Character-guessing riddles

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Character-guessing riddles

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1Fogies
Editat: des. 26, 2006, 3:18 pm

Here's a verse

One:
執戈示威
陵我疑心
口一而已
迷路前駸

with the Fogies' translation

"They grip their spears to show their power
And overawe my doubtful mind.
I've but one mouth, no more.
They go charging down the wrong road."

This is a riddle of a very ancient type. To work it out you must select some of the characters in the verse and put them together to make a different character, one that is not in the verse, that writes a word meaning something to do with what the verse's meaning is.

Hint: don't bother Googling. The Fogies in propriae sly malevolent personae made it up. It exists only on our hard drive and in this post, so Google will direct you right back here. You've got to do a Pound-Fenollosa--or rather, an inside-out upside-down Pound-Fenollosa, not dissecting parts but assembling them.

2belleyang
Editat: des. 22, 2006, 1:45 pm

I put my answer on Fogie's Profile page. Don't want to ruin the fun for anyone else.

3Fogies
Editat: des. 26, 2006, 3:18 pm

>2 belleyang: belleyang Thanks for a prompt reply and for not spoiling the game. Let's let that one sit for a day or two to see if anyone else has an answer. Then the Fogies will post our answer and explanation of how the clues lead to it.

Meanwhile here's another:

Two:
有方無術
人騎一匹
反復云云
周回如日

"Knowing a method but not the technique,
Each man rides one horse,
Back and forth, over and over,
Completing circuits like the sun."

4Airycat
des. 24, 2006, 2:19 am

This puzzle fascinates me. I don't know enough to do it, but I'll be playing with my dictionary for a while, anyway. :^) I love words and language and how we can play with them in various word games.

5Fogies
Editat: des. 24, 2006, 4:17 pm

Belleyang got the first one, MMcM the second. You are both foemen worthy of the Fogies' steel. Could we make one little request? Since you've devised this excellent expedient of posting your solutions on our comments page, could we ask all responders to take the additional step of checking the "make private" box? That way more than one player can post an answer without knowing what others have answered already. This game might go on for a while since the Fogies have made up dozens of these riddles and we'd like to get more players involved. Thanks!

The time has come to post the rules of this game, so we will now set about composing that post.

6Fogies
Editat: des. 26, 2006, 3:19 pm

While the Fogies work on clarifying our rules and our explanation of the first two riddles, here is more red meat for the lions:

Three:
三人犯網
三口從人
人口多少
其數日新

"Three men run afoul of a net.
Three mouths follow the men.
How many men and mouths?
Every day a new number."

7Fogies
Editat: des. 25, 2006, 6:49 am

The Fogies like to play the big kids’ version of this game, but starting from the little kids’ version makes it much easier to explain how the game works to those who have never played it but would like to follow play (Ah, there, Airycat #4! Competitors always play better before well-informed spectators). Here’s an example at about the 8- or 9-year-old level:

一點一畫長
一撆到南洋
十字對十字
日字對月字

“A dot, a stroke is extended.
A slanting stroke goes to the south seas.
A plus-sign faces a plus-sign.
A sun faces a moon.”

The first two lines are boilerplate in the little kids’ version. A dot is 丶, a stroke being extended is 一 and a slanting stroke to the south seas is 丿. The combination always means 广. Now comes a feature shared with the big kids’ version: active verbs are used to describe the components’ spatial relation. Here we don’t have just a list of components; we get a description of their spatial relation—“A turns its face to B.”

Now you big kids keep out of this one and let some beginners try their hands.

8Fogies
Editat: des. 25, 2006, 5:03 pm

Rules of the character-guessing game:

First, as to the genre of the verse:

We require four lines of classical-looking Chinese, of four syllables each, with the second and fourth lines riming. Pedantic nerds that we are, the Fogies like to rime according to qie yun, but if you want to try making up some of your own, rime any way that seems appropriate to you. This verse must be intelligible as Chinese, and for this group an English translation should be provided. Let's call this verse the riddle, call the versifier the riddler and the target character the answer.

1. The riddler may slice up the answer arbitrarily. Every slice must be present at least once in the riddle, and when these are assembled they must give the complete answer.

