EARLY AMERICAN WORD PUZZLES
by Will Shortz
Word Ways, 1973-1974
For the millions of puzzle fans in the United States today, puzzles serve as a unique form of mental recreation. They amuse, they intrigue, and they pass the time. People like puzzles because words themselves are fascinating and most people like to be challenged.
Still, few puzzle fans look upon the study of puzzles with a serious attitude; puzzles have an undeniable aura of silliness or childishness. How many people today agree with a declaration made nearly 40 years ago by "Archimedes", a past president of the National Puzzlers’ League?
"Aside from the aspect of erudition, puzzling to us [NPL members] is an art. For
ingenuity of conception, brilliancy of wit, subtlety of humor, and facility of expression,
many of our creations can well match expression in the other arts. And the corresponding
quality of psychologic insight, keen analysis, and profundity of learning are distinctly
typical of the best in science." --The Enigma, August 1937, page 3
An art! As amazing as it many seem, before the word search, the double-crostic and the cross-word became popular (these were all twentieth-century American inventions), puzzling was looked upon by many persons as an art form. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, puzzles appeared in the best literary periodicals as well as in books, magazines, and newspapers of many kinds.
Today, puzzles have lost that aura of dignity which they rightly deserve. Their early history is unknown to even the most ardent puzzlist. Few people are aware of the role word puzzles have played in American culture and the close connection they have had to the growth of literature in general in the United States. Puzzles may be only an amusement, but they are an intellectual amusement, and their history is an important part of the history of literary and intellectual thought.
Word puzzling is a surprisingly complex subject, and its history is not straightforward to write; one can easily lose sight of the forest for the trees. It is important to keep in mind that a history of word puzzling interweaves three complementary strands: the publications sponsoring word puzzles, the puzzle types appearing therein, and the people solving them. Profound changes in the where, the what and the who of American puzzledom occurred during the two hundred years spanned by this monograph.
It is surprising how old the history of word puzzling in America really is. We have no sure idea when puzzles were first introduced. Few written manuscripts of our country’s early literature have survived. Perhaps none of them had any word puzzles at all. Certainly various educated colonists were aware of word puzzles, because literary riddling and various forms of wordplay were popular in British and European circles.
The earliest record we have of puzzles in America (and it is a very early record indeed) is Samuel Danforth’s An Almanack for the Year of Our Lord 1647, printed in Cambridge. Danforth’s 1647 almanac is only the twenty-first work known to have been printed in the United States, and the second earliest almanac to have survived.
Samuel Danforth, the author of the twelve puzzle poems that appeared in the almanac, was a very intelligent man. He was born in England and came to America with his father in 1634. He graduated from Harvard College in 1643 and was later appointed a tutor there. His four almanacs, printed from 1646 to 1649, are the oldest American almanacs that are known to exist today.
Each of Danforth’s twelve enigmatic verses appeared next to the astronomical and astrological data of one of the months, and each puzzle was related to the month in which it was printed. The following enigma, probably the easiest one, appeared in July:
"The wooden Birds are now in sight
Whose voices roare, whose wings are white,
Whose mawes are fill’d with hose and shooes,
With wine, cloth, sugar, salt and newes,
When they have eas’d their stomacks here
They cry, farewell until next years."
The "wooden Birds… whose wings are white" were ships bringing supplies to the colonists. The puzzle employed one of the simplest of enigmatic devices, the metaphor. Although the verse was by no means great poetry, it was well done. As the American literary historian Kenneth Murdock noted in his book Handkerchiefs from Paul (Harvard University Press, 1927), "Though by no means impeccable in execution, … they deal with the every-day concerns of life in Puritan Massachusetts, so that they preserve a flavor of reality not now discernible for most readers in the elegies … If he falls short of picturesqueness, he does at least give the flavor of the soil"
"Great bridges shall be made alone
Without ax, timber, earth or stone,
Of chrystall metal, like to glass;
Such wondrous works soon come to passe,
If you may then have such a way,
The Ferry-man you need not pay."
In this January enigma, the maker of the bridges is the cold, which freezes the bays and streams.
Literature itself, particularly poetry, was very scarce in colonial America. People were more concerned with the basic problems of life: making homes in the wilderness and carving out a livelihood under primitive conditions. Very little time was left for leisure and literary pursuits. Furthermore, the Puritans of New England were deeply concerned with religious affairs. Although they were not hostile to literature and the fine arts, they certainly regarded the church as a more fitting outlet for literary and intellectual activities. In this social environment, the fact that word puzzles were written and published at all serves to show the appeal that puzzles in general hold for people.
A number of other seventeenth-century almanacs had enigmas similar to the ones published by Danforth. The next American word puzzles appeared in Samuel Cheever’s An Almanack for the Year of Our Lord 1660. Cheever wrote his verses as a youth or young man, for he was born only 21 years before his almanac was published. The enigmas that appeared in Cheever’s almanac were somewhat different from the ones that appeared in Danforth’s. The topics chosen to be enigmatized had less of the rustic flavor, and the verses contained a great deal of classical allusion. The enigma for March, for example, describe the melting of the winter snow:
"Faire Tellus now (whom in her tripping pace
Lord Æolus t’unmaske her lovely face,
With charming suits, and plaints could ne’re perswade
Nor yet by force constraine, though h’ oft assay’d)
No sooner comes to Titan in’s attire
But that his rayes setting her heart on fire
The sparkling flames her rosy cheeks soon scale
Where causing sweat, shee quickly doffs her veile."
Tellus was the earth, who was covered with snow in the winter. Æolus was the ruler of the winds, and he was unsuccessful in blowing away the snow. Finally Titan, the Sun, was able to melt the snow.
There were a number of other delightful enigmas in Cheever’s 1660 Almanac. The puzzle for September contained two lines which referred to the autumnal equinox:
"I’th chair of state, in equi-poize there stand
Justice her Scales, whil’st causes all are scan’d."
The October puzzle enigmatically described the fall harvest, and the December riddle was about the coming of the winter snow. The puzzles were evidently well received because more of the same appeared in Cheever’s Almanac for 1661.
A third group of puzzles appeared in William Brattle’s An Ephemeris of Coelestial Motions, Aspects, Eclipses, &c. For the Year of the Christian Era 1682, published in Cambridge. Brattle is remembered best for being pastor of the church in Cambridge, and also for writing a well-known treatise on logic. When he collected the material for his almanac and wrote the verse for it, however, he was still in his youth; records show that William Brattle was born just nineteen years before his almanac was published.
The twelve enigmas in Brattle’s almanac, one for each month, were similar to the ones which appeared in Danforth’s and Cheever’s almanacs. Although the verses themselves were not excellent, the puzzles were clever enough. In some of them, Brattle appeared to prognosticate strange events. In the May puzzle, he predicted:
"Hundreds of Apes all most every where
Will now appear with wings flying in th’ Air,
Who will be bravely Arm’d with such a Spear,
That th’ Stoutest men them for to Vex will fear,
But (Friends) Fear not, this news it doth portend
No harm at all, but sweet things in the End."
The answer, of course, was the appearance of bees in the spring. The first line of the poem contained a good pun; Apes is not only the name of an animal in English, but also the word for "bees" in Latin.
One of the most interesting enigmas to appear in an almanac was written by Benjamin Franklin, appearing in his Poor Richard’s Almanack for 1736. Franklin wrote three riddles altogether for that almanac, calling them "Enigmatical Prophecies, Which they that do not understand, cannot well explain." The cleverest of the three enigmas was the last one, and it surely puzzled a good many of the colonists who read Poor Richard’s:
"Not long after (the middle of the Year), a visible Army of 20000 Musketers will land,
some in Virginia & Maryland, and some in the lower Counties on both sides of
Delaware, who will over-run the Country, and sorely annoy the Inhabitants: But the Air
in this Climate will agree with them so ill toward Winter, that they will die in the
beginning of cold weather like rotten Sheep, and by Christmas the Inhabitants will get
the better of them."
Franklin withheld the answers to his enigmas until his almanac of the following year. It was then he explained:
"The Army which it was said would land in Virginia, Maryland, and the Lower Counties
on Delaware, were not Musketers with Guns on their Shoulders as some expected; but
their Namesakes, in Pronunciation, tho’ truly spelt Moschitos, arm’d only with a sharp
Sting. Every one knows they are Fish before they fly, being bred in the Water; and
therefore may properly be said to land before they become generally troublesome."
Almanacs were probably the only place where puzzles could have appeared in America prior to 1730. Books of puzzles could not have been written and published because popular entertainments were looked down upon. Magazines and newspapers were not yet being published. Almanacs provided the unique vehicle for presentation of word puzzles, for they were widely circulated and could be entertaining as well as useful.
While enigmas and riddles were popular in America during the seventeenth century, other forms of wordplay were also widely practiced. The most popular form was undoubtedly elegiac anagramming. Writers took great pleasure and pride in rearranging the letters from people’s names in order to form phrases or sentences that described certain qualities of the people anagrammatized.
