Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Escaping a Room

Over the Thanksgiving holiday we all hung out with my uncle and his family. After throwing around a few riddles, including the two cat-centric mathematical ones recently seen on this blog, my 17-year-old cousin tossed this one out:

A man escapes from a room. It has four walls, a roof, and a mirror, but no windows or doors. How did he escape?

Now, he outright admitted the solution was kinda dumb, in the sense that you’ll groan when you hear the solution. Though that’s diplomatic; his mother said the answer is, I quote, “stupid.” Anyway, I did groan when he told me (for neither me nor my wife could figure it out).

The next day I got to wonderin’ about it. Could I come up with, say, fifty different valid answers to that riddle? Valid, of course, being a somewhat variable adjective. So, here is my list of potential answers to my cousin’s riddle. His answer, the true “answer”, follows at the end.

1. The room is a hexagon, and he walks out the space where the fifth wall isn’t.

2. The roof is sloping and he’s able to escape through those triangular spaces above the opposing walls.

3. There is soft dirt – “loam” as they say – instead of a floor so he is able to tunnel out with his hands.

4. The man is able to access a higher dimension to escape.

5. Through quantum tunneling on a macro scale, he is able to transport himself outside of the room.

6. He is a ghost. Ghosts can float through walls.

7. Like the superhero Flash, he is able to accelerate his molecular structure so fast he vibrates through the walls.

8. The man somehow has a tool from a vastly futuristic society which is able to warp spacetime so he can simply walk out of the room, now twisted like a Mobius strip.

9. He breaks the mirror and cuts through the walls with a sharp shard of glass.

10. Like Peter in Acts 12:6-10, the man is rescued by angels.

11. Like Enoch in Genesis 5:22-29, he is of particularly heroic piety and is “translated” out of this world and into heaven, not having to suffer death.

12. Like Ulysses Singing Bear, the protagonist of Philip Jose Farmer’s novel The Stone God Awakens, the man becomes petrified, outlasts the room by millions of years, is somehow revived, and thus escapes his prison.

13. The man has the ability to time travel backwards, and chooses the time immediately before the construction of his doorless, windowless room. He walks away.

14. Conversely, the man has the ability to time travel forward. Like H. G. Wells’ time traveler in the movie by the same name, he watches as walls of his prison fall down, most likely the result of war, probably in the not-too-distant future.

15. The man is abducted by aliens, by the Greys, who have the uncanny ability to move through solid walls with their victims at will.

16. He is a master of the Dark Arts, and can astrally project his body outside the room.

17. He reads really, really, really good books, and thus “no physical room can imprison his mind.”

18. Or maybe he commits suicide, and finds escape that way. (Though he might wind up in a much worse place.)

19. A wizard casts a “soul migration” spell and our man now finds himself inhabiting the body of a golem a thousand miles away.

20. Scotty beams him up (and out of the room) at the command of James T. Kirk.

21. A giant boy unwraps a giant box and pulls the man out of the room (Twilight Zone!)

22. There’s a smoke detector in the room. The man sets it off, MacGuyver-like, and judo chops the firemen who burst through the door. Then he escapes.

23. The man disappears in an eerie greenish glow, a la the Philadelphia Experiment.

24. He wakes up in a cozy, warm bed. “Ah, it was all just a dream …”

25. Or, as a corollary, the man is awakened in a slimy pod by Morpheus and crew – and realizes the “room” was in the Matrix

26. There’s an explosion and the man is thrown to the ground. When the smoke clears, Arnold, Stallone, Van Damme, Segal, the Rock, Wesley Snipes, Jet Li, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jason Statham, and Sigourney Weaver materialize, and rescue the poor guy.

27. The man dies in the room, fifty-seven lonely years later. His bones are put on display in a museum two-hundred-six years after that. Four-hundred-and-twenty-two years after that, scientists are able to retrieve viable DNA from the marrow and are soon able to grow cells. A hundred-sixteen years later, the man is cloned. Eight centuries after his death, a duplicate of the man is now in a lab, “escaped” from that room. But is it the same man?

28. Our trapped man is actually a seventh-degree Tibetan shaman, and after sitting perfectly still for seven months is able to telekinetically crumble down the walls of the room. Then he floats out.

29. Similarly, the man is an accomplished Indian fakir, able to slow his heartbeat, brain waves, and general metabolism down to an unobservable crawl. After some time passes, his cruel imprisoners think he’s dead, and remove the body. Then the fakir pops back to life and pulls a crouching tiger hidden dragon on his hapless captors.

