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The answer to the most famous unanswerable fantasy riddle

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"Why is a raven like a writing desk?" This question has been posed in many situations. It has been pondered by great minds. It is the most unanswerable famous riddle of all time, and it has an answer.

Well, technically this riddle has many answers. People have had a lot of time to think up something clever. It first appeared in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a famously creepy children's book which Lewis Carroll wrote in 1865. Alice falls asleep one day, follows a white rabbit down a rabbit hole, and ends up in a world of crazy logic which Carroll based on what he considered the nonsensical logic that was piling up in his chosen field of mathematics. Arguably the craziest characters are the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. Alice ends up at a tea party with them, and the Mad Hatter asks her the now-famous question, "Why is a raven like a writing desk?"


Alice asks him why, and he admits he doesn't know. He was just asking. Alice chides him with, "I think you might do something better with the time than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers." Ha ha! Take that you upstart mathematics punks! Get a job!

The unanswered riddle, which many people were exposed to in their formative years, got under people's skin. In their attempt to adequately extricate it, they've come up with answers. A satisfying, but meta, answer is, "Poe wrote on both," given by puzzle enthusiast Sam Lloyd. More in the spirit of the nonsense genre, Aldous Huxley ventured, "Because there is a 'b' in both and an 'n' in neither." Beautifully bizarre.


The unanswerable riddle has been answered, though, and has been answered for many years. Lewis Carroll himself wrote the answer, after being badgered by people nonstop since the book's original publication. He said that, in the original book, there was no answer. To end the pain of ceaseless inquisitive fan letters, though, he went ahead and thought up an adequate response that he put in preface to later editions. Carroll's answer to why a raven is like a writing desk? "Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is never put with the wrong end in front!" I'm sure your thighs are now sore from the repeated slapping they took after you read that line. Originally, it was supposed to be a little funnier than that. Carroll spelled 'never,' as 'nevar' — 'raven' spelled backwards — but a proofreader erased the inverted pun before it was published.

Carroll's answer was less popular than his question. People have persisted in coming up with their own answers to the heavily-pondered riddle. I'll take my own shot at it. "Why is a raven like a writing desk? Because neither is ever approached without caws." Eh? Eh??

Would anyone like to take a crack at it themselves? I look forward to your answers.

Image: Wiki Commons
Via Straight Dope and WiseGeek.