Methodology for teaching Riddle Mastery in an Educational setting

My ranking system and whatnot may seem like a lot of categorizing, but trust me when I say that it is worth remembering. During my years working at summer camps, the campers fell utterly in love with my riddles and, in the way 3rd-5th graders will, took them and the systems/terminology I created for Riddle Mastery very seriously indeed. Indeed, these terms and systems were developed while I was working at camps, gradually taking shape over the course of countless conversations with eager, curious, and earnest campers. What did you expect? That I was bored and so just sat down one day and started doing this? The only way to determine a riddle's rank is to test it, and large summer camps provide a very fertile field for doing so. Do this enough and patterns will emerge as one notes which riddles are solved most easily by the most number of people in different age-groups, and which ones are more challenging. I even have a standard starter riddle which I give to determine the potential skill of a person or group. Believe me, I may have made up the riddles for fun before doing summer camps, but my classifications and ranks evolved on the job.
Jobs which taught me never tp underestimate the impact telling riddles can have. They are marvelous ice-breakers if nothing else, and before one starts thinking about unhealthy competitiveness among children that leads to bullying and rivalries, the whole affair was always utterly light and cheerful. Friendly competition personified that walked hand-in-hand with cooperation, the riddles were a topic of conversation – a collective puzzle set by an adult with the campers bonding over the shared challenge and experience, building friendships off of trying to solve them in addition to being genuinely interested. There was always at least one camper a session who ended up, on their own volition and without my suggestion, bringing a journal and pencil to camp to record every riddle & answer I had told thus far, keeping the journal with them to catch all the new ones until the session's end. Others wanted to learn how to make riddles, and collectively I spent many hours over the course of weeks helping these 3rd-5th graders become Riddle-makers. One 3rd grader, a girl, created a Master ranked one that continues to torment people to this day. Truth be told, the only bad thing that ever came out of my riddles was that one particular group of kids one summer kept trying to steal my Riddle Sheet from my pocket.
 
Beyond that, there were other uses from a purely professional standpoint. Having an M.Ed myself, along with several friends and close relatives who teach upper elementary school, I can say with utter surety that every educator knows that that age-group tests their teachers, seeing how far they can push boundaries before their teachers rein them in. The interesting thing is that no camper ever tested me. Why? I assume it was because they were more interested in solving my riddles, and soon enough I was more than just another summer camp counselor – I was their friend whom they wanted to please. I know it sounds improbable, but there was one camper who was well-known enough in the camp that senior counselors warned me before the session began that he was handful; and I saw why soon after meeting the lad. Yet he became so interested in the riddles that he never gave me more than token trouble and, in fact, spent much time trying to solve them with a group of boys. "When caught between the riddle and its answer there is no freedom," and that is how I taught: catching the campers between the two so that their own naturally inquisitive natures drove them not to push my own boundaries but rather that which separates the riddles from the answer, the walls within their minds.
I gave some riddles earlier. Here are the answers.
What plays with words and logic, yet never tells a lie = a riddle
It can either be found by, or given to you, when found you understand it, when given you might not = the answer
Therein lies the key points and pillars of both kinds of Riddle Mastery, to teach others to look beyond the obvious and outside the box by expanding their minds. It may sound overly simple, but I have seen young minds visibly grow and become more confident over the course of a mere two week camp sessions. The growth owed to the riddles gradually stretching and strengthening mental muscles, the confidence born from the accomplishment of solving them. A true accomplishment as I never give any real hints as to the answers; I only say what type of riddle it is, what rank, and whether the answer is tangible or intangible. That, and a few hours for them to solve it (after which I reveal the answer, as to never tell would be cruel). I love the glow of triumph on people's faces when they solve one. Especially since literally everyone always at the start tells me that they are bad or terrible at riddle-solving. Well, 99% of those who tell me that in the beginning end up solving a few Hard ones at least. And with that confidence comes pride. Due to my ranking system the kids knew exactly how hard each riddle was, and could of course observe how many of their counterparts had solved it or riddles of similar rank. Honestly, they were as intrigued by the system as by the riddles themselves since they saw in it potential for greater challenges ahead and the chance to earn the coveted title Riddle Master. I know this sounds rather…unlikely, but the method lent to and supported itself. I got the kids interested in riddles by giving them middle-ranking ones, the solving of which gave them confidence and pride in this hitherto unknown skill of theirs called riddle-solving. Both of which lead to interest; hence they learn my system and rules, which leads to greater skill, confidence, and pride as they learn to solve increasingly more difficult riddles. The result? Towards the end of the two-week session they eagerly await me telling them Master ranked riddles, often badgering me to tell one sooner than I deem wise. (This is a key point, as giving Hard and Master rank ones too early will result in a loss of confidence since it is unlikely that the children will be able to solve them. Mental muscles are like real ones, start with lifting smaller weights until you can handle the big ones.) The kids also learn more about themselves. I recall one group where a few realized they were notably better at Wordplay than Logic riddles, and vice versa for others. A fact that intrigued as opposed to upset them and prompted a healthy interest in the difference between the types of riddles (to say nothing of my Grandmaster Riddle that combines the two types).

