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Once, there were two travelers going down a winding forest path. The travelers come to a fork in the road. Unfortunately, the woods are so densely wooded, you cannot see more than a few feet down each path.

In the split, there is a young man sitting with a puzzled look on his face. Clearly shaken by something, the travelers ask the young man what the problem is.

"Well, you see," said the young man, "I was walking to visit a friend in the village on the far side of the wood. When I came to this fork, there was a raspy-voiced apparition floating here."

"He posed a riddle to me, to try to figure out which path is the correct one. He said that one path lead to the village, while the other led to certain death. All I had to do was ask him a question. One question with a 'YES' or 'NO' answer. I could use that question to determine which is the correct path."

"I sat and I pondered and I pondered, but I couldn't come up with a good question. Finally, looking for clarification, I asked him if there were any limits to the question. He said 'NO' and disappeared. Now, I cannot find my way forward."


Well, the two travelers decided to help out the young lad. They told him that they, as experienced travelers, could examine the paths and return to tell the young man which path was good and which was bad.

And so they set out examining the paths. Within minutes, they had disappeared into the thick woods. The young man sat in the clearing, waiting for hours. Finally, one of the travelers returned, obviously short on water. With a dry, hoarse voice, the traveler told the young man that the path to the left, from which he just escaped, was the path to freedom. The young man immediately went down the path to the right, where he met the other traveler returning to tell him this was the correct path. He continued on his way until he found the town.

How did he determine the right path to get out of the woods alive?

OP EDIT:

So, I don't proofread, apparently. I completely missed a line above. I have added the italicized line. I apologize to those who have already answered if this causes any issue with your answer.

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    $\begingroup$ Why didn't the young man just ask the apparition "Is the path on the left the correct path?" $\endgroup$ – Bailey M May 11 '15 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ @BaileyM Not everybody is an experienced logician... $\endgroup$ – leoll2 May 11 '15 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ @BaileyM The young man performed the greatest of blunders, blowing his one question without realizing it. For shame, because his next question was to ask if the left path is the correct path. But, as you may note, the apparition never said he had to answer truthfully. $\endgroup$ – tfitzger May 11 '15 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ @tfitzger "The young man immediately went down the path to the right, where he met the other traveler returning to tell him this was the correct path. He continued on his way until he found the town.", Doesn't this answer your question? $\endgroup$ – Mark N May 11 '15 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ @VincentAdvocaat Yeah, I'm not the greatest linguist in the world... $\endgroup$ – tfitzger May 11 '15 at 16:19
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There seem to be a few potential reasons here:

The first traveler is short on water, suggesting that they path they took was not the correct one, as they found nowhere to restock

or:

the second traveler was met en route, suggesting that they had found something to delay their return. Their lack of hoarse-ness suggests that would be the town, complete with water with which to stock up

or (now my preferred answer, but leaving others for posterity):

perhaps the first traveler, given that their voice emulates that of the apparition, has been the victim of an unfortunate possession. I make it a rule to avoid unknown phantasms where possible. died and is now making their way back to the fork in an attempt to lure another poor soul to their doom. From this we can infer that the original apparition would most likely not have told the truth had they been asked about the safe route out of the forest.

or (the most likely):

Given the fact that traveler one is clearly exhausted and dehydrated, you would expect their speech to be halting and incomplete. So, 'the path to the left [of that](lost to a pause) from which he just escaped' tells you that it is the path to the traveler's left that you want. As he is returning (and thus facing you), it is the path to your right

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  • $\begingroup$ #3 seems most interesting to me, as it's the first answer here that includes the apparition at all. I feel like the OP wouldn't have included it in the story unless it was important to the solution. $\endgroup$ – Kevin May 11 '15 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ One of your four answers is correct, and it's description is close to why. Choose one and defend it for the check. $\endgroup$ – tfitzger May 11 '15 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ Well, now that you've edited in certain death, I'm going for option 3. Editing in more detail to the post now $\endgroup$ – LogicianWithAHat May 11 '15 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ You got it. One supplemental part, that your inference could hit at, but isn't entirely necessary, is that the original apparition was a victim of the trail in the past as well. $\endgroup$ – tfitzger May 11 '15 at 17:44
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Why would you have to escape from a path to freedom? No need to escape, you're free! So obviously an inconsistency in the traveler's story, which made the young man decide that something must be wrong down that path. That's why he took the other path. The other traveller just said something really simple, so his story was consistent.

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He chose the right path because:

We know the apparition lies. He first said that the traveler could only ask a yes/no question. But when the traveler asked if the question had limits, the apparition said no.

That means:

Either the apparition lied when he said that one path led to the village and the other to certain death, or he lied when answering the question (or both, I suppose).

If:

He lied when answering the question, then one of the paths does lead to certain death, which means that the traveler could not have "escaped" and therefore wasn't really the traveler but the apparition trying to trick him, so he chose the other path.

On the other hand:

If the apparition lied when saying that one path led to certain death, then either path would be fine to take - the traveler takes the right path in case the first scenario is in place.

Of course:

The apparition might have lied and both paths lead to certain death, which would mean the traveler's screwed either way unless he goes home.

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  • $\begingroup$ You're on the right path (no pun intended). You are assuming that the apparition will only lie or only tell the truth. You say he lied about one, the other, or both. You overlooked the idea that he lied about neither. $\endgroup$ – tfitzger May 11 '15 at 17:42
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With a dry, hoarse voice, the traveler told the young man that the path to the left, from which he just escaped, was the path to freedom.

This doesn't mean that the left path led to the village. Indeed, "freedom" is more appropriate for a desert or a large territory rather than a village.

From this, the young man deduced that he had to go right!

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The traveler was facing towards him, so the path on his left was the path to the right of the young man.

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    $\begingroup$ "With a dry, hoarse voice, the traveler told the young man that the path to the left, from which he just escaped, was the path to freedom." $\endgroup$ – ace May 11 '15 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ Oops, my bad :-( $\endgroup$ – DaveBensonPhillips May 12 '15 at 9:26

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