Gordon Rutter is a writer, photographer and organiser of the Edinburgh Fortean Society. He is also a jolly nice man and was one of the speakers and co-organizers of the Hauntings event. A few weeks ago he told me about a great puzzle, and here is my version……

Imagine waiting in line at the Post Office. There is one person in front of you and another behind. The door suddenly bursts opens and in walks the nasty man that hung you upside down in the previous Friday puzzle. This time he has a bag containing four hats (two red and two blue), and is accompanied by his very good friend, the hungry lion.

You look at the lion, wink, and start to sing ‘happy birthday’. The lion snarls and the nasty man yanks his chain.

Next, the nasty man makes everyone in the line shut their eyes, takes three hats from the bag and placed one on each person’s head. Then he tells you all to look straight ahead and open your eyes, thus ensuring that each of you can only see the colour of any hats directly in front of you.

The nasty man then issues his ultimatum. “First, you are not allowed to say anything to one another. Now, if any of you can correctly state the colour of the hat you are wearing, all three of you will live. However, if you get it wrong then the hungry lion will eat all three of you”.

Not surprisingly, you are shocked. After all, you only came in for a packet of stamps and a Kit-Kat. Anyway, after about a minute of pin-dropping silence you suddenly name the colour of your hat, and the lion punches the air in frustration.

There are no mirrors, reflective surfaces, or squirrels in the Post Office, so how did you rob the lion of his meal this time?

The answer to this puzzle, and 100 others,  can be found in a new kindle ebook called PUZZLED, and is available in the UK here and USA here.


  1. Actually, I’m going to take that back. The version of the puzzle I know involves different numbers of the specified colors. This one’s tougher. The solution I was envisioning wouldn’t take an entire minute, unless the party of interest was tongue-tied due to fright.

  2. Yep, an oldie but a goody. This particularly satisfying puzzle to solve (unlike last week’s – man, glad I didn’t spend much time on that).

  3. Fun puzzle 🙂 It takes a minute or so to think through all the (semi-covert) data you’re given, but the solution is satisfying indeed.

  4. This is a nice one, I didn’t know the solution beforehand but took me only a few seconds to figure it out …

    @jenifer, I’m not sure how this one can be tougher … i googled the theory and there are basically two types of this problem: 1.) where you know the number and colors of hats and you can always find a strategy to win 2.) where you don’t know the number of hats/colors and the best you can do is to optimize your strategy to win in 6 out of 8 possible scenarios (with 3 people).

  5. Got a solution very quickly. But my first solution relied on exploitation of loopholes in the scenario, not logic.

    The solution that I think is intended took a little longer, largely because at first I misparsed the phrase “any hats directly in front of you”.

    It involves assuming that everyone in the room is intelligent , right?

  6. I know we’re not supposed to post solutions, but I want my revenge on that dang lion.

    Ok, so you’re in the middle of the line. The man makes his demands. You can’t talk unless you say what colour hat you have on. So you slide one hand under your underarm and start making underarm fart noises to the tune of Auld Lang Sine.

    The lion immediately puts on his party hat and puts its forelegs around the mans shoulders singing and dancing with him. While they’re distracted, you grab an ear candle off the shelves of crap they try to sell at the post office, light it, then use it to light the lions testes on fire. The lions first reaction is to put out the flame so uses its mouth do cut off the oxygen to the flames as well as provide moisture, but in the process bites his own testes.

    In a fit of pain and rage, the lion loses its usual calm and clean composure, it sees red, and seeing as he’s already linked up with the man who made the demands, unable to control its carnal rage he start ripping the man to shreds. While all this is happening the three people in the line (yourself included) have plenty of time to make your purchases and get out of the store safely and cleanly.

  7. Yes, I missed the line about only being able to see the hats that are in front of you. I was picturing the three people all looking at each other. That clears things up nicely.

    1. I made the opposite mistake at first – I thought that each person could only see the hat of the person immediately in front of them, implying that the person in the middle (that’s you) has a very large head.

      In that case, the solution would be covert communication, taking advantage of the loophole that communication is only forbidden if you are caught. For example, the person behind you might trace the letter “B” on your leg with their little finger, to let you know that you are wearing a blue hat. I knew this couldn’t be the “right” answer, though.

      The real answer was easy enough once I read the question more carefully.

    2. Hm, my solution will work even if I have a big head and block the view…even without covert communication…I quess we’ll see on Monday.

  8. Took me a while longer than it should, I blame the overindulgence of hot-cross buns.

    ‘twould be a bugger if I were colour-blind or speech-impaired. Oh wait … at least I’m not speech-impaired.

  9. I think you may have to include a line about everyone being perfect logicians and as soon as they have figured out their color will say something, otherwise you can’t know for sure what your color is.

  10. Question – and this may have me totally on the wrong track, but did I see the number and colour of the hats before he put them on our heads (like prior to closing my eyes) or was that narrative omniscience at work?

  11. I hadn’t heard this one before, took me under thirty seconds to work out.

    Miffed that he had missed out on his birthday present the lion eats the other two in the queue.

  12. Hey I finally got one, but I agree with some other posters that it does rely on another’s intelligence, excellent riddle though.

  13. Once i understood the “directly in front of you” part, it took me about half a second.

    It would be nice if it clarified “The guy behind you can see your hat and the hat of the guy in front of you. You can only see the guy in front of you, and the guy in front of you can see nobody.”

    Yeah, this is an old post but… =/

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