Three of the best-known American anagrammatists of the century were John Wilson, Samuel Danforth, and John Fiske, who all used anagrams in the elegies they wrote. Wilson was particularly famous among his contemporaries for his skill in anagrammatizing. On the death of Joseph Briscoe John Wilson anagrammatized the man’s name into "Job cries hopes" and followed it with an elegy explaining the anagram’s significance.
Kenneth Murdock’s Handkerchiefs from Paul reprints an anagram constructed by Samuel Danforth on the death of William Tompson. Note that the anagram is imperfect, containing one too many of the letters L and A, and one too few of the letter M:
"William Tompson anagram i; lo, now i am past ill."
"Why wepe yea still for me, my Children dear?
What cause have ye of sorrow, grief or fear?
Lo, now all euill things are past and gone,
Terror, black Coller & stranguillion;
My pains are Curd, no greif doth me anoy,
My sorrows all are turned in to joy.
No fiend of hell shall hence forth me asay,
My fears are heald, my teares are wipt away;
Gods reconciled face j now behould,
He that dispersd my darkness many fold;
In Abrams bosom now i sweetly rest,
Of perfect joy & happiness posest."
Americans during the early eighteenth century were probably well acquainted with word puzzles through British periodicals of the period. The London Magazine printed numerous enigmas and literary riddles during the 1730s and the following decades. Other British magazines did the same.
In America, word puzzles appeared very early in the first magazines and newspapers that were published. One early newspaper was the New-York Weekly Journal, edited by John Peter Zenger, who is famous for winning a landmark case for freedom of the press in 1734. In No. 389 of his newspaper, for May 18, 1741, Zenger copied a letter and puzzle from the Barbados Gazette, a newspaper from a British colony in the West Indies. The letter was signed "Enigmaticus" and it asked readers to solve the accompanying puzzle:
"I am a bitter, but a wholesome good;
Where but my virtues better understood;
For many things impossible to thought,
Have been by me to full Perfection brought,
The daring of the soul proceeds from me,
With prudence, diligence, activity,
Sharpness of Wit and fortitude I give,
And teach the patient Man to better live,
When Men, once strange to me, my virtues prove,
Themselves I make them know and him above.
The flatt’rer from the friend I give to know;
In me a fair possession lies, but (oh!
The Childishness of men) all me refuse,
Because I’m plain, and gaudy trifles chuse.
I’m made the scorn of ev’ry soppish fool,
Insulted, hated, turn’d to ridicule."
He added, "An acquaintance of mine insists that I shall give him a solution of the following Ænigma, … I confess to you it has puzzled me a good deal." A reader of the Barbados Gazette who called himself "Solutioticus" sent in a similar poem giving poverty as the answer. Evidently Zenger did not think very highly of enigmatic puzzles, for only one other is known to have appeared, in No. 428 for February 8, 1742.
In fact, none of the early American newspapers printed many word puzzles. The newspapers throughout the eighteenth century were filled mainly with essays and news items, and poetry and entertainments were kept to a minimum.
With American magazines, however, it was a different story. The majority of magazines did seek to entertain people, and puzzles appeared in them almost from the beginning.
The first periodical published in the American colonies appeared in February 1741, but lasted only three months. Two more short-lived ventures were undertaken before the first important American magazine was started. It was in September 1743 that the first issue of The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle appeared, published in Boston and edited by Jeremy Gridley. The magazine was published continuously for over three years and attained substantial popularity.
In the very first issue, a riddle addressed "For the Ladies" appeared in the Poetical Essays section:
"To you fair maidens, I address; sent to adorn your Life:
And she who first my name can guess, shall first be made a wife.
From the dark womb of mother earth, to mortals aid I come,
But e’er I can receive my birth, I many shapes assume.
Passive my nature, yet I’m made as active as the roe;
And oftentimes, with equal speed, thro’ flow’ry lawns I go.
When wicked men their wealth consume and leave their children poor,
To me their daughters often come, and I increase their store.
The women of the wiser kind did never yet refuse me;
And yet I never once could find, the maids of honour use me.
The lily hand, the brilliant eye, can charm without my aid;
Beauty may prompt the lover’s sighs, and celebrate the maid:
But let th’ inchanting nymph by told, unless I grace her life,
She must have wondrous store of gold; or make a wretched wife.
Altho’ I never hope for rest, with Christians I go forth,
And while they worship toward the east, I prostrate to the north.
If you suspect hypocrisy, or think me insincere,
Produce the zealot, who like me, can tremble and adhere."
The answer, "a needle," was given in verse the following month. Three more enigmas later appeared, in the December 1743, June 1744 and June 1746 issues. Although all were probably taken from British magazines or books, their publication in America shows that puzzling was a well-known and popular pastime.
During the late 1740s and early 1750s, a major change was coming over word puzzling n England. For the first time, puzzles which manipulated the letters of words were becoming popular. In the October 1748 issue of the London Magazine, a special kind of enigma called a beheadment was printed. The reader solved the first part of the puzzle to get the word "glass," then took off the initial letter of that word to make "lass," and then took off that word’s initial letter to leave "ass". Another type of puzzle gaining popularity in England during this period was the charade, although the term "charade" did not come into use until some years later. In the February 1752 issue of the London Magazine, for example, readers were asked to solve the versified clues for the words "ports" and "mouth," and then to combine them to form the name of the town "Portsmouth".
As might have been expected, these new types of puzzles soon spread to the United States. The first major magazine of any type to appear after The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle of 1743-1746 was The American Magazine and Monthly Chronicle for the British Colonies, published in Philadelphia during 1757-1758. In December 1757, "Amelia" (clearly an American) contributed the following:
"To a fifth of the wind, that pierces us most,
Add the name of a beast by shepherds oft lost,
The name of a river by Cambrians fam’d,
With the third of a name by Britains oft blam’d;
Join the fifth of a name oft in pillory shown; --
`These will instantly give you the name of my town."
The answer involved taking the first letter or letters from various words and putting them together to make the name of a town. Thus, "The wind that pierces us most" was the "north" wind, and the first fifth of that word was the letter N. The beast was the "ew," the river was the "Y" (actually, the river Wye of Wales), the name blamed by Britains was "Orford," and the man in the pillory was a "knave". Taking the letters as directed spelled out "New York," the town in which the author of the puzzle evidently lived.
The regular enigmas, of course, remained the standard puzzle fare of the day. Most of the best ones appear to have originated in England, although it is impossible to say. In The American Magazine and Monthly Chronicle for the British Colonies for December 1757, an excellent enigma on "a riddle" appeared along with the rebus above. Since no author’s name appeared next to the enigma, it was almost certainly taken from another source:
"First form’d and bred within some musing brain,
My birth relieves the lab’ring parent’s pain,
Forth from whose head, Minerva-like, I come,
At once mature, and in my fullest bloom.
Pleas’d with the novelty, he sends t’invite
His curious friends, spectators of the sight.
But as my form is delecate, I wear
A mask, to screen my features from the air;
Nor must the prying guests approach too near.
My shape’s so curious, and my dress so new,
The wond’ring crowd my strange appearance view;
With studious thoughts inquisitive to find
What cause produc’d me, and to know my kind.
A while their searches to no purpose prove,
And vain conjectures frequent laughter move;
Till apprehension does my name explore,
Then strait I vanish and exist no more."
Another early literary periodical in the colonies was The New American Magazine, published in Woodbridge, New Jersey from 1758 to 1760. Two good enigmas appeared in the June 1759 and August 1759 issues. Both were probably British in origin, as no authors’ names were given, and the editor said that he took much of his material from European magazines.
Between 1760 and the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, colonial magazines and newspapers remained relatively few in number. Puzzles continued to appear occasionally in the poetry sections of such newspapers as the New-London Gazette, the Boston Evening Post, and the Boston Gazette, and in various literary magazines.
Two of the earliest American charades appeared in The Penny Post, a Philadelphia magazine published during early 1769. The puzzles were of very poor quality, but their appearance signaled the beginning of the growth of a variety of new types of wordplay. However, not all American word puzzles were of mediocre or poor quality. In the October 1775 issue of The Pennsylvania Magazine appeared a good original enigma on "the wind":
"Before that noble creature man
Sprang from the dust, my reign began;
Mid chaos and the realms of night,
Ee’r God had said ‘let there be light,’
I was—howled hideous—flew with haste
And roam’d o’er all the dreary waste.
No age but hath my fury known,
`No clime but hears my plaintive moan;
On wings unseen I mount on high
And swifter than the eagles fly;
O’er mountains, plains and valleys wide,
O’er rivers, lakes and seas I glide.
Sometimes mankind in me are blest,
They court me as a welcome guest;
Wide ope their doors to let me in
And sigh if I’ve long absent been:
But soon I find their friendship change;
At large in fields I’m left to range:
Tho, late they lov’d, they love no more
But fast against me bar the door.
