Riddle Me, Riddle Me, What Is That?


The body supplies a goodly batch of answers for another group: A flock of sheep on a red hill, here they go, there they go, now they stand still. (Teeth and gums.) Riddle me, riddle me, what is that, over the head and under the hat? (Hair.) You don’t have it, you don’t want it, but if you did have it, you wouldn’t take a million dollars for it. (A bald head.) You feel it, but you have never seen it, and never will. (Your heart.) What is that which you cannot hold for five minutes, yet it is as light as a feather. (Your breath.)

Wherever possible the folk have always enjoyed comparing objects to houses and castles. Two good examples are the following, the first purely American, and the second English in origin:

On the hill sits a green house, In the green house sits a white house, In the white house sits a red house, In the red house are a lot of little black and white men. (A watermelon.) In marble halls as white as milk, Lined with skin as soft as silk, Within a fountain crystal clear A golden apple doth appear. No doors are there to this stronghold, Yet thieves break in and steal the gold. (An egg.)

A other type which has been a favorite for generations contains the answer within the words of the riddle itself. Reading the text of the riddle and studying the spelling makes the solution quite simple; when the riddle is recited, however, it becomes more difficult. Here the answer to the first is the letter R, and I leave the second for you:

It’s in the church, but not in the steeple, It’s in the parson, but not in the people. I am not found on the ground, but always in the air, Through each cloud with thunder loud, you cannot find me there; Now if from France you choose to dance your way just into Spain, I there am seen, and near the queen in hail, and mist, and rain.

Not unrelated, since one must study the text carefully, is a very difficult riddle which first appeared in print in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1881:

A Headless man had a letter to write, It was read by one who had lost his sight, The Dumb repeated it word for word, And he was Deaf who listened and heard.

The clue to the answer lies in the words “had a letter to write.” The riddle does not say that a letter was actually written. Secondly, while the word “letter” is generally understood by the listener to mean a letter of several paragraphs, it stands instead for a letter of the alphabet. That letter must be the letter O, which is the symbol also for zero, or nothing. Unraveled then, the riddle reads: A Headless man had nothing to write, nothing was read by one who had lost his sight, the Dumb repeated nothing word for word, and he was Deaf who listened and heard nothing.

Another difficult riddle, but one for which any barefoot youngster will find the answer sometime during the summer, is:

I went to the woods and caught it, I sat me down and sought it, The more I looked, the less I liked it, And brought it home because I couldn’t find it. (A thorn, nettle, or splinter.)

Rounding out the true riddles is this handful of very hardy favorites, most of them from the British Isles, but all thoroughly at home now in America: It has a head like a cat, feet like a cat, a tail like a cat, but it isn’t a cat. (A kitten.) Name me and you destroy me. (Silence.) What is that which is often brought to the table, often cut, but never eaten? (A pack of cards.) Tie it up and it walks, unfasten it and it stops. (A shoe.) White as snow and snow it isn’t, green as grass and grass it isn’t, red as blood and blood it isn’t, black as tar and tar it isn’t. (A blackberry. First the white blossom, then the green berry which turns red, and when ripe is black.) A riddle, a riddle as I suppose, a hundred eyes and never a nose. (Potatoes.) Round as a biscuit, busy as a bee, prettiest little thing I ever did see. (A watch.) Black within and red without, four corners round about. (A chimney.) What has a bed yet never sleeps, and has a mouth yet never speaks or eats. (A river.)

Like the puzzle of the fox, the goose, and the corn, there is another also involving the crossing of a stream. A man, a woman, and their two sons must cross the stream in a boat which will not hold more than 100 pounds. The man and the woman each weigh 100 pounds, and each of the two boys weighs 50 pounds. How will they get across?

The two boys go over first. One of the boys returns with the boat, and the woman goes over alone. The second boy returns with the boat, gets his brother, and they go over again. One of them returns with the boat, and waits while the man goes over alone. The second boy returns for the last time with the boat, gets his brother, and they go over to join the man and woman.