Archie and Bob and Charlie puzzle

I like the old puzzle about three men traveling through the desert: Archie and Bob both have independent and secret grudges against Charlie. Archie, unbeknownst to Bob, poisons Charlie’s canteen. Later that night, Bob drills a tiny hole in the same canteen, causing it to slowly leak out. The three decide to part ways (“We can cover more ground if we split up!”) and eventually Charlie dies of thirst.

Who killed him?


All 3 men are responsible. The other two had intent to kill him. doesn’t matter who did what to the canteen. And Charlie made bad life choices.


Bob is guilty of murder.
Archie is guilty of attempted murder.

If you throw someone out of an airplane to their death, and that airplane later crashes and everyone aboard dies, you’re still a murderer.


I want to say both men would be guilty of at least 2nd degree murder. But if Charlie would’ve died of thirst in the desert regardless of their actions, then would it still be murder or would it then be attempted/conspiracy to kill?

1 Like

Legally they’re both guilty of murder (in the U.S. anyway,) like the driver who waits in the getaway car while his partners flip out and kill the liquor store clerk. Those laws exist to preëmpt conundrums like this.

But who actually “pulled the trigger” on Charlie?

ETA Intent aside, how is draining poisoned water out of a canteen murder?

1 Like

Archie, though, had nothing to do with the cause of death (or, if Charlie ended up drinking at least some of the poison, that needs to be spelled out more plainly). If you lay out a chain of events leading to Charlie’s death, and remove Archie from that chain, absolutely nothing changes.

As another thought exercise: Bob shoots Charlie several times, and he’s dying, and then Archie snatches the gun from Bob’s hands, holds the gun to Charlie’s head, and pulls the trigger, but the gun is empty. Charlie dies from the gunshot wounds. Bob is guilty of murder. Archie is guilty of attempted murder.

What Bob did killed Charlie. What Archie did would have killed Charlie, if not for Bob’s actions.

Red herring. We’re all going to die eventually. Intentionally causing someone to die sooner than they would have otherwise is murder (excepting certain, very limited, circumstances). If I shoot someone on Death Row heading for a firing squad, that doesn’t absolve me of the murder.

That’s felony murder, which is a whole different animal. That is, if you commit a “dangerous” felony (like robbery), and someone dies as a result of that felony, you are guilty of felony murder. No one died as a result of Archie poisoning the flask, so he’s just guilty of the attempt.

The only crimes being committed are the attempts at murder. Archie’s failed. Bob’s succeeded.

See my earlier analogy of throwing someone out of an airplane that’s doomed to crash. You’re trying to kill them through dehydration. They died of dehydration due to your actions (even if they would, otherwise, have died of poisoning). How is that not murder?


Actually, my first reaction was “Charlie killed his own damn self when he didn’t check his canteen for a leak, patch the leak, and refill it before splitting up. You’re responsible for your own gear.”


When you throw someone out of an airplane they die as a direct result of your action. Charlie wasn’t poisoned, and he didn’t die from lack of poison. If anything, Bob saved him from being poisoned. After Archie’s action, Bob’s is irrelevant to Charlie’s ultimate fate.

Again, this is a philosophical question, not a lawyerly one.

[quote=“L_Mariachi, post:90, topic:95567”]
Charlie wasn’t poisoned, and he didn’t die from lack of poison.[/quote]

No, he died from a lack of water. A lack that was deliberately caused by Bob. Whether that particular water would have sustained him is irrelevant. It would have hydrated him, and he died of dehydration. Charlie died through Bob’s direct action. He would also have died through Archie’s direct action, but Archie was thwarted.

I wouldn’t disagree with that. But if you save someone from one attempted murder, and then murder them yourself, that doesn’t mean you’re not a murderer.

The guy throwing a victim out of an airplane which is about to crash is also irrelevant to the victim’s ultimate fate. I don’t see how that changes anything.

I fail to see the distinction.


Bob didn’t deprive Charlie of any clean water. Charlie didn’t have any clean water. Bob did not create any condition without which Charlie would have lived.

The distinction, as I mentioned above, is that the law takes intent into account, specifically to sidestep these edge-case questions. “Fuck all y’all, you’re both going to prison.” The law doesn’t need to be specific enough to identify the killer.

