Can You Spot It?: Solving Visual Puzzles with The Riddle Project

By Leehu Sigler

“Too many riddles weigh men down on earth. We must solve as we can, and try to keep a dry skin in the water.”[1]

― The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Timeless Riddles is back with some more puzzling problems! Were you able to solve the riddles from last time? The answer to the Enigma is ‘Heart’. The answer to the Charade is ‘Fortune’ (because ‘for’ is a preposition, ‘tune’ is a composition and ‘fortune’ is an acquisition!).

On today’s menu is a different kind of riddle: The spectacular Rebus! The Rebus is a visual puzzle. In order to solve it, you need to decode both words and images.

Here’s a classic Rebus from one of Lewis Carroll’s letters:

The Chestnuts

My dear Ina,

Though I don’t give

birthday presents, still I

may write a birthday letter.

I came to your door to

wish you many happy returns

of the day, but the cat met

me, and took me for a mouse,

and hunted me up and down

till I could hardly stand.

However somehow I got

into the house, and there

a mouse met me, and took me

for a cat, and pelted me…[2]

See how the letter is comprised of both words and pictures?

Some Rebuses emphasize the visual arrangement of their words to hint at their answer:


I have to               paid


work                    I am[3]


Looks funny, right? That’s because the way the sentence is presented contributes to its meaning!

The answer is: “I have to overwork because I am underpaid”.

“I have to” is literally over the word “work”, and “I am” is literally under the word “paid”.

While the idea of the Rebus originated over five thousand years ago, it gained popularity in England throughout the seventeenth century, especially as heraldic seals[4].

Even the celebrated William Shakespeare is not above such pun-tastic riddles! His very own coat of arms is a Rebus of his name – ‘Shake-Speare[5]:

Rebuses can come in many different shapes and forms. How about you try this one for yourselves?

Three-fourths of a cross and a circle complete,

Two semicircles and a perpendicular meet,

A triangle standing on two feet;

Two semicircles and a circle complete.

Don’t forget that the visual aspect is key! Tune in text time for the solution and more tongue-tying Timeless Riddles!

Like us on Facebook @timelessriddles, follow us on Twitter @Time1essRiddles, or shoot us an email at to solve riddles, ask questions, or just to stay involved!

Don’t forget to follow @McGillLib, @McGill_ROAAr, and @CookeNathalie on Twitter as well, without which this project would not be possible.

Keep calm and riddle on!

[1] Pg. 114, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (Project Gutenberg 2009)

[2] “Part of a letter from Carroll at ‘The Chestnuts.’” Pg. 57, John Fisher, The Magic of Lewis Carroll (Simon and Schuster, 1973)

[3] Pg. 85, Tony Augarde, The Oxford Guide to Word Games (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1984)

[4] Pg. 85-6, Tony Augarde, The Oxford Guide to Word Games (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1984)

[5] Tomasz Steifer, Gdansk, 2008

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