Again, I know all this sounds absurdly simple and, from an educator's prospective, unorthodox, but it worked like a charm each and every time. I guess I am an unorthodox person to a degree, trying to find new yet no less effective while more fun ways to do things. Aldous Huxley once said that, "The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age," while Albert Einstein noted that "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want your children to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." I am not so arrogant as to name myself a genius, but I do try to live up to those quotes and employ them when educating. During lunchtime at camp I always chose to eat with the campers, even when I had the option to eat with other counselors. Part of it was because it is hard to hold a conversation when are campers running up to whisper a riddle-answer in your ear every few minutes, but mostly because I enjoyed it. Children have fascinating insights and by listening to them, by regularly talking to them on their level, I became their friend. (I also have some skill as a storyteller, so when riddles fail to quiet the crowd a tale succeeds. It got to the point where every lunchtime the campers wanted to hear a new story. Point of order, I was not reading to them; this was not story-time in the traditional sense. Like a Bard, I told them myths and legends I had more or less memorized and it enraptured them. On that note, I am well-aware that utilizing riddles in this way is not a good fit for many situations, but storytelling is much more flexible. I once worked at martial arts camp, and the parents knew me through their kids as the Instructor "who told amazing stories at lunch", their words not mine.)
 
However, like any education methodology – if I be so bold as to call my riddling such – it relies on the passion of the educator telling the riddles; they must put their heart into them and be firm. I spoke above about 3rd-5th graders pushing boundaries, saying that because of my riddles they did not push mine. This is true, except for one detail. They pushed my riddle boundaries: “Can you tell me the answer, I promise I won’t tell”, “We need another hint; what is the first letter of the answer?” ect ect. They pushed me, but I did not budge and that, I think, helped me overall as a camp counselor; the kids saw that I was firm and unyielding regarding my own self-imposed rules of Riddle Mastery, and so did not push me on actual camp rules. Interestingly, this is one of the reasons, I think, why they became so intrigued with the systems & terminology I developed. They saw how seriously I took my own rules and so took it seriously themselves. Whenever a camper solved a riddle they were supposed to whisper it in my ear so as not to spoil it for others and, if they were correct, I – after giving a hearty congratulatory cry of “Correct!” for all to hear – would instruct them to “give no hints and tell no one.” I know what you are thinking: Ian Adler, are you really naïve enough to think that not one 3rd-5th grader is not going to tell her or his best friend(s) or give out partial hints? Well, like I said, because I took the riddle rules seriously, so did they. Hence, in fact, not one camper ever disobeyed my “give no hints and tell no one” edict. Why? Not because they were afraid of my reaction, but rather because I had made clear that simply knowing the answer to a riddle means nothing. It is solving them that make the Riddle Master. In short, campers were not about to just give away the answer to a riddle that they had worked hard, often for over an hour, to solve. To use a different analogy, they took the riddle rules as seriously as the rules of a favorite sport or game and telling the answer amounted to cheating in their eyes. Not only that, they learned to use the rules like any good game players. Whenever I posed a riddle, the first thing the kids ask me is "is this Logic or Wordplay?" They recognize the key differences between the types, aware that knowing the type is absolutely necessary if they want to solve the current riddle since the thought process required of each is different.
 
Also the ranking system alone kindled the interest of several, for telling stories of past kids who had attained the title Riddle Master made the current group want to emulate them and move up the ranks. My Grandmaster Riddle is a perfect example of this, for I always emphasize how hard it is by saying that barely thirty out of hundreds, both children and adult, have solved it, and that solving it grants one the title Riddle Master. Sounds grandiose, but the effect can be startling. I had one camp group who began with a lackluster interest in the riddles, so I told them about the Grandmaster, saying that I was breaking my own rules by telling them of its existence at such an early stage as well as how hard it was to solve. Point of order, I was telling the truth about breaking my own rules and, at that time, only one person had solved the Grandmaster. Anyway, it turned the trick and in the space of an hour they were all fascinated with and determined to solve the Grandmaster; I recall one boy getting picked up at the day's end and excitedly telling his mother as they departed about this riddle that "only one person in the entire world has solved," to use his words. Amazing how even friendly competition with others kids who they have never met and likely never will meet can drive children to improve. Which is honestly the prime educational function of the Grandmaster: a sort of riddle legend for lack of a better word, a way to generate excitement and interest that has yet to fail, particularly since I will not even tell people the Championmaster Riddle unless they solve the Grandmaster. This fact alone generates even greater interest, for all want to hear "Ian's hardest riddle" that is somehow more difficult than the Grandmaster and try to solve it. 
This dynamic changed somewhat with the advent of the Ultimate and Eldermaster, the former taking the Championmaster's place while the latter took an almost mystic status. What developed was a staircase of Sovereign-class riddles, you have to solve the Grand to see the Champion, and solve the Champion to see the Ultimate and Eldermaster. A staircase because the students took the rules very seriously, though not in a mean or exclusive way. For example, those who were working on the Championmaster were carefull to keep it from the eyes of those students who had yet to solve the Grand, and thus accepted with grace when those who had already solved the Championmaster kept the Ultimate from them. A stepladder of carefull respect for both the riddles, the effort it takes to solve them, and the system I instill. Even those who never solve the Grandmaster respect and adhere to it. I know what you are thinking: "Ian, what happens when several in a friend group solve the Grandmaster and above, but one or two others do not? It must make them feel bad about themselves." Believe me, I am aware of and have encountered this. A girl named Lilah, who had been dedicated to riddling all year, came to me once and asked disconsolately what it took in a person to solve the Grandmaster. Several of her friends and others who she judged herself just as smart as, to use her words, had solved it and she was trying to find out what they had in common that allowed them to do so when she, a longer riddle devotee, had not. The conversation that ensured is more or less as follows: 
"I am not a telepath, I cannot read minds, so I do not know. But everyone's mind works differently and no one solves every riddle; I have had Riddle Master's fail at Easy-rank ones."

