The Infamous Angry Riddle Solution

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Last week, I rediscovered and reposted something that I’d published long, long ago and pissed a lot of people off with. It was a combination of a funny gaming anecdote and a riddle contest. And people have been anxiously awaiting the answer. It sure did stump a lot of people. And a few people have been obsessively demanding the answer. Many others chose to e-mail me or message me with their answers despite my basically saying I wasn’t interested in anyone’s answers and that I would post the answer sometime “next week.” That’ll teach me to share fun bonus content. Also, I’m sure that now that I’m posting the answer, I’m going to get A LOT of angry replies. Like I give a f$&%. Last time I got death threats.

As with last week’s reposting of the original event, I’m going to preface the original answer with a more detailed, nuanced explanation. It’s partly an attempt to forestall any fury at my “unfairness.” I’m sure I’ll still have to deal with it. But whatever. Because, here’s the deal, this contest was designed to f$&% with people’s heads on multiple levels. See, back then, I was far more trolly than I am now. And I delighted in screwing with people who thought they were good at this kind of crap. Which is precisely what this riddle did. Nowadays, I’m actually more concerned with being instructive. And there’s some value in looking at how I put this puzzle together in the first place and how I loaded it with booby traps.

So, assuming you’ve read the riddle, let’s look at the puzzle and the solution. And note, I’m not going to hand you the solution. I’m going to walk you through the solution.

Working Through the Logic Puzzle

First, it’s important to call attention to a few very important details. Some of them are very central to the idea of puzzles and riddles. The most important thing to understand is that people always bring assumptions into any riddle, puzzle, or problem. People are very good at assuming things. Especially rules.

Now, you might have noticed that I didn’t refer to this as a logic puzzle. Or even really a puzzle at all. The original contest was called “Outwit Angry.” The post is currently titled “The Infamous Riddle Contest.” And that little distinction is actually supremely important. The idea behind a logic puzzle is that the participants are given all of the information that they need to solve the puzzle and all they have to do is apply logic and reasoning. And logic puzzles have some very specific rules and procedures. First of all, logic puzzles are divided into two parts. First, you have the instructions. The instructions lay out the rules for the puzzle. And those rules are always trustworthy. For example, in the classic puzzle wherein one person always lies and one person tells the truth, the instructions are usually delivered by a puzzle master or narrator. And that narrator is always trustworthy. That’s important because the clues in a logic puzzle are factual statements that, depending on the nature puzzle, may be true or false. And a clear separation is needed between the “trustworthy instructions” and the “suspect clues.”

Riddles, meanwhile, are implied to involved trickery, wordplay, and misdirection. This was a riddle about a logic puzzle. As you’ll see.

Most people who enjoy logic puzzles – who are good at them – understand that separation. And that is precisely why, in Angry’s puzzle, there’s a booming voice that delivers the instructions. The statue gives the clues for the puzzle. And they are suspect. But Angry’s puzzle is tricky. Normally, the instructions include the part about how trustworthy the statements are. “One always lies, one always tells the truth.” But in Angry’s puzzles, the statue delivers the statement about its own honesty.

This is the first level of trickery in the puzzle. And most people who were trying to solve it picked up on it. The statue makes four statements: “I only say one true thing; the bronze chest is safe; the copper chest is safe and has the treasure; the copper chest is trapped.”

Normally, that first statement would be part of the instructions. And if it were a trustworthy statement, the logic is easy. Essentially, the two statements about the copper chest can’t both be true and they can’t both be false. One is true, one is false. But since there is only one true statement, it doesn’t matter which one is true. The statement about the bronze chest is false. Therefore, it is safe.

Now, some people conjectured that the statement “the copper chest is safe and has the treasure” is a conjunction. An “and” statement. Technically, that statement could be false if, for example, the treasure was inside but the chest wasn’t safe. In that way, both the statements about the copper chest could be false. It could be trapped AND not contain the treasure.

EXCEPT…

It was the booming voice that specifically said that one of the chests was safe and that specific chest would contain the treasure. And that brings us back to the instructions. In a logic puzzle, the instructions are entirely trustworthy. They have to be. And Angry said the puzzle was fair. The instructions establish an equivalence between a chest being safe to touch and containing the crown. In other words, one of the conditions of the puzzle, in logical form, is this: a chest is safe to touch IF AND ONLY IF it contains the treasure.

So, those of you who pointed that out? Wrong.

So, let’s get back to this idea that the statue might have been lying about how many true statements it would make. That is a possibility that has to be entertained. And some folks realized that and then got stuck. They felt that nothing the statue said could be trusted and that NO LOGIC could be applied. But that isn’t true. In point of fact, many logic puzzles deal with just this sort of thing. And again, the puzzle is a “fair” logic puzzle.

What does fairness mean in terms of a logic puzzle? It means two things. First, it means that any factual statement can either be true or false. Second, it means that the universe is consistent. There are no contradictions. I can say “the sky is blue” and I can say “the sky is green.” In a logic puzzle universe, each of those statements is true or false. But they can’t both be true about the same sky. That’s a contradiction.

Once you have a collection of statements and have to determine which are true and false, the easiest way to solve the puzzle is to start making guesses and then looking for contradictions.

For example, let’s assume the first statement is true. The statue makes only one true statement. If that statement is true, all of the other statements have to be false. But that means the copper chest is both safe and deadly. That can’t be right. That’s a contradiction. Clearly, the first statement is false.

Knowing the first statement is false, we know the statue must have made two or three or four or zero true statements. Let’s suppose all of the statements are false, for example. Well, in that case, we get to the conclusion that the copper chest is both NOT safe and NOT deadly. That can’t be right either. And all the statements can’t be true for the same reason. Follow that?

So, either the statue says two true things or three two things. Can it be three? Well, the first statement is false. That means the other three statements have to be true. And, again, we have the copper chest contradiction. The only possibility is that the statue makes TWO true statements.

ONE of those two true statements has to be about the copper chest. Otherwise we have a contradiction. And since the first statement can’t be the other true statement, the only other true statement must be “the bronze chest is deadly.”

And that IS true. We saw that.

And THAT is the first part of the puzzle. New Guy overlooked the fact that “I say only one true thing” was not part of the trustworthy instructions, it was part of the puzzle itself. By ignoring that fact, he reached the wrong conclusion.

Now, one of the insidious things about this puzzle was that it was designed to trap inattentive logicians. Those logicians who neglected to consider the first statement part of the puzzle would not only reach the wrong conclusion, they would reach exactly the OPPOSITE conclusion and get themselves killed. It wasn’t just that the puzzle was hard to solve if you made the obvious mistake, it’s that the puzzle killed people who made that obvious mistake. Neat, huh? That ISN’T an accident. I’m a jerk.

Where the Logic Fails

To be fair, a lot of folks figured that out. They caught the flaw in New Guy’s logic. Honestly, though, if you use a puzzle like this in your game, you’d be surprised how many people will make New Guy’s mistake. Even people who are good at logic puzzles. Especially people who are good at logic puzzles. And that is because, again, people bring assumptions without realizing it. Assumptions like “instructions are trustworthy in logic puzzles.”