Men say I’m fickle but I find
They’re full as apt to change their mind:
Thro’ ev’ry street I cry in vain,
Admittance no where can I gain;
Except amongst the poorer sort,
To whom, unwelcome, I resort.
The wealth of nations I encrese
Without me commerce soon would cease;
And yet, some to their sorrow know,
To commerce I’m a fatal foe.
Great is my pow’r—men well may fear
When my tremendous voice they hear:
From east and west, from south & north
I call my sullen armies forth;
The gloomy host obscures the day
And dire destruction marks my way."
Word puzzling was very limited in America prior to the end of the Revolutionary War, just as literature in general was limited to a great extent. It was during this period, however, that the art of making and solving word puzzles was taking root in America and beginning to grow. The results of this germination became quite apparent in the twenty years at the close of the eighteenth century.
With the close of the Revolutionary War in 1783, both American literature and American puzzledom experienced tremendous growth. Scores of new magazines and newspapers were started, and people began to show more interest in puzzles and all of the arts. One typical new literary periodical was the Boston magazine, first published in October 1783. In the opening issue, the editor referred to the United States as "a new country, just emerging from the calamities of war, in the dawn of public literature," a country in which the people, "at a season of greater leisure, might employ their pens upon literary subjects, and afford speculations equally instructive and amusing."
The word puzzles at the end of the eighteenth century were more varied in type than ever before. Two types—acrostic rebuses and charades—were actually originated prior to the Revolution, but in this period both enjoyed great popularity. In the acrostic rebus, readers were asked to solve versified clues to get words whose initial letters would spell a final word or name. The May 1784 issue of The Gentleman and Lady’s Town and Country Magazine contained a typical acrostic rebus of this period:
"A thing whereon all Princes lie,
And as we all express a sigh,
What man into the world brings in,
An Indian weed whose leaf is thin,
A wood by kings esteemed much,
The part of speech when naming such:
These Initials join’d declare
A town where friendly people are."
The first six lines were answered by the words Bed, Oh, Sin, Tobacco, Oak, and Noun, and the initial letters of the words spelled "Boston," the name of the city where the magazine was published.
Charades and charade-type puzzles also became very popular during this period, appearing in such periodicals and newspapers as the Boston magazine, the New-Jersey Magazine and Monthly Advertiser, the Gentlemen and Ladies’ Town and Country Magazine, and the Massachusetts Centinel.
Although charades had been published as early as the 1740s in England, the term "charade" itself did not come into use there until the late 1770s or early 1780s. In America, the first known use of the term "charade" was in the Massachusetts Magazine for February 1789. It was also there that for the first time in America the two parts of the keyword were designated "my first" and "my second".
Charades soon started appearing in many magazines and eventually surpassed even the enigmas in popularity. In the New York Magazine; or Literary Repository for March 1790 three charades from the hand of Harriet Cassandra were published. One of them read:
"My first the ear doth oft delight,
With music sweet both morn and night:
My next is very useful found
As good manure for the ground:
Unto my first, my whole’s a snare
Which youthful hands oft place with care."
The answer was "birdlime". In style, the poetry of the puzzle was mediocre at best, and the enigmatic element was not greatly developed. Even so, the verse was not much below the rest of the original poetry appearing in American magazines at the time, and it did entertain a great many people.
Other types of word puzzles were new to American readers. One type of puzzle to gain popularity in the United States during the 1790s was the transposition. In this puzzle, clues were given in verse for two or more words, all of which contained the same letters. A clever example appearing in the July 16, 1796 issue of the Weekly Museum, a New York magazine, under the name of "Matilda":
"An insect of the smallest kind
If you transpose, you soon will find
That from all mortals I do quickly fly;
When gone, my loss in vain they’ll mourn,
In vain will wish for my return,
Tho’ now to kill me, ev’ry art they try."
The puzzle, an original one, was answered by the words "mite" and "time". Early transpositions nearly always involved short words.
Various other word games appeared from time to time in women’s and family magazines. One familiar type of puzzle, known as the enigmatical list, was very common in magazines from the 1780s through the first decade of the nineteenth century. Enigmatical lists consisted of names of birds, fruits, vegetables, gems, trees, towns, etc., enigmatically expressed. An enigmatical list on "six beautiful young ladies" of Baltimore appeared in the Baltimore Weekly magazine for May 17, 1800. It read:
"1st, Three fourths of a swift and timid animal, and three fourths of a hazard.
2nd. The epicure’s favorite domestic.
3rd. Two thirds of the first and fairest of women and one half of a reply.
4th. The front of an army and the center of a candle spelt with the sixth vowel instead of
5th. Two fifths of twice four, half a small piece of wood, a German river, a letter whose
sound makes a helping verb, and one half of a native of a modern empire.
6th. Three fourths of what is neither present or future, the crown of a cap, and a letter
which names the ladies’ favorite beverage."
The answer to Nos. 1 and 3-6 were "Harris," "Evans," "Van Wyck," "Eichelberger" and "Pascault". Enigmatical lists were one of the most popular types of puzzles of the period, probably because they were so easy to make and because people enjoyed playing with letters.
Another type of word game that appeared in the 1790s was called Eccentrical Queries. These were questions in quiz form for which the solver had to think of words to answer. One eccentrical query was "What word is that in which all the six vowels are used in grammatical order?" The answer that was given was "abstemiously". Other eccentrical queries were simple illustrated rebuses, which gained popularity in the 1800s. One question which asked "What is the signification of Pot oooooooo?" was answered by the word "potatoes" (i.e., pot + eight o’s). And in the February 13, 1796 Philadelphia Minerva, "Toby" asked what was the signification of the letter C encircling the letters fm ("effeminacy," or fm in a c). The popularity of word games like these shows the interest there was in playing with words, and shows also that people were looking for new types of puzzles.
The poetry of the word puzzles of the 1780s and 1790s ranged from very poor to excellent. Many puzzlists evidently spent little time on their verse, and the material they turned out was waste from a poetic standpoint. Other puzzlists wrote excellent poetry that compared well with the best in American magazines and newspapers of the period.
The subjects with which puzzles dealt were often ones common in the other popular verse of the period. Acrostic rebuses frequently relied on mythological and Biblical references n their clues, a practice common in poetry of the late 1700s. Patriotic verse was also very popular after the Revolutionary War, and word puzzles were frequently based on patriotic names and ideas. A rebus in the November 1783 Boston magazine was based on the word "America," and another rebus in the Gentlemen and Ladies’ Town and Country Magazine for January 1790 was based on the name "John Hancock".
We know that puzzles were quite popular in the United States during the late 1700s for a number of reasons. Exactly how popular they were, however, is impossible to tell. One gauge of the popularity of puzzles is the number of people who submitted answers to magazines which printed enigmas, charades and rebuses. Magazines had the practice of withholding solutions of their puzzles to the following issues, and then printing versified answers sent in by readers.
In an age when letter-writing was not so common as it is today, a surprising number of people did send in solutions to puzzles. One puzzle in a 1790 issue of the Massachusetts Magazine was followed by this note from the editors in the next issue: "Solution to the Puzzle in last Magazine by a Dartmouth sophimore, aged 15, by E.P.H., Lavinia, Cassius and several others, are gratefully acknowledged."
Not only can we measure the popularity of puzzles from the number of people who sent in answers, but we can also measure it by the number of magazines which published puzzles and how long they continued to publish them. Most of the literary and women’s magazines did publish puzzles at one time or another. Some discontinued use of them after a year or two, but others such as the Ladies’ Weekly Museum published puzzles periodically for a decade or more. Word puzzling was indeed a popular amusement.
We can get a fair idea of the types of persons who made and worked word puzzles from the types of publications in which they appeared. Puzzles were frequently printed in literary magazines such as the New York Magazine; or, Literary Repository, the Massachusetts Magazine, and the Boston Magazine. Puzzles were also found often in women’s magazines such as the Ladies’ Magazine and Repository of Entertaining Knowledge, published in Philadelphia, and the Ladies’ Weekly Museum, published in New York City. General interest or family magazines like the Philadelphia Minerva also printed word puzzles.
There were some types of magazines in which puzzles were almost never found. Religious magazines, periodicals devoted to news, and magazines serving narrow interests generally avoided entertainments of all types, particularly puzzles. Also, magazines and newspapers pub-lished outside of the main cultural centers—Boston, New York, Philadelphia and New Haven—were less apt to print puzzles; however, a few good puzzles did appear in the New-Hampshire Mercury and General Advertiser during 1788, and even in the Kentucky Gazette during 1789.
