I have often been called a Riddle Master due to my love of inventing riddles and tormenting people with them though, ironically, I am terrible at solving them myself. Hence the reason I prefer the title Riddle-maker. An important point for, while I accept the Master title now, I was not so arrogant as to call myself one when I began telling riddles; like I said, other people called me that and continue to do so. Fun fact: I have found that children grades 3-6 are the uncontested best at riddle-solving; far better on average than teenagers and up. Any guesses as to why? (I know the answer, so consider this a quasi-riddle.) Anyway, Riddle Mastery is a passion of mine and since I am an educator by training and storyteller by inclination, I figured I should share my knowledge of the discipline.
(To my former students, there is a special message for you at the bottom of the page.)
These days it is only those who works within the realms of Fantasy who wholly and truly appreciate the power and potency of riddles, a far cry from when Kings and Heroes placed great weight upon them. Then again, why not? For in the Fantasy genre lives the misty mystery of the ancient past, and so we glory in the enigmatic and such puzzles as twists minds into first comprehending and then solving Gordian Knots. However, true and masterful usage of riddles is rare even within Fantasy literature.
Riddles in Fantasy:
A sphinx appeared in the third task in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, guarding the final trophy. To get past, one must answer a riddle about a spider.
"Beware the unanswered riddle."
|Ancient Greek Sphinx from Delphi|
riddles and Riddle Games are not mere tools, mere elements, of mythology and
Fantasy literature alone. Professor Archer Taylor of Pennsylvania, a seminal
proverb and riddle scholar and folklorist, says that "we can probably say
that riddling is a universal art" and cites riddles from hundreds of
different cultures including Finnish, Hungarian, Native American, Chinese,
Russian, Dutch and Filipino sources amongst many others. Riddles have been characterized
as one of the most important forms of oral art in Africa.
In the assessment of Elli Köngas Maranda (originally writing about Malaitian riddles, but with an insight that has been taken up more widely), whereas myths serve to encode and establish social norms, "riddles make a point of playing with conceptual boundaries and crossing them for the intellectual pleasure of showing that things are not quite as stable as they seem" – though the point of doing so may still ultimately be to "play with boundaries, but ultimately to affirm them." A perfect example of this is the Riddle of the Sphinx, arguably the world's most famous riddle (indeed, I cannot begin to tell you how many times children have given it in an attempt to stump me).
The Riddle of the Sphinx is: What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?
The answer is a human, because a human being walks on all fours in early life, on two legs as an adult and with a walking stick in old age. Of course, arms and canes are hardly legs, but they functionally act like them, thus proving Elli Köngas Maranda's point. Also and on a side note, Sphinxes are famous in world mythology for their riddles – as well as their annoying habit of killing those who fail to answer – making them a sort of mascot for the art of riddlery.
When people ask how I fashion riddles, this is the answer
My knees hasten, my feet do not rest, a shepherd without pity drives me to pasture = ?
I, personally, disagree with him as, per my own Riddle Maker mind, I judge the above riddle as perfectly respectable. My only grievance is that the answer was not preserved! AUGH!!
Principles of Riddle Mastery
Types of Riddles:
Logic – The most common form of riddle; generally describes something in a new way that, while telling the truth, makes it difficult to guess what the thing is.
? – A hypothetical fifth type of riddle. I list this because my students have twice now attempted to create a new type that is fully distinct from the others. With limited success, as to do such a thing would basically require isolating a new way of thinking that is flexible enough to be written.
Easy – Simple riddles that have a token of complexity but can be solved fairly quickly by 1st-2nd graders. These are typically Logic riddles, as I never even introduce Wordplay riddles until a person or group has proven themselves with Middle-ranking Logic ones. Typically I use these to introduce 1st-2nd graders to Riddle Mastery since, for them, they will be hard enough to pose a challenge without taking so long to solve that they lose interest.
Example: When alive I am green, when I die I am brown, when I live I stay up, when I die I fall down = leaf
Example: I have no voice yet all can hear me, and I am only around when the ceiling is grey = thunder
Example: What can’t you keep until you give = a promise / your word
Upper Middle-ranking – These riddles are, as their name implies, a step above Middle-rankng, yet not quite matching the more complex wording and sophistication of the Hard rank. I use these as the bridge between them, giving Upper Middle-ranking riddles to those who have proven themselves in Middle-ranking, though sometimes the distinction between the two is blurred.
Hard – These are typically a couple steps above Middle-ranking, being of more complex wording that requires the riddle-solver to think more creatively and/or outside the box while often having slightly less obvious answers. They are, in short, openly and purposefully hard.
Example: You saw me where I never was and where I could not be. And yet within that very place, my face you often see = a mirror reflection
|Riddles in the Dark; one of the Fantasy|
genre's most iconic riddle games. I judge all
of Tolkien's riddles to rank from
Upper Middle-ranking to Master.
Example: When you take away some of me, I remain whole = Wholesome
Sovereign-class – Formerly (and unimaginatively) called Above-Master, the sub-levels of this difficulty rank are listed below:
Example: ---- (Sorry, but I am not posting it here. I never torment people with riddle interminably, so to post my prime Grandmaster here would necessitate posting the answer too.)