And if you’re going to pull a trick like this, you have to be very, VERY careful about being fair. Like making sure your booming voice narrator delivers only trustworthy instructions and having someone else deliver the fake instruction that’s part of the puzzle.

But lots of people got stuck here. They couldn’t find the crown after that. And, looking at the logic, it’s obvious why. After you figure out that the statue made exactly two true statements and that one of them was that the bronze chest was deadly, you’re left with two statements. Either the copper chest is deadly OR it is safe and has the treasure. ONE of those is true. But which one.

Well, guess what? There’s no way to know.

And this was the second trap. The first trap, the one about the bronze chest, that was a trap for the characters in the game. This second trap was for the people playing in my contest. Because people ASSUMED that the logic puzzle would lead them to the crown. And when they hit a wall in the logic, they assumed they had missed something. And they couldn’t get past that point.

And here’s the thing they missed: in the contest, I never asked where the crown was. There is no way for anyone to know where the crown is. I asked what the party should do to find the crown. Or what they should have done in the first place. And the answer is this: have someone open one of the other chests. If they blow up and die, the party knows where the crown is. That is literally the only way to find the crown.

This was another trap. Pure and simple. Just like shifting the instructions into the puzzle content. I purposely made the logic puzzle impossible to answer AND specifically avoiding asking about the correct answer to the logic puzzle KNOWING that most people would fail to see the difference between “figuring out where the crown was” and “figuring out how the party can discover where the crown was.”

Ideally, the perfect scenario is this. The party thinks about the logic puzzle, realizes the statue is delivering four statements, goes through the logic, and comes to the conclusion that the bronze chest is deadly. They don’t know where the chest is at this point, but they definitely know where it is not. Then, they are left with picking one of the two remaining chests at random and opening it. There’s a 50% chance the character opening the chest will die. But either way, they find the crown. Because if character does die, that leaves only one place for the crown.

THAT’S the correct solution.

And very, VERY few people recognized it. First of all, lots of people got stuck in the assumption that the riddle was a logic puzzle and there was some way to solve it and find the crown without any risk. Second of all, even those people who realized they couldn’t solve the logic puzzle refused to accept the idea of a puzzle that required at least one possible human sacrifice.

Of course, a small number of people did get there. And those are the people who carefully read the speech by the booming voice. The one that said that wisdom would be tested, but wisdom alone wasn’t enough to earn the crown. A ruler must take risks and make sacrifices.

And that is exactly the solution. If you weren’t wise, you’d either guess at random or lose a party member to the bronze chest. If you were wise, you’d eliminate one deadly possibility. After that, one person would have to be risked to get the answer. Wisdom mitigated the risk, but it didn’t eliminate it.

Where Is the Crown?

If you’re curious, the crown is in the copper chest. And the reason it’s in the copper chest is because of a weird assumption that people often make when it comes to logic puzzles. If there is an explicitly offered option that isn’t mentioned in the clues, people tend to think that one is true. The statue gave no clues about the iron chest. Therefore, many people – if they can’t or won’t work through the log – tend to assume that the iron chest is the right answer. It’s just a weird habit.

That trap was built into the puzzle specifically to deal with logic puzzle frustration. Often, when a group of players is confronted with a puzzle or riddle, there’s one or two party members who simply get fed up waiting for the party to solve the puzzle and just throw themselves at a solution. And they usually make snap judgments. The iron chest is the barbarian trap. The “f$&% this puzzle, I pick this one” option.

Is It Fair?

Now, here is the question: is it fair? A lot of people argued this question the first time. In point of fact, a lot of people got really angry with me because they felt it wasn’t fair.

First, I’m not engaging with the question of whether the “death with no save” is mechanically fair within the rules of whatever game system the group is playing. Some people did complain about the lack of a die roll being explicitly unfair. I will say this: this puzzle was written in the 4th Edition era. Under those rules, the chest would have make an attack roll against a static defense (probably Reflex). There were no saving throws to resolve actions in 4E. Saving throws were used to determine the duration of ongoing effects.

That aside, I do not feel this puzzle is unfair. I have never put this puzzle in my game. This puzzle, including all of the backstory and the characters and the artifact and everything, all of it was creatively specifically for this puzzle. It was part of a series of made-up stories I was occasionally publishing about a funny 4E group of players stuck under Angry’s iron thumb. But I totally WOULD put this puzzle in my game. And I have done puzzles just like it.

Here is why I am comfortable with this puzzle, even with the instant death effect: the players knew. The booming voice told them everything. It told them what was at stake. It told them death was the risk. And the players knew there was a 66% chance any character opening a box would die. They also knew that they may be required to make a sacrifice. Through the NPC, the GM told the players exactly the risk, exactly the cost, and exactly the prize. The GM through the NPC also pointed out – VERY CLEARLY – that the door was open. It said, “if you’re not ready to see someone die, walk away, the door is open.”

Now, you can argue whether you’d be willing to ask a character to die for a major magical artifact or plot MacGuffin or whatever. That’s fine. Every group has a different tolerance for that stuff.

But fairness ultimately comes down to whether the players know the risks and have some sway over the outcome. Honestly, in that respect, it was far more honest than your average trap or combat encounter. The odds and the costs were very clearly spelled out and the players were only at risk if they opted in. And, in fact, absolutely nothing could result from the puzzle that the players were not forewarned about.

Now, some argued that NO GROUP would ever walk away from such a challenge, specifically if there was a plot-important Macguffin on the line. So, for all practical purposes, the characters COULDN’T walk away because the players NEVER would. And that is also arguable. As part of the fun little story (shown below, Angry addresses this very issue). In general, it comes down to how the GM runs their game. But, in point of fact, it comes down to how failure is handled in the game. A GM should plan for failure. As a GM writing this game, I would have had planned for the party’s failure to retrieve the crown because I don’t want one failed adventure to end the campaign. And I also don’t want to railroad the characters by guaranteeing their success. See, guaranteeing success IS railroading. It is essentially FORCING an outcome on the players regardless of their actions.

In the end, this was a fair challenge. But it sure as hell wasn’t easy. And it carried a cost that some groups and GMs wouldn’t be willing to charge. But I find that kind of funny since most groups are willing to risk character death on the outcome of random die rolls with much less clear knowledge of the probabilities and risks.

And the real reason why it pissed people off? Well, I don’t want to be unkind, but it pissed off egomaniacs who are good at logic puzzles and who can’t handle being wrong or having their intelligence questioned. Which is exactly who I was trying to trap. And I paid for that. The response from some of those people was stunning. I’ve been the victim of online harassment, threats, and stalking three or four times. Of those few times, this was the one that shocked me the most and this was the one that included some of the most reprehensible, vile things I’ve ever had said to me.

But here’s the talking point, the thing to take away. It isn’t about the “fairness” of the in-game situation. Like I said, it was entirely fictional, but I would also have no problem including this situation in one of my games. Hell, I HAVE included situations like this. Deadly situations in which players had to choose to risk their lives outright, knowing the wrong move didn’t have a safety net or a hell of a lot of dice rolls before death. I’m proud of the fact that I can say my players have faced their mortality in more measured, thoughtful ways than “I sure hope that monster doesn’t roll a crit” or “I need to make this death save.” THAT, to me, is the more interesting sort of role-playing.

