Hanged or Electrocuted?

Here is a standard logic puzzle:

A criminal is sentenced to death. He is allowed to make one last statement. If the statement is true, the criminal will be sent to the electric chair. It the statement is false, he will be hanged. Can you suggest a good piece of advice for this man?

I can offer many pieces of advice to this man. The simplest thing is to keep silent. Or he can communicate without making statements, like asking, “Can I have some crème brûlée, please?”

One can argue that the puzzle implies that it’s a favor to allow the prisoner to make a last statement, but without it he will die anyway. In this case the standard piece of advice to this man would be to create a paradoxical situation by saying, “I will be hanged.”

Another, less standard, idea is to state something that is very difficult to check. For example, to give the exact number of planets in our galaxy, or posit that P = NP. My son, Sergei, suggested saying that “Schrödinger’s cat is dead.”

But the most popular idea among my AMSA students is to say, “I am sorry.” I’m not 100% sure that they mean it as a statement that is impossible to check. Maybe they think that these words can do magic and save lives. Or maybe it could be the best thing for a criminal to say before dying.



  1. orange:

    Thanks for blogging. It’s really funny

  2. TruePath:

    Alright, I’m going to nitpick but I’m a logician so I can’t help myself.

    The answer you gave does nothing to prevent his death and in fact there is nothing he can do to stop his execution. Why? Because nothing prevents him from being both hanged AND electrocuted so the warden could always respond by doing both no matter what he says.

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