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Erin McCarthy

25 Wacky Trading Cards From the '80s and '90s

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Erin McCarthy

While most people associate the concept of trading cards with sports and their most famous players—even non-baseball fans are dimly aware of the value of a “mint” card of a legendary slugger—the cardboard treatment isn’t just reserved for major league endeavors. It turns out that you can make anything into a fun trading card, from musicians to toys to actual wars, and the popular wax packs of the '80s and '90s delivered on that in a big way.

The wax pack format gave the buyer more than just cards—most sets included the standard trading cards, a collectable sticker (sometimes a standalone and sometimes part of a larger picture), and a piece of bubble gum. And, yes, if you find an unopened wax pack and crack that baby open, most sticks of gum have retained their shape—though you probably wouldn’t want to pop them into your mouth. While not all of our picks here are true wax packs, they’re all just a bit too weird to believe ever existed (and still do!).

1. The Blair Witch Project

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While the 1999 horror film was one of the first big screen features to utilize the web for viral marketing (remember when people thought it was actually a true story?), The Blair Witch Project took a surprisingly traditional marketing route when it came to its 72-piece trading card set. Issued by Topps, the foil-wrapped cards were unexpectedly arty, creepy, and haunting – but they also relied on the lure of “randomly inserted” special foil cards to keep buyers snatching them up left and right. Nevermind the nightmares.

2. Yo! MTV Raps

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Though it’s hard to imagine earning street cred from a pack of cards, the 1991 Yo! MTV Raps sort of gave that to its buyers—after all, name another set of cards that could provide you with details about Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer, KRS-One, and even Young Black Teenagers. Each card included fun facts about popular acts, perfect for impressing your music snob friends. Quick! What’s Big Boi’s real name?

3. Saved By the Bell

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Of course Saved By the Bell got its own trading card set (even Saved By the Bell: The College Years got one!), because what could be more hip than a fully numbered set of snazzy promo pics of your favorite television show stars? Though the Saved By the Bell cards didn’t come with gum or a lock of Zack’s hair, they were highly collectible and fun to trade. Here, take my Slater.

4. 21 Jump Street

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A number of wax packs featured hand-drawn original art on their wrappers, and while that’s certainly a creative way to go, the results were sometimes questionable. Take Topps’ 1987 set of cards for television’s smash hit 21 Jump Street—who is that on the wrapper? Is it star Johnny Depp, or is it a weird amalgamation of Depp and Richard Greico? We will never know, but at least there’s some gum inside for you to chew while you mull it over.

5. ALF

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It’s weird enough to remember ALF as just a popular television show—a popular television show about a foul-mouthed alien who unhinges his adopted human family thanks to both his hijinks and his constant attempts to eat neighborhood cats—but it’s even stranger to remember that Topps gave the show a two-series trading card run back in the '80s. Like any good wax pack, the Topps card included stickers to form full puzzles. Each pack also included one “bouillabaseball player” card, featuring one of Gordon Shumway’s favorite players.

6. Saturday Night Live

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Bad news, guys, the Saturday Night Live trading cards from 1992 are not funny. Sure, they may be funny in retrospect—or, at least, the skits and characters they try to portray may be funny in retrospect—but they are really just a big, vintage slice of the lackluster. Tucked right in next to your cool Wayne’s World cards, you’re likely to find a random black and white still of Jane Curtin doing … some role … you can’t quite remember.

7. Desert Storm

Desert Storm Cards

Wait, trading cards for a war? It sure seems a bit, well, strange, but back in the 1960s, there was even a trading card set for “The Men of the Green Berets.” There have also been card runs for World War II and Vietnam. That doesn’t sound very stealth, does it? Here’s hoping no potential combatants ever pick up their own set of the Desert Storm cards, because they’ll soon learn what a Tomahawk missile looks like in flight or what a “carpet bombing” is.

8. The X-Files

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The truth is out there and it’s also totally on one of the many trading card packs issued for the enduring Fox television classic. The “super premium” sets included character cards and creepy scenes from the actual show, a nice double dose of the fun and the informative (just like the show itself!).

9. New Kids on the Block

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It doesn’t matter who your favorite Kid on said Block was, if you were an NKOTB fan, you had a pack or two of Topps very classy trading card sets. The wax packs featured glossy concert pics, nifty stills (just imagine the fashion), and a sticker to boot. The backs of the cards also included everything you’d want to know about the Kids – like favorite color and full name. What is Donnie Wahlberg’s middle initial? Turn to the cards, kid.

