As I was going to St. Ives, Upon the road I met seven wives; Every wife had seven sacks, Every sack had seven cats: Cats, sacks, and wives, How many were going to St. Ives?
I have three principles that define my searches for the best riddles: 1) Riddles should be tricky but not impossible. 2) Riddles should be shared with friends. 3) A riddle should always have a solution.
Growing up, I followed these guidelines to find a treasure trove of engaging problems, including puzzles about doors that only tell truths and lies, prisoners in monochromatic hats, and of course, the aforementioned St. Ives rhyme.
Part of what I love so much about riddles is that as difficult as they are, there is always a solution. Even the most confounding question has an answer that can perfectly satisfy it.
I love to wrap my mind around the possibilities of a logic conundrum and parse through an intricate labyrinth of mental avenues. As a child, I enjoyed the process of solving a riddle, but the deepest satisfaction for me came from the end result, the acquisition of an answer unlocking the problem's secrets.
Information was my favored currency in Elementary and Middle school. I enthralled my friends with questions in exchange for the satisfaction of possessing secrets undiscovered by any other. Over peanut butter and sliced ham, I assumed the role of story teller among our lunch group, facilitating a discussion on the particularities of a murder mystery puzzle.
As I grew older and invariably more aware of my place in the world, I began to encounter new types of riddles. Unlike my playful games and puzzles that existed in their own vacuums of imagined space, these questions encroached on major world issues with deep implications on society as a whole.
Is language inherently limiting as a form of expression? How do we uphold the marginalized without sacrificing the majority? Are aliens real?
The riddles of life were not as straightforward as the puzzles in my books and websites. In fact, they were not straightforward at all, like winding mazes of philosophical quandary.
As is my nature to ask questions, it is also my nature to at least attempt to answer them, even if they have already faced the mental battering of minds far greater than my own. Diving into books, websites, and documentaries, I pulled apart cotton-candy strings of possibilities.
One of the most thought-provoking subjects that preoccupies my mind regards the existence of aliens. Initially, my mind was settled on the possibility of intelligent life. A universe so big could not possibly be lifeless.
However, my research on this subject has led me in a different direction. The contradictions between the statistical likelihood of aliens and a historical lack of contact (aka the Fermi Paradox) alludes to a possible scarcity or even absence of extraterrestrials. Furthermore, this theory has interesting implications on future environmental destruction and its role as a Great Filter impeding full intergalactic potential.
The Fermi Paradox. The Hopi tribe. Group polarization. My desire for knowledge has led me to the farthest ends of human discovery. I have written dozens of essays, debated with friends and family, made endless lists of information, and evaluated and re-evaluated my opinions, always with the understanding that there is still more to know.
Obviously, I have not definitively answered these questions. Obviously, I have much to learn. But rather than feel discouraged by the impossibilities of these problems, I am ready to seek the far reaches of human thought and even surpass those barriers. I have found a new satisfaction in life: not the achievement of a solution but simply its pursuit, the challenge of trying to find an answer to a question that may not even have one.
As for the solution to the riddle at the start:
How many were going to St. Ives?
Just one, me.