In 1996, MIT philosopher George Boolos published this puzzle by Raymond Smullyan in The Harvard Review of Philosophy, calling it “the hardest logical puzzle ever”:
Three gods A, B, and C are called, in no particular order, True, False, and Random. True always speaks truly, False always speaks falsely, but whether Random speaks truly or falsely is a completely random matter. Your task is to determine the identities of A, B, and C by asking three yes-no questions; each question must be put to exactly one god. The gods understand English, but will answer all questions in their own language, in which the words for yes and no are da and ja, in some order. You do not know which word means which.
Boolos made three clarifying points:
- It could be that some god gets asked more than one question (and hence that some god is not asked any question at all).
- What the second question is, and to which god it is put, may depend on the answer to the first question. (And of course similarly for the third question.)
- Whether Random speaks truly or not should be thought of as depending on the flip of a coin hidden in his brain: if the coin comes down heads, he speaks truly; if tails, falsely.
What’s the solution?