Ice Breaker Riddles

By Neil Murrell

The prospect of joining a new peer group can sometimes seem daunting, even for naturally extroverted people. One common scenario in which people experience this discomfort is while beginning a new career. One of the principle challenges faced by corporate trainers inducting groups of new recruits is fostering an atmosphere within which individuals can build a rapport. Riddles are useful tools to facilitate this. Solving riddles requires lateral and critical thinking skills, and can even require a willingness to work as part of a team. Developing these skills is desirable because apply positively in the workplace.

Riddles That Develop Lateral Thinking Skills

Ask your group the following question: "A man buys champagne in a bar to celebrate his 16th birthday. He is in a country where the drinking age is 21. All patrons, regardless of age, must produce valid ID for each purchase. How did he buy the champagne?"

The answer is that the man was born on February 29th, and only has a "real" birthday every 4 years. He is really 64.

This is a lateral thinking puzzle. Lateral thinking puzzles require an outside-the-box approach. They generally have more than one valid answer, which makes them effective ice breakers. Comparing answers can reveal personal insight and a source of amusement.

Riddles That Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Ask your group the following riddle: "At midnight, a man decides to go to bed. He undresses, turns off the light and goes to sleep. The next morning he looks out of the window and immediately commits suicide. Why?"

The answer is that the man is a lighthouse keeper, and by turning off the light he inadvertently caused a shipwreck. There is clearly not enough information to solve the riddle immediately. Tell your group that you will answer 20 "yes" or "no" questions, after which they must guess the solution.

This exercise encourages your participants to answer questions which provide the most information. They will also have to listen to each other's answers and discuss which questions to ask.

Riddles That Encourage Teamwork

Ask your group to pair off and solve the following puzzle: "A farmer has a fox, a chicken, and a bag of grain. He must take all three across a river. His boat is large enough for one item. Left alone, the fox will eat the chicken and the chicken will eat the grain. Explain how the farmer can take all three across the river."

The answer is that the farmer takes the chicken across, then the grain, comes back with the chicken, takes the fox, then finally returns for the chicken.

Strategy based riddles requiring forward planning are useful group activities as they give participants a sense of working together toward a shared goal. In the process, the individuals in each pair have the opportunity to build a rapport with one another.

Riddles That Reveal Weakness in Assumptions

Ask your group this question: "A game show host shows you three boxes. One holds $1 million, the other two are empty. The, you choose a box. The host, who knows the contents of all three boxes, opens one of the others. It's empty and is removed. You are asked if you want to stick with your original choice or change your mind and choose the other remaining box. What should you do?"

You should always change to the other remaining box. This increases your odds of winning to two-thirds. This is counter-intuitive because it seems like a choice betwen two boxes would always be 50/50, but this is incorrect. To see this, assume the host always puts the money in box A. There are only 3 possible outcomes.

The first is that you choose box A. The host, who must always open an empty box, opens either B or C. You're left with A, which is full, and B, which is empty. If you switch in this situation, you lose.

The second is you choose B. B is empty. The host, who cannot open the full box, must open box C. You're left with B and A. If you switch to A, you win.

The third is that you choose C. The host cannot open box A because it is full and has to open box B. You're left with C and A. If you switch to A, you win again.

If you don't agree with this reasoning, play this with a friend. Ask him to always switch & note the results. You'll see that he'll win approximately two-thirds of the time.

Riddles like these make useful training exercises because they encourage people to question their assumptions. As ice breakers, they are useful because the majority of people will be surprised by the answer, leading to further discussion.

About the Author

Neil Murrell has been writing professionally since 2002. During his studies he was published in campus magazines including "The Pulse" and "The Badger." Murrell is a teacher and magician whose specialties are close-up magic and mentalism. He has a B.A. in English and media (cultural studies minor) from Sussex University.