10. Barbie

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Not every trading card set can be both very cool and very informative, but Mattel’s run of Barbie cards back in 1990 managed to straddle that line with nothing but style. Reminiscent of sports trading cards, each of the 300 available in the set featured a special Barbie doll on the front (including plenty of vintage options) and a bevy of fun facts on the back to feed the obsession of even the most hardcore Barbie fan. The doll maker has done a few other rounds of cards, but the 1991 run is unquestionably the most classic (and classy!).

11. Gremlins 2

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While the first film is clearly the far superior pick when it comes to movie-watching, the trading cards for the Gremlins sequel are surprisingly far better than the originals. After all, they are the only set to feature multiple cards centering on a scene that sees film critic Leonard Maltin getting overcome by angry mogwai. A must-have for any movie fan.

12. Tron

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Even a high-tech film like Tron can translate to the trading card medium—especially when some of the wax packs came with snazzy lightcycle stickers to paste all over your stuff. Even better? The cards include tips for winning the Tron video game, so maybe now is the time to pull out your old amusements and get cracking. You can finally win!

13. Garbage Pail Kids

I Miss the Old School

It’s impossible to talk about the trading card craze of the '80s and '90s without mentioning the multiple runs of Garbage Pail Kids cards, a Cabbage Patch Kids send-up that got its start as a trading card set. These things were everywhere, and whole boxes of them are still available online, at thrift shops, and around flea markets. If you’re a child of the '80s or '90s whose favorite form of humor is “gross-out,” the odds are high that the kids o’ the pails helped get you there.

14. Back to the Future II

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Is there a more classic wax pack than a Back to Future II wax pack? It has it all—the cards, the sticker, the bubble gum, all wrapped up in a handy package that assures you that you’re buying a “hit movie!” branded item. The series featured scenes from the movie, snappy lines, and even nifty numbering to keep them straight. (Don’t underestimate the power of numbered cards in a film about the complications of time travel.)

15. Jurassic Park

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Any proven fan of the best cinema of the nineties still remembers Jurassic Park with tremendous fondness, and Topps’ multiple card sets reflect that perfectly. No, really, there’s some actual reflection here—at least when it comes to the random “action hologram” cards that popped in some sets. While not everyone got them, the wax packs still came with plenty of movie scenes, character cards, and behind-the-scenes peeks to feed a dino-sized hunger.

16. Cyndi Lauper

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We may never know exactly why Cyndi Lauper got her own 33-card set of trading pieces back in 1985, but they sure as shooting exist for public consumption, and they’ve got the colors to prove it. These things are bright, though you wouldn’t know it from their understated pink, black, and white packages. Inside was a nice surprise for fans—beyond just gum and cards, there were three stickers. Fun indeed!

17. Indiana Jones

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There are a shocking number of Indiana Jones trading card sets out there, but the first run from Topps is still the best. It’s a classic wax pack—hand-drawn package, gum, stickers, cards—and that’s nothing to sniff at (or whip at, really). Packed with movie scenes and character cards, what more could you ask for? Fine, you could always round out your collection with some Raiders and Temple of Doom cards, if that sort of thing fills up your cup.

18. Howard the Duck

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Howard the Duck may now be remembered as one of the worst comic book movies ever made, but its wax pack proudly proclaims that the cards inside are from a “new hit movie!” Sure, you weirdo little duck, that’s just fine. Enjoy the lie. (You can also enjoy the standard movie cards, sticker, and gum, though we don’t recommend trying to blow bubbles with a beak.)

19. Creature Feature

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The Creature Feature collection may be best known for its 1973 run, but the movie monsters got a fresh spin in a 1980 set, too. The classic baddies—think Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy, and the Phantom of the Opera—got the big pack treatment with the Topps cards. Each package included one sticker, one piece of bubble gum, and 12 photo cards. It’s okay to scream about this one—even if it’s partially out of terror.

20. E.T.

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Sadly, these guys did not come packaged with Reese’s Pieces—the wax packs got the standard bubble gum treatment. Crammed with ten cards and one sticker, the E.T. packs held lots of good stuff (a card depicting “Michael’s Farewell” might still make you cry) and plenty of filler (such as the card showing a confused E.T. standing around open-mouthed, punched up by the caption “Stranded!”). Brilliant stuff, really, but a must-own for any Spielberg fan. Reach out and touch them.

21. Return to Oz

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Hopefully the terror of this bizarre Wizard of Oz follow-up has finally worn off, and now you can actually enjoy having a pack or two of these cards in your presence. Wait, no, no, still too soon. Pumpkinheaded nightmares ahoy, visions of “wheelers” dancing in our heads, and a strong desire to get back to Kansas—all our warning signs that you might be checking out one of these wax packs right now. Run.

22. Beetlejuice

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The beloved Beetlejuice spawned its own wacky animated series that, in turn, spawned an adorably strange set of trading cards. While the packs didn’t provide many actual trading cards—five per pack—they did come with one very impressive glow-in-the-dark sticker. It’s the perfect thing to affix to your copy of the “Handbook for the Recently Deceased”!

