I'm aware of this: Strategies for creating a puzzle with a unique solution. However it is about number puzzles and so not relevant to my query.

I am also aware of this How do I write a “solid” Riddle?, but I am not concerned with creating a 'solid' riddle when there is no limit on the number of clues/lines. I already have a couple of successful longer ones. My problem comes specifically when the clues are very few.

I enjoy trying to create very short riddles that have only one 'good' answer. The problem is that, although I may spend some considerable time trying to ensure the only good answer is unique, there is no guarantee that answerers will take an equal amount of time trying to solve it accurately.

What tips can you give me to avoid attracting unconvincing answers?

I'm beginning to think that either I have to add lots of artificial restrictions such as word-length or I have to have many lines in the riddle. That rather defeats what I am trying to do.

Are there any tips for avoiding the problem?

What number of lines/clues do people find to be sufficient to avoid inaccurate answers?

All tips and ideas welcome.

  • $\begingroup$ Realistically, there's always going to be those few people who will immediately try to answer without putting much effort in. I assume if you have a puzzle with various twists, restrictions, etc. to make it harder and possibly confusing, those types of people will be forced to think about the question a lot more before they smack the answer button. $\endgroup$
    – 2xedo
    Aug 23, 2015 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ @2xedo - Hmm... I suppose you could have a series of short riddles that have to be solved in sequence within the same question. That might do it. You would have to rule that all the riddles must be solved before posting a solution. The problem is that I think we have just invented the crossword-puzzle! :-D Might be worth a try. I'll give it a go. Just have to hope that no-one finds a way around it. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2015 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ possible duplicate of How do I write a "solid" Riddle? $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi
    Aug 23, 2015 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Deusovi - I can see that that provides one avenue. The problem is that it's an avenue I don't want to take. I am already satisfied that I can write a 'solid' riddle if there is no restriction on how long it is. I'm looking for a way to retain solidity when the number of words is severely restricted. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2015 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ @randal'thor - not really. On reflection I think my real problem is that IMO there are people here who are too quick on the trigger when it comes to close-voting. If there are actual signs of poor quality guesses building up (let's say four or more for the sake of argument) then vote to close by all means. However to close-vote immediately without even attempting an answer oneself or giving others a chance to answer seems impolite. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2015 at 23:41

4 Answers 4


I'll second Kingrames' advice and give some tips on refining riddles. I'm new to the site (been here for under two months), but I've had success with the following process:

To make the best of each post, never think up, write, and post a riddle all in one sitting. Brainstorm before writing to make the most of your idea. Once written, revisit it the next day and look for alternate answers that can be avoided; one poorly chosen word can tarnish a 200-word riddle.

For example, my short, brutal riddle sat in a text document for a couple days as "LIAR-RAIL-LAIR : lies?". My first rhyming riddle spent a few days as "SATURN; sega, car company, planet, Saturday, rockets, Holst's planets" and slowly evolved into a riddle over time. I posted it one day after I had finished writing it, changing a few words that might throw people off or make any clue too broad. Adding "strong" to the last line of this was a product of this process.

If you're writing very short riddles, incorrect answers are going to happen, and some will be bad, but that's what down-votes are for. Just take your time with each riddle and consider other answers which might fit. You won't catch them all, and that's okay; the community as a whole is quite clever!

Avoid posting multiple riddles, especially similar ones, on the same day.

Making a riddle easier is better than making a riddle harder, because you usually can't gauge how hard a puzzle will be, and because making a riddle harder usually means the puzzle-maker just made it more vague and confusing for the sake of difficulty.

  • $\begingroup$ With regard to 'very short riddles' (in other words the one I set), I would have been happy for it to stay open and then see who got the most up-votes. However before that could happen several people jumped on it and voted to close. It seems a shame because I don't think there would have been an enormously long list of plausible answers. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2015 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed. I understand why they wanted to close it, but it should have been given some time to garner interest. $\endgroup$
    – Roland
    Aug 23, 2015 at 23:03
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe I'll mention this on Meta. However I don't have great faith in Meta because I don't think it represents the community as a whole so much as it represents a minority of people who regularly follow Meta! $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2015 at 23:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Roland I see you've learned from warspyking's mistakes ;-) $\endgroup$ Aug 24, 2015 at 8:37
  • $\begingroup$ But you gotta catch 'em all! $\endgroup$ Aug 24, 2015 at 16:03

If you build something into your riddle besides the solution itself, it can help to enforce a "rule" for the solution.

Let me explain:

  • Maybe you have a riddle where every line rhymes, and the solution must also rhyme with all these lines.