2. The presence of a slice in the riddle may be:
a. simply direct, as when the 白 component of the answer 柏 is given in the riddle as 白
b. compound direct, as when the 白 component of 柏 is given as 丿日
c. simply indirect, as when the 白 component of 柏 is given as 雪色 "color of snow"
d compound indirect, as when the 白 component of 柏 is given as 十十去一 "ten times ten, minus one" ie multiply 十 by 十 to get 百 and then take away 一 to get 白

3. A slice may be present in the riddle in an alternate form to that in the answer
a. alternates from different positions in the structure of a character, as when 氵 is given as 水
b. calligraphic alternates, as when 兌 is given as 儿公 using the 厶 alternate of 口
c. alternate graphs for the same word, as when 一 is given as 壹
d. lookalikes as when 土 is given as 士

4. The riddler may insert misleading hints, but these must prove to be literally valid in some reasonable interpretation.

5. The riddle must contain a word, a phrase or a sentence that is a good clue to the meaning of some word that is written with the answer.

9belleyang
Editat: des. 26, 2006, 5:23 pm

Airycat:

MMcM pointed to an excellent dictionary (it's far more than that): "Chinese Characters: Their origin, etymology, history, classification and signification" by Dr. L. Wieger, S.J.. Even a native Chinese reader needs a book like this to solve riddles because characters vary so much--ancient, modern and the "typefaces" used in printed books.

If you have any interest in Chinese characters at all, you will find this book valuable. You'll lose yourself in it for hours.

The Fogies' riddles are wonderful learning tools for those of us studying Chinese, because in order to solve the riddles, we have to search the dictionaries...one interesting word leads to another. It doen't really matter if you solve the riddle.

I believe it remains inexpensive, published by the good Dover people.

10Airycat
des. 26, 2006, 2:21 am

Thank you for the info, belleyang! I have already spent may hours with my dictionary looking up song lyrics. Although I know I'm not really translating, I do get the jist of the meaning that way. I have also learned about phonetics based on character elements. My book of simple kanji explanations helped a lot, too. I've looked up this book and can get it used for a fairly reasonable price. :^D

I also need to reread messages 7 & 8 and see if I can possibly figure any of these out.

11Fogies
Editat: des. 26, 2006, 3:20 pm

>6 Fogies: belleyang got the third riddle.

Since these riddles have stirred enough interest to prompt at least three members to play the game, the Fogies will continue to post new ones as long as we can. Shall we say two per week, on Mondays and Thursdays? And with each new one we'll post the answer and explanation of a previous one, starting with first riddle in #1 this coming Thursday. Y'all ready?

(Later: we have gone back and belatedly numbered the riddles already given. We've spelled the numbers out to avoid confusion with the numbers of posts, which everyone cites in digits. We'll continue this sequence so anyone can easily refer to a specific riddle.)

12Fogies
Editat: des. 30, 2006, 4:32 am

The Fogies have chosen 25 of our riddles (including the three already given) and provided them with translations and explanations, so at two per week that should take us to spring, assuming the interest holds up. It looks as though we might be away from our computers tomorrow, so here's number four a day early.

First, the explanation of number one:

Ordinarily the spear radical 戈 stands at the right side of a character. Here we are told it is being held in an imposing gesture, so we allow for the possibility that it may be higher than normal. The word written 陵 means “go above” usually in the moral sense, as in the Fogies’ translation, but also physically, so we begin to visualize 戈 above 心. Add 口 and 一 and nothing more and you have 惑, meaning “be misguided; go astray.”

And then the new riddle:

Four
雷電所起
蝦不爲蟲
薄暮珊瑚
平旦淺紅
"Where lightning and thunder arise,
Shrimps aren’t considered vermin.
In early evening, coral;
At dawn, pale red."

(Later: belleyang nailed this one in less than two hours. She's sharp, but even so that should show the rest how easy this one is. Let's have solutions from some lurkers!

And for those who think this is too easy, don't worry, your turn will come soon.)

13Fogies
des. 29, 2006, 3:40 pm

Here's one from off the menu. We found it in 藝文類聚 where it's called 謎字詩 "poem making a riddle of a character." This is the model on which we base our own riddles.