23. Nintendo Game Pack

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What a racket! The five-card packs—three scratch-off game pieces and two stickers—were aimed at both people who had Nintendos (they included gameplay tips) and people who didn’t (why would you be in need of a scratcher to play Mario if you had a system at home?). Sure, it sounds brilliant in theory (at least for the team at Nintendo), but what were buyers to do with the scratched off cards once they were, well, scratched off? Those things only had one life.

24. Dune

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The 1984 Dune big screen adaptation may have been a bit of a bust, but the associated Fleer cards are still very cool pieces of movie memorabilia. No matter how modern the film itself tried to be, these wax packs are nothing short of a perfectly classic example of the standard set—ten cards, one sticker, one piece of gum. Revolutionary.

25. Pac-Man

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Though the 1980 run of Pac-Man trading cards is guilty of some of the worst wax pack crimes—rub-off games, too few cards, a reliance on knowing the source material—it is ultimately saved by one key element. Cute stickers. Really cute stickers. Little munching Pac-Men, scary ghosts, funny lines—and you get two per pack. Worth it.

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25 Things You Should Know About Tucson
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The west is still wild in Tucson. Surrounded by breathtaking mountains, Arizona’s second-largest city attracts artists, astronomers, outdoorsy types and at least one rare cat. Read on for more Tucson trivia.

1) Some of the earliest evidence of corn cultivation in North America comes from Pima County, Arizona, where Tucson is located. Archaeologists have recovered kernels estimated to be 4000 years old within 60 miles of the city.

2) Towering above the downtown area is an iconic mountain called Sentinel Peak. Look at it from a distance and you may notice that the base is darker than the summit. The native Tohono O’odham people called this landmark Ts-iuk-shan—which is a corruption of their word for “black base.” Spaniards later turned Ts-iuk-shan into Tucson.

3) On March 20, 1880, a passenger train rolled into Tucson for the first time. Mayor R.N. Leatherwood sent out telegrams to dignitaries to publicize the occasion, writing to Pope Leo XIII that the railroad now linked "this ancient and honorable pueblo" with the rest of the Christian world. Newspapers began calling Tucson “the A. and H. Pueblo,” which gradually shrunk to its current nickname, “the Old Pueblo.”

4) If you’re a stargazer, Tucson is one of the best spots in the U.S. for astronomy. In 1972, Pima County enacted a “dark sky” code to regulate the brightness and number of outdoor bulbs in an effort to help local observatories like one at Kitt Peak. Now Tucson suffers from far less light pollution than most cities do, allowing stars and planets to shine through the darkness.

5) Above Broadway Boulevard, you can walk through the belly of a giant metal snake. A covered bridge for pedestrians and cyclists, this serpentine structure is designed to look like a diamondback rattlesnake, whose gaping jaw and fangs form the entrance.

6) By day, it looks like a big plastic doughnut. But after sundown, the solar-powered Desert O sculpture lights up in an array of vibrant colors. The ring, owned by the city of Tucson, is 6 feet in diameter and uses LED lights to create a brilliant display with a different color combo for every night of the week.

7) In 1970, then-mayor Jim Corbett called Tucson's East Speedway Boulevard the "ugliest street in America." At the time, it was enveloped by garish billboards that obscured the city's beautiful vistas. Then Life magazine ran a two-page photo of the forest of road signs and advertisements. The embarrassing spotlight led to Tucson's sign code, passed in the 1980s, which gradually limited billboards and tacky signage.

8) According to Guinness World Records, Davis-Monthan Airforce Base in Tucson has the largest aircraft repair shop and storage facility on Earth. Covering 2600 acres, it could house 4200 aircraft and 40 aerospace vehicles at one time, while still leaving room for 350,000 production tools.

9) In 2013, a new species of scorpion was discovered in the Santa Catalina Mountains, which are visible from downtown Tucson. Biologist Rob Bryson Jr. discovered the species in the Santa Catalinas' "sky islands"—isolated mountaintop habitats known for their biodiversity.

10) Cyclists should consider dropping by on the last Saturday before Thanksgiving for El Tour de Tucson, Arizona's largest and longest-running cycling event. The series of races attracts more than 9000 bike enthusiasts per year and usually raises about $2 million for local charities.

11) Hugo O’Conor, an Irish colonel in the Spanish army, is regarded by some as the founder of Tucson. Although a Spanish mission had been operating in present-day Tucson since 1692, and Native American communities before that, O’Conor arranged to have a military base for Spain's army set up on the site in 1775, resulting in a population boom for the city. O'Conor's red hair and courage in battle gave him the nickname “The Red Captain.”

