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Lateral Thinking

Not the Paul Harvey Riddle Again!

I was recently sent the infamous "Paul Harvey Riddle" by a subscriber to the Brainpower Newsletter. This one has been bouncing around the internet for years now. The truth is, it was never written by Paul Harvey, although he may have read it on his radio program in 1997, according to some sources. (It was later circulated as part of "These things I wish for you," an essay by Lee Pitt, which Harvey read on the air - but perhaps before the riddle was attached to it.)

The bigger part of the myth is that it is a riddle which kindergartners can get right more often than seniors at Stanford University. It has been reported in numerous places that "When asked this riddle, only 17% of Stanford seniors got the correct answer, but more than 80% of Kindergartners got the correct answer." I could find no evidence for any poll or study showing this.

What is the Paul Harvey Riddle? Here it is:

Greater than God,
More evil than the devil.
The poor have it,
The rich don't need it.
If you eat it, you'll die.
What is it?

The answer?

Nothing!

Or the extended explanation:

Nothing is greater than God.
Nothing is more evil than the Devil.
The poor have nothing.
The rich need nothing.
And if you eat nothing, you'll die.

The riddle - and the story - seems to have been forwarded to many people by e-mail, and so the myth gained some notoriety over the years.

Perhaps there are some riddles which kindergartners can get right more often than university students. Education may limit how we look at things, so in theory a young child might be more open to the more "lateral" solutions in some cases. But if there are such cases, this particular riddle is probably not one of them.


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