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Fish tank

Fishy Facebook riddle needs to know its plaice

Fish tank

Fishy Facebook riddle needs to know its plaice

When using Facebook, it’s not uncommon to see puzzles and conundrums crop up, often in a link headed something like “Can you solve this brainteaser? The answer is easier than you might think!” or “Only 5% of people get this riddle right, can you?” We all love a brainteaser, and like to seize the opportunity to show how smart we are, so we often eagerly click these thinking we’re going to get an opportunity to outsmart the internet.

What we tend to get is an ambiguously worded question on a site peppered with adverts, often making us navigate through several pages (and avoid numerous popups that look a lot like ‘next page’ arrows) before eventually coming to a deeply unsatisfying answer.

Examples include the classic “how many squares can you see?”, where the reader might see a pattern like the below and be asked to count the squares:


Different viewers will give different answers here. Some might argue that some of them are rectangles, while others might not notice that the whole thing is one big square, so that should be added to the total. These things are open to interpretation and often have no real answer, so they get people talking ad infinitum.

In the last few months, even The Sun has picked up on one particular riddle that it says is “infuriating the internet”. It asks the following:

10 fish are in a tank

– 2 drown
– 4 swim away
– 3 die

How many are left?

On being asked this, your first instinct might be to perform some basic maths (10 – 2 – 4 – 3 = 1), but then you might find yourself thinking that the ones that died must include the ones that drowned. Then you might begin to question how these events have come to happen in the first place.

It’s in doing the last of these that you may come to the “correct” answer of 10. This is on the basis that any dead fish are still in the tank, and that fish can’t drown nor swim away from a tank they’ve been placed in.

Well, it certainly is an “infuriating” riddle, but it’s infuriating because it’s stupid and doesn’t make sense. You can’t pose a riddle by claiming in the question that something happened, and then in answering it say “well, actually that didn’t happen, because it can’t!” That’s cheating!

For what it’s worth, marine biologists claim fish can ‘drown’, although not in a conventional way. Also, sometimes fish jump out of their tank, so maybe they’ve jumped into another tank or a nearby river? And if we’re going to ask further questions, who’s this sadistic so-and-so sticking 10 fish in a tank and not even bothering to scoop them out when they die?

Unless you suspend reality a little, you can ruin just about any riddle. We can do it with the following well-known poser:

Q. As I was going to St. Ives, I met a man with seven wives. Each wife had seven sacks, each sack had seven cats, each cat had seven kits. Kits, cats, sacks and wives, how many were going to St. Ives?

A. Bigamy is illegal in Cornwall, so none of this actually happened.

What a rubbish riddle that is, and the ‘10 fish in a tank’ riddle is therefore rubbish as well, but does it matter? After all, it’s achieved what it set out to do by getting people talking. It managed to get The Sun reporting on it, and it managed to get me to write this article about how nonsensical it is. It’s worked!

Much as this sort of ‘clickbait’ annoys me, it is a reminder that anything that gets people chatting on social media can only help engagement and consequentially build an online presence for a business. It’s worth thinking about what sort of content is likely to not only be read by your followers, but also responded to.

Please, try to be a bit less irritating than this piece of fish foolishness, though!

John Murray

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