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In 1980, a man lives on the 30th floor of his building. Every morning he wakes up, gets ready, kisses his wife, takes the elevator down to the first floor, and goes to work.

One morning, he wakes up, gets ready, kisses his wife, and gets in the elevator, exactly as he always has done. The morning is exactly the same as any other morning, and no one else was in their apartment.

The man is alone in the elevator and there are no windows in or visible from the elevator. Without receiving any communication of any kind, or the man being in any danger of any harm, he begins crying when the elevator reaches the 12th floor, because he knows his wife has died.

How is this possible?

Notes (added later) to eliminate "too broad" answers:

His wife was alive when he left the apartment.
The man loved his wife, and would never harm her in any way.

And for the more extreme options:

The man had a boring typical day job. No danger involved. The laws of physics have not been repealed, and there are no mythical or fiction occurrences happening.
As always, aliens are not involved.

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  • 8
    $\begingroup$ The accepted answer doesn't really work - death would not follow instantly. The husband would have prepared by taking some of the steps listed here and here. $\endgroup$ – A E Mar 30 '15 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ @AE I agree it's unlikely, but so are many things I've seen in the lateral-thinking tag. Who has infinite rope laying around? Death doesn't need to be immediate, though. If he is stuck in an elevator with no phone (and she can't reach a fixed line), then no help is coming for her any time soon. Even if he assumed he was prepared, he wouldn't expect to be stuck without a phone somewhere nearby. $\endgroup$ – Set Big O Mar 30 '15 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ "My wife died, better make a post on Stack Exchange" - typical Stack Exchange user $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Mar 30 '15 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ He always takes off her oxygen mask to kiss her. When he reaches the 12th floor in the elevator he notices the oxygen mask is still in his hand. Oops. $\endgroup$ – CaptainCodeman Mar 31 '15 at 11:17
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    $\begingroup$ The wife has been long dead. Maybe a week, perhaps a year or more. He is lonely and keeps her body around for company. He gives her corpose a kiss every morning, and cries in the elevator on the way downstairs, generally around half-way down to the ground floor. $\endgroup$ – python1981 Mar 31 '15 at 12:28

15 Answers 15

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His wife

is on in-home life support.

The elevator

stops at the 12th floor because the power in the building went out.

So now he's

stuck in an elevator (despite being in no harm) while his wife is dying upstairs.

I guess you could argue that the event is a sort of "communication", but that seems pretty weak to me.

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  • 83
    $\begingroup$ I have a problem with this--life support equipment without battery backup??? $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Mar 30 '15 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ This is certainly the answer I've heard to this classic puzzle but it's always bothered me that the man assumed the elevator losing power meant the whole building lost power. $\endgroup$ – Engineer Toast Mar 31 '15 at 1:24
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    $\begingroup$ Power going out IS a communication signal. My version is that he temporarily removes the life support (e.g. oxygen mask) from her face every morning in order to kiss her. In this instance, he realized on the 12th floor that he's still holding her oxygen mask in his hand. Oops. $\endgroup$ – CaptainCodeman Mar 31 '15 at 8:45
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    $\begingroup$ @CaptainCodeman: pahaha I lol'd. oops. $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 31 '15 at 14:33
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    $\begingroup$ The man was heading to buy replacement batteries, her current ones were dead. $\endgroup$ – JoeTaxpayer Mar 31 '15 at 18:22
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I know I'm coming in late here, however, I'll toss a completely different take on this.

When he kisses his "wife" each morning, it's only a picture. She died a year ago on this day. He's crying because it's the 1 year anniversary of her death.

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    $\begingroup$ 12th floor reminds him of 12 months - math checks out $\endgroup$ – Pakman Apr 1 '15 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ Or 12 year anniversary. $\endgroup$ – Joe Apr 1 '15 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ Or, she's a corpse, dead for quite awhile. He's been keeping her around out of love and denial. One day, on the way down the elevator, he cracks emotionally and breaks down, finally coming to the realization that his lady is deceased. The 12th floor happened to be the floor he was at the moment he realized, nothing significant about the floor or the timing. $\endgroup$ – DWoldrich Apr 2 '15 at 8:50
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My solution:

The building he lives in has a 13th floor.

However, this morning he noticed the 13th was missing, it went from the 14th floor directly to the 12th floor.

The only possibility? The labyrinth builder was superstitious of the number 13 so his copy of the building did not include it.

The man is Dom Cobb, and he is in a dream. His wife, Mal Cobb, committed suicide years ago. The error in the building has made him aware of the dream.

Inception!

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  • 12
    $\begingroup$ Inceptus Nolanus overratus. $\endgroup$ – Pharap Mar 31 '15 at 5:14
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    $\begingroup$ this is the definition of thinking outside the box $\endgroup$ – Vic Mar 31 '15 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ Username checks out. $\endgroup$ – user18101 Jul 23 '16 at 6:55
35
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Maybe

He poisoned her morning coffee.