  • Maybe the lines of the riddle begin with successive letters of the alphabet, and the solution must continue this trend.

  • Maybe the text of the riddle is formatted in a specific shape reminiscent of the answer.

  • Maybe the solution is actually contained within the riddle as:

    • an anagram of itself
    • spelled out be the initial letters of consecutive words, or the first/last letters of each line
    • a play on words
    • an alternate interpretation of the words in the title
  • Maybe a word/letter/concept/rhyme/alliteration/etc. is repeated often within the riddle as a hint to the final solution (either the solution has the same characteristic or the characteristic provides a further hint to the solution). e.g. Most of the words start with "B", and the solution is "a bee", or the riddle uses only the first half of the alphabet, and the solution must do the same.

There are many other similar strategies that you could use; these are just a few examples to get you started.

None of these will completely preclude incorrect answers, but they should help to solidify your riddle and reduce the chance that someone will come up with a random solution that fits as well as yours.

  • $\begingroup$ I suppose the question is, do you have to explicitly point out any of the above or are you saying that the simple fact of their inclusion helps? It's possible that people just don't notice the 'rule'. (In fact sometimes they don't even notice a rule if it is spelled out!) $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2015 at 11:15
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK Ideally, you shouldn't have to point these things out, but I guess it depends on whether you want to avoid "incorrect" answers altogether, or just make a stronger case for your "correct" answer. People will definitely provide answers that don't fit your clues or patterns, but if you can point out after the fact how your intended answer fits so much better, they won't be able to argue that their answer is "just as good." $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2015 at 14:54

Though I think it's impossible to guarantee a single unique solution, I can think of a couple of things that can certainly help. I'll use your "One rhyme, / Space, time" riddle as an example...

Firstly, as GentlePurpleRain mentions, you can try to directly limit solutions by including rules within the riddle. For example:

I am one word. I am one rhyme,
I am all of space and time.

With this minor alteration, you're forcing the answer to be a single word. Also note that by simply adding the "I am" to the "one rhyme" line, you have effectively restricted things further, invalidating the incorrect answers you received, since they relied on a broader interpretation, such as "I have one rhyme" (innuendo), or "I describe one rhyme" (relative/dimension).

Second key to keeping a riddle short while limiting the possible answers is to try and include seeming contradictions. Look for various forms of wordplay/metaphor/etc based on your intended answer, and then pick clues such that they seem to point in opposite directions. This will naturally limit answers, as a solution for one clue will likely break another. For example:

Split: So small, I'm but one rhyme.
Whole: Boundless, in space and time.

Maybe not the best example of what I'm trying to get at, but here I'm trying to create a contradiction where the answer is apparently something very small, yet very big.

I'm not saying either of my examples above are fool-proof (or even necessarily an improvement on your original, which I quite liked by the way), but hopefully they illustrate my points.

One final note... Everything you do to your riddle is going to involve a compromise. Obviously my examples above have made your riddle longer, but unfortunately that's generally a side effect of making it more restricted. The key is to choose carefully when to compromise in balancing the brevity of the riddle with its clarity, because your compromises will provide diminishing returns. That is to say, going from a one line riddle to a two line riddle won't necessarily make it less appealing, but it can go a long way to making it less ambiguous. On the flip side, going from 5 stanzas to 10 stanzas probably isn't the most efficient way of reducing ambiguity, but it sure makes it more unwieldy and less appealing as a riddle.

Basically, I think the goal of creating an unambiguous four word riddle is a noble, but incredibly difficult goal. Let me know when you succeed. :)

  • $\begingroup$ Some useful ideas there. I'll certainly take them into account. $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2015 at 11:12

This itself, is actually just another very difficult puzzle.

Most of the time, we don't have a hard and fast answer to how to make a puzzle work. I usually juggle around some concepts for days or weeks before I consider posting it because oftentimes, you're either unsure of how well a puzzle will be received, or you just know it works. I've changed quite a few puzzles a LOT before posting them, so I can only tell you from my own experience that it's a very good idea to exercise some restraint and give it a good length of time to stew in your brain for a while.

It's also a good idea to get some feedback on your puzzle by talking to some puzzling friends beforehand. If you don't have many, consider using the puzzling meta board as a place to gauge player reaction, especially if it's a new kind of puzzle. Always remember that more communication is always better when you're designing something. You just don't have to include all of the design documents in the final puzzle.

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    $\begingroup$ I have to admit to being somewhat hasty. Maybe I need to reflect on a puzzle overnight before posting it. $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2015 at 11:18

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