12) The United States Handball Association Hall of Fame is located on North Tucson Boulevard.

13) Five years after peace was declared in the Mexican-American War, the U.S. bought the lower third of Arizona, which included Tucson, from Mexico. The $10 million transaction, known as the Gadsden Purchase, was finalized in 1854 and added a 30,000-square-mile territory to the United States. The expansion allowed Gadsden, a railroad promoter, to build a transcontinental railroad through the new territory.

14) One of the largest rock shows in the country, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show attracts around 50,000 people annually. In addition to hosting gemstone scholars and dealers, the annual convention has exhibited the most dazzling rocks in existence—like the Hope diamond, lunar rocks collected by NASA astronauts, and the eye-popping Logan sapphire.

15) The Arizona State University Sun Devils and the University of Arizona Wildcats have a longstanding rivalry that dates back to their first meeting in 1889. Each year, the teams compete for the Territorial Cup, the oldest rivalry trophy in college football. The Wildcats play regular home games in their 56,000-seat stadium in midtown Tucson.

16) Speaking of the University of Arizona, it was founded in 1891—21 years before Arizona achieved statehood.

17) Tucson's world-class culinary scene was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2015 as a “Capital of Gastronomy.” Only 18 cities around the world have been given this title, and no other American city has cracked the list yet. Jonathan Mabry, a historic preservation officer in Tucson, filed the application for the city. “There are more heritage foods grown within 100 miles of Tucson than any other city in North America,” he told Smithsonian.com.

18) The Fourth Avenue Underpass doubles as a one-of-a-kind photo gallery. Roughly 7000 tiles bearing black and white portraits of 21st-century Tucsonans line the walls.

19) Four national flags have flown over the Old Pueblo. Spain ruled Tucson and the rest of Mexico until 1821. Then Mexico itself took over, but sold Tucson and much more territory to the United States in 1854 (see #13). When the Civil War broke out, the city joined the Confederacy and flew the Confederate flag from February to June 1862. Then Union forces, bearing the American flag, took the city back

20) Tucson is the oldest incorporated city in Arizona (and has been since incorporating in 1877).

21) For a few weeks in 1933, radio listeners in Tucson could enjoy a local show hosted by a very young Ray Bradbury. At age 12, he landed a gig at KGAR reciting comic strips on the air every Saturday night. “My pay was free tickets to see King Kong, Murders in the Wax Museum, and The Mummy,” he later reminisced. “You can’t do any better than that.”

22) El Charro Café is the oldest Mexican restaurant in the U.S. continuously operated by the same family. It may also be the birthplace of the chimichanga. As the legend goes, they were invented by Monica Flin, who established El Charro in 1922. She once flipped a burrito right into the fryer, splattering oil everywhere. Since kids were within earshot, she resisted the urge to curse and yelled “chimichanga,” a slang word that means thingamajig, instead.

23) The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures is truly larger than life. A gallery of scale models, it boasts more than 300 tiny room boxes and houses. Some examples predate the Revolutionary War.

24) Downtown, a street known as Calle Carlos Arruza honors one of the greatest bullfighters in history, Mexican-born Carlos Arruza, whose nickname was El Ciclon (The Cyclone). According to historian David Leighton, Calle Carlos Arruza is one of the very few streets—possibly the only street—in the U.S. named after a bullfighter.

25) Only two non-captive jaguars, the largest cats in the New World, are known to reside within the U.S. One of them, nicknamed El Jefe, is a Tucson celebrity. Discovered in 2011, he can be found stalking the Santa Rita Mountains 25 miles south of the city. Jaguars are a near-threatened species: biologists estimate that about 15,000 are left in the wild.

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How Many of these 25 Brain Teasers Can You Solve?
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1. THE POLE-CLIMBING SLOTH

A slippery sloth climbs six feet up a utility pole during the day, then slides back down five feet during the night. If the pole is 30 feet high and the sloth starts from the ground (zero feet), how many days does it take the sloth to reach the top of the pole?

Answer: 25 days. The math here boils down to a net gain of one foot per day, along with a threshold (24 feet at the beginning of a day) that must be attained so that the sloth can get to the 30-foot mark within a given day. After 24 days and 24 nights, the sloth is 24 feet up. On that 25th day, the sloth scrambles up six feet, attaining the 30-foot top of the pole. Left to the reader is a motivation for the sloth to attempt this feat in the first place. Perhaps there is something tasty atop the pole?

(Adapted from a brain teaser by Carl Proujan.)

