Acanthus’s Conundrums is a weekly post with a puzzle and three riddles to use in your game.
As ever, each comes with a suggested solution, but be generous to your players if they come up with reasonable answers, especially when it comes to the riddles. I’ve also included some thoughts about how the riddles have appeared historically so you can adapt them to your adventure.
Do you have any puzzle or riddles of your own to share, or requests to make of Acanthus? Get in the comments or join our Discord server!
Puzzle #3: A Druid Buys a Drift of Pigs
A druid said: “I want to buy 100 pigs with 100 gold pieces. Now a boar costs eight gold pieces, a sow costs four gold pieces and two piglets can be bought for a gold piece. I know that nobody will sell me a single piglet.”
How many boars, sows, and piglets can the druid buy so that he spends all his money?
Let the players work this out through trial and error, employing common sense if they wish, as it is a complex problem “using the math.”
However, suppose the druid buys x boars, y sows, and z pairs of piglets.
Then x + y + 2z = 100 (the number of animals), and 8x + 4y + z = 100 (the cost of the animals).
From the second equation we can say that z must be divisible by 4 so write z = 4t which gives us 8x + 4y + 4t = 100 or 2x + y + t = 25, and x + y + 8t = 100
From x + y + 8t =100 we know that t is less than 12.5, so must be 12 or less as the druid can’t buy a single piglet.
If we subtract the equations ([x + y + 8t] – [2x + y + t] = 100 – 75), we see that –x + 7t = 75, so t must be at least 11.
Using 2x + y + t = 25, we now know either that if t = 11, then x = 2 and y = 10 or if t = 12, then x = 9 and y = –5, which doesn’t make sense for this problem.
So, x = 2, y = 10 and t = 11. As 4t is the number of pairs of piglets, it means the druid buys two boars, ten sows, and 44 pairs of piglets, which is 2 + 10 + 88 pigs which equals 100 pigs.
We can also see the druid spends 2 x 8 gp on boars, 10 x 4 gp on sows, and 44 x 1 gp on piglets, which is 16 gp + 40 gp + 44 gp which equals 100 gp.
As I said earlier, let the players try out some numbers if the math slows the game down too much!
“I am from a large family,
But considered closest to a handful of my brothers and sisters.
Whilst always one of many,
I am usually the one alone.
I am first in line, both of what we are and what we are called.
If I ply my trade, you can play.”
If you need some clues, suggest: a number; a letter; an instrument; a song.
Answer: the letter A.
This is another riddle designed to give the answer alive-sounding qualities. Of course, “A” is the first letter of the alphabet and of the word “alphabet”. It is one of 26 letters but most closely thought of as a vowel; a “handful usually suggest four or five other things in riddles. It also indicates “a ‘something’” and, if added to the word “ply”, i.e., doing its job, becomes “play”.
“I am always running swiftly, but can never leave my home.
My skin is easily broken, yet I carry heavy loads.
What lives within me cannot live long without;
What lives above me cannot live long below.
Whatever tries to stop me is eventually moved by me.”
If you need to offer clues, suggested answers are: the sun; time; the sea; the planet.
Answer: the sea or waves.
Here we see suggestions of tides, the erosion caused by waves, and that creature which live in the sea cannot live long outside of it and vice versa. In addition, the surface of the sea can easily be broken yet heavy ships sail on it.
“I fly so very quickly if propelled across the air.
A truly powerful weapon if employed without a care.
Yet greater joy cannot be had if I am used for play.
‘Though if I do not come to mind, there’s nothing more to say!”
A variety of tools or such may be suggested, but the main clue is the second half of the final sentence.
Answer: words or language.
Riddles about letters, words and language as a whole have been used for thousands of years, as clever word play has been used to make telling points since the earliest of times. Here, we are considering the ideas of: quickness of speech; words as cutting weapons; the joy and pleasure they bring in, for examples, plays or comedies; and that if we cannot think of the right words, we say nothing either literally – we go quiet – or metaphorically – what we say means nothing.