No, the talking point is this: when it comes to puzzles and riddles, things that are based entirely on the players’ abilities with no random chance involved, how do you add challenge. More abstractly, how do you add challenge and adjust the difficulty OUTSIDE of just increasing the numbers on the dice. One answer – the answer I chose in this particular riddle – is to take normal expectations and subvert them while still ensuring the puzzle is scrupulously fair and gives the players ALL of the information. But that isn’t the only answer.

See, one of the reasons people play games – rather than just watching movies, reading books, or telling stories – one of the reasons many people play games is to be challenged. And what D&D and other RPGs refer to as “difficulty” tend to boil down to just making it less likely to roll the right numbers. The assumption is that, in order to ensure a good outcome, the players have to make up for the numerical disadvantage with strategy. But that’s a pretty haphazard way of doing it.

So, how do you create and adjust difficulty in the game so that the players, NOT THE DICE, feel the difference.

And NO, I am not interested in the argument as to whether you should challenge the players and not the characters. That question, as far as I’m concerned, is asked and answered. It’s done. All you have to do is watch players engage with the game – OR ANY GAME – and see that many of them, MOST OF THEM, on some level, enjoy overcoming a challenge. That’s why games are such an important part of the human experience.

So, noodle that one.

And, meanwhile, here’s the ORIGINAL text explaining the answer.

The Original Solution

[In the Other Room]

New Guy: Look, I’m…

Angry: Shut up. I’m going to ignore that outburst for one reason: you are the only one who didn’t piss and moan and whine or make smartass remarks about the puzzle. You took the situation you were presented with and you tried to work it out. But the next time you quit the campaign, you quit the campaign.

New Guy: I didn’t…

Angry: You got it wrong, kid. Sorry. Those are the breaks. You missed something and I gave you every opportunity to notice it and rethink.

New Guy: I didn’t miss…

Angry: You did. How many statements did the statue make?

New Guy: Three. The copper chest is…

Angry: How many? Look at the paper. Count them.

New Guy: Thre… four?

Angry: Four. I speak truth only once, the copper chest is deadly, the bronze chest is deadly, and the copper chest is safe and has the crown.

New Guy: But that’s part of the conditions of the riddle, isn’t it? It’s like the instructions.

Angry: Normally, yes. But isn’t it interesting that the Booming Voice didn’t say ‘Beware, the statue only says one true thing?’ The speaker himself – the statue – was making a claim about his own honesty. And admitting he was an occasional liar. Why should he be honest about how often he lies?

New Guy: So, the logic puzzle is impossible? The statue just lies or tells the truth at random?

Angry: Come on, kid. That’s what the smartass and whiny would say. You know better. Those are factual statements about a presumably consistent universe. They must either be true or false.

New Guy: Or the statue could be insane and spout gibberish.

Angry: Yes, but that wouldn’t be fair. So come on. Reason it out now.

New Guy: Okay, the first statement can’t be true because it would have to be the only true statement. Since the two statements about the copper chest can’t both be false, the first statement has to be a lie.

Angry: Right.

New Guy: So, the first statement is a lie. And one of the copper chest statements is a lie. So the third statement about the bronze chest can’t be a lie. If it is, that leaves only one true statement, one of the copper chest statements. And that would make the first statement true. But it’s a lie.

Angry: Right.

New Guy: Damn it. So the logic guarantees that, no matter what, the bronze chest is deadly.

Angry: And you proved that.

New Guy: So, we’re down to either the copper chest has the crown or its deadly. And… wait… there’s no way to get any more information than that.

Angry: Not from the logic puzzle.

New Guy: So… the logic puzzle is worthless.

Angry: No. If you figure it out – which you didn’t – it tells you the bronze chest is definitely deadly.

New Guy: But where do we go from there? All that means is that either the crown is in the iron chest or its in the copper chest. There’s no way to figure out which.

Angry: Yes there is.

New Guy: No there isn’t.

Angry: How did you discover the bronze chest was trapped?

New Guy: You mean we are seriously supposed to narrow it down to two chests and then risk blowing someone up to find out the last piece of information.

Angry: Risk and sacrifice. Might only gets you so far. Wisdom only gets you so far. Risk and sacrifice. If you figure out the puzzle correctly, you only have to risk one life, and there’s a fifty-fifty chance you’ll just find the crown outright. That’s the point. Sometimes, a good leader needs to be willing to send people on dangerous, deadly missions. A ruler who can’t make those tough decisions is unfit to rule. And the ruler can’t take the risk himself in this case, because the crown will only function for someone with a legitimate claim to authority. The crown can’t make you a king, it just makes you a better king.

New Guy: That’s a nasty puzzle. Really brutal. The way the logic puzzle is worded – its specifically designed to mislead people into doing exactly what I did. And when they do make that mistake, it is specifically designed so that their death doesn’t give any new information. I died and the party is no better off than they were before. They are still stuck with the same situation they would have been in if we’d solved the puzzle.

Angry: Yeah. I’m really proud of that, actually. Most parties, after someone dies, they go back and look at the logic puzzle again, trying to incorporate the new information. Eventually, they figure out what they did wrong. In this case, all they will discover is that they blew someone up for nothing except to punish their own failure. Except now, they are convinced the logic puzzle has the answer. They will spend hours trying to figure out what they missed before they tumble onto the idea that it doesn’t actually have the answer.

New Guy: That’s brutal. It’s really unfair.

Angry: What’s unfair about it? The voice laid out the conditions: if you want the magic crown, you’re risking death. There are three chests. If you guess blind, there is a 66% chance someone will die. If you guess blind again, the next person has a 50% chance of dying. You weren’t locked in here. You didn’t have to take the dungeon up on its offer. You could have just walked away. You knew, up front, what the price of failure was going to be. And, thanks to Whiny, you also knew the designers of the dungeon were going to make sure you couldn’t circumvent the conditions of the puzzle. They were going to make sure you satisfied their conditions: wisdom, risk, and sacrifice. You had everything you needed to at least know what the risk was going to be.

New Guy: But we couldn’t walk away.

Angry: Why not?

New Guy: Well, Ragnar needs to claim his father’s throne and raise an army because that demon’s gnolls are going to sweep across civilized lands and kill tons of people.

Angry: So?

New Guy: So… if we don’t do this, lots of people will die.

Angry: Risk one life – or maybe two – to save hundreds of thousands? That seems like a good trade to me. Besides, Ragnar doesn’t need the crown. He could still claim the throne and try to raise an army. It’s just a trinket with some magical powers that will make it a lot easier for him to prove his claim and raise an army. It’s a shortcut.

New Guy: So, we could have just walked away?