Despite the varied types of publications in which puzzles were printed, it can be said that puzzles were far more popular among women than among men. Enigmas were frequently addressed "To the Ladies" and women were often referred to directly in the stanzas. A rebus in the December
16, 1786 Boston Gazette began "I am, dear ladies, your good friend …" Another puzzle in a March 1786 issue of the New-Haven Gazette, and the Connecticut Magazine started with the line "Ladies, attend, while Wonders I rehearse …"
One of the most interesting puzzles of the whole period was an enigma that appeared in the Philadelphia Minerva for November 26, 1796 titled "Enigma, in Praise of Woman". When the poem was read straight through, it described women as a worthless burden to men. The trick was to read every other line of the poem to get the real meaning. No one ever wrote a puzzle like this for men:
"Happy that man must pass his life,
If freed from matrimonial chains,
Who is directed by a wife,
Is sure to suffer for his pains.
"What tongue is able to unfold,
The falsehoods that in woman dwell?
The worth in woman you behold,
Is almost imperceptible.
"Adam could find no solid peace,
When Eve was given for a mate,
‘Till hebeheld a woman’s face,
Adam was in a happy state.
"For in the female race appear,
Hypocrisy, deceit, and pride,
Truth—darling of a heart sincere,
In woman never can reside. –
"They’re always studying to employ
Their time in malice and in lies,
Their leisure hours in virtuous joy,
To spend ne’er in their thoughts arise.
"Destruction take the man I say,
Who makes a woman his delight,
Who no regard to woman pay,
Keeps reason always in his sight."
The most direct evidence we have of the popularity of puzzles with women comes from a letter a female reader wrote to the Boston magazine in January of 1784. "Susanna" said, "It is well known that our sex have long been the admirers and framers of enigmas … No part of the production, believe me, has been more read and applauded. I visit in almost every family in town, genteel and vulgar, and from lady —- down to Dorothy my maid, every female understanding has been exercised in the discovery of those which you have published."
Despite this apparent popularity of word puzzles, public opinion concerning them was divided, much as it is today. Several readers of magazines and newspapers wrote to editors, asking that the puzzles be discontinued. Four days after the Massachusetts Centinel published an enigma, an angry reader named "Philosophos" wrote in the issue of July 21, 1784 "I hope your paper, which has yet appeared with so much reputation, will not degenerate into riddles, rebus’s and conun-drums."
That small note, however, was only a jab at word puzzles compared to what "Observer" had to say in the Boston Magazine of December 1783. He wrote, in a lengthy letter, "In perusing your valuable Magazine for November, I was much pleased … But, Gentlemen, I must honestly confess, that the Enigmas, Riddle, and Rebus, rather disgusted me; they are too trifling to employ the time and attention of any, except those whose Taste is too depraved to deserve being pleased. I find that many of my acquaintance are of the same opinion, and we wish never to see any more of them …"
Many persons evidently looked upon enigmas, charades, and rebuses as childish amusements, and that fact is not very surprising. Riddles and word games were indeed popular with children. Even more important, however, was the fact that a large proportion of the word puzzles published for adults were poorly written in rhyme and meter, or lacked good imagery, or did not develop the enigmatic element, or were based on words that were improper for the type of puzzle in which they were used. Sometimes puzzles contained all four of these flaws. It was no wonder that many people looked upon puzzles as junk.
Even so, many excellent puzzles were published, and they had devoted fans everywhere. One puzzle enthusiast wrote an essay for the Massachusetts Magazine in 1789 on "The Antiquity and Dignity of Riddles". Quite a few magazine readers wrote letters to editors saying how much they enjoyed puzzles.
Some puzzlers were clearly defensive in upholding their pastime. One person wrote in a letter adjoining a rebus he was submitting to a magazine, "The Giants of Literature, who can scarcely deign to read any thing beneath an Epick Poem, perhaps, may sneer (for they are apt to sneer) at a trifle of this kind; but the suffrages of the Fair, will, we hope, be more favourable. A rebus will not pretend to immortality, but may amuse for a moment; and if it cannot claim the reward of instruction, neither can it be reproached with the guilt of corruption." A lukewarm support of puzzledom, this was written by "Septimus" and appeared in the May 1789 issue of the Massachu-setts Magazine.
"Fenelon" was not so defensive in upholding the art of puzzling in the January 1784 issue of the Boston Magazine, calling the pastime "a necessary relaxation from the fatigue of attending to domestic concerns [and also] an amusement for leisure hours." In the same issue of this journal, "Susanna" called riddling a species of wit as important as alliteration or the other poetic techniques involving letters and sound, all used by the best writers of the period. Still another reader expounded on the mental improvement aspect of word puzzling. In the February 1789 Massachusetts Magazine, "Q.S." declared "I doubt not, in time, that this occult art, … when its utility, dignity and antiquity is thoroughly investigated, will be introduced in your University in lieu of Logick. Indeed I can bring an author of great estimation, and indubitable acumen, who avers that riddle writing affords the easiest and shortest method of conveying some of its most useful principles." Of even greater importance, though, was the fact that this reader looked upon word puzzling as an art worthy to be studied by all educated persons.
Perhaps the most significant development in the field of word puzzling between 1780 and 1800 was the publication in the United States of the first known book of puzzles. The title of the book is uncertain, but appears to have been The Little Puzzling-Cap; Being a Choice Collection of Riddles in Familiar Verse, with a Curious Cut to Each. It was published in 1787 in Worcester, Massachusetts by the printer Isaiah Thomas. No copy of the book is known to exist today.
The book was obviously a popular one because new editions to it, under various titles, soon were published in a number of cities in New England. Most editions dropped, added and interchanged a number of puzzles from earlier editions, but they all were essentially the same. The first edition for which copies are extant is the one published in Boston by N. Coverly in 1792. Another edition is believed to have been published in Boston the following year. Two editions were published in Worcester, in 1793 and 1797. Another was printed in New York in 1800, another in Philadelphia in 1805, and another in Hartford in 1806. Still more editions appeared in these and other cities through the 1800s.
Most of the riddles in The Puzzling Cap were based on material objects well known to the people of the day. Subjects such as an oyster, a pair of spectacles, a watering pot, a melon, or a man in a pillory were ones with which the readers could relate. Abstract subjects, like love, hope, time, and death, were not to be found. The puzzles were evidently written and published to appeal to the popular audience.
A person reading The Puzzling Cap today is still likely to find the riddles entertaining. Many were quite cleverly done. The standard enigmatic technique used in the riddles was to describe various aspects of an object in paradoxical ways. The following enigma on "a watering pot" is a good example of the type of puzzle in the book:
"Can you the name of me devise?
My mouth is formed like a bow,
A nose, I have, and many eyes,
From whence my tears do often flow;
I seldom weep in winter time,
Although the weather’s ne’er so cold;
But when gay Flora’s in her prime,
My tears you often may behold."
This appeared in the 1793 Worcester edition of the book. The following three enigmas all are found in the 1792 Boston edition:
"My habitation’s in a wood,
And I’m at any ones command;
I often do more harm than good,
If once I get the upper hand.
I never fear a champion’s frown,
Stout things I often times have done:
Brave Soldiers I have oft laid down,
I never fear their sword or gun."
"My strength is powerful & great,
‘Tis true, altho’ it seemeth strange,
I carry many a thousand weight,
With which I many miles do range.
Whene’er I reach my journey’s end
With all my speed I hasten home;
And tho’ I often man befriend,
I sometimes also seal his doom."
"May I, ye ladies, now prevail
Upon you to declare my name?
My head is round & so’s my tail,
And saith my body is the same.
I oft am bound & beaten too,
And none there are who pity take;
Those who my heavy drubbings view
Are pleased by the noise I make."
The answers for these three riddles were "a barrel of beer," "the tide" and "a drum," respectively
With so many editions in so many cities, The Puzzling Cap must have reached a wide audience. The number of editions itself speaks for the book’s popularity.
During the first third of the nineteenth century in the United States, the overall popularity of word puzzles began to stabilize and then drop somewhat. As enthusiasm for all forms of literature dropped during this period, it was natural that interest in word puzzles should decline also. Never-theless, word puzzles began to pick up new recruits among classes of people which, generally, had been uneducated before the turn of the century. In particular, puzzles enjoyed considerable popularity among farmers and others living in rural areas.
One evidence of this growth, and a significant reason for its development as well, was the creation of a section of word puzzles in the widely-circulated Farmer’s Almanack in 1802. In that year, the Farmer’s Almanack, which was published in Boston, inserted an old enigma in the section devoted to poetry and amusements. The puzzle must have been well received because it was followed by another a year later. In fact, in each Farmer’s Almanack after 1802, well into the twentieth century, there was a section devoted to new puzzles along with answers to the ones printed in the previous year’s almanac. Enigmas were the only puzzles printed at first, but a charade appeared in 1811 and other types appeared later.
One reason why puzzles were so popular in the Farmer’s Almanack and in other rural books and magazines published in following years was that the educational level in rural areas was rising, and people were naturally becoming attracted to intellectual amusements. Farm life was well suited for the study of puzzles, because farm families were forced to stay inside a great deal of the time during the long winter months, and recreations of all types were warmly welcomed.
