Meet a pious puzzler!

It’s always nice (and far less common) to read a news story that reveals a pleasant secret about someone famous. It seems like so much of our media coverage of celebrities is fixated on dirty little secrets, scandals, and unpleasantness of all sorts. It’s rare to discover something new about people in the public eye that enhances their reputations instead of demeaning them.

So when I stumbled across this article about a religious figure who secretly created puzzles for the masses, I knew I had to share such delightfulness with the PuzzleNation readership.

Yes, Europe once had its very own Puzzly Pope: Leo XIII!

Serving as Pontiff from 1878 to 1903, Pope Leo XIII occasionally published long, poetic riddles known as “charades” in a Rome newspaper called Vox Urbis, under the pseudonym “X.”

Pope Leo XIII’s charades were descriptions that solvers would decode by identifying certain words that were also syllables of a hidden answer word.

From the article:

One example of the pope’s Latin riddles talked of a “little boat nimbly dancing,” that sprung a leak as it “welcomed the shore so near advancing.”

“The whole your eyes have known, your pallid cheeks have shown; for oh! the swelling tide no bravest heart could hide, when your dear mother died,” continues the translation of part of the riddle-poem.

The answer, “lacrima,” (“teardrop”) merges clues elsewhere in the poem for “lac” (“milk”) and “rima” (“leak” or “fissure”).

Only eight of the Pope’s charades appeared in Vox Urbis, and despite His Holiness’s attempts to remain anonymous, the identity of “X” was uncovered a year after the first charade appeared in the Latin-language paper.

But an impressive 26 of Pope Leo XIII’s puzzles (many of which never seen before) were recently collected into a book, Aenigmata: The Charades of Pope Leo XIII, by students of the Italian middle school named in Pope Leo’s honor. (Sadly, the book doesn’t appear to be available for sale.)

While it’s fun to picture world leaders like President Clinton and pop culture superstars like Katy Perry and Jon Stewart solving crosswords, I must admit that it’s even more fun picturing Pope Leo XIII toiling over a perfect puzzle to entertain the masses.

And so, we welcome another intrepid puzzle constructor into the hallowed halls of puzzledom. Pope Leo XIII, anonymous riddlesmith and rebus master, we salute you!

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Hold on, let’s be logical about this…

A few weeks ago, I did a blog post exploring the history of paper puzzles, comparing relatively new puzzle innovations like crosswords and Sudoku — crosswords are nearing their 100th anniversary, and Sudoku has only been around a few decades in its current form — to a much older style of puzzling, the riddle.

But it occurs to me that another branch of puzzles, logic puzzles, can trace their formative roots nearly as far back.

Logic puzzles are a curious breed of puzzles, since they rely less on grids and trivia and more on deductive reasoning. (Yes, many solving styles utilize grids, like this one from our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles, but they’re not strictly necessary.)

If I was to chart the evolution of puzzles like that of animals or plants, riddles and logic puzzles would be offshoots of the same ancestor. Riddles are actually very simplistic logic puzzles, since they often rely on a single twist or turn of phrase.

For example, there’s the riddle “what gets wetter as it dries?”

The answer is “a towel.” The riddle relies on logical misdirection. The structure implies a passive voice (something becoming dry) but its actual structure is active voice (something actually drying another object).

This is known as a garden path sentence, and a terrific example is this quotation often attributed to Groucho Marx: “Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.”

The main difference between the two is the complexity of logic puzzles as they’ve developed. Riddles are a one-and-done trick of wordplay, while logic puzzles are multilayered exercises in deduction.

So, from riddles, it’s easy to imagine mystery stories and whodunits as the next precursor in the development of logic puzzles. From the early days of the genre’s creation at the hands of Edgar Allan Poe to its explosion in popularity under the quick and clever pens of Agatha Christie and her fellow authors, the plot of virtually every mystery story is a logic puzzle in itself.

The arrangement is similar. You’re given your setting and the circumstances that gathered the players together. Then you’re given the pertinent information on who was where at a given time, and it’s left to you (and the ubiquitous detective) to unravel the truth from a convoluted mishmash of information.

Except for the detective, that’s the modern day logic puzzle exactly.

(I snagged this helpful image from www.logic-puzzles.org.)

Heck, there are even some mystery stories that are considered unsolved, practically waiting for an enterprising logic puzzle fan to find the key piece of evidence that will unlock the entire story.

Frank Stockton’s story “The Lady, or the Tiger?” comes to mind, as does Stanley Ellin’s “Unreasonable Doubt”. (I encountered these stories in Otto Penzler’s collection Uncertain Endings: The World’s Greatest Unsolved Mystery Stories.)

And in case you’re curious as to why I’m rambling about riddles and Poe and how they directly or indirectly influenced the evolution of logic puzzles as we know them… the answer is simple.