Model
二形一體
四支八頭
四八一八
飛泉仰流
Two shapes, united as one
Four limbs, eight heads
Four eights, one eight
A gushing spring flows upward

14Fogies
Editat: des. 31, 2006, 10:06 am

Answer to the model: 井

The 藝文類聚 gives no explanation, just the answer. Here's what the Fogies think:

Instead of two shapes it turned out to be two-shapes. The second line is obvious. The four eights are pretty clearly the corners per rule 3d; the one eight we think refers to one plus eight, i.e the nine squares 井 forms. We’d consider this an instance of rule 2d as well as a reference to the “well-field” supposed to exist in ancient times, in which eight families each had a plot and worked the ninth in common, yielding its produce to the state. And of course this spring flows upward—when you crank up the bucket.

15Fogies
Editat: gen. 2, 2007, 12:35 am

Answer to two: 旋

It contains 方. It doesn’t contain 術 (misleading but literally true, per rule 4). We use 匹 for 疋 per rule 3b and 人 for 丆 per rule 3d. The verb 騎 “to straddle; to ride (a horse)” gives their spatial relation. The third and fourth lines are the semantic clue.

New riddle:

Five
飲酒去水
兩人連坐
並加庭冠
居中下埵
They drank spirits, setting aside water.
The pair of them are guilty of the same crime.
Having both donned court caps,
They sit in the middle and slump down.

Update: MMcM also got number four.

Upperdate: MMcM got number five.

16belleyang
gen. 2, 2007, 5:58 pm

>14 Fogies: 井! Who would've thunk.

17Fogies
Editat: gen. 4, 2007, 8:37 am

We'll post this a couple hours early rather than keep the west coast waiting till tomorrow. First, the answer to number three:

A net is 网, written 罒 at the top of a character, where it looks like 口口口 fused together. We use 從 for 从 per rule 3c (you could also apply 3b). That demonstrates two distinct ways of slicing up 眾.

Second, the new riddle:

Six
我數幾何
二十以下
草田中妓
人謂我野

"How many are we?
Fewer than twenty
Dancing girls in a weedy field—
Others call us boorish."

Third, is anyone following this? MMcM and belleyang have between them solved every one so far except the model, which ought to prove they are soluble by someone who knows Chinese. How about liao, pechmerle, asquonk? Have you tried any? Airycat, wildbill? Anyone thinking of making up some of your own?

18belleyang
Editat: gen. 5, 2007, 12:22 pm

To give a twentieth century context for the Fogies’ riddles. The following is my father’s childhood memory of Manchuria in the early 1940s:

On the evening of the Lantern Festival, families celebrated the year’s first full moon with dumplings made from glutinous rice flour, filled with glazed fruit, sesame paste lotus see paste or red bean jam. It was a long evening filled with activities.

To attract customers, the larger businesses in town—usually the grain brokers and dry goods which sold anything from thread to pickled mustard roots—hosted games called dengmi, or lantern riddles.

Outdoor booths were decorated with lanterns and riddles, written on strips of paper, hung from wires. The riddles were written by professional riddlers and they ranged from easy to greatly difficult. The easy ones would be something like: “Under a dot, a bar and a slash drawn to the south, cross faces cross, sun faces moon.

“That one is the character for temple," someone would answer correctly and receive a prize, usually an item considered one of “the four treasures of the studio,” an ink slab, ink stick, brush, or paper. The strip upon which the riddle had been written was then removed from the wire.

But the difficult riddles with their bigger prizes remained hanging on the wires late into the night. Some pertained to the Four Books, the I-Ching or words of Mencius.

My father would write down the harder riddles and scurry home to ask his Second Uncle for the answer.

19Fogies
Editat: gen. 6, 2007, 2:37 am

>15 Fogies: belleyang got number five.

Character riddles have a long, long history and are deeply entwined in Chinese literary culture. Sometimes in a story a prophetic dream will take the form of a character riddle whose answer gives the name of the villain.