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    $\begingroup$ I doubt he'd be crying then. $\endgroup$ – pacoverflow Mar 30 '15 at 20:36
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    $\begingroup$ @AE Does your wife know you make posts like this on SE? :-o $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Mar 30 '15 at 21:13
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    $\begingroup$ @pacoverflow: Depends on why he poisoned her. If he did it in her best interest, he might be crying. It was my first guess. $\endgroup$ – Mooing Duck Mar 31 '15 at 0:01
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    $\begingroup$ @pacoverflow: You've never heard of rash decisions? And ensuing guilt? It's extremely naive to simply assume that, having executed this act (no pun intended), he could only possibly be happy about it in the aftermath. $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 31 '15 at 14:34
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    $\begingroup$ the man does the same thing every morning, does that mean he poisoned her morning coffee everyday? $\endgroup$ – Vic Mar 31 '15 at 16:13
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The husband and wife have been living under assumed names, on the run from the CIAfia and in possession of a briefcase containing documents of earth-shattering significance. It's absolutely clear that if the CIAfia find where they're holed up, they won't engage in negotiation: they'll just kill them and make off with the documents.

The couple's problem is that they've lost contact with the agency they're supposed to hand the briefcase to. They fear their usual contact has come to harm. All they can do is wait and hope that someone else in the agency knows the procedures for making contact. Husbie nips out every morning to check for the chalk mark. He always uses the proper tradecraft, so it takes him about 3 hours. And when he gets back, he always checks on exiting the lift that his wife has put a flowerpot in the pre-arranged place. If she hasn't, that will only mean one thing: she's dead and the CIAfia have taken the briefcase. In that event, he's offski: he'll turn sharp left, pay no more attention to the front door of the flat, and walk down the stairway to floor 29.

Leaving is as tense as arriving. The guys looking for them aren't gunslinging cowboys. Nobody's chances are ever 100% in this game. If they can, they'll improve their odds by entering the flat when the wife's alone. But they won't waste time. After all, when the husband goes out, the opposition could in principle make contact with him within a minute or so and he'll lead them straight up to the flat. So if possible the CIAfia will go in and kill his wife and take the briefcase as soon as he's gone out, when he's been in the lift for only a few seconds.

So every morning, she texts him. She listens for the lift door opening and closing and then she sends a text within 15 seconds. She's a professional; she doesn't forget. If she doesn't send the text, there's only one possible meaning - she's dead.

He's a professional too, but that doesn't mean he's not scared. He was trained to control his fear. He looks calmly at his watch. Five seconds. Ten seconds. By the time the lift reaches floor 12, thirty seconds have elapsed. They've killed her. Cry a tear. The CIAfia have got the documents. On to the next stage.

(He didn't receive the communication. That's the point. Let's say the man's not in danger, because the only reason the CIAfia would kill whoever's looking after the briefcase at the moment of collection is to prevent harm coming to the documents.)

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  • 12
    $\begingroup$ This is all nice, but everyone knows you can't get any signal inside an elevator. $\endgroup$ – Shahbaz Mar 31 '15 at 13:07
  • $\begingroup$ Heh nice writing, and you worked into it a loophole of sorts, quite nicely. $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 31 '15 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ A bit more long winded than necessary, but a reasonable solution nonetheless. $\endgroup$ – Pharap Mar 31 '15 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ Very nice story, but... He didn't receive text message, but he did communicate nevertheless. This was a form of digital signal. He did receive 0 at the end. $\endgroup$ – Ennar Mar 31 '15 at 21:05
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    $\begingroup$ Remember the riddle takes place in the 1980's so no text messages, but this is now my go-to answer for any modern interpretations of the same riddle. $\endgroup$ – Amru E. Apr 1 '15 at 2:22
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Possibly

His wife is ill and needs a certain medication daily at exactly the same time. On this day, the man forgot to give her the medication and remembered once he saw the number 12 in the elevator. Perhaps 12 is involved in her dosage.

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    $\begingroup$ Good thoughts, but no. The man does everything exactly the same way this morning as he does every other morning, meaning if the wife needs medication, he would have given it to her. $\endgroup$ – Aggie Kidd Mar 30 '15 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ Some more good thoughts, but if a man is good enough to follow the same routine every morning, then any medication would have run out long before it expired. $\endgroup$ – Aggie Kidd Mar 30 '15 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ Plausible and somewhat related to the 'actual' answer. $\endgroup$ – Pharap Mar 31 '15 at 1:21
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My solution is that

Early every morning, the man's wife wakes up, puts coffee in the coffee pot, prepares their lunches for the day, and then goes back to bed for a couple hours. Today, she passed away in her sleep briefly before her spouse awoke. Her body was still warm when he kissed her.

The man got hungry in the elevator and discovered that his lunchbox was empty. Because his wife had been recently diagnosed with a terminal illness, it was reasonable to believe that she had died rather than slept-in.

