The hardest part of this riddle is figuring out what the treasurer planned to do to survive and trick the pharmacist into losing the contest. Once you figure out the treasurer's scheme, it's easier to figure out the pharmacist's plot to thwart him. Remember: In the end, the treasurer dies and the pharmacist lives—and the king doesn't get what he wants.

See the original question here.


The treasurer, realizing he could never make a more potent poison than the pharmacist, figures out a way to set himself up for success. He drinks a weak poison just before appearing in front of the king, and he brings plain water as his own "poison." This way, when he drinks the pharmacist's poison, it will neutralize the poison he drank earlier, and when he follows that up by drinking his own, he'll only be drinking water. As for the pharmacist, he will drink water, and then his own poison, leading to his death.

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But the clever pharmacist correctly surmises the treasurer's trick. To counter this plot, the pharmacist also brings water as his poison. Both the treasurer and pharmacist then drink water twice. However, the weak poison the treasurer drank earlier ends up doing him in, and he falls dead to the floor.

Neither actually brews a poison, and so the king does not get what he wants—a strong poison to guard against any attempts to assassinate him with a weaker poison.

The moral of the story is always carry a vial of strong poison on your person. And come back next week for another riddle!

*See all of our riddles here.

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Jay Bennett
Associate Editor

Jay Bennett is the associate editor of He has also written for Smithsonian, Popular Science and Outside Magazine.