"So it is just random?"

"No, not random. But it does require thinking in a very spesific way to unlock the secret, and once you do the answer comes. But, at the end of the day, the Grandmaster is just one riddle out of hundreds and there is no shame in not solving it. Some of the greatest Riddle Masters I ever trained never solved it. Giselle, one of my After-school students, was a Master Solver and Maker who was better than me at Wordplay. Ren was a skilled solver and Master Maker who could make rhyming Logic riddles at will and was one of the Makers of the Eldermaster. He never solved it. The fact is, most do not, and it does not make you bad at riddles. Look I me. I am terrible at solving."

Not quite verbatim, but close enough, and I had similar conversations with a fews others in which I said that not solving the Grandmaster was "not indacative of skill because so many Masters never solve it." The point being that the kids always walk away feeling better. Still wishing and wanting to solve it, yes, but no longer feeling they are less smart. Truly, one of the most important lessons in Riddle-Teaching is that no one solves every riddle; that and never giving up. For there is no sight like the triumphant, incredulous joy of those who spend months trying to solve it and had given up hope finally succeeding. Boys and girls alike, I have seen them leap in the air and shout with ectasy. One girl, Maeve, said "riddles are hard. They drive me crazy, but you feel so acomplished when you solve one." And that, my fair readers, is the point of teaching Riddle Mastery. It teaches the kids to use their brains in new ways with no strings attached and is fun, with a built-in structure and narrative that lets them be the heroes of their own story. Narrative? Aye. Amazing how even friendly competition with others kids who they have never met and likely never will meet can drive children to improve. For I regularly mention the accomplishments of my past students, telling their stories – triumphs, struggles, and failures all. Framed in such a way that makes them, not me, the main protanogists. I am the Riddle-Teacher, the trainer who guides the way and lays the path, but the students are the ones who walk it. As goes an ancient Chinese proverb, "teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself." In short, I make my past students the legends instead of myself, emphazing that I am not all-knowing. When I have not tested a riddle enough to know its rank I admit it, and make no bones about admiting to be wrong when they point out a the rare flaw in one of my riddles. "I must follow my own rules" I always say, and the kids come to respect that and my role as a Riddle-Teacher, recogizing that though I made the system I do not use it to suit my personal desires, because everything is built up from the accomplishments not of me but of past students and, now, themselves. The latest students see themselves as the latest chapter in 10+ history, their own accomplishments to be told to future students. One girl, Maddie, made sure I never forgot that she was the first ever to solve the Adeptmaster, and Maeve once asked "What do I need to do be the greatest Riddle Master you ever trained?" Either that or "How do I become the greatest Riddle Master you ever trained?" I forget the exact wording, but I told and she strode away with two Maker friends, Cassidy and Inara, determined to do so. The narrative matters, for it adds history and makes the students rightly feel like they are part of something bigger. Indeed, Cassidy, Inara, and Maeve spent hours worth of free periods making riddles which they then brought to me so I could record, judge, and use them, all with the goal of becoming Master Riddle-Makers – and they asked quite seriously what the requirements were for the title. Serious fun is riddling. "Riddles are hard. They drive me crazy, but you feel so acomplished when you solve one."
 
As to the scheduling element of my methodology, at Day Camps I told one riddle in the morning shortly after the campers arrived and they had until lunchtime to solve it; a solid two-and-a-half hours or so during which those who thought they had the answer would come and whisper it in my ear. If correct they were answered with my “Correct! Give no hints and tell no one”, and if not they had to keep trying. Those who did solve it spent the rest of the time smiling in proud, contented accomplishment and often trying to solve my Grandmaster Riddle, which, given its difficulty, existed as a standing riddle the answer of which would be revealed at the end of the two-week session. At lunch I would reveal the answer to the morning's riddle before giving them the afternoon's one, the answer to which would be shared at pick-up. Hence it was two riddles a day, though if the majority of the group solved the riddle right away I would reveal the answer to the rest and give another. Two riddles a day, with 2-3 hours for each to individually solve it, dramatically increased the kids' mental dexterity and skill at riddle-solving, to say nothing of their personal pride and devotion to Riddle Mastery as, gradually, the daily riddles got harder and harder until, towards the session's end, I gave out Master-ranked ones. The Master-ranked riddles were always greeted with particular anticipation and excitement, for that I was giving them out at all was proof to the campers that they had the skill to solve them, yet they also knew that only a few of them likely would, meaning this was a chance to really earn their stripes and prove their smarts, all in a friendly and companionable social environment. And a few always did solve them, though they would have stood no chance of doing so had I given them at the session's start. When I said that I could see young minds visibly grow and become more confident over the course of a mere two weeks, I meant it utterly.
 
However, the above method does not work in every setting. Recently I had the honor of being an After-school teacher and found that my riddles are as beloved as ever. I had to make a few radical adjustments to my standard methodology since an After-school program is hardly a Day Camp. Firstly, students cannot be given the leeway to leap from their seats to rush over and whisper an answer in my ear at will, and secondly an After-school is much shorter than a Day Camp. Hence I had no choice but to adopt a shout-it-out form of answering: I would give a riddle and the students called their answers aloud until someone solved it, the solver getting the solo credit for doing so and, since everybody had just heard the answer, forcing me to give another riddle. Meaning that I could go through 5+ riddles in a single day, the obvious downside to this system being that the students who would have solved it given more time had no opportunity to do so. Which is why I prefer the Day Camp method, as it allows for more minds to grow and does not make the slower solvers feel they lack riddle-solving ability. I hope any of my After-schoolers reading this are not offended, yet it is true, and I always wondered what my old campers would have said had they witnessed the shout-it-out form of answering. Well, actually no, I do not wonder at all. I am utterly convinced they would think I had weakened and semi-betrayed the "Give no hints and tell no one” principle I drilled into them. I am sure they would understand once I explained that a new setting requires new methods, but still.
 