2. THE PIRATE RIDDLE

A group of five pirates have to divide up their bounty of 100 coins, as described in the video below. The captain gets to propose a distribution plan, and all five of the pirates vote "yarr" or "nay" on the proposal. If a majority votes "nay," the captain walks the plank. The pirates are arranged in order, and vote in that order: the captain, Bart, Charlotte, Daniel, and Eliza. If a majority vote "nay" and the captain walks the plank, the captain's hat goes to Bart, and the process repeats down the line, with a series of proposals, votes, and other acceptance or plank-walking.

How can the captain stay alive, while getting as much gold as possible? (In other words, what is the optimal amount of gold the captain should offer to each pirate, himself included, in his proposal?) Watch the video below for all the rules.

Answer: The captain should propose that he keep 98 coins, distribute one coin each to Charlotte and Eliza, and offer nothing to Bart and Daniel. Bart and Daniel will vote nay, but Charlotte and Eliza have done the math and vote yarr, knowing that the alternative would get them even less booty.

3. THE HIKER'S DILEMMA

A hiker comes across an intersection where three roads cross. He looks for the sign indicating the direction to his destination city. He finds that the pole carrying three city names and arrows pointing to them has fallen. He picks it up, considers it, and pops it back into place, pointing out the correct direction for his destination. How did he do it?

Answer: He knew which city he had just come from. He pointed that arrow back toward his origin point, which oriented the signs properly for his destination and a third city.

(Adapted from a brain teaser by Jan Weaver.)

4. THE PASSCODE RIDDLE

In the video below, the rules of this riddle are laid out. Here's a snippet: Three team members are imprisoned, and one is allowed the opportunity to escape by facing a challenge. Given perfect logical skills, how can the remaining two team members listen in on what the chosen team member does, and infer the three-digit passcode to get them out?

Answer: The passcode is 2-2-9, for hallway 13.

5. COUNTING BILLS

I had a wad of money in my pocket. I gave half away and of what remained, I spent half. Then, I lost five dollars. That left me with just five bucks. How much money did I start with?

Answer: 40 dollars.

(Adapted from a brain teaser by Charles Booth-Jones.)

6. THE AIRPLANE FUEL RIDDLE

Professor Fukanō plans to circumnavigate the world in his new airplane, as shown in the video below. But the plane's fuel tank doesn't hold enough for the trip—in fact, it holds only enough for half the trip. Fukanō has two identical support planes, piloted by his assistants Fugori and Orokana. The planes can transfer fuel in midair, and they must all take off from and land at the same airport on the equator.

How can the three cooperate and share fuel so that Fukanō gets all the way around the world and nobody crashes? (Check the video for more details.)

Answer: All three planes took off at noon, flying west, fully loaded with fuel (180 kiloliters each). At 12:45, each plane has 135 kl remaining. Orokana gives 45 kl to each of the other two planes, then heads back to the airport. At 14:15, Fugori gives another 45 kl to the professor, then heads back to the airport. At 15:00, Orokana flies east, effectively flying toward the professor around the globe. At precisely 16:30, Orokana gives him 45 kl and flips around, now flying alongside the professor. Meanwhile, Fugori takes off and heads for the pair. He meets them at 17:15 and transfers 45 kl to each plane. All three planes now have 45 kl and make it back to the airport.

7. THE HAYSTACK PROBLEM

A farmer has a field with six haystacks in one corner, a third as many in another corner, twice as many in a third corner, and five in the fourth corner. While piling the hay together in the center of the field, the farmer let one of the stacks get scattered all over the field by the wind. How many haystacks did the farmer end up with?

Answer: Just one. The farmer had piled them all up the middle, remember? 

(Adapted from a brain teaser by Jan Weaver.)

8. THE THREE ALIENS RIDDLE

In this video riddle, you have crashed landed on a planet with three alien overlords named Tee, Eff, and Arr. There are also three artifacts on the planet, each matching a single alien. To appease the aliens, you need to match up the artifacts with the aliens—but you don't know which alien is which.

You are allowed to ask three yes-or-no questions, each addressed to any one alien. You can choose to ask the same alien multiple questions, but you don't have to.

It gets more complex, though, and this wickedly tricky riddle is best explained (both its problem and its solution) by watching the video above.

9. THE FARMER'S WILL

One day, a farmer decided to do some estate planning. He sought to apportion his farmland among his three daughters. He had twin daughters, as well as a younger daughter. His land formed a 9-acre square. He wanted the eldest daughters to get equally sized pieces of land, and the younger daughter to get a smaller piece. How can he divide up the land to accomplish this goal?

Three square illustrations.
Three possible solutions.
Chris Higgins

Answer: Shown above are three possible solutions. In each, the box marked 1 is a perfect square for one twin, and the two sections marked 2 combine to make a square of the same size for the second twin. The area marked 3 is a small perfect square for the youngest child.

