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 man needs to send important documents to his friend across the country. He buys a suitcase to put the documents in, but he has a problem: the mail system in his country is very corrupt, and he knows that if he doesn't lock the suitcase, it will be opened by the post office and his documents will be stolen before they reach his friend.
There are lock stores across the country that sell locks with keys. The only problem is that if he locks the suitcase, he has no way to send the key to his friend so that the friend will be able to open the lock: if he doesn't send the key, then the friend can't open the lock, and if he puts the key in the suitcase, then the friend won't be able to get to the key.
The suitcase is designed so that any number of locks can be put on it, but the man figures that putting more than one lock on the suitcase will only compound the problem.
After a few days, however, he figures out how to safely send the documents. He calls his friend who he's sending the documents to and explains the plan.
What is the man's plan?
The plan is this:
1. The man will put a lock on the suitcase, keep the key, and send the suitcase to his friend.
2. The friend will then put his own lock on the suitcase as well, keep the key to that lock, and send the suitcase back to the man.
3. The man will use his key to remove his lock from the suitcase, and send it back to the friend.
4. The friend will remove his own lock from the suitcase and get to the documents.
Search: Man-in-the-middle attack
Your friend pulls out a perfectly circular table and a sack of quarters, and proposes a game.
"We'll take turns putting a quarter on the table," he says. "Each quarter must lay flat on the table, and cannot sit on top of any other quarters. The last person to successfully put a quarter on the table wins."
He gives you the choice to go first or second. What should you do, and what should your strategy be to win?
You should go first, and put a quarter at the exact center of the table.
Then, each time your opponent places a quarter down, you should place your next quarter in the symmetric position on the opposite side of the table.
This will ensure that you always have a place to set down our quarter, and eventually your oppponent will run out of space.
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
A new student met the Zen Master after traveling hundreds of miles by yak cart. He was understandably pleased with himself for being selected to learn at the great master's feet .
The first time they formally met, the Zen Master asked, "May I ask you a simple question?" "It would be an honor!" replied the student.
"Which is greater, that which has no beginning or that which has no end?" queried the Zen Master. "Come back when you have the answer and can explain why."
After the student made many frustrated trips back with answers which the master quickly cast off with a disapproving negative nod, the Zen Master finally said, "Perhaps I should ask you another question?"
"Oh, please do!" pleaded the exasperated student.
The Zen Master then asked, "Since you do not know that, answer this much simpler riddle. When can a pebble hold back the sea?" Again the student was rebuffed time and again. Several more questions followed with the same result. Each time, the student could not find the correct answer. Finally, completely exasperated, the student began to weep, "Master, I am a complete idiot. I can not solve even the simplest riddle from you!"
Suddenly, the student stopped, sat down, and said, "I am ready for my second lesson."
What was the Zen Master's first lesson?
The student's first lesson was that in order to learn from the Zen Master, the student should be asking the questions and not the Zen Master.
Last week, the local Primary school was visited by the Government School Inspector who was there to check that teachers were performing well in their respective classes. He was very impressed with one particular teacher. The Inspector noticed that each time the class teacher asked a question, every child in the class put up their hands enthusiastically to answer it. More surprisingly, whilst the teacher chose a different child to answer the questions each time, the answers were always correct.
Why would this be?
The children were instructed to ALL raise their hands whenever a question was asked. It did not matter whether they knew the answer or not. If they did not know the answer, however, they would raise their LEFT hand. If they knew the answer, they would raise their RIGHT hand. The class teacher would choose a different child each time, but always the ones who had their RIGHT hand raised.