In classic mythology, there is the story of the Sphinx, a monster with the body of a lion and the upper part of a woman.
The Sphinx lay crouched on the top of a rock along the highroad to the city of Thebes, and stopped all travellers passing by, proposing to them a riddle.
Those who failed to answer the riddle correctly were killed.
This is the riddle the Sphinx asked the travellers: "What animal walks on four legs in the morning, two legs during the day, and three legs in the evening?"
This is part of the story of Oedipus, who replied to the Sphinx, "Man, who in childhood creeps on hands and knees, in manhood walks erect, and in old age with the aid of a staff."
Morning, day and night are representative of the stages of life.
The Sphinx was so mortified at the solving of her riddle that she cast herself down from the rock and perished.
A swan sits at the center of a perfectly circular lake. At an edge of the lake stands a ravenous monster waiting to devour the swan. The monster can not enter the water, but it will run around the circumference of the lake to try to catch the swan as soon as it reaches the shore. The monster moves at 4 times the speed of the swan, and it will always move in the direction along the shore that brings it closer to the swan the quickest. Both the swan and the the monster can change directions in an instant.
The swan knows that if it can reach the lake's shore without the monster right on top of it, it can instantly escape into the surrounding forest.
How can the swan succesfully escape?
Assume the radius of the lake is R feet. So the circumference of the lake is (2*pi*R). If the swan swims R/4 feet, (or, put another way, 0.25R feet) straight away from the center of the lake, and then begins swimming in a circle around the center, then it will be able to swim around this circle in the exact same amount of time as the monster will be able to run around the lake's shore (since this inner circle's circumference is 2*pi*(R/4), which is exactly 4 times shorter than the shore's circumference).
From this point, the swan can move a millimeter inward toward the lake's center, and begin swimming around the center in a circle from this distance. It is now going around a very slightly smaller circle than it was a moment ago, and thus will be able to swim around this circle FASTER than the monster can run around the shore.
The swan can keep swimming around this way, pulling further away each second, until finally it is on the opposite side of its inner circle from where the monster is on the shore. At this point, the swan aims directly toward the closest shore and begins swimming that way. At this point, the swan has to swim [0.75R feet + 1 millimeter] to get to shore. Meanwhile, the monster will have to run R*pi feet (half the circumference of the lake) to get to where the swan is headed.
The monster runs four times as fast as the swan, but you can see that it has more than four times as far to run:
[0.75R feet + 1 millimeter] * 4 < R*pi
[This math could actually be incorrect if R were very very small, but in that case we could just say the swan swam inward even less than a millimeter, and make the math work out correctly.]
Because the swan has less than a fourth of the distance to travel as the monster, it will reach the shore before the monster reaches where it is and successfully escape.