1 Like

Charlie would have died of poisoning had Bob not emptied the canteen. That’s not in dispute. However, Charlie didn’t die of poisoning, he died of dehydration. The dehydration was entirely Bob’s fault, and in no way Archie’s fault.

The fact that he would have died anyway, from a different cause, doesn’t change the fact that Bob created a condition that killed him in a different manner. See again: thrown from a doomed airplane.

If Betty throws Carol from an airplane, and then the pilot, Annie, deliberately flies the plane into a mountainside, Betty is still a murderer, even though, to use your phrasing, “[Betty] did not create any condition without which [Carol] would have lived.”

Any philosophy that says, “Well, if he would have died anyway, it’s not murder,” completely rules out the idea of murder in every scenario, because we’re all going to die eventually.


The paradox is that neither Archie nor Bob actually caused any condition that led to Charlie’s death. Your airplane murder/suicide is a totally misguided analogy; by throwing Carol out the plane Betty is absolutely responsible for the cause of death. What happens with Annie’s subsequent freakout is immaterial, because Betty already killed Carol. Carol was dead before Annie crashed into the mountain.

Remind me not to go hiking through the desert with you.

ETA: RIP Raymond Smullyan; I think one of his books was where I first read this.

Bob absolutely did. Charlie died of dehydration, a condition that Bob caused.

As to whether he would have died regardless of Bob’s action: Every single possible scenario leads to Charlie’s death. Everyone dies.

If your requirement for culpability for Charlie’s murder is “They changed the timeline from one where Charlie doesn’t die to one where Charlie dies,” then no one is ever culpable for his murder, or any murder, because there is no timeline where Charlie never dies.

Okay, then, what if Annie set the autopilot to crash into the mountain before Betty threw Carol out? Would that have made a difference? Why?

Not an issue, I promise. I stay away from hot climates.

Bob did not cause Charlie to dehydrate, although that was his intent. Bob merely prevented him from being poisoned.

Also, Antarctica is technically a desert.

Bob did both.

Unless you’re arguing that the poison is one that would have dehydrated him faster (which, if this is the case, should have been stated in the puzzle).

Charlie would have died, completely hydrated, but poisoned, if Bob had not intervened.

Charlie did die, completely unpoisoned, but dehydrated, because Bob intervened.

Bob is responsible for the reason that Charlie died, even if he would have died regardless, therefore Bob is responsible for Charlie’s death.

Good news! I stay away from there as well.

Usually puzzles like this attract several lawyers. You two are covering all the bases admirably well, and being quite civil about it too! I don’t know what that says about your legal careers, but you’ve kept me entertained, and my hat is off to you.

1 Like

Archie attempted murder. Bob murder. At least in Canada.

@nimelennar Has a good explanation of why Bob is responsible, but I’d just add that it’s important to remember that more than one person can be fully responsible for a death. You don’t have only 100% responsibility to portion out, so you don’t have to worry about if someone else had already effectively killed them.

While we’re talking about puzzles regarding who murdered who, here’s a really great one:

A attempts to commit suicide by throwing himself off the roof of a building. He does not know that work is being done on the building and there is a safety net that will save him.

The man lived in the building with his parents, who often argued loudly. During those arguments, his father would sometimes get a prop shotgun and wave it around at his mother. The shotgun was from a movie the father had worked on and was never operational.

The man hated his parents and their arguments, and had switched his father’s shotgun for a working one in the hopes that his father would accidentally kill his mother and go to prison, leaving him with the apartment to himself. It had been months since he made the switch, and he had become despondent that his plan hadn’t worked, and decided to kill himself by jumping off the roof. As he did so, one of the arguments started, and as he jumped, the shotgun accidentally discharged, shooting out the window and killing the man before he hit the safety net.

1 Like

I love that story.

Holy crap! People thought that really happened? It was presented to me as a puzzle for lawyers.

The dead giveaway (It’s a pun!) is the thing about the safety net. Falling off a tall building simply isn’t safe, and there’s no way his survival would have been assured. It’s sort of like the fat man being able to stop the trolley in the trolley puzzle. It’s “Okay, let’s assume you can take this statement at face value even though in reality you’d be like, ‘What?!?’”.

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 30 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.