Saturday, November 14, 2009

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Katie was the closest. As a reward she gets five ampersands and one asterisk. Here you go Katie: &&&&&*

Lewis Carroll wrote the riddle for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, as any respectable Disney cartoon watcher should know. The Mad Hatter asks the riddle. In the video below you can find it at 5:37. (Is it weird to anyone else that Youtube citations look so much like scriptural citations?). There was no answer because, well, the Mad Hatter was mad. Why would he ask a riddle that actually made sense?

It got a lot of people annoyed that Carroll did not actually have an answer. Some people came up with their own. These include, "Poe wrote on both," "They both stand on sticks," "They both come with inky quills," and one that played on the fact that there is no answer: "There is a B in both but an N in neither."

Carroll came up with his own answer.(He was actually quite the riddler and also a mathematician and photographer and a deacon in the Anglican church.) He published it in a preface to a later edition of his book. Here it is:

"Enquiries have been so often addressed to me, as to whether any answer to the Hatter's Riddle can be imagined, that I may as well put on record here what seems to me to be a fairly appropriate answer, viz: 'Because it can produce a few notes, though they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!' This, however, is merely an afterthought; the riddle as originally invented, had no answer at all."

The "nevar" part is "raven" backwards. Unfortunately, his copy editor thought it was a misspelling so he changed it, which led to a lot of confusion.

Wow, I got a lot of mileage out of riddles. I knew that teenage phase would come in handy.


Katie said...

I feel most honored. Thanks for the sweet prize.

Lisa Lou said...

For some reason, the whole riddle-with-no-answer thing freaks me out. Like alternate universe thing or something. I didn't know what Lewis Carroll wrote it, but now I know! Sweet!

Bridget said...

Oh man, I was right but talked myself out of it. I thought I remembered hearing this riddle and that there was no answer, but then Katie came up with that awesome response and I figured she was probably right. Good to know this history!