(Adapted from a brain teaser by Jan Weaver.)

10. COINS

In my hand I have two American coins that are currently minted. Together, they total 55 cents. One isn't a nickel. What are the coins?

Answer: A nickel and a 50-cent piece. (Lately the U.S. 50-cent piece features John F. Kennedy.)

(Adapted from a brain teaser by Jan Weaver.)

11. THE BRIDGE RIDDLE

A student, a lab assistant, a janitor, and an old man need to cross a bridge to avoid being eaten by zombies, as shown in the video below. The student can cross the bridge in one minute, the lab assistant takes two minutes, the janitor takes five minutes, and the professor takes 10 minutes. The group only has one lantern, which needs to be carried on any trip across. The zombies arrive in 17 minutes, and the bridge can only hold two people at a time. How can you get across in the time allotted, so you can cut the rope bridge and prevent the zombies from stepping on the bridge and/or eating your brains? (See the video for more details!)

Answer: The student and lab assistant go together first, and the student returns, putting three minutes total on the clock. Then, the professor and the janitor take the lantern and cross together, taking 10 minutes, putting the total clock at 13 minutes. The lab assistant grabs the lantern, crosses in two minutes, then the student and lab assistant cross together just in the nick of time—a total of 17 minutes.

12. LITTLE NANCY ETTICOAT

Here's a nursery rhyme riddle:

Little Nancy Etticoat
In her white petticoat
With a red nose—
The longer she stands
The shorter she grows

Given this rhyme, what is "she?"

Answer: A candle.

(Adapted from a brain teaser by J. Michael Shannon.)

13. THE GREEN-EYED LOGIC PUZZLE

In the green-eyed logic puzzle, there is an island of 100 perfectly logical prisoners who have green eyes—but they don't know that. They have been trapped on the island since birth, have never seen a mirror, and have never discussed their eye color.

On the island, green-eyed people are allowed to leave, but only if they go alone, at night, to a guard booth, where the guard will examine eye color and either let the person go (green eyes) or throw them in the volcano (non-green eyes). The people don't know their own eye color; they can never discuss or learn their own eye color; they can only leave at night; and they are given only a single hint when someone from the outside visits the island. That's a tough life!

One day, a visitor comes to the island. The visitor tells the prisoners: "At least one of you has green eyes." On the 100th morning after, all the prisoners are gone, all having asked to leave on the night before. How did they figure it out?

Watch the video for a visual explanation of the puzzle and its solution.

Answer: Each person can't be sure whether they have green eyes. They can only deduce this fact by observing the behavior of the other members of the group. If each person looks at the group and sees 99 others with green eyes, then logically speaking, they must wait 100 nights to give the others opportunities to stay or leave (and for each to make that calculation independently). By the 100th night, using inductive reasoning, the entire group has offered every person in the group an opportunity to leave, and can figure that it's safe to go.

14. THE NUMBER ROW

The numbers one through 10, below, are listed in an order. What is the rule that causes them to be in this order?

8 5 4 9 1 7 6 10 3 2

Answer: The numbers are ordered alphabetically, based on their English spelling: eight, five, four, nine, one, seven, six, ten, three, two.

(Adapted from a brain teaser by Carl Proujan.)

15. THE COUNTERFEIT COIN PUZZLE

In the video below, you must find a single counterfeit coin among a dozen candidates. You're allowed the use of a marker (to make notes on the coins, which doesn't change their weight), and just three uses of a balance scale. How can you find the one counterfeit—which is slightly lighter or heavier than the legitimate coins—among the set?

Answer: First, divide the coins into three equal piles of four. Put one pile on each side of the balance scale. If the sides balance (let's call this Case 1), all eight of those coins are real and the fake must be in the other pile of four. Mark the legitimate coins with a zero (circle) using your marker, take three of them, and weigh against three of the remaining unmarked coins. If they balance, the remaining unmarked coin is counterfeit. If they don't, make a different mark (the video above suggests a plus sign for heavier, minus for lighter) on the three new coins on the scale. Test two of these coins on the scale (one on each side)—if they have plus marks, the heavier of those tested will be the fake. If they have minus marks, the lighter is the fake. (If they balance, the coin not tested is the fake.) For Case 2, check out the video.

16. THE ESCALATOR RUNNER

Each step of an escalator is 8 inches taller than the previous step. The total vertical height of the escalator is 20 feet. The escalator moves upward one half step per second. If I step on the lowest step at the moment it is level with the lower floor, and run up at a rate of one step per second, how many steps do I take to reach the upper floor? (Note: Do not include the steps taken to step on and off the escalator.)