Angry: Sure. And you could have tried to put Ragnar on the throne the old-fashioned, non-magical way. Ragnar does have a legitimate claim to the throne. He’d have to. The Crown itself can’t make someone a king. It can only make a legitimate king better. At least you guys were smart enough to recognize that and not let Ragnar get himself blown up. Without royal blood or some other form of valid claim of authority, it’s just a pretty hat. Artifacts are like that: they only work for people who meet their conditions. So, yeah, you could walk away. Ragnar could declare his rule, win over his people, and raise an army. But there is always the chance that he fails at that. Or it just takes too long and, by the time his army is battle ready, you are already swimming in Gnolls. You guys would have to work fast and everything would have to go right.

New Guy: So we should go for the crown?

Angry: I can’t say. I won’t say. All I can say is that you guys have the information you need to decide which risk to take. At least as much as any characters in your position would have. That’s role-playing. You have to decide which risks to take and live with the consequences. Or die by them. Now, let’s get back in there and see what they do.

New Guy: Oh… will you tell me where the crown is? Since I’m dead, I can’t really help them. I’m just curious.

Angry: Sure, it’s in the copper chest. You’d be surprised how many people actually fall back on Smartass’ so-called logic: “the iron chest wasn’t mentioned as possibly deadly, so its most likely to be safe.”

New Guy: And you still insist this wasn’t designed to be a screw job?

Angry: I didn’t even tell you about the very specific definitions the booming voice used regarding the words “you,” “touch,” and “anyone.” Basically, they ensure that only a willing touch by living humans and humanoids actually trigger the traps and the chests cannot be opened except by one of the people who was originally in the room when the booming voice spoke. I brought a dictionary in case anyone wanted to argue. Anyway, let’s get back in there.

[Back at the Table and Two Hours of Tortured Logic Later]

Smartass: I can’t take this anymore. To hell with it. I’m going with my gut. The iron chest is the only one the stupid statue didn’t mention. I’m opening that one.

Whiny: At least let me open it.

Smartass: No! No one else is going to die for me. Besides, I’m thinking because I’m the one who wants to claim the crown and I’m the one who touched the statue to begin with, I have to open the chest. Angry, Ragnar steps up and opens the iron chest.

What Did You Have to Do to Get It Right?

Okay, I asked two very specific questions: “what did New Guy overlook” and “what should the party have done to find the crown?” And that tripped up a lot of people. I got a lot of answers “deducing” the location of the crown (which was impossible) and a lot of answers that explained the flaw in New Guy’s logic and nothing else. I also got more than a few answers that involved the party just turning around and walking away. That’s obviously wrong because I asked about what the party should do find the crown, not what the party should to do survive. Frankly, if the party was concerned about survival, they would find a new DM.

The minimum needed for a correct answer was:

Correctly identify the fact that New Guy did not consider the fact that the statement about how many true statements were made was, in fact, a statement that might be true or false.
Recognize that the logic puzzle only eliminates the bronze chest as a possibility and that, in order to find the crown, the party must risk the death of a PC guessing between the copper and iron chest.

I didn’t disqualify anyone for not discussing who should be the one to take the risk or suggesting that Ragnar take the risk, even though the party did discuss the importance of keeping Ragnar alive. If the two conditions were met, I let it in.

I did, however, disqualify answers that were technically correct but got the logic wrong. There were a few folks who realized New Guy’s mistake and then analyzed the logic at length only to arrive at the wrong conclusion or to accidentally stumble on the right answer (copper chest) for the wrong reasons. Or to overlook the fact that they were expected to sacrifice someone to find the crown. I tried to be as liberal as possible, though, when it looked like someone had all the elements and understood the thrust of it.

Interestingly, many, many people saw the flaw in the logic and reach the proper conclusion but were then unable to figure out where to go from there. Apparently, the idea of a puzzle specifically set up to require a possible human sacrifice is a bit too brutal for some gamers to consider. A great many people also questioned their own logic when they realized the logic puzzle didn’t give the answer, fully admitting they couldn’t figure out what they were missing because “it looked like the puzzle was pointing to two different chests.”

Of course, I make no apologies for any of that.

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76 thoughts on “The Infamous Angry Riddle Solution

  1. Thanks, Angry!
    I was very satisfied with this answer. I started to make truth tables considering all configurations of the four statements, but missed that “False, False, False, True” was illogical, and I wouldn’t have ruled out the bronze chest. I did come to the conclusion that there was insufficient information from the four statements of the statue, and had assumed that some degree of guessing (“risk taking”) was necessary from the clues given by the the voice at the start.
    Really well done – thank you so much for posting this.

  2. *Slow clap*

    I got the first part right, at least. I will take solace in that.

    Uh, one more thing before I leave:

    “So, how do you create and adjust difficulty in the game so that the players, NOT THE DICE, feel the difference”.

    You left it at that, and it’s consuming me. Do you plan to elaborate on that on a future article? Please do so. I never thought a lot about it, but now that I see it, I think it may be one of the most important lessons a GM-in-training might learn.

  3. Eh. The reason this is controversial is rather simple. The real puzzle is to decide which of these three worlds the puzzle takes place in:

    (A) The statue’s first statement refers to the subsequent statements, and thus we can enumerate the possibilities and discover that the Bronze chest is safe.
    (B) The statue’s first statement should be taken on its own as a lie, and thus we can enumerate the possibilities and discover that either the Copper or Iron chest is safe.
    (C) The statue’s statements may be paradoxical and thus cannot be trusted to convey any useful information.

    Without any other information, most minds aren’t going to distinguish between (B) and (C) at all. If it isn’t (A), its considered a wild guessing game. Once trust is lost, there can be no meaningful distinction between a paradox-less trust and no trust at all. Furthermore, even if you figure out that it might be one of these three worlds, you may be left wondering if there’s even more worlds you didn’t think of… and down that road lies madness.

    But let’s assume you figured, eh, it can’t be (A). That’d be too easy! Especially for this Angry guy. And so you examine (B). And (B) doesn’t actually get you an answer. It just gets you a 50/50 possibility. Most likely, that’s going to send you right back to assuming (A) is true, or perhaps send you on to (C). You’d have to be especially “canny” to think that the few words about sacrifices in the full puzzle meant you could safely assume (B) is the world you’re in.

    But more importantly, the puzzle by itself is meaningless. Its unsolvable. You can’t figure out if you’re in A, B, C, or otherwise unless you have some idea about the GM at the table and the kind of game he’s running. Stories and games both routinely take place in worlds generally like A, and sometimes like B, or sometimes like C. The puzzle is only fair to the extent that it matches up with the world the GM has previously established the world the players live in. Moreover, if a GM runs a game that’s always like world A and then suddenly throws this puzzle at his players, that is decidedly NOT fair; its straight-up UNFAIR! So someone who routinely runs games in world A (or perhaps C) will find this puzzle to be unfair, while someone who runs their games in world B will consider it fair.

