Write Us A Riddle Contest: Results

Hello, riddlers! You are no doubt waiting with bated breath for the results of the riddle-composition contest. Well, as luck would have it, we have a final decision for you.

The panel of professional poets and Anglo-Saxonists who acted as judges would like me to let you know that ALL the entries were very good indeed. This is not an empty ‘you’re all winners on the inside’ accolade, but the real opinion of each and every judge. However, since this is supposed to be a contest…we’re pleased to announce a joint victory for: Alison Offer and Juliana Poole. If the winners are reading this: I’ll be in touch shortly to see about sending you your brilliant prize of Riddle Ages key-rings.

We hope the rest of you enjoyed writing your fantastic riddles and will consider entering again in the future.

Everyone, please enjoy reading Alison and Juliana’s riddles below:


Author: Alison Offer

(in Old English)

Ic ferede feorran      in fyrngearum

ofer ismerum      isernheardum,

hwælplegstowe.      Oft hwistlede seo lyft,

wind winterceald,      ymb min wæggræge hrægl.

Sungon and swegde      samod ætgædere

min flangefaran,      farena gliwcræft

amyrgde mine heortan.      Mirige ic eom giet ac heortleas,

for æt flæsce and felle      feond me bestripte,

mid scearpseaxe       sixfealdlice

min ban þurhdraf.       Nu þæs beornes æþm

hwistleþ þurh minum lice,      and heortan wera

min sweg frefraþ.      Sæge hwæt ic hatte.

(in Modern English)

Far I travelled       in former years

over iron hard      oceans of ice,

the whale’s playground.      Oft whistled the air,

the winter-cold wind,      about my wave-grey robes.

My comrades in the arrow      all called and sang

together,      their travellers’ music

Brightened my heart.      Bright I am still, but heartless,

for a fiend stripped off      my flesh and skin,

with a sharpened knife,     six times over

bored through my bone.     Now the breath of a man

whistles through my body     and the hearts of men

are consoled by my song.      Say what I am called.


Solution: a goose bone flute (the six piercings are one at either end, the three finger holes and the sound hole)


Author: Julianna Poole

I am a strange creature,

Vast and minute.

I am not opaque,

Yet I conceal exotic depths.

I am the vector of poison,

And you thirst for me.

You can freeze by my hand,

Or you can burn.

I teem with pestilence,

And I held you before you were born.

You cannot live without me,

Yet sometimes I kill.


Solution: Water

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Riddle 32 (or 30)

Is þes middangeard     missenlicum

wisum gewlitegad,     wrættum gefrætwad.

Siþum sellic     ic seah searo hweorfan,

grindan wið greote,     giellende faran.

5     Næfde sellicu wiht     syne ne folme,

exle ne earmas;     sceal on anum fet

searoceap swifan,     swiþe feran,

faran ofer feldas.     Hæfde fela ribba;

muð wæs on middan.     Moncynne nyt,

10     fereð foddurwelan,     folcscipe dreogeð,

wist in wigeð,     ond werum gieldeð

gaful geara gehwam     þæs þe guman brucað,

rice ond heane.     Rece, gif þu cunne,

wis worda gleaw,     hwæt sio wiht sie.


This middle-earth is made beautiful

in various ways, adorned with ornaments.

At times I saw strange contraption move about,

grind against the grit, go screaming.

5     The strange creature did not have sight nor hands,

shoulders nor arms; on one foot must

the cunning contraption move, powerfully journey,

going over fields. It had many ribs;

its mouth was in the middle. Useful to mankind,

10     it bears an abundance of food, works for the people,

carries sustenance within, and yields to men

treasure every year that those men enjoy,

rich and poor. Tell, if you know,

wise and prudent in words, what that creature may be.

Highlight the box with your cursor to reveal the possible solutions: Ship, Wagon, Millstone, Wheel, Wheelbarrow

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Commentary for Riddle 31 [under construction]

This is a place-holder post, while we plough ahead with the next riddle. Check back for this commentary soon!