Not just riddles and games but many other things such as jokes depend on splitting or combining characters. Example:

A Chinese con-man claimed to be a Uighur shaman and started a magical cult that attracted thousands, whose contributions made him rich enough to build a temple. He posted a sign above its gate 西方主人 "The Master of the Western Land." Lightning struck the sign, splitting a strip from the top so that it now read 四万王八 "Forty Thousand Jerks."

(Later) >17 Fogies: MMcM got number six.

20Fogies
Editat: gen. 8, 2007, 12:14 am

Answer to number four: The third and fourth lines are semantic clues. The two characters in the first line begin with 雨, and if in 蝦 you don’t make 虫 (written 蟲 here per rule 3c) you are left with 叚, so the answer is 霞. The word means “clouds reddened by the sun” or as MMcM put it, “ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς without fingers.”

Since the beginners' riddle in #7 got big-footed (we hope accidentally) in #18 the Fogies consider themselves free to riff on that boilerplate. Have at thee:

Seven:
一點一畫
撆至南洋
捺薦於地
一之則亡

A dot, a stroke,
Slanting stroke to south seas,
Spread a sleeping-mat on the ground.
Unite them and they vanish.

21Fogies
gen. 11, 2007, 12:52 am

The answer to five is 醉

Our semantic clue is 飲酒, but 酒去水 is also a slice of the answer. The phrase 連坐 means “be conjointly guilty of a crime” but could also be “sit linked together.” The cap of 庭 is 亠. What droops from them is the center of 居 ie 十.

Here's riddle number eight

孔子行道
有金器焉
承此爲士
遺之成仙
When Confucius put the Way into action,
Bronze vessels were involved.
Accept these and be a gentleman.
Leave them behind and become a saint.

22pechmerle
gen. 11, 2007, 1:10 am

>17 Fogies:: There won't be any solutions to any of these from me. I've only glanced at them, but I confess my mind just doesn't work the way these puzzles do anyway.

23belleyang
gen. 11, 2007, 12:48 pm

Fogies: I can't sleep when I solve a puzzle, and I can't sleep when I can't solve a puzzle, so I'm giving myself a respite from this obsession.

24Fogies
Editat: gen. 12, 2007, 8:10 am

>23 belleyang: belleyang Sorry! The farthest thing fhing from what we wanted is to cause anyone distress. Like millions of people we enjoy these riddles and just assumed others in this group would also. We shouldn't take so much for granted.

Anyway, the topic wasn't introduced only for fun, but as yet another way of showing that analyzing characters has nothing to do with reading a text in a Chinese language, that it's just a game no matter how you play it, even if like Pound & Fenollosa you do away with rules entirely.

We'll resume a straight-faced approach to this question in the topic "hard to translate."

25belleyang
Editat: gen. 12, 2007, 3:17 pm

Sorry, I wasn't clear. I wasn't referring to the riddles as Fogie's obsession, but my own obsessive personality. I learned a great deal from the riddles. MMcM lead me to Weiger. I find myself spending hours looking up the seal scripts to investigate the primitives, radicals. The right half of wei 偉 is, oh, so much easier to remember and comprehend if I see it as two men struggling for the same object. Going from the kaishu to the zhuanzi allows me to experience the magical pull of the ancients.

26Fogies
gen. 14, 2007, 10:18 pm

Answer to six:

The third line contains a complete inventory of slices from which to re-assemble the character 藪. It invokes rule 3c by giving 草 for 艹, and rule 3d twice, using 田 for 毌 and 支 for 攴. That’s pushing the envelope a bit, so we provide a different slicing up in the first two lines, with the last line being the semantic clue. The word means “thicket, canebrake.”

The new riddle:

Nine
羿射九日
先張之弓
一絲爲表
十言當中
When Yi the archer shot nine suns,
He first drew his bow at them.
He made a single thread his aiming-mark.
He spoke ten words—bullseye.

27Fogies
Editat: gen. 18, 2007, 8:02 am

Answer to seven:

The first three lines give all five strokes in the same order (but not all in the same direction) in which they are written: 一 (per rule 3d), 丶, 一, 丿, 乀. The first two lines are not the same as the kids-game boilerplate, so we are not justified in assuming they refer to the same element. In particular, nothing is said about where the 丿-stroke begins. In the third line we have a pun: The character 薦 writes several words; the noun “mat” in our translation is a pun for the verb “to offer, to present.” That is, “A 乀-stroke is presented on the ground.” The last line gives a different slicing of the answer, also per rule 3d, and gives the semantic clue for 乏.

