Carroll’s classic conundrum!

After my post on Brain Melters (the diabolical siblings of brain teasers), I’ve had riddles on the brain, one in particular.

There’s a famous riddle that compares a raven and a writing desk. It was first penned by the brilliant, controversial, and utterly ridiculous Lewis Carroll.

The Hatter asked Alice, “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”
“I give up,” Alice replied. “What’s the answer?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter.
Alice sighed wearily. “I think you might do something better with the time,” she said, “than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers.”

It was purposely devised as a riddle with no answer — prime Brain Melter territory — but that hasn’t stopped people from trying to solve it in various silly, pragmatic, and clever ways through the years.

A practical answer is “They both have legs”, but not only is that terribly boring, but it seems to abruptly ignore Carroll’s legacy of whimsy and logodaedaly.

(Come on, it wouldn’t be a truly Lewis Carroll-worthy post without some curious vocabulary. *smiles* And a pat on the back to those who didn’t have to look it up!)

Many people have incorporated assonance, rhyme, and wordplay into their solves. Here are some of the possible solutions people have conjured over the years:

–It is used to carry on work and work carrion.
–Because the raven has a secret aerie and the writing desk is a secretary.
–It understands its tails and quills would nevar [sic] work with the wrong end in front. (This is a variation on the answer Carroll eventually provided)

Carroll himself was quoted as saying that a raven is like a writing-desk “because it can produce very few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar [sic] put with the wrong end in front.”

Despite Carroll’s typically obtuse and curious response, several sources have stated that the correct answer is that “dark wing site” is an anagram for “a writing desk”.

Ignoring all of these possible solutions, I prefer the one I consider the most simple, the most clever, and the most sensible…

How is a raven like a writing desk? Poe wrote on both. =)

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4 thoughts on “Carroll’s classic conundrum!

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