Silence had reigned for a while. For a moment, I wondered if I’d made things too difficult this time.
Then, the messages began popping up on my phone.
“Shred, lasso, trap,” one mused over the puzzle I’d left. “Terrapin?”
I checked, the clues did indeed translate to “tear, rope, pin.”
Another came in, deducing that “lose it, quick text” actually meant “snap, ping.” And another, turning an especially convoluted wordplay into “teenage mutant ninjas.” Before long, most of the “Turtles” category had been uncovered.
Another Riddle Night was under way.
It’s probably my most curious hobby. Lots of people read. Plenty of people act with a theatre group, or play tabletop games, or fool around with a musical instrument. But the number of folks who create riddles for a group of friends to solve … well, I won’t say it approaches zero, but it is clearly a specialty entertainment.
I inherited the title of the Riddlemaster a while ago. Like many things, it started with a Facebook group, in this case centered around the humorous and thoughtful “Callahan’s Place” stories of the writer Spider Robinson. The tavern where Robinson’s science fiction stories were set had compassion, revelry, and near-constant puns – all things we could readily duplicate in a virtual environment.
But one of the more occasional features of the stories was Riddle Night, where one of the patrons would pick an unspoken theme and then write several related riddles on the board. Each successful guess scored a point; the winner had his or her drink tab cleared and got to be Riddlemaster next time if they chose.
We obviously couldn’t do anything about the drink tab in an online “saloon.” But the rest, with some effort, was doable. We added some more time (most of a weekend rather than just one night) and the caveat that if the winner didn’t feel up to the challenge of next week’s riddles, they could “pass the microphone” back to the default Riddlemaster – which, after the first few months, became me – and we were off.
OK, we were clearly off. But a little insanity never hurts for something like this.
By now, the topics have been myriad. Poker hands. Middle-earth. Heroes and villains. If you name it, we can riddle it – and maybe even crack it.
It takes a lot of mental effort, both to forge the riddles and to solve them. But it’s worth every drop of cranial sweat. In many ways, it uses the same parts of the brain that a good pun does, but in slightly different ways.
It forces you to look at meanings and see whether there’s something you hadn’t considered.
It makes you look for patterns and connections, veering away from the unproductive ones and zeroing in when the evidence becomes clear.
At times, it encourages you to work together – someone else’s wrong guess may have the key to your own solution.
In short, it makes you think, be aware, and pay attention to others.
That’s never a bad thing. Especially these days.
We don’t spend a lot of time trying to understand any more. Maybe that too is a specialty interest. It’s always easier to mobilize the troops and concentrate the folks who think just like you, to reinforce old habits and strengthen existing beliefs, than it is to try to see where someone else is coming from. It’s harder to feel where another person hurts – or harder still, to see where you’ve hurt someone else yourself – and reach out to help them out.
Harder. But essential. For all of us.
How do we get there? That’s a riddle indeed. But one well worth the solving.
And like the turtle riddles, the first step is to come out of your shell and try.