With the hundredth anniversary of the crossword fast approaching, it’s made me wonder just how long the spirit of puzzle-solving has been with us as a civilization.

And when you can trace logic puzzles back hundreds of years and riddles back thousands of years, it’s hard not to smile and imagine that we’re enjoying the same mental and puzzly challenges generations and generations of others have tackled in the past.

It’s a humbling and heartening thought.

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Bonus Friday blog post!

Before we get down to riddle-riffic business, remember, my fellow puzzle fans! Today is the final day of the PuzzleNation Community Contest, so this is your last chance our Classic Word Search iBook giveaway!

You can:
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The PuzzleNation audience has been good to us, and we want to give back! So make sure to get your name in the running before the day is through!

Okay! I promised you answers to Tuesday’s Riddle Me This riddles, so here we go!

A man lay dead on the floor, fifty-three bicycles on his back. What happened?

The man cheated at cards and was punished accordingly. (Bicycle being a famous brand of playing cards. Though I do enjoy imagining a brawl at a bicycle shop gone hilariously, disastrously wrong.)

Bob walked into a bar and asked for a glass of water. The bartender pulled out a gun and pointed it at Bob’s face. A few seconds later, Bob said, “Thank you” and walked out. What happened?

Bob had the hiccups, and the bartender scared them away. (Either that or Bob’s a hydroholic and the bartender is preventing him from indulging and getting water-drunk.)

Rhonda lay facedown in the middle of the desert. On her back was something that could have saved her life. What is it?

A parachute. (Though my friend argues that Rhonda is a camel, and the water in her hump could have saved her. It does beg the question of why Rhonda was skydiving in the desert, though.)

Frank did not want to go home because of what the masked man held in his hand. What is the masked man holding?

The masked man is holding a baseball. He’s the catcher.

Joe was dead. Across his back was an iron bar. In front of him was some food. What happened?

Unfortunately, Joe was a mouse caught in a mousetrap.

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (three volumes to choose from!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!

Riddle me this!

The spirit of puzzle-solving has always been with us — every problem is a puzzle of some sort, after all — so it’s surprising to realize how relatively brief the history of paper puzzles is in the long run.

I mean, the Sudoku puzzle as we know it first appeared in print in Dell Magazines in 1979, a little over thirty years ago! (Yes, some puzzles with similar attributes appeared in French publications nearly a century before, but the Sudoku as we know it is a modern creation.)

This year marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the crossword puzzle. One hundred years! Amazing when you think about it, but also just a drop in the bucket when compared with the span of human history.

So, if the two most famous puzzles are both fairly recent developments, what sort of puzzles kept humans occupied for centuries and centuries before that?

Riddles.

Yes, plenty of wordplay and mathematical games predate the modern puzzles we know and love, like the famous ancient word square found in the ruins of Pompeii that features a Latin palindrome.

But I suspect that riddles were, in fact, our first experiments with puzzles and puzzly thinking.

They appeal to our love of story and adventure, of heroes with wits as sharp as their swords. Riddles are the domain of gatekeepers and tricksters, monsters and trap rooms from the best Dungeons & Dragons quests.

The Riddle of the Sphinx — in its most famous version: “What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?” — has origins as far back as the story of Oedipus and the tales of Sophocles and Hesiod, more than 2000 years ago.

And variations of logic puzzles and riddles have been with us at least as long. Consider the famous “a cabbage, goat, and wolf” river crossing, or the Man with Seven Wives on the road to St. Ives.

Nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, Lewis Carroll unleashed a doozy of a riddle in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, one we discussed in detail in a recent blog post.

In more recent times, one of Batman’s most capable and dogged adversaries has employed riddles to confound and challenge the Caped Crusader.

His debut episode of Batman: The Animated Series features a corker of a riddle: “I have millions of eyes, yet I live in darkness. I have millions of ears, yet only four lobes. I have no muscles, yet I rule two hemispheres. What am I?”

While we’ll probably never be able to trace the history of riddles as definitively as that of crosswords and sudoku, it’s fascinating to consider just how long puzzles in one form or another have been with us.

And so, in the spirit of puzzling, here are a few riddles for the road. Enjoy.

A man lay dead on the floor, fifty-three bicycles on his back. What happened?

Bob walked into a bar and asked for a glass of water. The bartender pulled out a gun and pointed it at Bob’s face. A few seconds later, Bob said, “Thank you” and walked out. What happened?

Rhonda lay facedown in the middle of the desert. On her back was something that could have saved her life. What is it?

Frank did not want to go home because of what the masked man held in his hand. What is the masked man holding?

Joe was dead. Across his back was an iron bar. In front of him was some food. What happened?

[Answers will be posted on Friday!]

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! Don’t forget about our PuzzleNation Community Contest, running all this week! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (three volumes to choose from!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!