30. The man dismantles the mirror, polishes it, focuses it, and is able to use it like a laser to polarize the light from that single dangling incandescent bulb to burn a hole through the wall.

31. Or he uses his rock hammer and tunnels out a hole behind the mirror over the course of thirty years, much like Andy in The Shawshank Redemption.

32. A disembodied voice shouts “Cut!” and suddenly a half-dozen men appear and dismantle the room, a cheap Hollywood set. The man goes to his trailer to prepare for an interview later with Ryan Seacrest on E!.

33. The man is a liberal and the ACLU gets him sprung in less than 24 hours. Later, the man settles with the builders of the room for a hefty sum.

34. The man isn’t a man at all, but a composite being made up of billions and billions of nanobots. These are micron-sized robotic entities. So he seemingly “melts,” and escapes through the teeny-tiny gaps in the plaster and wood and concrete of the walls.

35. His room is not to be escaped from, but to be endured, for he is there to be purified and refined. He is in Purgatory. Heaven is only a second or a millennia away.

36. The room is actually part of a massive AI supercomputer responsible for imprisoning the man. Our hapless fellow, though, is not so helpless. Craftily, he informs the computer that “I never tell the truth, and I am lying now,” he escapes when the computer, and by extension, the room, self-destructs and collapses.

37. The man is imprisoned in a room in Japan. The room, or dojo, is constructed of tissue-like paper. The man tears a hole and slips out into the night. Whether he’s then hunted down by ninjas is the subject of another riddle.

38. The man is actually Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate. His communist Chinese captors let him escape, so he can make his way back to the US and find himself in the middle of an assassination plot of a presidential candidate.

39. Let’s think about the physical room itself, shall we? It’s not explicitly stated that the roof touches the wall, the wall touches the floor, or even that the walls touch each other. So, the man squeezes out through an opening in the room.

40. The man is actually Dave Gilmour, and once he finishes the chords of “The Trial” the wall falls to pieces all around him. Then the crowd hoots and hollers like crazy, demanding encore after encore.

41. Twenty-four hours go by. A policeman enters, says, “Okay, son, you’re detoxed now. You have a court date in three weeks. Don’t let us catch you outside again doing drugs. It’ll fry your brain.” The man then leaves the room, noticing for the first time that it was white and padded.

42. The man is illusionist and magician Chriss Angel, and he just mind-freaked us by escaping from the room without any of us figuring out just how the heck he did it.

43. Perhaps we need to look at that word “room” in a metaphorical sense. Maybe it stands for the “body,” and the lack of doors or windows symbolizes our inhibited sensations of true material reality. In that case, all I can suggest is that the man seriously meditate and live a life of extreme asceticism a la the Desert Fathers to “escape the room.”

44. Then again, perhaps the “room” stands for planet Earth, cradle of mankind. How do we escape? By pursuing, of course, a privatized, incentivized program of space exploration beyond terrestrial orbit.

45. The “man” is a mummy, a sarcophagus, the ancient dried remains of a Pharoah. Two or three thousand years later, Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter crack the seal and the “man” escapes, this time to a room in a museum in Britain.

46. Maybe the “man” is an semi-intelligent killer whale, an orca, and the room is the “tank” or “bay” he’s confined in. He escapes by befriending a young boy and later jumping over some large rocks to seek freedom in the sea. Oh, wait …

47. The room is actually made of glass. Like Bugs Bunny entrapped by that dopey giant, the man pulls out his Acme Glass Cutter, cuts out a silhouette of himself, and escapes.

48. The man decides to take a bite of the McDonalds meal he just happens to have, and Mayor Bloomberg and that dude who made the documentary SuperSize Me bust in – in the nick of time! – before all those triglycerides and saturated fats can get into his bloodstream.

49. The room I’m in happens to have a vent screwed into the bottom of the wall. I’m looking at it now. So why can’t this room have one? Then the man just has to get the grating off and shimmy his way out to freedom.

50. Ah! The whole setup – a man trying to escape from a windowless, doorless room – is a vision! The man’s having a vision of something terrible that’s going to happen to him in the future. In that case, heck, just realizing it is a big step towards not winding up imprisoned in a windowless, doorless room. Don’t go out on that date with the crazy chick. Don’t vacation in Phoenix or Mexico City, the kidnapping capitals of the world. That kinda stuff.


The man left through the open door frame. The room had no door, but all rooms have a framed-out doorway! Right! Right?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, LE, you have waaayyy too much time on your hands if you came up with all of that! lol He got you, though, didn't he? Cute. -J