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ANNOUNCEMENT: Write Us A Riddle Contest

For those of us studying or working in education: the middle of term is upon us. For those of us not: it’s freaking cold out. What unites these two things? Misery and darkness, my friends, misery and darkness. Luckily for us all, Old English poets love misery and darkness. And this is why we have a little announcement to make: ANOTHER CONTEST! Woohoo!

You’ve already seen Megan’s riddle-writing skillz, and now we want to see yours. We want you to send us riddles.

Here are the rules:

  • Anyone can enter! But only one riddle per person, please. And try to keep’em short-ish (shall we say, no longer than 15 lines?).
  • Because the point of this blog is to be accessible to Old English students and enthusiasts, we’re not going to insist on riddles in Old English. We just want nicely-written riddles that get to the heart of Anglo-Saxon style and tone. If you’d like to submit a riddle in Old English and Modern English, we’ll be very impressed, of course. If we get enough of these, we’ll judge them together in a separate category.
  • You must include your riddle’s solution, along with your name and email address, on a separate page (no spoilers!).
  • We must receive riddles by email (theriddleages@gmail.com) no later than December 14th.
  • By entering, you consent to have your riddle posted on our website. Please note that the blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

We’ll announce the results on December 18th. The judges will include a panel of Old English and creative writing experts, whose identities shall remain top secret. They don’t want to get trolled by angry riddlers. Can you imagine?!

“But wait: what do I win?,” we hear you asking. Dignity, power and bragging rights. “Hmm…going to all that effort for bragging rights seems a bit much,” you add. Fine then. You win a beautiful, customised Riddle Ages key-ring. Megan is crafting them as she types.

So, start your riddle-engines, folks! We’ll post a reminder closer to the contest closing date.

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Riddle 31 (or 29)

This week’s translation is a guest post from Christopher Laprade. Christopher is a PhD student at the University of Toronto, where he is working on book history and early modern drama.


Is þes middangeard     missenlicum

wisum gewlitegad,     wrættum gefrætwad.

Ic seah sellic þing     singan on ræcede;

wiht wæs nower     werum on gemonge

5     sio hæfde wæstum     wundorlicran.

Niþerweard     wæs neb hyre,

fet ond folme     fugele gelice;

no hwæþre fleogan mæg     ne fela gongan,

hwæþre feþegeorn     fremman onginneð,

10     gecoren cræftum,
     cyrreð geneahhe

oft ond gelome     eorlum on gemonge,

siteð æt symble,     sæles bideþ,

hwonne ær heo cræft hyre     cyþan mote

werum on gemonge.     Ne heo þær wiht þigeð

15     þæs þe him æt blisse     beornas habbað.

Deor domes georn,     hio dumb wunað;

hwæþre hyre is on fote     fæger hleoþor,

wynlicu woðgiefu.     Wrætlic me þinceð,

hu seo wiht mæge     wordum lacan

20     þurh fot neoþan,     frætwed hyrstum.

Hafað hyre on halse,     þonne hio hord warað,

baru, beagum deall,     broþor sine,

mæg mid mægne.     Micel is to hycgenne

wisum woðboran     hwæt sio wiht sie.

Note: The italics refer to deviations from the manuscript . See the note at the bottom of the post for more information.


This middle earth is in manifold

ways made beautiful, with works of art adorned.

I saw a strange thing sing in a hall;

nowhere was there a creature among men

5     that had a more fantastic form.

Downward was her beak,

feet and hands like a bird;

she may not fly, however, nor walk much,

yet eager to go she begins to perform,

10     chosen with skill, she moves frequently

often and again among men,

sits at the feast, bides her time,

until when she might make known her skill

amidst the men. She consumes nothing

15     that the men there have for their pleasure.