That said, After-school does have one enormous advantage over Day Camps: time. Let's face it, all day for two week is nothing compared to every afternoon for a whole school year. Hence, and despite the aforesaid disadvantages, the overall results were most pleasing. Pleasing and unexpected because, while all my previous campers were focused on riddle-solving, my After-school students were impassioned Riddle-makers. It is something of a personal plot twist really, having kids come up to me excited about a riddle they invented instead of wanting me to give them a riddle. The kids worked to solve each other’s riddles as much as mine, and looked to me for help in creating, testing, and perfecting the riddles they made, all wanting to earn the title Master Riddle-maker and/or Solver. A feat several achieved. Indeed, Noam and Giselle were better at making Wordplay riddles than me, creating more in months that I had in over a decade, and another boy, Ren, could make rhyming Logic riddles at will, while Jay had an aptitude for Scenario riddles I had never before seen, and they were all four excellent Solvers besides. I had many long conversations with them, for, returning to the use and importance of my ranking system, they wanted to know how I made Hard and Master ranked ones, even engaging in a friendly contest over who could create a Master one first (Giselle won), and began writing out their own Riddle Sheets which they guarded in much the same way I did.
I admit the making of personal Riddle Sheets caused issues now and again regarding exclusion as some wanted to work together to create riddles while others wanted to work alone or did not wish to expand their Riddle-making group since the more people who knew the answers the less fun they could have telling them to their classmates. A strange issue, since they took that protectiveness from me. However, the groups never wound up being more than three and most of the time they wanted to work solo or with me so they could then test their new riddles on their friends (I had drilled into them the importance of testing a riddle to determine its rank). No issue amounted to more than a brief argument nor caused any long-term problems. Indeed, they were so rare and small that I am not sure my co-teacher even noticed them.
Bottom line? While I prefer the Day Camp method, the exponentially more time After-school allowed me to do riddles overcame most of its limitations. Most, and it invented a new one in that 5+ riddles a day for nine-ten months is a LOT of riddles. More than I had, so it was unutterably fortunate that so many of my students loved riddle-making as, towards the end, I relied almost solely on their riddles instead of my own. Which brings up another key point, that being that may be the most telling difference between the two styles of teaching Riddle Mastery: while the Day Camp method is ideal for teaching riddle-solving, the nine-ten months of After-school is perfect for teaching riddle-makers (as Making takes practice and two weeks of camp is not enough time to hone the skill).

 How might a ferryman leave his boat, yet leave the ferry operating = ?
Here is a hint, provided by Neil Gaiman:
only tell the ferryman the answer from a safe distance.
Point of order, namely to ram home the point that these riddles have real educational value, the After-school's Program Director complimented me on how my riddles were a continual communal bonding activity that sparked several strong friendships among students who had previously barely spoken to each other. I believe it improved the overall behavior of several of the more...eh, rambunctious ones as well, for I noted they were calmer upon developing an interest in the riddles, an interest augmented by pride in solving them and liking the feeling. Kids like to feel smart, humans are naturally fascinated by riddles, and solving a riddle is undeniable empirical evidence that you have more than fluff between your ears. Again, everyone begins by saying they are bad at riddles on first meeting me, yet I have never met anyone (the only and ironic exception being myself) who actually was bad. And this was before the riddles began to spread. The After-school's grade-range was Kindergarten to 6th grade, the groups barely interacted and I only taught the 4/5/6th group. Yet, like a tide or benevolent contagion,  the riddles spread. Some of my students told them at home, thus bringing their younger siblings into the mix, the impact of which I first became aware of when a first grade girl, the younger sister of one my 4th graders, brought a bunch of her friends over to me during outside time and demanded a riddle. Naturally I gave an Easy one which they solved with surprising quickness, and they ended up spending the rest of recess standing around me asking for and solving riddles. These were 1st graders. Yet was struck me even more than their surprising skill, as Easy rank riddles are not always easy for that age-group, was what the sister literally yelled when one of her counterparts gave up early and asked me for the answer: "No, you're supposed to solve it on their own!" she cried, covering her ears in fear I would give in. Imagine my reaction. If you guessed joyful astonishment, you got it. Here was a first grader whose only experience with Riddle Mastery was what her brother told her at home, and she already had a Riddle Master's mentality. Hence I answered her with a triumphant, "Yes! Spoken like a true Riddle Master!" And every recess following that the same thing happened, a group of first graders gathering around me begging for riddles and, to my amazement, swiftly answering Middle-ranking Wordplay ones as well as Logic.
 
