn’t try that again.

Smartass: Naturally.

Whiny: Okay. Karrin steps up to the chests and she begins examining them carefully for anything that looks unusual or out of the ordinary. She will be careful not to touch them, though. Or even to get too close.

Angry: Because she can’t touch it and is careful not to get close, I’m going to impose a -5 penalty on your Perception check.

Whiny: Why? I can still see them. That doesn’t seem right.

Angry: A rogue needs to be able to fully interact with an object to be sure it is free of traps. You can’t feel along it for odd joints or seams, tap it to test its weight, see if it is affixed to the floor or sitting on a pressure plate, or anything else. Traps are designed to be hard to spot and a good rogue needs to engage all of her senses to find the telltale signs of trickery.

Whiny: Fine… I got an 18.

Angry: You don’t spot anything unusual. The chests look to be perfectly safe.

Whiny: You always do this! You always set things up so that we have no choice but to solve your stupid puzzles. If we try to find another way, you always just shut us down by pulling obstacles out of your ass!

Angry: They are not coming out of my ass. They are in my notes. I prepared this ahead of time. And they make sense.

Whiny: What makes sense?

Angry: The designers of this place obviously worked very hard and invested a lot of resources in this room. And when they were done, they sat down and tried to imagine the ways people might bypass it. They wanted to test the people who came here. The Crown of Kings is a powerful magical artifact and they obviously wanted to make sure it fell into the right hands. They are trying to make a point about what makes a good ruler. They put countermeasures in place to prevent what they considered to be cheating. So I came up with countermeasures. If you manage to think of something I haven’t thought of, you’ve outsmarted the designers. I think they’d consider you worthy in that case. But so far, you haven’t. You can review my notes after the adventure is over to see that I’ve put all of these countermeasures in place beforehand, along with several more.

New Guy: You know… when he puts it like that, it actually makes sense.

Smartass: Of course it does. Angry always makes sense. Especially when we’re screwed. We suck at puzzles. But let’s do it. Someone touch the statue. And Ardor, get out your quill and parchment and write down what it says. It’s only going to speak once, naturally.

Angry: In that case, I’ll give you a copy of what it says. Ardor will have no trouble writing it down. You touch the base and the statue begins to speak: “I speak only one true sentence. The copper chest is deadly to touch. The bronze chest is deadly to touch. The copper chest is safe to touch and contains the crown.” Here’s a copy of the four statements it made.

Whiny: I hate these…

Smartass: We can do this. If he only makes one true statement… well, he didn’t mention the iron chest. Right? So, maybe that’s the safe one.

New Guy: Wow? That’s it? I was worried. But this is easy. It’s in the bronze chest. Ha. I guess Angry met his match, huh?

Smartass: Are you sure?

New Guy: Yeah, look. Only one of the statements is true, right? But the two things about the copper chest contradict one another. They can’t BOTH be lies. One of those has to be true.

Whiny: I guess… but that doesn’t tell us which is true.

New Guy: It doesn’t matter. Either way, we know the one about the bronze chest is a lie. Right? Because only one statement is true. So, the bronze chest is not a deadly one. It has the Crown in it.

Smartass: Are you really sure about this?

New Guy: Yes.

Smartass: Okay. I need the crown to claim my father’s throne. We’re going to need an army to drive Yeenoghu’s gnolls back into the badlands before they sweep across the civilized lands. I’ll open it.

Whiny: Wait… I’ll open it. I don’t think the new kid is wrong, but if he is, we’ll have another chance – I hope. Either way, you need to survive to claim the crown or else everything will fall apart.

New Guy: I’m right, guys. I’ll open it. That way, if I’m wrong, Ragnar lives and I’m the only one who got screwed. Besides, I’m not wrong. I’m going to open it.

Angry: Are you sure? You don’t want to think about this more? You’ve taken everything into consideration?

New Guy: Wait… what?

Smartass: Don’t be fooled. This is the classic ‘are you sure’ ploy? He does it to screw with your confidence. If you think you’re right, go for it.

New Guy: Fine… I open the bronze chest.

Angry: As soon Eagan touches the chest, there is a loud explosion. The chest blows apart, spraying bronze shrapnel everywhere. Eagan is reduced to a pulpy smear on the floor and walls and the rest of you take 25 points of damage from the shrapnel. The voice booms “You have chosen poorly. You may choose again, if you wish.”

New Guy: What?! No! This is a screwjob! I was right! Three statements: only one is true and two of them are contradictory! The third one has to be false! Even if the crown wasn’t in there because of some word trick, the chest couldn’t have been deadly because… its logic! Simple logic! You are just a killer DM! You get off killing us! You like watching people fail! It makes you feel powerful, doesn’t it!? Well, I’m sick of it!

Angry: … come into the other room.

New Guy: No, I don’t…

Angry: Either come into the other room and speak with me and then come back to the table or walk out the front door now and never come back to the table. Those are your choices.

New Guy: Fine. I’m coming.

[Five Minutes Later]

Angry: We’re back. Let’s continue.

New Guy: I’m sorry I lost my temper guys. And I’m sorry for what I said, Angry. You were right. I did get it wrong. I’ll go get started on my new character, if that’s okay.

Angry: Fine. But take the laptop in the other room. You’re not allowed to provide any help because you’re dead and they still need to find the crown. Or flee.

Now… here’s the puzzle. Angry has been completely fair and as soon as he explained the puzzle to New Guy, New Guy realized Angry was correct and that the party was not deceived or mislead. The logic works and New Guy did overlook something. So, what did New Guy overlook? What should the party have done to find the crown? And no… making skill checks would just have run into obstacles. Angry won’t let his players get away with circumventing the puzzle.

Note: In this case fair means only that Angry has not misrepresented the conditions of the puzzle in his speech at the beginning and that the statue’s logic is sound. I only mention this because some silly people might consider the idea of blowing a PC apart with no die rolls to be a little “unfair.”

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