    • I’m confused at how you created worlds A and B. The statue made four statements, one of which referred to the set of statements. World A creates an artificial distinction between one of the statements given and the others, based on how the first statement kind of sounds like an instruction despite being written on the piece of paper you were given for “statements that the statue said”. World B assumes a particular truth value for one of those statements based on no logic; it happens to be correct, but I don’t get how you got there. Even if you’re intending to reason out this world by considering both alternatives of whether the first statement is arbitrarily true or arbitrarily false, if you simply assumed that the first statement was true no matter what, you wouldn’t be in world A as world A separates the first statement to permit it to be true without introducing inconsistencies (and if you actually had puzzled through the implications of forcing the first statement to be true and seeing that it results in an inconsistent state, then you would have a valid proof by contradiction that world B is correct). World A only comes about by both assuming that the first statement is true and then further introducing new assumptions in order to ‘correct’ the fact that this assumption causes an inconsistent world to result, basically inventing your own logic puzzle with little to no connection to the original puzzle.

      Of course, your result is “this doesn’t give me a risk-free correct answer so it can’t be right”, so you’ve fallen into the meta-trap already. There’s no point quibbling over the logic if the baseline rules aren’t respected.

  4. Actually it’s not a 50/50 between the copper and the iron chest at all.
    It’s 100% the copper chest.

    From the four sentences we know the following: At least one of the sentences about the copper chest must be true because the copper chest cannot be both safe and deadly, nor can it be neither of the two; it MUST be one of those sentences.

    However, sentence one cannot be true because if it were it would exclude the possibility that any of the other sentences about the copper chest were true, which is impossible, one of those sentences must ALSO be true. So now we know there isn’t just one true sentence, but it’s not zero either. Because we have a contradiction and one definitively false statement (#1) we also know there cannot be three true statements; sentence one is false and one of the copper sentences is false. So we can’t have 0, 1, 3 or 4 true statements. Therefore two sentences must be true, and only two of them can be true; the bronze chest explodes and the copper chest is safe.

  5. After doing the truth tables and figuring out that it was a tossup between copper and iron, I suspected that the ruler would have to risk sacrificing someone (in line with the disembodied voice’s buzzwords) to find the crown; but I also got hung up on that line about “if you want to find the crown, touch the statue”, so that I started wondering if there was a difference between leaving the room without attempting the puzzle (“you are not fit to rule!”) and leaving the room after touching the statue and figuring out that the puzzle couldn’t be solved.

    In retrospect, I guess it wouldn’t have been very Angry to have the voice boom out “You’re right, the puzzle is impossible; the wise man is he who knows what he doesn’t know; you solved the REAL puzzle, now take the crown” and the chests open wide as you crossed the threshold to go back the way you came. Too…neat.

    Anyway, this was super fun to think about. And I love the in-universe reasoning about it that Angry explains to New Guy in the other room.

    • I agree, this was a very entertaining puzzle to work through!

      My proposed solution was actually very similar to yours, but with an additional meta-layer of justification that might be fun to share. I worked out the indeterminacy between copper and iron, and the fact that the booming voice, taking a very strict lexical view of the matter, only says that to claim the crown, the group must “lay [their] hand upon the statue and listen to its words” — opening a chest to find the crown isn’t actually required. But I also noticed that it specifically says that this is a test of wisdom (“Now, you must prove your wisdom”) — that stuff at the end about risk and sacrifice is called out afterwards.

      So, here’s the meta bit: of course, being a good ruler (in a fantasy DnD kingdom) requires might, wisdom, and a tolerance for risk and sacrifice. But unlike wisdom, it’s possible to have too much of “a tolerance for risk and sacrifice” — most people probably wouldn’t want a leader who is reckless and takes unnecessary (counterargument: Donald Trump is in the White House). So if the puzzle is first of all testing wisdom, as it says, I’d argue the true challenge takes a step back and consists not just in determining that there’s a 50% risk of instant death, but also in determining whether that 50% chance of instant death for an artifact with nebulous powers is an appropriate risk that a wise ruler would run.

      This is a very hard question to answer in the abstract, of course — though folks in the game would presumably be able to look at the cultural background and products of the civilization that built the tomb to determine whether they specifically exalt sacrifice and risk-taking, have as their founding myths stories about great leaders running insane odds and dying so that their people might prosper, etc., vs. them being more cautious in their orientation towards risk.

      But there’s one factor that makes me think that on balance, the more cautious answer is correct here. From the intro text, it seems that this puzzle-room is coming at the end of a normal DnD dungeon, with monsters, traps, etc. If you think of the people that that set-up is selecting for — “adventurers” — it is inarguably the case that the only people who engage with the puzzle in the first place are likely far off the charts in terms of their willingness to take risks and make sacrifices. So for your last test of these candidates before you give them a mandate to rule, does it make more sense that you’d want to be super-duper-extra sure that they’re cool with risk and death, OR that you’d want to check whether they’d be able to rope those tendencies in when they’re actually ruling? Without indications that this is a society that venerates extreme risk-taking, the latter really, really seems more likely to me.

      So that’s how I got to the same proposed solution — say “I listened to the statue’s words as you said, so now I’m claiming the crown. Please give it to me.”

      And if that doesn’t work I guess you’re still able to do the fifty-fifty chance, so technically I guess this is a correct solution too 🙂

      • You can argue whatever you want. You’d still be wrong. The builders of this ancient artifact and this dungeon disagree with you. They knew precisely what they were selecting for. Your solution is not technically correct. I created the puzzle, I asked the questions, I know the correct answer.

  6. Well, it’s an interesting example of how fair and fun aren’t the same thing. It is technically fair but also an intentionally misleading trap to try and wring out as much suffering as possible.

  7. Oh holy shit. I got it “right” by being too stupid to reason beyond the points where I got stuck. I picked up on the “only one true statement” thing (because Angry specifically mentioned that it made FOUR statements and showed how it was written by actually giving a note to the players – as four statements, not as a clause and three statements). Then, because I almost got a nosebleed trying to figure out which of the other chests it was, my brain went to that “has to make sacrifices” part as an excuse to stop thinking and say “ah, that’s probably it.”

    It seems the puzzle’s TRUE weakness is mentally lazy people with only mediocre reasoning skills (in this case me)

  8. Yeah, I got it, sitting quietly in the comfort of my own living room. I doubt I would have got it had I been sitting at the table with a bunch of my fellow players yammering at me. So, technically fair, but in the context of an actual game, well… it may depend on the group.

    • Yeah, I was also thinking that I could easily have made the same mistake that New Guy does if I’d actually been faced with this puzzle, coming to it blind. But it also comes down to knowing your GM — if I’d heard this coming out of the mouth of a certain friend of mine, I might well have suspected that there was some hidden trick.* So the “New Guy” has a somewhat better excuse for making the mistake than the presumably not-new guys.

      *Maybe not enough to bet PCs’ lives on it, though, depending on the sentiment at the table. Part of the problem in the story is that most of the players don’t even seem to like puzzles all that much, so there’s not much discussion. I would guess that Angry’s non-fictional players probably enjoy puzzles somewhat more.

  9. I just want to say that I thought this entire puzzle was brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed it. While I wouldn’t be _happy_ about losing a character to it, I would definitely be happier than losing a character to random chance. All in all, bravo.

  10. How would you handle the characters opening up the chests by familiars or mooks (slaves, prisoners, etc.)?

  11. Holy shit, reddit is SO MAD at you right now. A guy spewing curses at you got like 180 upvotes. And unlike you, their anger isn’t a joke!

