Festive Fundraising with Conundrum Suppers

“All who attend will be assured of having a good social time, an excellent supper, and of becoming acquainted with the wonders and mysteries of a ‘Conundrum Supper’.”[1]

Second Baptist Church. Supper: Wednesday February First, 1893. Manuscript: Menu. Second Baptist Church: 1893. From McGill University Library, Rare Books and Special Collections, https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1125324536.

Second Baptist Church. Supper: Wednesday February First, 1893. Manuscript: Menu. Second Baptist Church: 1893. From McGill University Library, Rare Books and Special Collections, https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1125324536.

Eager participants in Conundrum Socials, fashionable dining entertainments of late 19th and early 20th century America, preferred the pleasures of puzzling food descriptions to plainer ones. Care to have some “Boston’s Overthrow” with your meal? If so, you would receive tea!

Conundrum Socials were fun, flexible and very functional as fundraising events. To date we have found more than 1,361 Conundrum events. Games customarily took place before eating, and conundrum-themed performances accompanied the meal. Guests might even arrive in costume.[2] Most often, innovative menus included dishes described entirely in riddling form. One menu was composed of Shakespearean quotes.[3] Another references chemical formulas. A dish described as “H2O, 100 Degrees Centrigrade, with Alpho-Amida-acetic acid” would be soup![4] Ordering from these riddling menus was a culinary adventure for diners.

The craze for Conundrum Socials dwindles by 1920, but why? Could it be related to the introduction of Prohibition in the US? To a changed social mood post WW1? To the popularity of radio, which drew audiences away from live, locally organized events? These questions underpin our current research in The Riddle Project.

Find out more here. Do you have a Conundrum Social story to share? Reach out to @McGillLib, @McGillRoaar or email nathalie [dot] cooke@mcgill [dot] ca.


1) The Port Jervis Union. Newspaper. Port Jervis, Orange, New York: Tri-States Print. Co., May 13, 1892. From New York State Historic Newspapers. http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn91066174/1892-05-13/ed-1/seq-1/ (accessed Feb. 10, 2019).

2) The Yonkers Statesman. Newspaper. Yonkers, Westchester, New York: M.F. Rowe, Feb. 21, 1902. From New York State Historic Newspapers. No URL (accessed Feb. 10, 2019).

3) The Goodland Republic. Newspaper. Goodland, Kansas: Stewart Co., March 4, 1898. From Library of Congress, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85030821/1898-03-04/ed-1/seq-3/ (accessed Feb. 10, 2019).

4) St. Lawrence Republican and Ogdensburgh Weekly Journal. Newspaper. Ogdensburgh, New York: James & Hopkins, Dec. 20, 1911. From New York State Historic Newspapers. http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn83031416/1911-12-20/ed-1/seq-1/ (accessed Feb. 10, 2019).

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