Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

games

 

RIDDLER REACHER at your service. That’s a full anagram of my name, Richard Lederer.

Riddles have riddled humanity for millennia. Even 4,000 years ago, people tested one another’s critical thinking skills with riddles and logic puzzles. This ancient Sumer civilization, located in what is today Iraq, left us with one of the earliest known written riddles. (Ancient Sumer is also the civilization with the oldest surviving writing system that we know of.) Here is the riddle: “There is a house. One enters it blind and comes out seeing. What is it?”

The answer is a school. How true. The Sumerians placed great value on education and knowledge, and some of their mathematical discoveries are still in use today.

In Sophocles’ ancient tragedy Oedipus Rex, 429 BC, the Sphinx asks Oedipus, “What goes on four feet in the morning, two feet in the afternoon and three feet in the evening?”

Oedipus correctly answers, “A man. In the morning of his life, he is a baby and crawls on four feet. In the afternoon, he is an adult and walks on two feet. In the evening of his life he is an old man who walks with a cane, on three feet.”

Now try your hand and mind with a 17th-century English riddle:

As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits:
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,
How many were there going to St. Ives?

The answer is one. Only the speaker was going to St. Ives.

A more modern head-scratcher goes like this:

Brothers and sisters have I none.
But this man’s father is my father’s son.

Who is the man?

To solve a riddle like this, you must patiently analyze each component: “Brothers and sisters have I none” means that “I am an only child.” Therefore, “my father’s son” can be only I, the speaker. Therefore, “this man’s father is my father’s son” means that this man’s father is the speaker. Therefore, the man is the son of the speaker.

Now try your skill with some other “who am I?” and “what am I?” riddles. In each poser, the answer will leap out from your ability to look at words and letters in imaginative ways. These are genuine challenges, so please don’t rush to peek at the answers, which repose at the end of this column:

  1. What can run but never walks,
    Has a mouth but never talks,
    Has a head but never weeps,
    And has a bed but never sleeps?
  2. What product is black when you buy it, red when you use it and gray when you are done with it?
  3. What is the product that the maker doesn’t see, the seller doesn’t want and the user doesn’t know that he or she is using it?
  4. I shave 10 times a day, yet I have a full beard. Who am I?
  5. I’ve married many women, but I’m a single man. Who am I?
  6. I occur once in every minute, twice in every moment and yet never in one hundred thousand years. What am I?
  7. I begin with an e and end with an e, yet I contain only one letter. What word am I?
  8. In my front is a twisted thorn, on my right a scrambled seat, behind me is a broken shout, and on my left a shattered stew. What am I?

 

 

Answers

  1. a river 2. charcoal 3. a coffin 4. a barber 5. a clergyman 6. the letter m 7. envelope 8. a compass: thorn, seat, shout and stew anagram into north, east, south and west.