As a kid, I was a huge puzzle freak.
I liked jigsaw puzzles; the games Rush Hour, Tantrix and Labyrinth; brainteasers; and books like Rowan of Rin and Artemis Fowl and The Eleventh Hour. I loved it when books gave me a chance to solve the problems with the characters. Often, I’d flip back to check out a problem again.
Once, in Grade Three, I had a brilliant teacher who set us a basic substitution code – A = W, but B = F, C = J etc – and I liked it so much, he set me another one. I spent all of playtime figuring it out. I still remember the message: ‘when I was born, I was so surprised that I couldn’t speak for a year and a half!’
Riddles have a very long history indeed. The oldest riddle ever is probably the riddle of the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, an Ancient Egyptian problem from 1650 BCE that is similar to the ‘As I was going to St Ives’ riddle:
Seven houses keep seven cats; each cat eats seven mice; each mouse would have eaten seven ears of corn; each ear of corn would have produced seven hekat of grain. How many things are described?
Apparently, there are lots of possible answers. The mathematical answer is 19,607, which makes it a straightforward multiplication problem. But you could also say, for instance, that the answer is five: houses, cats, mice, corn and units of volume are five different things.
Riddles show up a lot in folklore and fairytales, which is probably why they show up so often in fantasy. Not complaining! It gives me the perfect excuse to put riddles in my own stories. Here are a few from my research and development for The Celestial Kris and The Grandest Bookshop in the World. Some of these didn’t end up fitting into the stories. For instance, in The Celestial Kris, the riddling character has a fixation on family, motherhood and being loved, so all of her conundrums (yes, it’s a word, we are descriptivists around here) are kind of in that vein.
Below every riddle is the answer in white text, so highlight the words to see them.