Championmaster – A couple long steps above Grandmaster, these are those insane riddles that are a hair's breath away from being unsolvable. Hard enough to make Grandmasters look simple, my single riddle of this kind has only been solved barely twenty times, and most of the time by two or more Solvers working as a team. As an illustration of the difficulty level, it was first solved by then-in-middle-school siblings Chloe and Heather, each of whom individually was a Master Riddle-solver and it took them, working together, a full week to solve it; and the first to solve it alone was the then-elementary-schooler Master Riddle-maker and Solver named Noam, and it took him weeks. In fact, I only created the Championmaster because my friend Devin, who had solved the Grandmaster, challenged me to make a harder one.
Example: ---- (Sorry, but today I only tell this riddle to those very select few who solve my Grandmaster. I do not do this to be cruel, rather the reverse as no one who has not solved the Grandmaster has a prayer at solving this one.)
Ultimatemaster – Those beyond insane riddles that are half a hair's breath away from being unsolvable. History repeats itself here, for just as I only created the Championmaster because one who solved the Grandmaster challenged me to make a harder one, I made the Ultimatemaster at Noam's request who, as stated above, was the first to solve the Championmaster solo. This riddle pulls out all the stops plus a few more that by rights should not have existed in the first place. That said, and to my utter shock, Noam managed to solve it. Since then, it has been solved twelve times.
Types of Riddle Masters:
Now one often hears the term riddle master used to describe those who excel in the art of Riddle Games. But I judge the title differently because, while I have often been called a riddle master, I, paradoxically, am atrocious at solving riddles myself. Hence I say that there are two kinds of Riddle Masters: the Riddle-solver and the Riddle-maker, the latter of whom creates riddles. Naturally one can be both, but if not, then it is the riddle-makers' task to train the riddle-solvers' in answering, and the riddle-solvers' task to challenge the riddle-makers' in creating as well as test new riddles. Neither can truly flourish without the other.
of course, am a Riddle-maker and have trained all those interested in
both the skills of Solving and Making – for to be one allows a unique
perspective as to the other and, in my experience, riddle-makers are the
rarer of the two kinds of Masters. That said, and also paradoxically,
it is easier to learn to become a Riddle-maker than it is a Solver. Why
else would I, after over a decade, still be terrible at solving?
As to the question of how one becomes a Riddle Master, the answer is, like with any title, the ability to back it up. To quote J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, "A king is he that can hold his own or else his title is vain," so naturally the same applies for Riddle Masters. For Master Makers this is comparatively easy as one need only produce one’s list of created riddles; no one has ever questioned my claim to the title on seeing my Riddle Sheet with 400+ riddles and their answers. As for Master Solvers, they need merely demonstrate their skill by correctly answering the lion’s share of the riddles posed to them or by solving a Grandmaster level riddle. Mind you that situations vary. What happens when someone who had answered few riddles correctly manages to solve several Hard and even a couple Master-ranked ones? Sounds improbable, yet I have seen it happen. What do I do? It varies. But I do know that I grant for all to hear the Master Solver title on anyone who solves my Grandmaster Riddle, for obvious reasons.
Then, of course, there is the third type of Riddle Master: A Riddle-teacher, who is adept at getting others excited about and teaching Riddle Mastery. Anyone, be they Maker or Solver, can do this, though I generally I deem it easier for Makers since then one is less likely to run out of riddles. For the details on how to become a Master Teacher and Master Maker respectively, continue reading until you reach the Methodology for teaching Riddle Mastery in an Educational setting and How to become a Riddle-maker links (or scroll down now if you are too impatient to read a few more very short paragraphs).
Riddle-maker (and teacher) Philosophy
Is this everything I know about Riddle Mastery? No, but it is most of it. What few secrets I have left relate purely to Riddle-teaching and are the the type best learned from experience. Is there an overall lesson one would learn from these untold things? Naturally, that being that sometimes a Riddle Master has to break their own rules in the interest of fairness and unforeseen (and unfortunate) circumstances. I keep specific examples of this hidden simply because if my students learned I had made exceptions in the past some would beg all the more insistently for one to be made for them. Which wraps up most everything I have to say save that finally and again, the reason why I do not post the riddles I make is because the whole reason I make them in the first place is so riddle-solvers cannot look up the answers on the internet. Hence posting them here on Stars Uncounted would be counterproductive.
Beware another riddle master
(What does this mean? Heh. Several of my students always note that these words are marked in the header on every page of my Riddle Sheet and ask what they mean too. My answer? That I hope they never find out. Though ironically my teaching riddles to so many and encouraging others to do the same makes it all the more likely that they will. Call the answer a personally annoying overall blessing if you want, though perhaps I am just oversensitive. With luck they will run into the issue and not consider it a problem or annoying.)
A private message to my former students:
Greetings my friends!
If you are a former student of mine and are asking how can I possibly give you a private message on a public blog then you are absolutely correct. I have therefore written it on a separate page accessible via this link; it is password protected, and password is the answer to the Grandmaster Riddle – which I trust you all remember. The first letter is lowercase. If you write it in uppercase it will deny you access and tell you "the page you were looking for in this blog does not exist."