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In The Battle of the Labyrinth, The Sphinx challenges Annabeth to a game of Answer That Riddle. Her two "historical" riddles, the Three Legs riddle and the lesser known Two Sisters riddle, are both relatively tricky by modern standards, and everyone before Oedipus got eaten. Since everyone knows the answers to those two, she was forced to come up with other riddles. However, the "riddles" she give in the book are...subpar...

  1. What is the capital of Bulgaria? Sofia.
  2. What is the square root of 16? 4.
  3. Which US president signed the Emancipation Proclamation? Abraham Lincoln.
  4. How much force is required...

At this point, Annabeth loses her temper and refuses to answer anything else, causing the Sphinx to attack the group. Given the dramatic difference in difficulty between her old riddles and her new ones, did the Sphinx intentionally give easy riddles to goad a player into losing their temper or is she just that outdated? Has Riordan officially confirmed either way?

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    Interestingly, the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) and the Principality of Bulgaria (1878) are from rather similar times (Sofia was the capital of the first Bulgarian Empire, but was called Sredets at the time. Tarnovo was the capital when the name changed). So that's some weak circumstantial evidence that the Sphinx is just a century or so behind the times.
    – Nolimon
    Aug 20, 2019 at 16:04
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    The capital of Bulgaria would be unanswerable for nearly all the world population. The one about the president, instead...too. They are all but easy.
    – motoDrizzt
    Aug 20, 2019 at 16:47
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    Those aren't riddles, those are trivia questions.
    – Martha
    Aug 20, 2019 at 16:58
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    @Martha: Hence, the quotation marks around "riddle."
    – jinkevin
    Aug 20, 2019 at 17:22
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    Have you asked your Mummy? :P Aug 20, 2019 at 18:01

1 Answer 1

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You need to remember who the target audience of these books are and how they would answer them. Like what motoDrizzt said, as someone who did not grow up in the US I would not be able to say off the top of my head who signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Also some of the questions don't have direct answers, like the square root of 16 can also be -4. Depending on which point in time (if we assume that the Sphinx is behind the times) the capital of Bulgaria could be different.

However, looking from a different angle, the more likely reason, that has been shown throughout the books, is that as Annabeth is a daughter of Athena she does not take too kindly to people undermining her intelligence. The sphinx would know a child of Athena, and would know that by belittling her with simple questions would cause her to lose her temper as Athena often shows this behaviour in myths and at times in the books (if I remember correctly).

Combining these two reasons I think Riordan was aiming to show to the reader as well that the Sphinx was asking purposely simple questions to get a rise out of Annabeth.

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    This is not strictly relevant to the question, but the square root of 16 is only 4, not +/-4. It's true that -4 squared is 16, but "square root" is a well-defined mathematical function that always gives a positive number as its result.
    – ArrowCase
    Aug 21, 2019 at 16:01
  • @ArrowCase That's dependent on context and semantics. As a function, one result needs to be picked, but when inverting a square to solve an expression, both roots could very well be relevant. Positive 4 is certainly the principal square root of 16 though.
    – Nolimon
    Aug 21, 2019 at 21:12
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    @Nolimon OP's question uses the phrasing "the" square root of 16, not "a" square root of 16. This implies "what is √16" and the only answer to that is positive 4.
    – ArrowCase
    Aug 22, 2019 at 16:15
  • @moonCal93 The word "undermine" in "undermining her intelligence" seems misuesd, since to me "undermining" implies actually decreasing her intelligence. I suspect that you may have meant "underestimating her intelligence" or "understating her intelligence". Aug 23, 2019 at 16:00
  • @M.A. Golding: undermine verb [ T ] UK /ˌʌn.dəˈmaɪn/ US /ˌʌn.dɚˈmaɪn/ C2 to make someone less confident, less powerful, or less likely to succeed, or to make something weaker, often gradually:
    – moonCat93
    Aug 24, 2019 at 16:47

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