The types of publications in which puzzles appeared during the early nineteenth century give some indication as to the types of people who solved puzzles. Literary magazines such as The Eye (Philadelphia), The Emerald (Boston), the Literary Cabinet (New Haven) and the Rhode Island Literary Repository (Providence), printed occasional word puzzles, some of which were of very high literary quality. By the 1820s, however, few literary magazines printed any puzzles at all, and those that did, printed puzzles only on rare occasions. Ladies’ magazines such as the Lady’s Monitor (New York), the Lady’s Weekly Miscellany (New York), and the Ladies’ Literary Museum (Philadelphia) were very fond of puzzles. General interest and family magazines such as the Baltimore Weekly magazine and the Philadelphia Repository and Weekly Register also frequently included puzzles among their offerings. Puzzles were printed in both urban and rural publications, and magazines and newspapers published in both the East and the West (the present-day Midwest).
Although farmers enjoyed puzzles, the intellectuals of this period apparently looked upon them with some disdain. This is illustrated by a note a reader sent to the Ladies’ Literary Cabinet of July 8, 1820. He submitted an enigma attributed to Lord Byron for publication, and said, "I think it superior to any thing I have seen of the kind; for it is replete with wit and poetic beauty which is very seldom the case of writings of this kind." In other words, some puzzles were worthy enough to interest those persons with high literary tastes, but most were not.
No doubt he had a point. The literary quality of the verse puzzles ranged from very good to very poor, largely depending on where the puzzles appeared. Literary magazines printed puzzles of excellent quality, while some of the magazines appealing to the more common people were less concerned with the poetry of the verses as with the puzzle element itself. Examples of both types are given below.
Enigmas frequently fell into a dull, singsong pattern of superficial paradoxes. One enigma on "water" in the 1817 Farmer’s Almanack had this flaw. In certain parts, the puzzle did have some clever lines, such as these:
"So lax my joints have always been,
I cannot ev’n support a pin;
Yet never fail, of strength so rare
That none can heavier burdens bear."
"Of powers sublime, extensive, deep!
I oft reflect while others sleep;"
"Many a fair one grants me this
Indulgence, free her lips to kiss;"
However, some of the lines were only superficially enigmatic, and showed no sign of wit or cleverness at all:
"Am hard and soft, am short and long,
Smooth and uneven, weak and strong.
Both straight & crooked, square & round, …
Subservient, overbearing, proud;
Gentle, impetuous, tranquil, loud …"
Many puzzles like this one were indeed monotonous. Other puzzles were so vague that any one of a number of answers might be considered correct. This criticism was especially true of enigmas on abstract subjects, although it was true of some enigmas on material subjects, too.
The most important criticism of many word puzzles was that they lacked style and cleverness. Charades and various letter-changing, letter-dropping or letter-juggling word puzzles were especially guilty of this fault. Frequently word puzzles consisted only of straight clues in verse, and contained little or no real poetic content. A charade by "Emma" appearing in the May 10, 1817 issue of The Parterre, a Philadelphia magazine, ran like this:
"My first is an impediment,
My next an exclamation;
My third for many a meal is sent,
My whole a man of station."
The answer was ‘baronet". The puzzle might have been satisfactory for a children’s magazine, but did seem somewhat out of place in an adult periodical. It is no wonder that many people looked upon puzzles as juvenile amusements.
On the other hand, some word puzzles had considerable literary merit. The best, as usual, appeared in the literary magazines, where puzzles were still considered a form of art. The following logogriph was printed in The Bower of Taste, a Boston magazine, on February 9, 1828:
"1. A fairy form, a footstep light
A dimpled cheek, an eye so bright,
Teeth of pearl and raven hair
And swan-like neck, so stately fair; --
All, all of these will tell you who
Comes hither now to puzzle you!
And why not—when, as poets sing
I’m nothing but a puzzling thing?
But it, at such a bird’s eye glance,
To find me out is hard, perchance,
My various parts be pleased to scan,
And then proclaim me—if you can!
"2. Within my whole you’ll surely see
A partner formed to comfort me,
But one alas! Who oft has shown
A strange desire to be alone.
To pass this life from troubles free,
Unfettered by a thing like me.
But pass we on and leave the fool
The comfort of his selfish rule.
"3. From me the word you may discover
That damps the joy of yonder lover;
A word though short, which often proves
A tough one to the man that loves.
"4. And next from me you may derive
A word which marks each hour we live
When all is hushed, and stilly night
Is sleeping ‘neath the stars so bright,
And yonder maiden gently waking,
Opens the lattice, whither breaking,
A soft, still voice is heard to say—
‘When, love, say, when shall we away?’
Then—then am I a word most sweet,
Proclaiming that ‘t is time to meet!
"5. And then o’er hill and dale while flying,
All danger’s o’er, and hush’d all sighing,
Still in my whole there is contained
A word which means—the prize is gained!
And so, when bravely home returning
The conqueror comes with vict’ry burning,
‘How is the field?’—I still afford
A noble, animating, word!
All these, and more, my name contains;
Solve this—and take me for your pains!"
In a logogriph, clues were given for a keyword, from which various letters were selected to make new, shorter words that answered other clues. The answer to this puzzle was "woman," from which the words "man," "no," "now," and "won" were found.
Another excellent example of refreshing puzzle verse appeared in the May 30 1807 issue of a Boston magazine with the lengthy name The Emerald, or, Miscellany of Literature, Containing Sketches of the Manners, Principles, and Amusements of the Age. The puzzle was a charade on the word "timepiece". Notice how the author enigmatically describes the first half of his keyword:
"Fleeting movements; tardy measure;
How uncertain is thy pace,
Flying in the hours of Pleasure,
Bounded by no earthly space!
"Dragging on, with leaden motion,
When with Sorrow’s weight opprest,
Or when sailing o’er the Ocean,
Calms annoy each anxious breast."
The author of the charade went on to give clues for the second half of the word and the whole. His first two verses are particularly good, however, because they cleverly point out one of the paradoxes of time—how it seems to fly at times and creep at other times.
The following charade was published in the January 10, 1807 issue of the Literary Cabinet, a magazine issued by the members of the senior class of Yale during 1806 and 1807. It was one of a number of very good puzzles which appeared in the poetry section. The answer to this charade was "firelock".
"My first to certain bounds confin’d,
Most useful is to all that move;
But when let loose, all plagues combin’d
A greater curse would hardly prove.
To deck a beauty, or to guard
The Miser’s god, my second deigns.
My whole, when war’s shrill trump is heard,
With slaughtered armies spreads the plains."
Although the early nineteenth century was a sluggish period in word puzzle history, two significant advances did occur: the appearance in magazines of columns solely devoted to word puzzles, and the publication of word puzzle books for adults.
During the latter part of the eighteenth century, most word puzzles appeared in the poetry sections of magazines. Puzzles were, in fact, thought of as one of many types of poetry. However, the new types of people with whom puzzles were becoming popular were far less concerned with style than the intellectuals had been. The newly-educated class of people, the common people, were the ones who made and worked the charades and riddles of the early nineteenth century. Puzzles to them were an amusement, not a form of art, and this change of outlook was reflected in the manner in which they were presented in magazines.
From October to December of 1801, a New York weekly magazine known as The Lady’s Monitor printed a column of word puzzles in nearly every issue. Charades and enigmas appeared the most often, although a good beheadment was printed in one issue. Most or all of the puzzles appear to have been original. The column was dropped entirely, however, after only two and a half months of publication, so we can only assume that reader response to the puzzles was not overwhelming.
A second puzzle column, called "The Enigmatist," ran for six consecutive issues of The Philadelphia Repository beginning on June 26, 1802. The puzzles in the department were either riddles, conundrums, rebuses, or miscellaneous word games. Most were of poor quality, and all were copied from other sources.
From February 8, 1817 to April 26, 1817, the New-York Weekly Museum carried a section of charades in every weekly issue. Many of the original charades were clever, although they were very simply written. The answer to the following charade was "sonnet".
"My first is what the married wish,
And happiness imparts to Lords:
My next takes captive many a fish,
My whole amusement oft affords."
The column was evidently a popular one, because quite a few readers sent in their own puzzles along with answers to the charades that had been printed before. Although none of these three puzzle columns lasted for an appreciable length of time, they are significant for what they represent: early attempts by editors and readers alike to make word puzzles regular fare in their magazines.
The first puzzle column to run for more than a few months in an American periodical was probably the "Enigmas" department which appeared weekly in The Minerva magazine (published in New York from April 1822 to September 1823, when the magazine ceased publication).
The "Enigmas" column was an interesting one because it went through a number of phases. When it first started, it was filled mainly with riddles and juvenile arithmetical teasers. Puzzles of quality did appear occasionally, but probably all of them were taken from other sources. The author’s name never appeared next to a puzzle.