Brave, eager for glory, she sits silent;

yet there is in her foot a fair sound,

a charming gift of song. It seems curious to me,

how that creature can play with words

20     through that foot from beneath, adorned with finery.

They have her by the neck, when she guards treasure,

bare, proud with rings, her brothers,

maid among an army. It is a great thing to think

for a wise songster what that creature may be.


Highlight the box with your cursor to reveal the possible solutions: Psaltery and Quill-pick, Quill-pen and Fingers, Bagpipe, Fiddle, Portable Organ, Organistrum, Harp, Cithara


Deviations from the manuscript (MS):

  • Line 4a nower: not in MS
  • Line 4b werum: MS reads onwerum
  • Line 6a Niþerweard: MS reads niþer wearð
  • Line 14a gemonge: the MS reads wonge
  • Line 15b habbað: MS reads habbad
  • Line 21b þonne: MS reads þon
  • Line 22a baru: MS reads bær [note that Krapp and Dobbie’s edition of the Exeter Book retains the MS form]
  • Line 24b sio: not in MS

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Commentary for Riddle 30a and b

Like last week’s translations, Riddle 30a and b’s commentary once again comes to us from Pirkko Koppinen:


Riddle 30 exists as two separate texts in the manuscript, Riddle 30a and Riddle 30b (Krapp and Dobbie’s numbering). Such a double text is rare in Old English poetry. The reason why the riddle was copied in the manuscript twice will never be known for sure. There are some minor differences, however, which suggest to A. N. Doane that the scribe was copying the texts also “sonically” rather than just visually (page 49). The differences affect the interpretation of the two poems in terms of nuance, but in terms of solution they are of no major consequence (unless you wish to contest the accepted solution, of course). Riddle 30a is intact, but Riddle 30b has been damaged with a hot poker, which curiously fits the content of the poem; that is, the poem makes several references to fire.

Translating the first four lines of Riddle 30a and Riddle 30b is translating “earth, wind, and fire.” No, I do not mean that wonderful, American band that brought us many a disco tune; I mean the elements. At the beginning of the poem (of both texts) we learn about the riddle creature’s various preoccupations first with fire (line 1a), then wind (line 1b) and storm (line 2b), then fire (line 3b) again, then earth (“grove”, line 4a), and then once more its dealings with fire (line 4b). It is not surprising then that these lines have suggested to the solvers that we are dealing with a “tree.” Solving the rest of the riddle means understanding how trees were metamorphosed into wooden objects and matching those with the clues of the riddle.

As a cup, the riddle creature – transformed from wood into a material object – is passed from hand to hand and kissed by proud men and women (lines 5-6 in both riddles). The image recalls the communal drinking rituals in Beowulf where the men drink from their lord’s – or lady’s – cup as a gesture of loyalty (see e.g. Beowulf, lines 491-95a, 615-24, 1014b-17a, 1024b-25a, 1170, 1192-93a and 1231). The word wlonce (proud) in Riddle 30a and Riddle 30b, which in Old English is often used to describe princes and queens, suggests that we are indeed dealing with the high-ranking people, such as those depicted in Beowulf. The cup in the riddles may be a wooden cup decorated with an interlace collar, such as that found in the Sutton Hoo boat burial – a worthy drinking vessel of the Anglo-Saxon royalty. It has been suggested that fus forweges (“eager for the journey,” line 3a) refers to a “ship” constructed of wood, but the phrase could also refer to the way a wooden log is quickly engulfed in flames once it ignites.

The last three lines of the poems explain how people show reverence to the riddle creature, and these lines have suggested to solvers that what we are dealing with is “a cross.” It was an important symbol for the newly converted Christian Anglo-Saxons, as is demonstrated through the wonderful poem The Dream of the Rood, which describes how the tree first grows free in the forest before it is cut down and transformed into gallows and then – washed with the Saviour’s blood – is transformed into a revered symbol of salvation. The cross, a narrator in The Rood, decorated with jewels is bewunden mid wuldre (“wound around with glory,” Riddle 30a, line 2a; Riddle 30b is damaged at this point). Just like the cross in The Rood, the riddle creature brings eadignesse (happiness/joy) to people when they bow to it; that is, when they pray to the cross for their salvation.