Seeing all this, the lead teacher for the Kindergarten-1st grade group asked me for a riddle to use in a Riddles for Skittles (the candy) kind of game. In short, I gave her an Easy one and the the kids had to solve it to get the Skittles. Well, it worked like a charm and I nearly fell out of my chair when a Kindergartner came up to me with riddles she had invented. Then it spread to the 2nd and 3rd graders, though I remain unsure exactly how, and I ended up surrounded by them at the end of the day pick-up time communal free play telling riddles. One 2nd grader, Aidan, created his own hand-written Riddle Sheet with 60+ riddles, and when my 4th graders heard that a potential self-taught Riddle-maker was present they went to him at first opportunity and came back telling me in detail about how his riddles differed in style from my own. For context, they were so intrigued because I was the only other self-taught Maker they (or I, for that matter) knew, so to meet one more or less their own age and just coming into his skill was for them sufficient cause for instant investigation. Oh, and one of them became close friends with this 2nd grader who swiftly achieved Mastery in both Making and Solving. Two grades separated them, yet they spoke as friends and equals to each other, talking shop as it were. Then there was a girl, Livia, who possessed one of if not the greatest natural talent for Solving I have ever seen, a skill rendered even more impressive given that she reached Master status in record time and I was not even her regular teacher; indeed, Livia solved more riddles in her first day of it then most do in a week! I think you get the picture. With proper teaching Riddle Mastery can become a sort of self-sustaining and organic culture amongst elementary schoolers. To be honest, even I was surprised by its success, and soon my fellows teachers, seeing the academic and cross-grade social-bonding potential of Riddle Mastery, deepened their involvement, with the Program Director again complimenting me on my success. It got to the point where children I had never met came up to me, sitting down in the middle of recess to ask for and ponder riddles, and then the Program Director approved that I should run the After-school's first ever cross-grade indoor non-gym-related activity. Riddle Club of course, which gave the Riddle Masters amongst the students a chance to take up a mentorship role for the other, typically younger students. I was and am quite proud of their performance, actually. Then, at the year's end, the Program Director told me that the riddles were the best thing to happen all year and several of the other teachers voiced their glad astonishment on how beyond well it had gone. Finally as icing on the cake, on the last day of school more than a few parents came up to me, thanking me and saying how much their kids loved my riddles and the stories "about dragons, Ireland, and mythical creatures" I told; reactions I got at the end of each camp session as well. The Program Director said that he never would have thought to use riddles, and I answered that few ever do – but their success rate is 100%.
 
 
Cold feet and two feet of snow
Now the question is, what else are riddles good for? Well, to start, a middle-school ELL (English language learner) teacher once told me how much her students loved my riddles, how it was helping them learn English by teaching the multiple uses both literal and metaphorical of words in a fun way. Which is precisely why I do it. I mentioned expanding young minds by forcing them to think creatively, metaphorically, and outside of the box, and doing this in a way they find fun adds to the benefit tenfold. A fun that invokes friendly competition in which everyone can win simply by solving the riddle. One my of After-school 4th graders said with great insight that knowledge is a huge commodity among his age group, because everyone wants to look smart and knowing something which others do not is a sign of smarts; the context of the conversation being how he was trying, with some success, to get his class interested in riddles. Now I am sure all you parents and teachers see the danger in this. If a kid does not solve one or several riddles does that make them dumb? Or rather, could not those skilled at solving create a sort of club, excluding those who are not? Not if you handle things correctly, and here is how. To start, I always begin by stressing that I am terrible at solving riddles, that I am purely a Master Maker (and Teacher), and this eases the social pressure on the kids less skilled at solving to the point of it being nonexistent. If the guy teaching us Riddle Mastery is bad at solving then who cares if I am? Furthermore, I say point blank and repeatedly that there is no shame in not solving a riddle. Everyone's minds work differently, meaning some solve certain riddles instantly, in hours, or not at all; but I say this while encouraging them not to give up, expressing steady confidence in their abilities. "You can do it" and "I have faith in you" are my battle-cries as much as anything. This combination relieves all sense of shame at failing to solve it while lessening none of their jubilation if/when they do. In short, emphasize how many people have failed to solve to it while expressing confidence that they can be one of those who succeed. Also, nobody solves every riddle. I say "everyone's minds works differently, some riddles are easy to some but not for others" often enough, particularly when a veteran solver is struggling with an Easy-rank riddle and chagrined over the fact. So, could not those skilled at solving create a sort of club, excluding those who are not? Well, I have never seen it and always instantly promote inclusion when I see possible signs of such emerging. To date, no unfriendly exclusion insistent has occurred. Which leads us back to the question of what else are riddles good for? Teaching kids that everyone's minds works differently, of course! That poor Solvers can make great Makers and great Makers poor Solvers, that some are naturally better at solving Wordplay over Logic and vice versa; Livia, for example, was a Solver adept at Logic but hated Wordplay, yet at the same time was a Master at making Wordplay riddles. But the most important lesson was/is that failure in any of these brings no shame. Indeed, typically those unskilled kids just lose interest.
Which brings up another key point, that being that this friendly atmosphere only works if you treat riddles like a game. Take it seriously as you might a game, but no further. Thus those kids who find they are not good players will drift away on their own without feeling excluded, knowing that they are welcome to join in at anytime and will be welcomed with open arms. And some kids might just start out as plain uninterested and remain so. Indeed, I have had several students whom I was utterly positive could be tremendous Riddle Masters, but they were indifferent and viewed the riddles as a game their peers loved but which they had no interest in learning. No harm done to any side. Riddles are 100% voluntary.
 