The following two puzzles appeared in The Minerva on May 4, 1822 and December 14, 1822:
"In gloomy convent, or in dreary cell,
Where pious monks and holy hermits dwell,
I’m never seen; but search the world around,
In social circles I am daily found;
I rich and poor, peasant and prince befriend,
Alike to each my soothing aid I lend,
But tho’ in palaces I claim a place,
I often leave the token of disgrace;
Yet, strange to tell, I may in strictest sense,
Be deemed the seat of perfect innocence.
Tho’ happy they, the happiest of their kind,
Whom Love unites and Hymen’s fetters bind,
Imperfect is their bliss till me they need;
When I appear, then are they bless’d indeed;
O’er me they anxious bend, in me behold
Treasures more valued than the miser’s gold."
"Where’er my first appears dread horror reigns,
Sad desolation marks its wild career:
Mild Peace affrighted flies to happier plains,
And roseate Hope is chased by pallid Fear.
Led by false zeal, the preacher oft mistakes.
My empty next for energy divine;
The simple majesty of truth forsakes,
And fills with pompous sound each feeble line.
My whole, dread mandate of offended power,
The trembling culprit views with wild dismay;
Too late he deprecates the fatal hour
That led him from fair Virtue’s peaceful way."
The first puzzle, an enigma, was answered by "a cradle," and the answer to the second puzzle, a charade, was "warrant".
By the end of 1822, the riddles and juvenile word games were found less frequently in the department, and had been replaced by charades, enigmas, and other puzzles. Generally, these puzzles were written in a simple style, but sometimes contained humor and good enigmatic qualities. The following two charades were written in a style common to many puzzles in The Minerva and other magazines. The first, appearing September 7, 1822, is answered by "housewife," and the second, appearing January 25, 1823, is answered by "justice".
"Dear is my first, when shadowy night is near;
But ‘tis my second makes my first so dear;
My whole with decent care my first preserves,
And thus to be my second well deserves."
"My first you will be,
If you’re good and upright;
My second you’ll see
In a sharp frosty night.
I’m a virtue that’s great,
That should govern each mind,
And preside in each state."
In April 1824 a new series of The Minerva was begun. Although the magazine had a somewhat different appearance and format, the puzzle column continued. In this new series, some new types of puzzles were printed—an excellent beheadment appeared, along with some clever poetic riddles. Most interesting, however, was the series of anagrams which were printed beginning in October 1824. In an anagram, the letters of a word or name are unscrambled to form another word, name or phrase; ideally, this second combination of letters should describe or be relevant to the initial word or name.
Anagrams appeared in the October 23, 1824 issue and numerous issues afterwards. Some of the excellent examples were:
Best in prayer - Presbyterian
There we Sat - Sweetheart
A Just Master - James Stuart
All of the good ones, however, were taken from other sources, mainly British books and magazines. But along with the good anagrams were quite a few that were not relevant at all to the word or name which answered them:
Nice Ham - Machine
See a Pug Dog - Pedagogues
On Real Catgut - Congratulate
Made in Pint Pots - Disappointment
Although anagramming had been practiced in the United States as early as the seventeenth century, these examples were perhaps the earliest ones in America intended to be solved by readers. Despite the popularity of the anagrams in The Minerva, they did not gain national popularity until thirty years later.
The Rural Depository, Devoted to Polite Literature, published in Hudson, New York, was the second important American magazine to have a long-running puzzle department. As in The Minerva, none of the puzzles appears to be original for the column. The department was filled mainly with conundrums and word teasers, along with quality puzzles from both famous British writers and others not so well know. However, no sources were given for any of the puzzles.
There are two reasons why the puzzle department in The Rural Depository is important. First, it was the longest-running department up to that date, appearing from June 12, 1824 to June 22, 1833. That record of over nine years would stand until much later in the nineteenth century. Second, The Rural Depository was the first major rural magazine to print a significant number of word puzzles. Judging from the popularity of the puzzles in the magazine, we can safely say that word puzzling was an important amusement in farming areas.
A third important puzzle department of this era was "The Puzzler," which appeared in The Casket, or, Flowers of Literature, Wit & Sentiment, published in Philadelphia, from January 1826 to the middle of 1830. The column was an extensive one, sometimes filling as many as two full pages. Most of the puzzles in The Casket were riddles, conundrums, and simply-written enigmas and charades, but beheadments, curtailments, logogriphs and other puzzles sometimes added diversity. From time to time, puzzles of real literary merit were published, but most of these were copied from other magazines and books, usually without credit.
A fourth magazine which carried a regular puzzle column was the Philadelphia Album, and Ladies’ Weekly Gazette, which printed a section called "Enigmas &c" from July 26, 1826 to September 13, 1826. The department had a diverse selection of puzzles, including reversals, beheadments, curtailments, and other types; however, all of the puzzles of excellent quality seem to have come from other places. Below is one beheadment and curtailment puzzle that appeared in The Philadelphia Album for November 1, 1826:
"Curtail me thrice, I am a youth;
Behead me once a snake;
Complete, I’m often us’d, in truth
When certain steps you’d take."
The answer to the puzzle was "ladder".
The Saturday Evening Post, which began publication in Philadelphia in 1821, also printed a significant number of word puzzles. By 1822, charades, enigmas, acrostic rebuses and conundrums were being published on occasion, some of which were new and some of which were old. By late 1823 and 1824, puzzles were much more frequent, appearing nearly every week in "The Olio" section, where they continued to hold their popularity throughout the decade. Although a majority of the Saturday Evening Post puzzles were poorly written, they were, unlike the puzzles in most other magazines, more often original than copied.
As mentioned previously, a second significant advance in early nineteenth century word puzzling was the publication of two books of word puzzles for adults. The first one, appearing in 1806 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was entitled The New American Oracle; or, Ladies’ Companion and was edited by Samuel Tizzard. Half of the book was composed of enigmas, rebuses, and charades, all "Designed for the Improvement of the Fair-Sex," and "Collected from the Most Eminent and Approved Writers." The purpose of the book, as set forth in its preface, was to provide women with a set of literary word puzzles divested of the "indecencies" common in the puzzles of so many other publications. Many of the puzzles were indeed excellent, as the following beheadment of ‘grape" demonstrates:
"In many countries I’m produc’d,
And am to man a blessing:
But blessings, when they are abus’d,
A curse prove in possessing.
There liv’d a race of men on earth
With nature not contented,
From them did art derive her birth,
In various shapes invented;
‘Mong those, the art to drain my blood,
Ws held in veneration,
And deem’d to be extremely good,
In almost ev’ry nation.
The bucks and rakes, and such like breed,
And each audacious varlet,
When they can get it, they’ll exceed
The Babylonish harlot;
Then, ladies, would you know the crime
They’re capable of doing,
One letter taken from my name,
Will shew it to your viewing:
But justice soon pursues the rake,
‘Fore whom they stand and tremble,
Then from my name two letters take,
You’ll see what they resemble."
Most puzzles, however, appear to have been taken from British books and magazines, since they were generally written in a style that was more common with English poets, and since the answers to puzzles were often British people and places.
A second book of adult puzzles, published in Philadelphia in 1811, was entitled The Whim-Wham: or, Evening Amusement, for All Ages and Sizes, Being an Entire New Set of Riddles, Charades, Questions, and Transpositions. This was a shorter book than the earlier one, and the puzzles in it were written in a simpler style and were easier to solve. Most or all of the puzzles appear to have been original. Many of the riddles and charades in The Whim-Wham were presented in prose, a style that would become more popular in the United States throughout the nineteenth century. A riddle and a charade in prose are given below:
"I am taken from the mine; confin’d in a wooden case; and am used by many people."
"My first is one of the elements; without my second we should be very helpless; and my
whole should never be put in the hands of a madman."
The answers to these two puzzles were "a pencil" and "firearms". A majority of the puzzles still were in verse, but the book was certainly less literary than The New American Oracle, and directed more to the average person.
As can be seen from the foregoing examples, the types of puzzles popular during the early nineteenth century were approximately the same types that were popular at the end of the eighteenth century. Little new material was invented or developed; in fact, a number of the new puzzles which appeared during the 1780s and 1790s soon all but disappeared. Charades and enigmas comprised the bulk of the puzzle fare; rebuses, acrostic rebuses and transpositions appeared on occasion.
Nevertheless, one change should be noted—the appearance of more and more enigmas on abstract subjects, which had occurred in England somewhat earlier. There seems to be a stage in the development of all literatures when writers begin to focus more of their attention on abstract subjects. Here is an example from The New American Oracle, answered by he word "hope":
"I’m not confin’d to pomp or state;
Men of all ranks my favours share;
I’m born to shorten sorrow’s date
And ease the tortur’d brow of care.
