[A simple rebus, courtesy of mentalfloss.com.]
We’ve explored lots of puzzles in the time I’ve been writing for PuzzleNation Blog. Sudoku, crosswords, riddles, logic problems, anagrams, brain teasers, all sorts of coded puzzles and cryptograms… the list is seemingly endless.
But in all that time, we haven’t really covered one of the most accessible, visual puzzles still popular today: the rebus.
In a rebus puzzle, pictures (often with single letters added or subtracted) represent words and phrases, spelling out a message hidden in plain sight.
For instance, in the above rebus, you have an urn, a nest, then a hem, some ink, and someone being weighed. Put it all together, and you get… Ernest Hemingway.
Anyone who watched the game show Concentration or the later edition Classic Concentration probably remembers the rebus puzzles that featured prominently in the show.
As the players randomly chose numbered tiles two at a time, they revealed various prizes beneath the tiles. If they managed to find a match — uncovering the same prize with both guesses on a given turn — they banked that prize. Those tiles then went away, revealing part of the rebus beneath. If a player solved the rebus, he or she won all of the prizes they matched earlier.
Although rebuses tend to be simpler than most other puzzles, the difficulty can depend on the cleverness of the puzzler creating it. After all, the celebrated author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien, was known to create rebus letters in his youth and send them to family members and friends.
Can you unravel this message from the future creator of Middle-Earth?
If you’re stuck, I can break down the first line for you. You have the number 1000, an eye, a deer, several Y’s, an owl, the country of France with “Fr.” written on it, and a snake hissing.
1000 equals M in Roman numerals, so paired with the eye, you have “my.” Y’s is a soundalike for “wise.” The rest are pretty clear. So put them all together and you have “My dear wise owl Fr. Francis.” Tolkien was pretty clever even back then!
Unfortunately, this is only the front page of the rebus, so the solved message is incomplete. To see the back page, you need to look up the original letter in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England. (And, sadly, the PuzzleNation Blog travel budget only covers trips to the diner and back.)
But, if you’d like to check out another Tolkien rebus puzzle, one written when he was 11 years old, click here!
As visual wordplay and puzzling in one of its purest forms, the rebus has been around for centuries, and with the advent of emojis in texting, I doubt they’re going away anytime soon.
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