Because that’s the way it’s done…
I’m really surprised how many 90’s kids and later haven’t seen the 1986 cult classic ‘The Labyrinth’. It’s a classic coming of age tale with blatant sexual undertones that I noticed even at 10 years old (the first time I saw it at a friend’s house). Now, when scrambling on what to write about this week I figured, why not write about one of Labyrinth’s most notorious puzzles? I’m talking of course about the two door riddle!
For those of you who fall into the category of ‘never seen it’ with the movie ‘The Labyrinth’, you’re in luck. The movie follows our protagonist, Sarah, as she encounters the two doors while attempting to rescue her baby brother from the clutches of Jareth, the incredibly gorgeous, crystal-ball-juggling Goblin King. Jareth at best it is a hopeless romantic and at worst a sore loser. He was portrayed rather iconically by the late David Bowie. As a sidenote I think it’s fair to mention while I’ve never actually had a crush on David Bowie, I definitely do in this movie. I digress. In ‘The Labyrinth’ Sarah was given 13 hours to retrieve the her brother before he became “one of us. Forever.” This sounds Sarah trekking a quest through Jareth’s perplexing brick maze where anything is possible and nothing is what it seems.
The labyrinth is changes like seasons and inhabited by a band of creatures so wonderful that only Jim Henson (and Brian Froud) could dream them up. Among the cast are The Four Guards – a pair of two-headed, coat-of-arms bodied puzzle enthusiasts who present Sarah with a stumper, which she must solve in order to move to the next section of the maze.
There are two major rules with this being that there are two doors. One leads to the castle, and the other, to certain death. You may only ask ONE question – to one guard – to help you decipher which door is the correct one. No, you cannot ask for more questions. While this task sounds like a ‘piece of cake’ (more on that later), there’s always catch, this one is: one guard always lies, and one always tells the truth.
Now in order to accurately solve this puzzle, you would have to ask one guard (it doesn’t matter which one) which door the other guard would say leads castle. Now naturally BOTH guards will indicate the same door, which will be the door that doesn’t lead out. For purposes of this explanation , we’ll call the doors: A (the safe door), and B (death’s door). Let’s discuss:
Probability one: The guard you ask is the one who lies.
- If the guard you asked is the one who lies, then he will try to throw you off the scent by telling you (falsely) that the other guard – the truthful guard – will point you towards door B. This makes door A the safe bet.
Probability two: The guard you asked is the one who tells the truth.
• If the guard you ask is the one who tells the truth, he will tell you (honestly) that the other guard – the lying guard – will point you towards door B. This makes door A still the safest bet.
In both cases, the outcome is pretty straightforward .In order to survive this task, you must walk through the opposite door you’ve been told.
Which is exactly what Sarah does in the film, but as many of my fellow Labyrinth fanatics probably remember, her success is short-lived. Upon crossing the threshold of the door she chooses, she falls through a hole in the floor, which sends her cascading into the clutches of the Helping Hands. I remember as a child, I chalked this up to her choosing wrong but as an adult I see she did in fact choose right. It’s an illusion, however, because Sarah made the unfortunate mistake of breaking Labyrinth law, not failing in logic.
The key to this plot twist lies in the script. Just before the trap door opens, Sarah says, “It’s a piece of cake.” The seemingly innocent sentence is the equivalent to dropping the F bomb in church within the Labyrinth world. I’ve counted and it is said three times throughout the film (and countless others in the novel), and each time she says it, something goes horribly wrong. Sarah even says it again when Jareth asks her how she’s enjoying his Labyrinth. “It’s a piece of cake,” she says, prompting him to speed up the clock and send in the cleaners, the final time it’s said is when Hoggle says it as the group of friends finally make it to Goblin City. It is only then after moments of eerie silence that Hoggle utters these words and boom a squad of goblin soldiers roll deep on our heroes. The moral of that story, at least in this part of the movie, is not to use the words ‘piece of cake’ in a place like the labyrinth which is ruled by a dangerously alluring King who can keep tabs on you via magical crystal balls.
Since we’ve proven the connection between the words ‘piece of cake’ and the events which follow them, this leaves the rules of our puzzle – and the validity of the solution – totally intact. You see, while Sarah ignored the guards’ advice, (not to mention making a downward detour into the oubliette) she certainly didn’t die. Now how about that little slice? Let’s just hope if you were to get this fortune cookie the alternative wouldn’t be as deadly.
Love you. Mean it.