    It seems some people really don’t like genuinely scary or difficult decisions in D&D. I like this for that reason.

  12. Idk if it’s super fair to the theoretical players but I’d say it’s fair for a riddle! My friend was the one who suggested (in frustration) to just sacrifice a player and I replied RISK AND REWARD in jest. I then insisted that probably wasn’t what you were intending…but still, I think we got rather close to the reasoning by accident. This was pretty fun, if somewhat maddening!

    • “Super” fair? It’s fair. Here are the risks, here are the rewards, there’s the exit. The players have 100% control. Maybe you need to figure out – for yourself, don’t explain it to me, I don’t care – figure out what FAIR is.

      • My High School chemistry teacher once said, “Fair is a word dreamed up by elementary school teachers to keep the little kids from getting hurt on the playground.”

        There’s no rule in D&D that puzzles, riddles, or challenges have to be FAIR. No where in the rules does it even define what FAIR is. It seems everyone has their own definition of the word/concept.

        As a GM, it isn’t my job to make things FAIR. It’s my job to make things fun, engaging, and challenging. While I don’t create the Kobiashi Maru scenario, I don’t consider fairness when designing things.

        • We place different assumptions on fiction than reality, though. We don’t like fiction to be unfair and capricious no matter how ‘realistic’ that is because we use fiction to get away from how the real world is an unforgiving, indifferent collection of particles with no concern for what should happen.

          If you actually make things fun, engaging, and challenging while being unfair, then go ahead. If being unfair causes players to mistrust you and stop having fun, disengage from the game due to perceived lack of control, and reduce their sense of challenge to a binary “did I guess the GM’s password this morning”, then you’re doing it wrong. No matter if they keep playing with you or not.

          Fortunately you wouldn’t deign to raise your voice on this site if you were doing things wrong, now would you?

          • Oh, I’ve done plenty of things wrong. I’ve made numerous mistakes. And I’ve learned from them. And I’m not too proud to admit it.

            I tend to take things literally, though sometimes capriciously. If being “unfair” (as you suggest) causes mistrust and players stop having fun, that goes against what I said. My first goal is to have fun.

            The problem we run into is what does “fair” mean, exactly? In terms of an RPG, I challenge you (and anyone else) to nail down a definition that we can all agree on. I profess it can’t be done. If I were to ask the eight players in my two groups (noting that 2 players participate in both groups) I’m sure I would get as many different answers as there are players.

            But let’s think about some possibilities.

            Does Fair means Balanced? Well, we already know that balance can’t easily be defined. Perhaps it means that each player has the same number of options, the same chances to succeed, and the same risks as all the other players. If this is the definition, we’re playing the wrong game. Each character class breaks this right out of the gate.

            Perhaps balance means that each challenge presented to the players has EXACTLY 50% chance of success or failure. That’s balanced and fair, right? Again, not this game. If the players choose to continue playing until the story is completed, I submit they have a 100% chance of success. Sure, some characters may not survive, but the players will.

            All right then, let’s try some other definitions of fair. Let’s see what Google has to offer…

            1. “in accordance with the rules or standards; legitimate.” Okay. Vague. Nothing in Angry’s riddle violates this. Other than following the rules, this definition leaves a lot of latitude. RPG Rules are defined well enough, but “standards” and “legitimate” are subjective in this context.

            2. “without cheating or trying to achieve unjust advantage.” Ah… this is a good one. One might define creating a min-max character within the confines of the rules as “trying to achieve unjust advantage.” So, if the players don’t have to be fair, why should I? I’ve been on both sides of the GM Screen with min-max characters. It becomes un-fun pretty quickly, if you ask me.

            3. “just or appropriate in the circumstances.” I like this one! I’d say this one says that, as the GM, I can do whatever the h#!! I want.

            4. “gentle; not violent.”, ” within the field of play marked by the first and third baselines.”, “pertaining to the fair part of the field.”, “having a light complexion or blond hair.”, “considerable though not outstanding in size or amount.”, “fine and dry.”, “a beautiful woman.” Hmm… I don’t think any of these alternate definitions apply. I could be wrong. Maybe all my NPCs and monsters need to be fair-skinned and blond. They aren’t so I guess I’m being unfair. If that makes the game un-fun for you, I suggest you don’t sign up for my games at conventions.

          • I have no problem as a player or GM with NPCs (like these puzzle designers) making things “unfair” providing that is a legitimate and clear premise known to the players going in. Land mines and IEDs are perfectly fair – they fairly blow the legs off anyone who steps on them without fear or favour.

      • Hmm, you’re right. I should think about that more as a starting GM. I forgot that the players/characters could leave, also.

    • haha you sound like his dad.

      “I’m not mad son. I’m just… disapointed. I expect better from you.”

  13. I will admit, I did not get this riddle correct. I had solved the logic puzzle, but I held out hope that Angry had made a typo much as he did at the beginning of the article, swapping “The bronze chest is trapped” for “The bronze chest is safe,” thereby allowing the logic puzzle to have a clear solution. I never even entertained the possibility of the riddle demanding sacrifice. In fact, I still don’t think I grasp it. Next I would probably try summons, pets, or volunteer townsfolk willing to sacrifice their lives for the return of the king. I have much to learn, I see.

    Regardless, thank you Angry for the interesting riddle! I hope everyone is more understanding this time around. We are all allowed to run our games any wrong way we want!

  14. This reminds me of a disappointing resolution to a mystery that I had.

    I had carefully set up the clues to point to the fact that a particular npc had a secret portal to travel instantly between two points. The players had been tracking her and were familiar with the fastest known means of travel so the foundation was solid, I even gave them a calendar of their journeys to make sure they would have a reference to contextualize travel times. And eventually the players put the pieces together. This was a big foreshadowing moment, they were hot on the trail of finding the hidden ruins of ancient powerful people so showing them something that literally changed the rules of the game was a teaser of the power they were chasing.

    The problem was that there were too many ways this could be interpreted. Maybe the GM had screwed up. Maybe this wasn’t strange and the players were forgetting some detail that explained all this. Maybe this was showing the cultural myopia of their navigator. Maybe this was a secret long lost technology. Maybe there were clones. In character there were ways to address these but they couldn’t address them because they weren’t sure what to do out of character. So rather then an “aha!” moment the game ground to a halt followed by an increasingly out of character discussion. Seeing that it wasn’t going to work out I just gave them the word of god that it was deliberate not an accident and we moved on. I didn’t know whether I had botched the execution of this or if the idea was flawed. This “aha!” moment would have worked in a book or tv show but it failed here. The players could notice the inconsistency but the RPG didn’t give them the assurance that they could act on it.

    I dont need help “beating” my players by making them uncertain about the game world. That’s trivially easy. I just put ambiguities in front of them and then come up with an excuse not to explain them.

    What I want to learn to do is make my players more certain about the game world so that “aha!” moments are possible. I’m rather fond of the mystery genre of rpgs and I find that they are rewarding but hit or miss. Sometimes things pan out with a combination of player initiative and my players trusting my enough to have an idea of when something is real. It’s certainly not a trivial task.