Oft to assist the youth in fight,
I smiling with him take the field;
But if by fear I’m put to flight,
The most courageous heart will yield.
When, rack’d with doubt, the virgin fair
Sits doating on her fickle love,
At intervals suspend despair,
And say he’s faithful as the dove.
But I’m a flat’rer found at best
And often when sad woes are near,
Like a false friend I fly the test;
But pleasure give to some elsewhere.
Yet never rank me as a foe,
Tho’ I perhaps may you betray;
And fool’d the witty long ago,--
Enough. ‘Tis needless more to say."
By 1830, two major changes were evident in American puzzledom. First, miscellaneous word puzzles involving deleting and juggling of letters were becoming popular as never before. Many of them were unversed, but others were in poetic form. One puzzle from the Saturday Evening Post of September 22, 1827 is perhaps a good example of this new style:
"My total is a brilliant gem,
I deck the costly diadem;
Erase a letter, and I stand
High honour’d in the royal land;
Cut off the last, my first regain,
A well-known fruit I do explain;
My second, third and first transpose,
An imitator ‘twill disclose;
My second, third, and fourth will name,
A number of the human frame.
Ye riddling ones who e’er you be,
Unfold the seeming mystery."
The answer was "pearl," which changed into new words as explained.
The second change coming over puzzledom of this period was the appearance of more and more charades which told a story or were centered around one subject. In the past, the parts of nearly all charades had been enigmatically described in separate verses or in lines unconnected with one another. Now, some people began to feel that a puzzle should have a point to it besides the puzzle element itself. Some writers began to weave charades into stories, and later writers would do the same for beheadments, reversals, and other puzzles. Here is a story charade that was printed in the puzzle department of The Casket for December 1829, answered by "nightingale":
"My first was dreary, cold and dark
As I left my second’s door.
The sky showed not one diamond spark,
And I heard no sound but the watch-dog’s bark
As I wandered the wild heath o’er.
"In a lonely spot I chanced to be
When my third came fiercely on;
He tore my cloak and hat from me,
And drove me under an old dead tree,
And left me there alone.
"Then swiftly the dark clouds passed away,
And the silver moon did fling
On my path once more her gentle ray,
And my whole began from the greenwood spray
Her blithesome caroling."
An excellent charade on the word "nightingale" was published in the Philadelphia Courier of July 24, 1841 (and reprinted in the Ardmore Puzzler of May 6, 1889):
"’Twas sunset, and a golden light
Was bathing lake, and hill, and river
With hues so brilliant and so bright,
That one might wish them there for ever.
When rising from the shaded dell,
With raven robe and vestments flowing,
My FIRST upon the landscape fell,
And quenched the glory round it glowing.
"You’ll see my SECOND in the rain,
Its short existence briefly closing,
And twice upon the raging main,
Its form was calmly seen reposing.
The Summer breeze it ne’er hath stirred,
Nor dared on Autumn’s sky to enter;
But in the Spring its voice is heard,
And ‘mid the whistling winds of Winter.
"My THIRD hath bowed the stately tree,
Its giant limbs around it dashing—
Or woke the wild and wrathful sea,
Its mountain waves to madness lashing,
When with a strong, terrific arm
The midnight tempest rocks our dwelling,
Its spirit rides the roaring storm,--
A threatened death to thousands knelling.
"My WHOLE, --nor tinkling harp nor lute
May rival thy sweet warbling measure—
Soft as the breathings of the flute—
And rich and full thy varied treasure.
The lark soars up to drink the light,
Its careless song to earth returning;
But thine are lays that love the night,
Bright as the gems above the burning."
A final example of a story charade is taken from the May 1840 issue of Evergreen, A Monthly magazine of New and Popular Tales and Poetry. The answer to the charade is "cobweb":
"The widow Jones is fair and fat,
And her gait is seldom hurried—
What has the widow Jones been at,
That, today, she looks so flurried?
Sir Hugh had ridden a score of miles,
And well ‘my first’ has sped him,
To drink in the tones of the widow Jones,
And to ask her if she’ll wed him
"Now simple maidens who nothing know,
Will melt when a lover woos ‘em;--
Then how, when her suitors bend so low,
Should a widow’s lip refuse ‘em?
And many a day, as her neighbors say,
Tho’ so grave and good she’s reckoned,
To win Sir Hugh, and to keep him true,
Has the widow spun ‘my second’!
"And so when, at last, he declared his love,
And described his varied feelings,
And told how he needed some hand to move
‘My all’ from his doors and ceilings;
The widow Jones, with a gentle, ‘yes,’
Put an end to the old man’s sorrow,
And declared that in cupboard, shelf, or press,
Not one should remain to-morrow!
"Now tho’ you may wonder the good old knight
So long for a wife should tarry,
And tho’ you may fancy the cause was slight
Which induced Sir Hugh to marry;
Yet I think you will see, in the Registry,
Where all weddings are now included,
That nine out of ten, of our married men,
Have wed for the cause Sir Hugh did!"
The thirty years before the Civil War witnessed three divergent trends in American publishing puzzledom: a steady decline of puzzles in literary magazines, a decline and then a recovery of puzzles in family and general interest magazines, and a substantial growth of puzzles in children’s magazine. One can speculate on the reasons for these changes. Editors were placing greater emphasis on poetic style and story continuity, and the short verse puzzles so popular during the early 1800s were no longer acceptable. Most of the best word puzzles printed in the United States during this period were copies from British books and magazines, and with the decline in popularity of puzzles in England, American magazines had less material from which to choose. Although word puzzles had appeared in magazines for youth as early as 1815 (the April 7, 1815 issue of Youth’s Cabinet, published in Utica, New York, contained an eighteen-line enigma in the "Original Poetry" section), periodicals for young people did not gain significant circulation until the 1830s. Because children are naturally attracted to puzzles, it would be expected that an upswing in children’s literature would be accompanied by a surge of puzzle interest among young people.
Even though literary puzzling was limited in this period, the pastime did have dedicated followers, particularly women. As evidence of this following, a book of original literary puzzles was published in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1839—the first book of original adult literary puzzles to appear in this country. Entitled Original Charades, it was written by fifteen different people, most of whom were Harvard professors and their wives. The 104-page volume contained a lengthy preface by Andrews Norton tracing the history of the charade back to 1777, and then 68 original charades. Some of the puzzles were serious in nature, but most of them were light-hearted. The following serious charade, written by George Ticknor, was answered by "Marygold":
"Before my first, to seek relief,
The nun devoutly kneels,
And, in her solitude and grief,
Her secret heart reveals.
My second, as their highest good,
Men of all lands pursue,
And worship in a sterner mood,
But not with love so true.
The namesake of my first, my whole
Grows wild in southern meads,
But here, too nigh the unfriendly pole,
Aid from my second needs."
The book evidently was popular enough that another volume, Original Charades, Prepared for the Fair in Aid of Bunker Hill Monument, was published in Boston in 1840. (For more details, see John Olin Eidson’s article, "A Harvard Book of Charades", in the September 1949 issue of The New England Quarterly.)
One of the few literary periodicals to include puzzles was Sartain’s Union Magazine of Literature and Art, published monthly in New York from 1847 to 1852. A number of puzzles appeared in the earlier issues; however, beginning with volume 8 (in 1851) the magazine began publishing an original charade every month. The puzzles were length and witty, and almost always told a story. The following charade, answered by the word "snowball," appeared in the December 1851 issue:
"I come, the month of merry times,
Bringing bright gifts, with Christmas chimes,
With cheerful songs and jesting rhymes,
A friend you all remember.
But would you win my grace and dole,
My hidden word you most enroll,--
My first, my second, and my whole,
All come with gay December.
"My first, it is the garb I wear,
I bring it forth all pure and fair,
And lay it gently everywhere,
A gift where’er I go.
The children hail it merrily,
And older eyes oft dance with glee,
For all the pleasures they foresee,
That from my first may flow.
"Now, youths and maidens, curl your hair,
Bring out your gayest robes with care,
For you, my second I prepare,
To cheer you, heart and soul.
The children slightingly passed by,
In mutual indignation vie.
‘We’ll form from out your first," they cry,
‘Your second and your whole."
"Though many an older back may shirk,
Though many a gentle dame may quirk,
I aid them in their playful work,
And laugh decorum down.
Favourite among their favourite toys,
Proudest among their proudest joys,
The prime delight of girls and boys,
My whole bears off the crown."
The charades in Sartain’s Magazine quickly became a favorite feature with readers, who sent in original charades and answers in verse to the old ones. In April 1852 the editors wrote, "The interest manifested in this feature of the Magazine is exceedingly gratifying to us, as its introduction was a pet fancy of our own, founded on our admiration of Praed’s beautiful lyrical charades. A numerous corps of volunteers regularly transmit to us metrical answers."