Answer: 20 steps. To understand the math, take a period of two seconds. Within that two seconds, I run up two steps on my own power, and the escalator lifts me the height of an extra step, for a total of three steps—this could also be expressed as 3 times 8 inches, or two feet. Therefore, over 20 seconds I reach the upper floor having taken 20 steps.

(Adapted from a brain teaser by Carl Proujan.)

17. A RIVER CROSSING PUZZLE

In the video riddle below, three lions and three wildebeest are stranded on the east bank of a river and need to reach the west. A raft is available, which can carry a maximum of two animals at a time and needs at least one animal onboard to row it across. If the lions ever outnumber the wildebeest on either side of the river (including the animals in the boat if it's on that side), the lions will eat the wildebeest.

Given these rules, how can all the animals make the crossing and survive?

Answer: There are two optimal solutions. Let's take one solution first. In the first crossing, one of each animal goes from east to west. In the second crossing, one wildebeest returns from west to east. Then on the third crossing, two lions cross from east to west. One lion returns (west to east). On crossing five, two wildebeest cross from east to west. On crossing six, one lion and one wildebeest return from west to east. On crossing seven, two wildebeest go from east to west. Now all three wildebeest are on the west bank, and the sole lion on the west bank rafts back to the east. From there (crossings eight through eleven), lions simply ferry back and forth, until all the animals make it.

For the other solution, consult the video.

18. THE THREE WATCHES

I am marooned on an island with three watches, all of which were set to the correct time before I got stuck here. One watch is broken and doesn't run at all. One runs slow, losing one minute every day. The final watch runs fast, gaining one minute every day.

After being marooned for a moment, I begin to worry about timekeeping. Which watch is most likely to show the correct time if I glance at the watches at any particular moment? Which would be least likely to show the correct time?

Answer: We know that the stopped watch must tell the correct time twice a day—every 12 hours. The watch that loses one minute per day will not show the correct time until 720 days into its cycle of time loss (60 minutes in an hour times 12 hours), when it will momentarily be exactly 12 hours behind schedule. Similarly, the watch that gains one minute a day is also wrong until 720 days after its journey into incorrectness, when it will be 12 hours ahead of schedule. Because of this, the watch that doesn't run at all is most likely to show the correct time. The other two are equally likely to be incorrect.

(Adapted from a brain teaser by Carl Proujan.)

19. EINSTEIN'S RIDDLE

In this riddle, erroneously attributed to Albert Einstein, you're presented with a series of facts and must deduce one fact that's not presented. In the case of the video below, a fish has been kidnapped. There are five identical-looking houses in a row (numbered one through five), and one of them contains the fish.

Watch the video for the various bits of information about the occupants of each house, the rules for deducing new information, and figure out where that fish is hiding! (Note: You really need to watch the video to understand this one, and the list of clues is helpful too.)

Answer: The fish is in House 4, where the German lives.

20. MONKEY MATH

Three castaways and a monkey are marooned together on a tropical island. They spend a day collecting a large pile of bananas, numbering between 50 and 100. The castaways agree that the next morning the three of them will divide up the bananas equally among them.

During the night, one of the castaways wakes up. He fears that the others might cheat him, so he takes his one-third share and hides it. Since there is one banana more than a quantity which could be divided equally into thirds, he gives the extra banana to the monkey and goes back to sleep.

Later in the night, a second castaway awakes and repeats the same behavior, plagued by the same fear. Again, he takes one-third of the bananas in the pile and again the quantity is one greater than would allow an even split into thirds, so he hands the extra banana to the monkey and hides his share.

Still later, the final castaway gets up and repeats the exact same procedure, unaware that the other two have already done it. Yet again, he takes a third of the bananas and ends up with one extra, which he gives to the monkey. The monkey is most pleased.

When the castaways meet in the morning to divide the banana loot, they all see that the pile has shrunk considerably, but say nothing—they're each afraid of admitting their nighttime banana thievery. They divide the remaining bananas three ways, and end up with one extra for the monkey.

Given all this, how many bananas were there in the original pile? (Note: There are no fractional bananas in this problem. We are always dealing with whole bananas.)

Answer: 79. Note that if the pile were bigger, the next possible number that would meet the criteria above would be 160—but that's outside the scope listed in the second sentence ("between 50 and 100") of the puzzle.

(Adapted from a brain teaser by Carl Proujan.)

21. THE VIRUS RIDDLE

In the video below, a virus has gotten loose in a lab. The lab is a single story building, built as a 4x4 grid of rooms, for a total of 16 rooms—15 of which are contaminated. (The entrance room is still safe.) There's an entrance at the northwest corner and an exit at the southeast corner. Only the entrance and exit rooms are connected to the outside. Each room is connected to its adjacent rooms by airlocks. Once you enter a contaminated room, you must pull a self-destruct switch, which destroys the room and the virus within it—as soon as you leave for the next room. You cannot re-enter a room after its switch has been activated.