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  • $\begingroup$ Please could you add some explanation as to why you think this answer fits the question as stated? Answers without explanation (even witty ones!) often get downvoted and even deleted here. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Mar 30 '15 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ @randal'thor Was your criticism that I hadn't explained why the lunchbox was empty or that I didn't explain how she died? I don't think I need to explain how she died. $\endgroup$ – acbabis Mar 30 '15 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ My criticism was that you hadn't explained why you think this is the correct answer to the question. You still haven't: why is it "natural" that he presumed the worst? The OP says he "kisses his wife, and gets in the elevator, exactly as he always has done." (I wasn't the downvoter btw.) $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Mar 30 '15 at 23:28
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    $\begingroup$ Struggling not to downvote this. The question says that he 'knows' she's dead, not that he presumes her to be dead. $\endgroup$ – Pharap Mar 31 '15 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ @acbabis I'm still going to stand by my -1. Even if you take the coffee out of the equation, the man is presuming she is dead rather than knowing definitively. $\endgroup$ – Pharap Mar 31 '15 at 17:26
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The 18-story power cord from his wife's life support system popped out of the DC-AC power converter attached to the car battery in his back pack and he began to cry. Obviously.

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    $\begingroup$ That would be funny if it weren't so sad. $\endgroup$ – Pharap Mar 31 '15 at 5:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Pharap This answer is even less serious than the question. The pretty impossible logistics are a dead giveaway. $\endgroup$ – Cees Timmerman Apr 1 '15 at 16:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Pharap I see what you did there. $\endgroup$ – nyuszika7h Apr 5 '15 at 18:32
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Maybe

The wife committed pre-planned suicide due to a lengthy agonizing illness. She didn't want him there. By the time the elevator got to the 12th floor he knew she was dead.

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Their building was old, with an elevator entry protected by a rather flimsy metal grille that's not hard to push aside even when the elevator isn't there.

The wife suffered from chronic depression and would occasionally threaten to kill herself by jumping into the elevator shaft.

That morning, she did it.


Another variation of the same idea: their apartment was on the top floor, near the electrical hub for the building, which (again because the building was old and poorly maintained) was easily accessible.

The wife had depression and would threaten to kill herself by electrocuting herself through direct contact with the high voltage (5000V) transformer. That morning, she did it. This caused power in the building to go out; the elevator stopped, and the husband understood the reason why it was happening (because of the wife's constant suicide threats) and started to cry.

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2
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When he left he had set up the bomb, and when he reached the 12th floor he heard, or felt the shockwave of the explosion.

The wife's name was Old Yeller in this interpretation.

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    $\begingroup$ He did everything the same--no bomb. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Mar 31 '15 at 0:22
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    $\begingroup$ I'd +1 for the bomb, but the man setting the bomb up himself is a bit convoluted. $\endgroup$ – Pharap Mar 31 '15 at 1:20
  • $\begingroup$ @LorenPechtel All the things that he did (getting up etc), he did in the same way as usual (e.g. got out the same side of the bed, showered for the same number of minutes), but we don't know that he didn't do an extra thing. $\endgroup$ – A E Mar 31 '15 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps he set up the bomb the night before, so that morning he did everything as usual. The bomb would be triggered by the elevator reaching the 12th floor. $\endgroup$ – Kevin Fegan Apr 2 '15 at 1:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Kevin: OK, so he sets up Schrödinger's bomb every morning of 1980, exactly the same way every day (barring hidden variable theories), with a 1/366 chance of going off, and today's the (first) day it did. I grant you, I can't pierce the mind of someone that peculiar to determine whether or not he'd cry... $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Apr 3 '15 at 0:29
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It is not specified that it is modern day, or present Earth.

It is also not specified if his realization came on his way home or on his way to work.

In the older days, elevators had an elevator operator. His wife was normally the operator, for the time that he got home from work and rode the elevator up. She was not there that day to give him the ride up, even though she was very loyal to her job. It took him until the 12th floor to reason out every other possibility of why she wouldn't be there.

Alternately, at the 12th floor there's a restaurant, and she met him there for dinner every evening, when he got home... she was not there to greet him when the doors opened on the 12th floor.

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  • $\begingroup$ (I mention present day / modern earth, both to qualify the elevator operator, and to qualify it being a woman, as that was very uncommon) $\endgroup$ – Rayanth Aug 1 '16 at 7:51
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Perhaps they had a pact: every day after he kissed her goodbye and got in the elevator, she would run down the stairs to the 12th floor (getting there ahead of the elevator) and press the button to summon it. Then it would stop at the 12th floor, the doors would open, she would give him a kiss and run back upstairs again while he continued on his journey to work. She had told him that she was suicidally depressed and if she ever failed to do this ritual, it would mean that she had taken her own life. So when the elevator got to the 12th floor and failed to stop, he knew she had died.

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0
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The elevator had glass walls. Upon reaching the 12th floor, he saw his wife's body fall past...

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  • $\begingroup$ "there are no windows in or visible from the elevator" so it couldn't have windows. Glass walls is a nice loophole though. $\endgroup$ – f'' Jul 28 '16 at 6:42
-1
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He has an affair with a woman. He plans to kill his wife. Poisoned her food and went. But felt repentant in the elevator as it is stuck due to power failure.

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protected by Aza Mar 31 '15 at 4:11

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