A number of new American literary magazines, such as The New Yorker, The Expositor, Evergreen and the Cincinnati Mirror, and Ladies’ Parterre and Museum, also printed some excellent original charades and enigmas, but even these puzzles were rare. Most of the literary magazines published between 1830 and 1860 printed no puzzles at all.
As mentioned previously, family and general interest magazines suffered a decline and then a resurgence in puzzling. After mid-century puzzle columns appeared in a number of adult magazines. "The Riddler" in the Saturday Evening Post carried some good word puzzles. The Ladies’ Companion devoted a column to charades and enigmas during 1850. One important country periodical, Moore’s Rural New Yorker, carried a numerical enigma in every issue for a number of years, along with other puzzle types. Dwight’s American Magazine and Family Newspaper, published in New York, printed numerous numerical enigmas and other puzzles.
Most of the word puzzles in these general interest magazines were mediocre, although some puzzle verse of considerable merit was printed on occasion. The diversity of the puzzle fare was greater than ever before. Charades and enigmas were no longer the staple items of the puzzle departments, but were only two types of puzzles among many. Numerical enigmas, beheadments, curtailments, transpositions, acrostic rebuses and many other puzzles were found often.
Probably the most noteworthy event in American puzzledom during these years was the rapid growth of puzzle departments in juvenile magazines. The Youth’s Literary Gazette, published in Philadelphia from 1832 to 1833, was one of the earliest to carry puzzles in most of its issues. Charades, conundrums and enigmas were the most popular. Here is a charade from the October 5, 1833 issue, followed by an enigma from the November 15, 1833 issue:
"See yon poor soldier; he has lost my first,
His dearest friend has fallen in the dust;
He too must meet my second in his race,
Then yield, a victim to death’s cold embrace;
My whole is fabulous, and loves the tales
Where fancy in her wildest dress prevails."
"A sailor launch’d a ship of force,
A cargo put therein, of course;
No goods had he, he wish’d to sell;
Each wind did serve his turn as well;
No pirate dreaded; to no harbour bound;
His strongest wish that he might run aground."
The answer to the first puzzle was "legend" and the answer to the second was "Noah".
Another early magazine for youth was The Southern Rosebud, published in Charleston, South Carolina from 1832 to 1839. Conundrums were the most popular form of puzzle in it, but charades and other types of puzzles appeared frequently. Most of the word puzzles were very juvenile and had little literary merit. The following anagram and charade were published in the September 28, 1833 and the January 25, 1834 issues, respectively:
"Read me forwards, I am the highest point of every thing, read me backwards, scarcely
any thing is deeper."
"My first, tho’ water, cures no thirst,
My next alone has soul,
And when he lives upon my first,
He then is called my whole."
The answers to these two puzzles were "tip – pit" and ‘seaman".
Parley’s Magazine, published in Boston and New York from 1833 to 1844, was one of the largest-circulating juvenile magazines of the period. Puzzles appeared occasionally in it during the 1830s but frequently during the 1840s. In the prospectus for volume one of Parley’s Magazine, the editors set forth their plan for the magazine. Although they did not mention puzzles directly, the editors certainly proposed a periodical in which puzzles would be welcomed. Their design was "to offer to the public an entertaining work for children and youth; one that may become with them a favorite; one that will please and instruct them; one that they will regard not as a thing which they must read as a task, but which they will love to consult as a companion and friend." And everyone knows that word puzzles are both educational and highly entertaining to children.
Riddles, conundrums, charades and enigmas all proved to be popular in Parley’s magazine. Probably the most popular puzzle in it, however, was a new type that first came into vogue during the 1820s, called the numerical enigma. This involved clues to words which contained letters of a longer name, phrase or saying. One simple numerical enigma in the March 1, 1835 issue of Parley’s ran like this:
"My 4th, 6th, 9th, and 8th is used by carpenters. My 7th, 6th, 5th, and 10th are what no
civilized countries can exist without. My 10th, 9th, and 8th is a part of a door. My 1st, 2d,
and 5th is a quadruped. My 2d, 6th, and 3d is used on the water. My whole is the name of
a distinguished Englishman."
The answer was "Cornwallis," from which the appropriate letters spelled "nail," "laws," etc. Numerical enigmas were very popular with young readers because they were easy to make and fun to solve. Many young people sent in their own puzzles along with answers to ones already printed.
Forrester’s Boys and Girls Magazine and Fireside Companion, published in Boston from 1848 to 1857, was one of the best children’s periodicals of the period. It was edited by a man known as Mark Forrester, who projected a fatherly image to his young readers and wrote a friendly column each month called "Chat with Readers and Correspondents." During the first two years of publication, Forrester’s Magazine printed an elementary numerical enigma or scrambled word puzzle in most issues. Responding to "Father Forrester’s" invitation to write to him, many young people wrote to say how much they enjoyed the puzzles, or sent in their own puzzles and answers. Perhaps due to this popularity, the puzzle department was gradually enlarged during late 1850 and early 1851, and given a separate heading, "New Puzzles, Enigmas, &c." Charades, beheadments and other verse puzzles became more frequent, and the quality of puzzles rose substantially.
Below is a beheadment, a riddle, and a charade—three of the best puzzles in the puzzle department of Forrester’s magazine. These appeared in the February 1851, March 1851 and March 1852 issues, respectively:
"Cut off my head, and if you guess,
Your angry feelings you’ll express;
Cut off my tail, and you will see
In me a tall and stately tree.
My whole complete is what you like
On every cold and wintry night."
"I’m round as a globe, as a feather I’m light;
I shine in the sunbeams resplendent and bright.
I rival the rainbow in richness of hue;
I live but a moment, then vanish from view.
Two of the elements give me an existence,
But to other agents I owe my consistence.
By air I’m produced, and by air I’m destroyed;
Essay you to grasp me? Your hand will be void.
To childhood’s glad time my short life is due;
And p’rhaps I’ve been sent forth, kind reader, by you."
"The night was dark, fierce howl’d the wind,
As seated near my first,
A mother sat within my next,
And almost feared the worst.
Her sailor-boy was homeward bound,
Might then be near the coast,
But on my whole she placed her trust,
And cried—he’ll not be lost."
The answers to these were "fire," "soap-bubble," and "lighthouse".
A large number of other periodicals for youth printed puzzles. A few of them were The School Mate, the School Fellow, Youth’s Cabinet, and Merry’s Museum, all published in New York; Forrester’s Playmate and Child’s Friend, both published in Boston; and Mentor, a Magazine for Youth, published in Philadelphia.
The surge of interest in word puzzling among young people was not limited to magazine readers alone. Quite a few juvenile puzzles books soon were published and achieved good sales. Robert Merry, the editor of Merry’s Museum children’s magazine mentioned above, edited the book Merry’s Book of Puzzles, published in New York in 1857. It contained charades, enigmas, conundrums, trick riddles, numerical enigmas, and a great number of illustrated rebuses. Many of the puzzles were copied from other sources. Most of the material was in the popular vein and was obviously directed toward young readers. Here are two representative puzzles from Merry’s book—the first a juvenile riddle on "a bell," and the second a charade on "candle-stick".
"My tongue is long, my breath is strong,
And yet I breed no strife;
My voice you hear both far and near,
And yet I have no life."
"In every hedge my second is,
As well as every tree,
And when poor school-boys act amiss
It often is their fee.
My first likewise is always wicked,
Yet ne’er committed sin,
My total for my first is fitted,
Composed of brass or tin."
In Philadelphia, a series of juvenile books of riddles were published in 1860. Three of the titles were The Illustrated Book of Riddles, My New Book of Riddles, and My New Book of Guess Again. Many of the puzzles were fashioned after the ones in The Puzzling Cap, and all of the books had clever illustrations in color.
The history of American word puzzles from the beginning of American literature to the Civil War is a story of development and diversification of puzzles, reflecting the development and diversification of literature and intellectual thought.
Word puzzling has always been an entertaining pastime among educated Americans. More importantly, though, during each period when new social groups have become educated and have developed literatures of their own, word puzzles have become popular in those groups. Almost form the birth of printing in New England, word puzzles were popular, despite the oppressing social conditions. Puzzles appeared in the earliest magazines and newspapers during the early 1700s. With the great growth of American literature following the Revolutionary War, word puzzles surged in popularity. Puzzles became popular in rural areas just at the time farmers’ magazines and almanacs appeared. When periodicals for general interests advanced in circulation during the 1820s, word puzzles appeared in profusion. And with the growth of children’s literature between 1830 and 1860, puzzles became one of the most popular amusements of young people.
Not only have word puzzles played a significant role in the development of American literature, but they have also proved themselves to be a significant art form. The best enigmas and charades in the literary magazines matched, in quality, the best of the other poetic material.
Our study today of the early history of American word puzzles is a profitable exercise, for it not only gives us better insights into the reasons behind the popularity of puzzles, but also adds a certain dignity to the pastime, a dignity which word puzzling justly deserves.
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