Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The other Sphinx’s riddle
In the fourth instalment of the Harry Potter series, the young wizard must take part in the Triwizard Tournament, a dangerous magical competition. For the final task, he has to make his way through an obstacle-filled maze. One of the obstacles is a Sphinx who won’t let Harry pass until he solves her riddle. J.K. Rowling, of course, was showing off her substantial knowledge of literary history by having a Sphinx, one of the most famous riddle-tellers in literature, be the magical creature to test Harry’s riddling skills. Here’s the wizard-worthy puzzle:
“First think of the person who lives in disguise,
Who deals in secrets and tells naught but lies.
Next, tell me what’s always the last thing to mend,
The middle of middle and end of the end?
And finally give me the sound often heard
During the search for a hard-to-find word.
Now string them together, and answer me this,
Which creature would you be unwilling to kiss?”
A spider. This one essentially has three parts. The first, the liar in disguise, is a spy. The last thing in the word “mend,” which also appears at the middle of “middle” and ends the word “end,” is the letter D. And finally, “er” is the puzzled sound referenced in the third part of the clue. Once you’ve solved the three mini-clues (or only two, as Harry does), the riddle becomes a rebus puzzle, and you have to put the three parts together to form the answer: “spy-d-er.” Harry successfully solves the first and third parts, then puts them together and realises that the unkissable creature must be a spider. The Sphinx lets him pass, and then moments later, Harry encounters a real giant spider in the same maze. So this riddle doubled as a warning.
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