Wood as a material was of utmost importance for the Anglo-Saxons. They built houses from timber, domestic objects from wood, and woodland trees were part of their economic landscape. Wood and trees were used in their food and drink production as a fuel and produce. In other words, wood was an integral part of the Anglo-Saxons’ everyday life – not only in terms of their physical existence but also in terms of their religious beliefs (see Bintley and Shapland).

As a Finn, I understand this closeness to trees and wood as material of the everyday. I grew up in a house that was built in 1890 from wood and which was also heated solely with wood in the cold months. Wooden objects may not be as ubiquitous today as they were a hundred years ago, but, like the Anglo-Saxon economy at the time, Finnish economy has been always also partially reliant on its forests. So translating Riddle 30a and Riddle 30b was a nostalgic affair to me. It made me think of how fire consumed wood when we heated the sauna in our wooden summer cottage. I remembered how we heated the coffee pot and cooked our meals on top of the wood burning stove where the logs turned into burning embers and still do in many Finnish houses and summer and winter cottages.

Riddle 30 Fire

Photograph by Mira Suopelto

I remembered how we walked through the woods in a windy day and watched the trees bend and struggle in the wind and storm.

Riddle 30 Trees Koppinen

Photograph by P. Koppinen

Spoons, cups, jugs, and bowls would have been “kissed” by both men and women – of high status as well as others. Wooden objects are still crafted and used today, although not used as often as they were a hundred years ago.

Riddle 30 Wooden Objects Koppinen

Photograph by P. Koppinen

Our wooden churches were often built in the form of a cross and many a decorated altar piece is built from wood and “wound around with glory,” in front of which the congregation bow their heads in humility. This personal experience of trees, wood and woodlands of Finland created for me an intimate relationship with the riddle creature, which aided me in my attempt to translate the two riddles into Finnish. The Finnish translations are a little crude, literal translations, but they convey my nostalgia of Finnish forest, trees, and woodlands in my childhood so beautifully described in Riddle 30a and Riddle 30b. Of course, the riddle-texts may have led the solvers – along with me – astray and these riddles remain, as A. J. Wyatt has suggested, still unsolved. But that is the fun of riddles; there is always another way of reading the text, mystery to be solved and solution to be found. For now, I am happy to reminisce about the trees of my childhood.


References and Suggested Reading:

Bintley, Michael D. J., and Michael G. Shapland, eds. Trees and Timber in the Anglo-Saxon World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Doane, A. N. “Spacing, Placing and Effacing: Scribal Textuality and Exeter Riddle 30 a/b.” In New Approaches to Editing Old English Verse. Ed. by Sarah Larratt Keefer and Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe. Cambridge: Brewer, 1998, pages 45-65.

Koppinen, Pirkko Anneli. “Breaking the Mould: Solving Riddle 12 as Wudu “Wood”.” In Trees and Timber in the Anglo-Saxon World. Ed. by Bintley and Shapland (see above), pages 158-76.

Liuzza, R. M. “The Texts of the Old English Riddle 30.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol. 87 (1988), pages 1-15.

Niles, John D. Old English Enigmatic Poems and the Play of the Texts. Studies in Early Middle Ages, vol. 13. Turnhout: Brepols, 2006.

Wyatt, A. J., ed. Old English Riddles. The Belles Lettres Series, vol. 1. Boston, MA: Heath, 1912.

