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.
This is an unusual paragraph. I’m curious as to just how quickly you can find out what is so unusual about it. It looks so ordinary and plain that you would think nothing was wrong with it. In fact, nothing is wrong with it! It is highly unusual though. Study it and think about it, but you still may not find anything odd. But if you work at it a bit, you might find out. Try to do so without any coaching.
The letter "e", which is the most common letter in the English language, does not appear once in the long paragraph.
100 men are in a room, each wearing either a white or black hat. Nobody knows the color of his own hat, although everyone can see everyone else's hat. The men are not allowed to communicate with each other at all (and thus nobody will ever be able to figure out the color of his own hat).
The men need to line up against the wall such that all the men with black hats are next to each other, and all the men with white hats are next to each other. How can they do this without communicating? You can assume they came up with a shared strategy before coming into the room.
The men go to stand agains the wall one at a time. If a man goes to stand against the wall and all of the men already against the wall have the same color hat, then he just goes and stands at either end of the line. However, if a man goes to stand against the wall and there are men with both black and white hats already against the wall, he goes and stands between the two men with different colored hats. This will maintain the state that the line contains men with one colored hats on one side, and men with the other colored hats on the other side, and when the last man goes and stands against the wall, we'll still have the desired outcome.
A poor miller living with his daughter comes onto hard times and is not able to pay his rent. His evil landlord threatens to evict them unless the daughter marries him.
The daughter, not wanting to marry the landlord but fearing that her father won't be able to take being evicted, suggests the following proposition to the landlord. He will put two stones, one white and one black, into a bag in front of the rest of the townspeople. She will pick one stone out of the bag. If she picks the white stone, the landlord will forgive their debt and let them stay, but if she picks the black stone, she will marry the landlord, and her father will be evicted anyway.
The landlord agrees to the proposal. Everybody meets in the center of the town. The landlord picks up two stones to put in the bag, but the daughter notices that he secretly picked two black stones.
She is about to reveal his deception but realizes that this would embarrass him in front of the townspeople, and he would evict them. She quickly comes up with another plan. What can she do that will allow the landlord save face, while also ensuring that she and her father can stay and that she won't have to marry the landlord?
The daughter picks a stone out, keeps it in her closed hand, and proclaims "this is my stone." She then throws it to the ground, and says "look at the other stone in the bag, and if it's black, that means I picked the white stone." The landlord will reveal the other stone, which is obviously black, and the daughter will have succeeded. The landlord was never revealed as a cheater and thus was able to save face.
At a dinner party, many of the guests exchange greetings by shaking hands with each other while they wait for the host to finish cooking.
After all this handshaking, the host, who didn't take part in or see any of the handshaking, gets everybody's attention and says: "I know for a fact that at least two people at this party shook the same number of other people's hands."
How could the host know this? Note that nobody shakes his or her own hand.
Assume there are N people at the party.
Note that the least number of people that someone could shake hands with is 0, and the most someone could shake hands with is N-1 (which would mean that they shook hands with every other person).
Now, if everyone at the party really were to have shaken hands with a different number of people, then that means somone must have shaken hands with 0 people, someone must have shaken hands with 1 person, and so on, all the way up to someone who must have shaken hands with N-1 people. This is the only possible scenario, since there are N people at the party and N different numbers of possible people to shake hands with (all the numbers between 0 and N-1 inclusive).
But this situation isn't possible, because there can't be both a person who shook hands with 0 people (call him Person 0) and a person who shook hands with N-1 people (call him Person N-1). This is because Person 0 shook hands with nobody (and thus didn't shake hands with Person N-1), but Person N-1 shook hands with everybody (and thus did shake hands with Person 0). This is clearly a contradiction, and thus two of the people at the party must have shaken hands with the same number of people.
Pretend there were only 2 guests at the party. Then try 3, and 4, and so on. This should help you think about the problem.
Search: Pigeonhole principle