Riddles – a small word that encompasses many different kinds of puzzles nowadays. But where [blank_start]does[blank_end] it come from? And for [blank_start]how long[blank_end] has mankind had it?
Origin and Meaning of the Riddle
The word ‘riddle’ describes a statement or question, [blank_start]which[blank_end] directly requires a concrete answer or presents a puzzle whose hidden meaning has [blank_start]to be[blank_end] deciphered. There are two kinds of riddles. First [blank_start]there is[blank_end] the enigma – a metaphorically expressed riddle – and second there is a conundrum – a very tricky problem [blank_start]usually[blank_end] including a pun in its question or answer. An example for a conundrum would be: “What is the difference between a jeweler and a jailer?” – “One sells watches and the other watches cells.”
The word ‘riddle’ has the same origin [blank_start]as[blank_end] the word ‘read’. It is an Old English word which meant interpret or guess. It always revolves around the same meaning of ‘to understand/ interpret the symbols’.
The [blank_start]oldest[blank_end] preserved riddle is from ancient Mesopotamia. Another Sumerian riddle asks the answerer to name a certain institution, [blank_start]maybe[blank_end] you can guess:
“There is a house. One enters it blind and comes out seeing. What is it?”
In the Near East the riddle [blank_start]also[blank_end] spread through classic ancient Greece. The philosopher Aristotle mentions a close relationship [blank_start]between[blank_end] the riddle and the metaphor:
“Good riddles do, [blank_start]in general[blank_end], provide us with satisfactory metaphors; for metaphors imply riddles, and therefore a good riddle can furnish a good metaphor“.
Ancient and medieval literature is [blank_start]full of[blank_end] riddles. They were used [blank_start]both[blank_end] to bring suspense to the text and to pass on cultural tradition. One example [blank_start]would[blank_end] be the double meanings hidden in the written words that composed the foundation of the knowledge of medieval scholars. In that sense, riddles also had an educational [blank_start]purpos[blank_end]e, because they were designed to approach their audience through one of the many meanings a single word could have in [blank_start]any[blank_end] given situation.
Riddles in the Folk Tales of the Brothers Grimm
In modern times a lot of medieval riddles [blank_start]were[blank_end] preserved in old folk tales, [blank_start]like[blank_end] in the collection of Children’s and Household Tales (1812) of the Brothers Grimm. The two German culture experts lovingly preserved [blank_start]over[blank_end] 200 tales in their books, [blank_start]which[blank_end] became extremely popular the world over.
There is [blank_start]even[blank_end] a German fairy tale called The Riddle collected by Brothers Grimm [blank_start]where[blank_end] solving a riddle also leads [blank_start]to[blank_end] a royal marriage. So [blank_start]as[blank_end] we can see, riddles [blank_start]often[blank_end] served the same purpose in old folk tales: solving a riddle was rewarded with a prize and emphasized the wise and noble character of the story’s hero.
Types of Riddles
The riddle has stood the test of time and is [blank_start]still[blank_end] a popular medium for spending free time or sharpening mental abilities. Nowadays there are many kinds of word- or letter-based riddles [blank_start]next to[blank_end] the poetic ones. A short selection can be [blank_start]found[blank_end] here:
Riddles as Poems or Prose: these riddles are small texts set in poetry or prose.
Anagrams are a small kind of riddle. They usually [blank_start]consist of[blank_end] one word, but can also be extended to [blank_start]whole[blank_end] sentences. Their letters can be reordered to form [blank_start]another[blank_end] word or sentence. Thus anagram riddles hide a second meaning in themselves.
A [blank_start]current[blank_end] example comes from the book and film series Harry Potter. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets the name of early student TOM MARVOLO RIDDLE [blank_start]hides[blank_end] the real identity of the person within its letters: it can be rearranged to I AM LORD VOLDEMORT.
A very young type of riddle is the crossword, [blank_start]where[blank_end] questions and answers are arranged in grids. The answer words cross [blank_start]each other[blank_end], which is how it got its name. The first modern crossword puzzle was produced [blank_start]by[blank_end] Arthur Wynne in the New York World in 1913.
One of [blank_start]them[blank_end] is the so-called cryptic crossword, [blank_start]which[blank_end] is especially famous in North America. These crosswords use cryptic clues, which do not reveal their real statement or question at [blank_start]first sight[blank_end]. You need to think [blank_start]outside the box[blank_end] to understand the hint with all [blank_start]its[blank_end] hidden meanings.
Of course there are many other types of riddles nowadays.