People have been amusing themselves with puzzles since probably before recorded history. We enjoy puzzles because they are a form of play. And as every child instinctively knows, play is important business. It provides a way to experiment and explore our world in a safe environment. Puzzles let us play again, and that is something we too often leave behind as we grow older.
Playing with words must have started shortly after language itself was developed. Riddles are perhaps the oldest type of word puzzle and found in nearly every culture throughout history. They were important in religion and philosophy as a means for sages to express their wisdom and to test others. Here is a riddle that, according to Greek legend, was posed by the Sphinx to Oedipus: “What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three in the evening?” Oedipus correctly answered (metaphorically), “A man who crawls as a child, walks upright in his prime, and uses a cane in old age.” This bit of ingenuity saved Oedipus's life and he went on to become king of Thebes. Such is the power of word play!
Shortly after humans started writing, they started using secret codes. Julius Caesar devised a simple code where he moved each letter three places up in the alphabet, so A became D, B became E, etc. Evidently this was effective for Caesar, but the cryptoquotes in this book will present more of a challenge. One of the first uses of cryptograms for amusement purposes was in the Middle Ages by monks who had enough spare time for such intellectual frivolity.
Palindromes are another form of ancient word trickery. Palindromes are words that read the same backward or forward. Famous examples include “Madam, in Eden I'm Adam” and “A man, a plan, a canal — Panama!” Reportedly, palindromes were once considered magical because it was believed that the devil could not tamper with them due to the confusing repetition of letters.
Acrostics are a kind of word play that has been popular since before the time of Christ. In an acrostic the first letters of each line spells out another message, a word two-for-one. The Bible has a type of acrostic in which each stanza begins with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. With letters running both across and down, some say that acrostics were a precursor to crossword puzzles.
The crossword puzzle is a relatively recent invention. The first one was put together in 1913 by Arthur Wynne, who created a “word-cross” puzzle for the New York World newspaper. Though it was diamond shaped, it had all the features of crossword puzzles that we know and love today. His diamond included the entries “FUN” and “HARD” (for the clue “What this puzzle is”); an accurate response from crossword solvers then and now!
Sudoku is the newest phenomenon in the puzzle world and vies with crosswords for popularity. Invented by an Indianapolis architect named Howard Garns, sudoku was originally called Number Place. It first appeared in 1979 in Dell Pencil Puzzles and Word Games. The puzzle became a hit in Japan, where it was named sudoku (which means “only single numbers allowed”). Sudoku didn't explode in popularity until late 2004, when a London newspaper started carrying the puzzle. By 2005 the sudoku frenzy quickly spread to nearly all parts of the globe, including back home to the United States.
The material in this book builds on this rich history of puzzles. You will find familiar friends like crosswords, word search, and cryptoquotes. There are also new faces like sudoku, quotagrams, and dropouts. Some of the puzzles, like groupies, lost and found, and diagramless, are variations of other puzzles. Though you may have a favorite type of puzzle, this book will provide you with a healthy smorgasbord of challenges.