Which leads to the matter of ownership, for it being voluntary the kids naturally begin to take a vested personal interest in riddles, yet in a way beyond what I have spoken of. I have mentioned how those inclined towards Making guard their Riddle Sheets much as I do, and how the all those who know the answer to a riddle (usually by solving it) are honor-and-rule-bound not to reveal the answer. I have spoken of how when one solves a riddle they spend the rest of the time until the next riddle smiling in proud, contented accomplishment and often trying to solve my Grandmaster Riddle. So what remains? Ownership of one's education, of course, and wanting to own it enough to pass it on. I have eluded to this the whole time and even described various elements, so please bear with me now as I try to summarize the whole matter. In short, it is about becoming what this very page strives to teach: how to be a Master Riddle-teacher. It is no secret that children try to emulate adults, especially those doing something they want to be themselves or at least are deeply interested in. Hence the kids always seek to become a part of my riddle-teaching, if possible. I have mentioned that a part of Riddle-teaching is the willingness to endless repeat the current riddle. That is true, yet it was not uncommon for another kid to ask "can I say it?" when another wants to hear the riddle again. I say "please" and all eyes turn on the child as she or he tells the riddle, all falling silent to listen. Ownership. They want to be part of and own the education process. They know how much fun it is to solve, but they see how much fun I have teaching – how I capture the attention of the group, wrest interest. Kids generally like attention, like to lead, like to feel smart by telling their agemates cool things, helping them on fun topics. So when a student wants to take the riddle reins, I let them, ready to step in at a moments notice of course but allowing them have that ownership instead of hogging it all to myself.
 
Ownership that can manifest in several ways aside from telling a riddle to others who want a repeat and making sure nobody reveals an answer. Makers want to share their riddles with the group at lunch/snack like I do. "Ian, can you tell my riddle at snack?" If it is a good riddle I say yes, for the rest of the group assumes that any riddles to pass my lips is a tried and true one. And when I tell a student's riddle you can see them sit up straighter, the pride and smile on their face as, knowing the answer, they look around to see what their fellows think in the thoughtful silence between the telling and the first guessed answers. But I will also encourage them to tell their own riddles to the group. "------ has a riddle for you" I call aloud, sending all eyes to the student in question while they, suddenly the center of attention and burdened with expectation, tell their riddle in a loud voice. This can take time as, frankly, most prefer a teacher telling the riddles since they naturally assume the other kids will listen to a teacher more; and while this is true I still encourage and direct attention to the child so they can tell it as often as I deem appropriate. Ownership. Making them take the responsibility for ownership of their own riddles. "I will not always be around to tell your riddles. If you want to make riddles, you have to get used to telling them to others." An argument they always see the point in even if they do not like it. Indeed, by the end they are always notably more comfortable public speakers. Yet this went beyond telling riddles. Sometimes just before I announce the answer at the designated time a student/camper will ask "can I explained it?" Naturally I let them, and often when I declare the answer myself I see those those who solved it explaining it to any of their friends who still do not understand. Ownership.
 
Which leads at last to the Grandmaster Riddle (and Championmaster and Ultimatemaster), for these riddles are legendary among the kids and thus become the things from which tales are told. Forgive the grandiose language, but as I have said everyone wants to solve these since to do so puts one in an elite club and thus earns the Solver(s) in question instant social prestige. I have seen entire friendships form around the Grandmaster, two kids vowing to work together to solve it, usually failing but sometimes succeeding, the latter always needing to send some time sitting at a table with pencil and paper. Yet the expressions of utter triumphant joy upon those who solve it are unforgettable, Livia's being the quintessential example for her face turned bright red, literally glowing with stunned euphoria; truly I have never seen a happier face. But it is what happens after the solving of which I speak. First word that they solved flashes around so quickly even I am amazed. Point of order, the Grandmaster's power is such that even those generally uninterested in riddles always spend some time trying it. At the After-school I worked at whole groups of kids not in the grade I was teaching took to gathering solely to try and solve the Grandmaster; they were interested in no other riddle. So you can imagine the social prestige a kid earns by solving it. Here is the trick, however: because it is solved so rarely, whenever it is the friends of the newly declared Riddle Master start working double-time to unravel it. As said Patricia A. McKillip, "When caught between the riddle and its answer there is no freedom." Why? Ownership. They can see the answer in their friend's eyes, the sacred knowledge, and want it. Ownership because the way the solver acts and is treated regarding riddles changes. Not in any negative way, mind you, indeed the opposite: the increased social prestige I mentioned which is born out of respect for the Grandmaster Riddle and solver for solving it. The effects are multi-fold. To start, students/campers no longer need me to guess the answer since now another knows it, making the kid an authority figure regarding Riddle Mastery. Second, the solver is justly proud, always wanting the credit of solving it whenever I speak of the Grandmaster's tangled history. I recall telling it to one student within the general earshot of a girl who had solved it, but she busy drawing with her friends and was paying no attention. Yet her ear caught it, like hearing one's name, and her head snapped up when my story mentioned how many in After-school had solved it. Ownership. A point of enduring pride that, like solving any riddle, enhances self-esteem save that the Grandmaster does so to a greater degree. Before you ask, no, it never degenerates into arrogance because solving the Grandmaster earns one the Championmaster which 99% of those who solve the Grandmaster fail to solve. There is always a bigger fish, as is said. But the ownership and respect for the set rules of Riddle Mastery remain, for a part of the Grandmaster's legend is that only those who solve it can hear the Championmaster, ownership because those who earn the right to hear the Championmaster guard it jealously, making sure never to let others hear or see a printed version of it. Hence when asking me to repeat the Championmaster they make sure nobody else is listening.
 