If you enter via the entrance room and exit via the exit room, how can you be sure to decontaminate the entire lab? What route can you take? See the video for a great visual explanation of the problem and the solution.

Answer: The key lies in the entrance room, which is not contaminated and which you may therefore re-enter after exiting it. If you enter that room, move one room to the east (or the south) and decontaminate it, then re-enter the entrance room and destroy it on your way to the next room. From there, your path becomes clear—you actually have four options to complete the path, which are shown in the video above. (Sketching this one on paper is an easy way to see the routes.)

22. THE IN-LAW CONUNDRUM

According to puzzle book author Carl Proujan, this one was a favorite of author Lewis Carroll.

The prime minister is planning a dinner party, but he wants it to be small. He doesn't like crowds. He plans to invite his father's brother-in-law, his brother's father-in-law, his father-in-law's brother, and his brother-in-law's father.

If the relationships in the prime minister's family happened to be arranged in the most optimal manner, what would be the minimum possible number of guests be at the party? Note that we should assume that cousin marriages are permitted.

Answer: One. It is possible, through some complex paths in the prime minister's family, to get the guest list down to one person. Here's what must be true: The PM's mother has two brothers. Let's call them brother 1 and brother 2. The PM also has a brother who married the daughter of brother 1, a cousin. The PM also has a sister who married the son of brother 1. The host himself is married to the daughter of brother 2. Because of all this, brother 1 is the PM's father's brother-in-law, the PM's brother's father-in-law, the PM's father-in-law's brother, and the PM's brother-in-law's father. Brother 1 is the sole guest at the party.

(Adapted from a brain teaser by Carl Proujan.)

23. THE PRISONER BOXES RIDDLE

In the video, ten band members have had their musical instruments randomly placed in boxes marked with pictures of musical instruments. Those pictures may or may not match up with the contents.

Each member gets five shots at opening boxes, trying to find their own instrument. Then, they must close the boxes. They're not allowed to communicate about what they find. If the entire band fails to find their instruments, they'll all be fired. The odds of them randomly guessing their way through this is one in 1024. But the drummer has an idea that will radically increase their odds of success, to more than 35 percent. What's his idea?

Answer: The drummer told everyone to first open the box with the picture of their instrument. If their instrument is inside, they're done. If not, the band member observes what instrument is found, then opens the box with that instrument's picture on it—and so forth. Watch the video for more on why this works mathematically.

24. S-N-O-W-I-N-G

One snowy morning, Jane awoke to find that her bedroom window was misty with condensation. She drew the word "SNOWING" on it with her finger. Then she crossed out the letter N, turning it into another English word: "SOWING." She continued this way, removing one letter at a time, until there was just one letter remaining, which is itself a word. What words did Jane make, and in what order?

Answer: Snowing, sowing, owing, wing, win, in, I.

(Adapted from a brain teaser by Martin Gardner.)

25. THE MYSTERY STAMPS

While on vacation on the island of Bima, I visited the post office to send some packages home. The currency on Bima is called the pim, and the postmaster told me that he only had stamps of five different values, though these values are not printed on the stamps. Instead, the stamps have colors.

The stamps were black, red, green, violet, and yellow, in descending order of value. (Thus the black stamps had the highest denomination and yellow the lowest.)

One package required 100 pims worth of stamps, and the postmaster handed me nine stamps: five black stamps, one green stamp, and three violet stamps.

The other two packages required 50 pims worth each; for those, the postmaster handed me two different sets of nine stamps. One set comprised one black stamp and two each of the other colors. The other set was five green stamps, and one each of the other colors.

What would be the smallest number of stamps needed to mail a 50-pim package, and what colors would they be?

Answer: Two black stamps, one red stamp, one green stamp, and one yellow stamp. (It may help to write out the stamp formulas given above using the various b, r, g, v, and y. Because we know that b > r > g > v > y, and we have three described cases, we can do some algebra to arrive at values for each stamp. Black stamps are worth 18 pim, red are worth 9, green are worth 4, violet are worth 2, and yellow are worth 1.)

(Adapted from a brain teaser by Victor Bryant and Ronald Postill.)

Sources: Brain Teasers by Jan Weaver; Brain Teasers & Mind Benders by Charles Booth-Jones; Riddles and More Riddles by J. Michael Shannon; Brain Teasers Galore: Puzzles, Quizzes, and Crosswords from Science World Magazine, edited by Carl Proujan; The Arrow Book of Brain Teasers by Martin Gardner; The Sunday Times Book of Brain Teasers, edited by Victor Bryant and Ronald Postill.

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