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Riddle 30a and b (or Riddle 28a and b)

We have all sorts of treats for you today, so I hope you’re glued to your seats and screens. Not literally…that would be more than a little weird. First of all, we have a double riddle. That sounds amazing, I know, but it also requires explanation. Up until now, the riddles have all appeared one after another in the Exeter Book, but there are two versions of Riddle 30 — one here, and one later in the manuscript, following Homiletic Fragment II (absolutely scintillating name…). We’ve decided to do both versions of Riddle 30 at the same time, and for these we have a guest translator. Pirkko Koppinen completed her PhD at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she is currently a visiting lecturer. She  also brings to us an expertise in museum and heritage studies, as well as Finnish. Pirkko has generously offered us not only English translations of both Riddle 30a and b, but also Finnish ones. Surely this can be described as nothing short of a cornucopia of riddle-fun. Take it away, Pirkko!


Riddle 30a

[Note on the texts: The damaged words in Riddle 30b are marked with square brackets. I have highlighted the differences in the two texts in bold and translated accordingly. Line 7b in Riddle 30a reads on hin gað (which is a nonsensical form) in the manuscript and is emended to onhnigað by using the text of Riddle 30b (line 7b); see George Philip Krapp and Elliott van Kirk Dobbie, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, vol. 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), p. 338.


Ic eom legbysig,      lace mid winde,

bewunden mid wuldre,      wedre gesomnad,

fus forðweges,      fyre gebysgad,

bearu blowende,      byrnende gled.

5     Ful oft mec gesiþas      sendað æfter hondum,

þæt mec weras ond wif      wlonce cyssað.

Þonne ic mec onhæbbe,      ond hi onhnigaþ to me

monige mid miltse,      þær ic monnum sceal

ycan upcyme      eadignesse.


I am busy with fire, fight with the wind,

wound around with glory, united with storm,

eager for the journey, agitated by fire;

[I am] a blooming grove, a burning ember.

5     Very often companions send me from hand to hand

so that proud men and women kiss me.

When I exalt myself and they bow to me,

many with humility, there I shall

bring increasing happiness to humans.


A free rendering of Riddle 30a into Finnish:

Minä ahkeroin tulen kanssa, leikin tuulella. [Minä olen] kietoutunut kunniaan, yhdistetty myrskyyn. [Olen] innokas lähtemään, liekillä kiihotettu. [Olen] kukoistava lehto, hehkuva hiillos. Kumppanit kierrättävät minua usein kädestä käteen siellä, missä korskeat miehet ja naiset suutelevat minua. Kun ylistän itseäni ja he, monet, nöyränä kumartavat minua, siellä minä tuon karttuvaa riemua ihmisille.


Riddle 30b

Ic eom ligbysig,      lace mid winde,

w[……………..]dre gesomnad,

fus forðweges,      fyre gemylted,

b[ . ] blowende,      byrnende gled.

5     Ful oft mec gesiþas      sendað æfter hondum,

þær mec weras ond wif      wlonce gecyssað.

Þonne ic mec onhæbbe,      hi onhnigað to me,

modge miltsum,      swa ic mongum sceal

ycan upcyme      eadignesse.


I am busy with fire, fight with the wind,

[…] united […],

eager for the journey, consumed by fire;

[I am] a blooming […], a burning ember.

5     Very often companions send me from hand to hand

where proud men and women kiss me.

When I exalt myself, high-spirited [ones]

bow to me with humility, in this way I shall

bring increasing happiness to many.


A free rendering of Riddle 30b into Finnish:

Minä ahkeroin tulen kanssa. Leikin tuulella. […] on kiedottu […]. [Olen] innokas lähtemään, tulessa tuhottu. [Olen] kukoistava […], hehkuva hiillos. Useasti kumppanit kierrättävät minua kädestä käteen siellä, missä korskeat miehet ja naiset suutelevat minua. Kun ylistän itseäni, ja he, ylväät, nöyränä kumartavat minua. Täten minä tuon karttuvaa riemua monille.


Highlight the box with your cursor to reveal the possible solutions: Beam, Cross, Wood, Tree, Snowflake

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