It is also worth noting that the Grandmaster has a wax and wane to it, if you will. When I first reveal it there is a burst of excitement that beings even those less interested in riddles into the fold, with everyone more interested in solving the Grandmaster than the current/daily riddle. How long this excitement last depends on the kids, anywhere from days or weeks, but then, when no one solves it, the excitement wanes. Then, if someone solves it, it waxes in a sudden, intense if usually brief burst of enthusiasm as people are reminded that it can be solved and they want to now more than ever to know the answer. As I said above, "because it is solved so rarely, whenever it is the friends of the newly declared Riddle Master start working double-time to unravel it." Here is an example: The day after Livia solved it I was monitoring my group during snack clean-up when I heard several voices call my name. Turning, I saw a half a dozen or so 3rd graders from Livia's group poking their heads through a door, with the new Master Solver herself standing in the background, all wanting to know if their friend really had solved "your ultimate riddle" (the Ultimatemaster had not been invented yet, and I am not sure they knew about the Championmaster.) "Yes, Livia solved my Grandmaster Riddle," I answered beaming, and what followed was a burst of exclamations coupled with many eagerly whispering their own guesses, all incorrect, in my ear. Which was but a precursor of a waxing in that group's general interest in riddles, an interest which endured for months.
Point of order, the surge of interest very rarely results with anyone else actually solving the Grandmaster, but their are exceptions. At my current job as a school librarian a teacher was the first to solve it, becoming the 24th ever to do so. Six days later 24 became 31, with four students and more three teachers joining those elite ranks and being given the Championmaster. Needless to say I was stunned. Thrilled, but stunned. (Point of order, the students did not share information as, as luck would have it, I was present at the key moments they or the teacher who was trying to solve it with them unraveled the, for lack of a better word, code.)

Which brings up the matter of keeping the Grandmaster's answer, much less the method of solving it, a secret. After all, 3rd-6th grader are hardly the soul of discretion. A fact they themselves are aware of. Indeed, Noam predicted that the answer would be everywhere after a  few After-schoolers had solved it. Yet it was not, nor ever was. Then at my current post as a middle-school librarian I wondered if the Six Days of Solving mentioned above would spread the secret, for middle-schoolers are no better (if not worse) secret-keepers than elementary-schoolers. Yet the secret remains secure. Why? Because of the Grandmaster's legend, a magic that amazes me for all that I see it year after year. Because of the social prestige a kid earns by solving it, becoming part of an elite club that goes back years. Because they are not about to just give away the answer to a riddle they strove for weeks if not months to solve. As a librarian I write the names of those who solve it on the board in a day-long congratulatory post. Students want their name up there, but more than anything they want the knowledge. As Noam once so cogently said, knowledge is a huge commodity among kids because everyone wants to look smart and knowing something which others do not is a sign of smarts. And to solve the Grandmaster is an irrefutable badge of smarts. I had one middle-schooler, Maeve, solve it, and she was part of a group of friends that consisted of another girl who had recently solved it. On the day following the Six Days of Solving a triad of their friends spent an entire free period in the library trying to solve it – and wheedle the answer out of me (both without success). An entire free period. Middle-schoolers. Trying to solve a riddle. Why? Because they, in their own words, "couldn't wait till the end of the year to get the answer" (as that is when I reveal it). That is the magic of the Grandmaster, a legend that plugs gossip, keeping those who solve it from breathing even the vaguest hint despite their friends' begging. I have seen it time and again, a group surrounding the solver who in turn begins to channel me, repeating what little I permit myself to say. My supervisor, a veteran library teacher, commented that the whole business was fascinating to watch, acknowledging the Grandmaster's magic.

Naturally I am aware that few who read this will have access to Grandmaster and Championmaster level riddles unless they are seasoned Makers or have a copy of my (or another Maker's) Riddle Sheet. So why do I write this? To further reiterate that the power and educational value of Riddle Mastery is based upon the respect and sense of ownership people feel for the riddles. You think I knew, much less planned, all this when I got started? Not at all. Everything I have written I learned per observation. Finally, in regards to ownership, do not be surprised to see those kids who excel at Making try to pass on their knowledge and skill as Riddle-teachers. Noam and Aidan taught two Masters all on their own and, when I left them, they and most of the other Masters were determined to keep Riddle Mastery alive in my absence. Which leads me to at last to my final trick. I always tell the students the history of riddles, how Solving and Making riddles were time honored traditions across the ancient world, telling them truthfully that my goal is to restore its prominence. Will I succeed? Beyond unlikely, and I tell the kids this too, yet it shows riddles are more than a mere parlor game. Makes the students, rightly, feel they are part of something bigger and augments the sense of pride they feel. A justified pride. Just as I am enormously proud of myself for all my teaching Riddle Mastery has done for so many kids over the years. Just as I am very proud of them.

Opening of Aldhelm's riddles in the
late tenth- or early eleventh-century
manuscript London, British Library,
Royal MA 12 c xxiii, folio 84r

The riddle was a major, prestigious literary form
in early medieval England, and riddles were
written both in Latin and Old English verse.