New riddle:

Ten
二水結合
滯而不濔
盛杯不飲
滿盆不洗
Two rivers join.
They’re clogged and don’t flow freely.
Fill a glass, don’t drink.
Fill a basin, don’t wash.

28Fogies
gen. 22, 2007, 10:46 am

Answer to eight:

Besides “put the Way into action,” the phrase 行道 also means “walk along a road.” (It may be simplest to think of the second interpretation as 行於道 with 於 elided.) Not only pots and jugs are 器; so are tools and weapons. Both slices in the first line invoke rule 2c, and the second also relies on rule 3d. Confucius’s name was 丘. Picture him walking along a road: 兵.

New riddle:

Eleven
勿干一旦
蓋場之土
一王猶易
永懷而祖
Do not violate it for even one morning.
Cover the earth of the threshing-floor.
It’s still easy even with one king.
Always remember your ancestors.

29Fogies
gen. 25, 2007, 7:59 pm

Answer to nine (MMcM got it)

Besides “index, reference-mark” the character 表 writes another word meaning “outside.” With 絲 as its outside and 十 plus 言 as its inside we have 卛, which writes a word meaning “bend; draw (a bow).” A more common way to write this word is with the character 彎.

New riddle:

Twelve
龍支迫下
屈乃登上
六口兩牙
諸人所望
The dragon’s limbs are pressed down.
Having crouched, it mounts on high.
The six mouths are twin-fanged.
What everyone turns toward

30Fogies
gen. 29, 2007, 3:56 am

Answer to ten:
Combine 二 and 水 to get 冰, which is described by the next three lines. The element 冫 is not signific in this character, even though it is the radical for dictionary purposes. It is phonetic. It was probably devised to write a word related to 竝 bing “side-by-side.” It is often written as 二 in inscriptions, seals etc.

New riddle:
Thirteen
一撇點冊
舞骨似爽
靜坐念之
唯虛之想
A slanting stroke punctuates books.
Dancing bones look crazy.
Sitting quietly, meditating on it,
You think only of emptiness.

Sorry, gotta post and run.

31Fogies
Editat: feb. 1, 2007, 8:01 am

Answer to eleven:

Three ways of slicing up 瑒. In the second line what to cover 土 with is of course 一. The word means a kind of jade tablet used in prayers in the ancestral temple.

New riddle:

Fourteen
尚有十口
四口八向
人心所宜
中道而防
There are yet ten mouths
Four mouths face eight directions
What human minds consider right
Is to block the middle of the road.

Gon out backson, bisy backson.

32Fogies
feb. 6, 2007, 4:04 am

Answer to twelve:
In the cycle of sixty days (later also used for years) the branch 支 that corresponds to dragon is 辰 (per rule 2c). Compress it downward and put something bent above it. The character 曲 meets the description in the third line and often writes a word meaning “bent.” The answer is 農 “agriculture,” what everyone looks to for the staff of life.

New riddle:
Fifteen
本底則水
因工成金
點火爲丹
塗鏡見深
Basically, it’s water,
But skill can turn it to metal.
Lighting a fire makes bright red.
Plaster a mirror and see deep.

33keigu
març 11, 2007, 3:02 pm

This looks dangerous for i want to keep my attention on working out solutions/translations for poems and not puzzles for puzzles's sake. Belleyang's don't sleep either way dilemna should itself be made into a wee cubic poem! Just thought i'd mention that in japan there are books combining characters in drawings to guess a saying. And there are party jokes where say, the name of a composite character is guessed --- eg a 木atands on both sides of a 油 oil over 公 -- what makes it tricky is that the 公 must not be read as a kanji to guess the reading. (If airycat means 39, or ten ants backwords in japanese, he might guess). But Fogies puzzles are much more cultured. I wonder if there is a book of such puzzles in japanese.