    • This reminds me of the campaign “The Sense of the Sleight-of-Hand Man” for Call of Cthulhu. The GM is asked to weave certain dream-like inconsistencies into their descriptions. If people notice them, he gives them check marks. These check marks can be used to bend reality with a sort of dream magic, because it’s the Dreamlands, duh.

      There were huge problems with executing that, though. First of all, you need to come up with all these rich, colorful descriptions to begin with where you can hide your inconsistencies. And that’s kind of hard for GMs – including me – to do. At least there is a list of what you can weave in. And I tried!

      But the second thing was that players weren’t paying attention to my descriptions. They ignored everything too detailed as fluff description and tried to pick up only on clues of what to immediately do in any scene. In terms of dreams, they were completely and utterly non-lucid. And hence I just dropped the topic of dream magic as failed experiment after two or three session. I guess that’s okay. Just like you don’t have a lucid dream when you continuously ignore the inconsistencies in dreams, the same happens with the power of dream magic in that game. It’s actually quite smart even if it seems from the GM perspective as if they’re missing out.

      The only thing nagging at me is that the writers seemed so convinced that people would pick up on this. I felt as if I was lacking as a GM somehow but ultimately I decided that if players want to be blase about it, they can. Not my problem.

      • Yeah, back when I first got into GMing I had all these ideas that would have been so awesome if they worked just right but of course they never could. I guess even professional game designers have that problem from time to time.

  15. I want to do something like this as part of an artifact of courage. A puzzle, simpler than this one. One that the players are quite likely to realize doesn’t give them all the information and requires risking a life with the imperfect information they have.

    If the puzzle can be built in such a way that the players are almost guaranteed to get that far, and to realize that they have to risk a life, it’d be the perfect lock to hide a symbol of courage behind.

    I just need to find a way to simplify this so that the players can figure it out.

  16. well, its certainly interesting to think about.

    Angry, I wonder. Would any of the following ways of preventing character death worked?

    * death ward spell (specifically stops insta kill effects)
    * using a conjured creature to open the chest
    * just ressurecting the dead guy?
    * hire a random dude to open the chest for you (either by lying to them or hiring someone desperate enough).

  17. well, its certainly interesting to think about.

    Angry, I wonder. Would any of the following ways of preventing character death worked?

    * death ward spell (specifically stops insta kill effects)
    * using a conjured creature to open the chest
    * hire a random dude to open the chest for you.

  18. You claim the distinction between a riddle and a logic puzzle is essential, and yet you only used the latter term within last week’s post. The only time the word “riddle” is used is in the title of the post. In fact, the entire scenario is presented as “The Puzzle.” So while the players in the story made their own faulty assumptions, we the readers were actually mislead.

    I would argue there is a close tie between player assumptions and the metagame, especially the part about “unwritten rules.” Puzzles in which logic alone removes the risk of death are an established part of the D&D metagame, whereas riddles in which logic does not remove that risk are clearly not, as evidenced by the many readers who arrived at that possibility through logic and rejected it. Your advice on running an illusionist antagonist suggested a warm-up when messing with the player’s metagame knowledge, and I think that is prudent advice here as well. Telegraphing properly would be crucial to keep this from feeling like a gotcha. It isn’t one! But it would feel like it, because the unavoidable 50% chance of someone dying is very unexpected.

      • Your impressive reasoning abilities are one of the primary reasons I frequent your site. I am disappointed you dismiss me without displaying them, but then, you are a busy person.

        Thanks for the riddle! The Class 2 death that can result from the solution is compellingly justified.

    • Ah, but the original title of the post (when the contest was ran) was “Outwit Angry.” Once you correctly solve the logic puzzle; you determine that you must choose the copper or iron chest not knowing for sure which is correct. At that point you, the player, also know that Angry designed the situation. You’ve already figured out that Angry built traps for the careless into the conditions. If you can guess Angry’s reasoning for the copper chest (that most people will pick Iron because it wasn’t mentioned at all) you can, against all odds, outwit The Angry GM and avoid loosing a character to the copper chest.

  19. One of the things that’s disappointing about this is it doesn’t offer much in the way of reward if the players do figure it out. A group who takes the time to reason through it finds that there’s no certainty in the answer, and has a 50-50 shot of needing to choose someone to die.

    Meanwhile a group who says, “This place was built by an egomaniac who likes to tout his superiority over others, let’s just pick one at random” has a 33% chance of getting it right the first time.

    It’s profoundly unsatisfying. In fact, the group with a 16% disadvantage has probably saved a lot of time — so whether they’ve solved the puzzle with zero, one, or two casualties, saving time is probably more valuable than saving a PC’s life. After all, you’ve demonstrated here that PC’s lives are disposable. Time, on the other hand, can’t be recovered — whether you’re in character or out.

    • “In fact, the group with a 16% disadvantage has probably saved a lot of time — so whether they’ve solved the puzzle with zero, one, or two casualties, saving time is probably more valuable than saving a PC’s life. After all, you’ve demonstrated here that PC’s lives are disposable. Time, on the other hand, can’t be recovered — whether you’re in character or out.”

      This is also what bothers me most and why I’m disappointed. Easiest way to solve the puzzle? Just potentially sacrifice two PCs, make two new characters if needed, and move on. And get in the habit of having back-up characters ready.

      The expected death count for randomly guessing is 1.2. The expected death count for “solving” as much as you could is 0.5. That means, on average, you’re going to lose the same number of people either way (difference is less than a person). Some outliers will exist but for most groups it’ll be the same.

      So unlike the blog owner (or people on Reddit, apparently), I’m not angry. But, like I said, I am disappointed.

  20. I’m running a west marches style campaign and really want to find a way to hide this puzzle out in the world to be found. In that scenario players can literally just walk away because they aren’t bound by story to solve it, but a player might agonize over it long enough that they think it’s worth the risk to try it.

  21. I got it right! A hard puzzle, but fair.

    I don’t know, though, if I would’ve figured out the bronze chest isn’t safe. But there were clues (“here’s the four statements the statue made”).

  22. One (other) thing you can learn from all this is that pride is a mighty force. And usually not a force for good.

  23. Got that right on the setup and sacrifice requirement. Thanks formal logic class and LSAT prep.

    Since anything follows from a contradiction, I’ll conclude I might be Angry puzzle smart. I’d like puzzles in the Angryverse.

  24. I fell into the trap of overthinking it, getting to the “bronze was definitely wrong all along” point but not recognizing that it was in fact meant to require guessing from there on.
    Although I do have one (nitpicky) question. Given the definition of who can “touch” the chest (and thus trigger their traps) is said to be “willing humanoids”… would it be possible to, say, bribe or otherwise convince a humanoid NPC to touch one chest? It’s said that the PCs are the only ones who can OPEN the chest, but after seeing whether the traps have been triggered in one instance of guessing via touch, the actual act of opening the untrapped chest should be trivial.
    Granted, this does depend on what one’s definition of “willing” is- and I appreciate how that means you can’t just, say, fling a goblin at the chest to test it. And it depends on the presence of humanoid NPCs who might be willing to go along with the plan. But is that possibility a valid one?