Before I go on, I actually have one final point regarding ownership, the students rightly feeling they are part of something bigger, the friendships riddles spark, and the kids becoming Riddle-teachers themselves. A point that unites all these points. As I mentioned in the pride article, the Eldermaster Riddle was created by Noam, Jay and Ren, around the time Noam solved the Ultimatemaster. What I did not mention was why they made it. By that point in the year the whole group was so well-versed in the Principles of Riddle Mastery that I had little left to teach. They had the Types and Ranks memorized, as well as my own personal history of telling riddles, most particularly how – and how often – the Grand, Champion, and now Ultimatemaster had been solved. But they wanted more. I remember the day well. Jay and Ren were talking riddle shop with a few others while I was conversing with Noam. They wanted me to create a riddle beyond the Ultimatemaster, and I told them point blank that I had reached the limit of my abilities; "what would a harder riddle even be called?" I asked laughing a tad hysterically, "a Godmaster?". Then Jay called out about making a riddle that was Logic, Wordplay, and Scenario. "You're proposing a triple Combination riddle?" I also almost gasped, before saying that I had never heard of nor seen such a riddle, which would have to be complex beyond imagining. Guess what happened. Well, Jay's Making specially was Scenario, Noam's Wordplay, and Ren's Logic. So they figured that between the three of them they had all they needed to create this suddenly fabled if hypothetical triple Combination riddle. A feat I admit I doubted they could achieve (though I never voiced this). Anyway, the point is that Riddle Mastery had become a minor culture of sorts among those kids interested in it (particularly those who had achieved Mastery), and the three spent months huddled together, spending much outside time working on their riddle. And they succeeded. Defying my expectations, they created and memorized the Eldermaster Riddle. A fiendishly difficult triple Combination riddle with elements of Logic, Wordplay, and Scenario that only a confirmed genius has the barest chance of solving. Ownership. Friendship. Adding their names and riddle to riddle history, for they knew that I would teach it in the future. Justified pride in their accomplishment and an interest which extended beyond their own teacher to the point where they surpassed me. Not only had they become Riddle Masters, they had become self-motivated ones who saw themselves as part of a larger whole. I had taught them, but Riddle Mastery did not begin or end with me. It had become a part of them.
Which naturally begs the question of what my role became once I had taught them (most) all I knew. Well, having the most experience in Making and Teaching one might say I became the Supreme Court of riddles. When they wanted to see whether or not a riddle worked or wanted to get my initial impression of a riddle's rank, they came to me. Regarding the latter, I lost count of how many times I said, "As I always say, testing is the key" and "I always start a riddle's rank at Middle because that is what most are, but beyond that you just have to test it." The message being I was again trying to get them to take charge of their own riddles, remind them that as future Riddle-teachers they would be the ones people came to with these questions. A fact I added immediacy to by saying, quite truthfully, that if I did not return next year then they would be in charge of keeping Riddle Mastery alive at the After-school. A fact they took to heart, for I did not return but have heard since that riddles are still being told their despite my absence – led by Noam, Livia, Aidan, and Emily. Ownership. Friendship. Being part of something bigger.
 
Now many years have passed and my riddle-teaching days at camps are generally over. Yet I look back and remember the joy I felt at expanding young minds with my unusual hobby, with my self-made riddles that force people to think outside the box; and I remember the enthusiasm of those minds. How they would recognize and greet me jubilantly, campers a year or two older running and calling me by name and begging for a riddle – even recalling a few they had heard the previous year(s). How when I came back to visit one of the camps many of campers from separate groups had by chance been placed together, and how they cried aloud at my unexpected arrival. How first in high school and then in college I joined creative writing clubs, and my riddles became a standard part of the meetings. How in the summer of 2018 one of my old C.I.T. friends who was then a full Counselor wrote me and explained how much his campers loves riddles – that he had been using what few of mine he remembered – and requested that I send him my full Master Riddle Sheet. How I then weeks later got the same request from my old supervisor at a different day-camp. Riddle Mastery may be an unorthodox educational tactic, but it is an effective one that left a lasting impact. As I told my one of my old associates, “indeed, whenever I cannot tell them myself, it eases my soul to know that they are still being used to stretch the minds of and strengthen the bonds between young adventurers.” Truth to tell, it is less unorthodox as opposed to simply a much older form of education. As aforesaid, Babylonian school texts employed it, and riddles were a respected literary form throughout the ancient world, even being one of the most important forms of oral art in Africa. In ancient Greece, riddle-competitions were popular as an intellectual entertainment at symposia and occur frequently in mythology and folklore. It is only in the modern world that Riddle Mastery has fallen into disuse, and I would like to rectify that. Why else did you think I wrote this page? It was not out boredom, I assure you. Rather, as an M.Ed I feel a certain obligation to path on my teaching tactics. Still not convinced of the importance of riddles in education? See these below links and consider the fact that all agree how puzzle-solving is good for children and that a riddle is but a mental puzzle.
 
I will end by reiterating the fact that for riddles to be a functional educational tool the teacher in question must become a Master Riddle-teacher, as it were; an adept at teaching Riddle Mastery. Like anything, excitement and commitment is required if one desires one's students to respond as I have described, and sometimes in takes time. It was weeks before my whole After-school group truly embraced Riddle Mastery, but they never would have had I not persevered; and it can be a delicate balance showing such consistent enthusiasm without seeming single-minded or obsessive. Beyond excitement and commitment, all the teacher needs is a book of riddles (or personal Riddle Sheet if they are a Master Maker), and the willingness to always give a new riddle when circumstantially appropriate. (My hands nearly froze off per continually digging my Riddle Sheet out of my pocket and perusing it in beyond glove-worthy winter temperatures, but it was worth it.)

How would I teach Riddle Mastery as full-time classroom teacher? Seeing as I have never been one, I have no idea. But teachers are typically creative and innovative people who are adept at learning and adapting on the job, so I have no doubt that a solid way exists. What that way is is a riddle for you to solve. As I often tell my students:

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