  25. I actually got the whole thing right, except for the ongoing risk mitigation assessment circle I fell into right at the end. Basically it was “get an NPC to do it or risk a player” but huh that was probably accounted for.

  26. I got the answer right but in a really stupid way. I just figured that I thought the iron chest was correct but because I knew Angry wrote the riddle and I know I’m bad a riddles, that was probably the wrong answer.

  27. Personally, I enjoyed this puzzle immensely. I worked out that the statue was making more than one true statement, but got stuck there. While I did recognize that there were STILL two possible answers, what Martin Gardner would call the Aha! insight evaded me. The idea that a ruler must be willing to send his people into risky situations is, to me, a very *satisfying* solution. Thank you for the mental exercise.

    I was, however, wondering if it were possible to simply open the two “uncertain” chests with a ten-foot pole and/or rogue/thief BS (threading a line through staples on the ceiling or something to enable lifting the latch from a distance.

    I participate on a lateral puzzles discussion board. Might I have your permission to post this there?

  28. I would say that is a bad riddle because it requires what is essentially a human sacrifice of a PC. That is objectively bad on a meta-gaming level, as it leads to a “do unto others before they do unto you” dynamic in which everyone in the party is trying to get the drop on everyone else. That makes DMing a pain, because you are DMing for 4 characters working at cross-purposes to each other, rather than Dming for a unified party.

  29. If the iron chest has a history of being deadly, it would send iron shrapnel all over the room and iron shavings MIGHT be embedded in the walls, ceiling, and the statue. If the iron chest has a history of being safe, then there would probably be no such iron shrapnel.

    My character would attempt to use the Prestidigitation spell to thoroughly clean the walls and ceiling… as well as the surface of the statue. He would gather all of the dust taken from these surfaces and bring them together onto a piece of paper or parchment. He would then place a magnet underneath the paper and tap the side of the paper.

    If the there is virtually no iron in the dust, no visible pattern will form, which suggests that the iron chest has been consistently safe in the past and is more likely to be safe than the copper chest.

    If detectable amounts of iron are in the dust then a detectable pattern will form in response to the magnetic field, which suggests that the iron chest has been deadly in the past, and is more likely to be deadly than the copper chest.

    • Your solution of trying to outwit the puzzle designers ignores the possibility that the characters are the first group of humanoids to pass the test of might and reach the final test. This will generate a misleading result of the iron chest being safe; which we know from the solution is incorrect.

  30. “What does fairness mean in terms of a logic puzzle? It means two things. First, it means that any factual statement can either be true or false.”

    That, right there, is the assumption you are making. Under that assumption, it’s 50/50. That’s *your* definition of fair, and others won’t make the same assumption.

    The “perfect” scenario you describe requires having that unstated assumption. Without that assumption, the bronze chest cannot be concluded to be deadly.

    Alternatively, under the assumption that “fair” means “has a unique solution”, then you have to treat sentence 1 of 4 as instructions.

    Is the puzzle fair? Well, I have to define fair to answer that. I define “fair” as “the solution can be determined from only the information provided”. Clearly, that definition is not satisfied (given the answer).

    Under the definition of “fair” you had in your head, there are two possible answers: anything but bronze.

    Under the definition of “fair” I had in my head: there is one possible answer: bronze.

    That’s why this triggers so much debate and rage: the answer depends on the definition of “fair”, and that’s not a universal definition.

  31. There was an episode of Star Trek TNG in which Troi wanted a promotion. As a counselor she had a contingency rank of lieutenant commander, but she wanted to be full commander. So she was running through a training program on the holodeck. Sure enough, the program inevitably slipped her the old koboyahi maru. she was presented with a simulation in which the engines were doing what star trek engines do best, overloading. And everything she tried, you know the litany, gotta reconfigure/recalibrate/remodulate something, led to the ship blowing up. It looked as if only a manual adjustment inside the containment chamber would stop it, but radiation. a few more blowups later, she realized that she had to order the engineer to go in and make the adjustment, knowing he would die. And when she did that, the programmed deemed her qualified for the higher rank.

    This reminded me of that.

  32. As far as I can tell the central flaw is that D&D is a world of magic. If the players reason correctly and are as attached to their characters as most players I know they will do some or all of the following.

    1: Have a summoned creature open the chest
    2: Use Mage Hand to open the chest.
    3: Rig up a complected system of pulleys to open the chest (this likely makes it explode, but it seems possible to try).
    4: Animate a corpse to open the chest.
    5: Hire/threaten/persuade/deceive an NPC into opening the chest. This is the one that’s pretty much a no fail state. Someone in the party has social skills, and some random NPC will be desperate enough to try it. It even plays into the themes of the trap by accepting the possibility of death, just not to someone that the party cares about. This was my solution when I saw the puzzle last week, and I can’t think of a reason it would fail.

  33. I have a slight beef with puzzle. After working out the logic that the bronze chest is trapped, but there is no definitive solution, I returned to the text of the booming voice and noticed that it used the word “tempered.”

    Since iron and bronze are both metals that might be tempered while forging, while copper is not, it seemed an intuitive that the answer might be either bronze or iron. Having the logic puzzle eliminate one of those two choices seemed to me to further support the possibility of the word tempered being important to the solution.

    In short, I think for the puzzle to be completely fair as per your intentions, the word tempered needs to be removed from the opening booming voice monologue.

    • Okay, I’m sorry you (and a few others) fixated on a tiny element of word choice over a GLARING and EXPLICIT statement about the conditions of the test. That doesn’t make it unfair, though. It just means you can’t see the forest for the trees. And honestly, you should LOOK UP tempering. Like, what the process actually means. Metallurgically. From a credible, non-dictionary source. Tempering is a treatment that CAN BE applied to ferrous metals after hardening to adjust strength, flexibility, and brittleness. It is not always automatically applied except when dealing with STEEL, because steel becomes too brittle during the hardening process. That is the metallurgical definition. Under the looser definition you (and others like you) want to apply, which is valid under common usage, any metal CAN BE tempered. Non ferrous metals like copper and alloys like bronze become softer after tempering. Ferrous metals like iron and steel usually become harder under high temperature tempering and softer under low temperature tempering. Tempering, by the way, is not the same as hardening.

      So, no. Wrong wrong wrong.

  34. Wow, so many complaints from people who never had many, many characters die in modules like Tomb of Horrors. The booming statute told you you have to risk death and, by paying attention you can cut that risk from 66% to 50%: quite an improvement. I worked this out and was quite proud of myself for doing so and then, like a true ruler I said “Asps, very dangerous. You go first.” Real kingship (or presidentship or prime ministership) involves putting people in harm’s way every damn day.

    I am reminded of a DM who gave us the problem of a columned chamber wher lighting hit you every time you walked between the wrong columns. Much time was wasted in trying to decipher the pattern that led to the right path until I asked the question “If I were a powerful wizard intent on keeping murderers out of my bedroom how would I establish a pattern to give a safe path?” Phrased that way it has one and only one obvious solution: make the path random and remember the safe way through – why give clues to murderous adventurers?

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