Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How to Make Up Riddles

by Jill Williamson

This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays kings, ruins town,
And beats high mountains down.
--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

(Guess the answer in the comments section.)

Every time I read The Hobbit, I wish I could make up riddles like Tolkien  I wonder, did he make them up, or were they popular riddles of the time? 

A few months ago, I came up with an idea for a contest to promote my newest book, The New Recruit. Since it's a spy story, I thought it might be fun to ask the entrants to go on an investigation. But I didn't want to make the contest too complicated, so I thought that giving them riddles to solve might do the trick.

And then I sat, ans started at the computer for hours, trying to come up with some riddles. My husband walked into the room, I vented to him, told him one of the answers I was hoping to create a riddle for, and he blurts out an awesome riddle. What a punk.

Apparently, riddling comes naturally to some. And I confess, I begged my clever husband to help me come up with a few more. Alas, the man has his own job and could not stay in the house to do my job for me. The nerve, anyway... 

So here are some tips I used to come up with a few riddles. You never know when your novel might require a good--or lame--one. 

Riddle Tips
1. Come up with an answer. If you know your answer, you can brainstorm how to ask the right questions. Make sure that your answer is simple. If you pick something complicated or very specific, it will be much more difficult for a person to guess.

2. Describe your answer. Color, shape, smell, taste, sound, uses. Does it look similar to something else? What does it feel like? Jot down all your answers on a blank sheet of paper.

3. Write your riddle! It doesn't have to rhyme, but if you want it too, work hard to come up with questions that rhyme. Go online and use a rhyming dictionary if you need help. Here's a link to one: http://www.rhymezone.com/.

4. Rewrite! Take your time and work at it until it makes you happy. Test it on a few people. If they blurt out the answer immediately, your riddle might be too easy. Don't get discouraged. Look at your clues again to see how you might make them more complicated.

Here are the five riddles I used in my New Recruit Go Undercover Scavenger Hunt contest, which has now ended.

1. No, I'm not angry, that's just my shape.
Hint: Spencer’s grandmother gives him something with this on it. (Study the book cover for a clue.)

2. I'm good for two, but three pleases the crowd,
Sometimes I give one, but only when fouled.
Hint: This is Spencer’s favorite object. (There is a hint listed in Spencer’s bio on http://themissionleague.com/.)

3. From hard comes soft, from salt comes sweet,
Children love this sticky treat.
Hint: Spencer loves to eat this. (The answer is one of Spencer’s “Likes” on his Facebook page. If you visit it, please click “like.”)

4. It has keys but no locks, space but no room.
You can enter but not go inside.
Hint: Someone mysteriously gave Spencer one of these expensive items. (For a clue, such an object is necessary for one of Spencer’s “Likes” on his Facebook page.)

5. High it rides, hair it hides.
It may advertise, and catch pop flies.
Hint: Spencer wears this almost everywhere. (Again, study the book cover.)

Can you guess the answers to any of these or the one from The Hobbit at the top of the post? Put your answers in the comment section. 

PRIZE: And the first one to post all SIX answers--in the same comment!--will win a copy of The New Recruit. If you already entered the contest on my website, sorry, you can't enter this contest, since you already know the answers. And don't tell, either. 

Bonne chance!


  1. I don't know much about The New Recruit (cool contest, though!) but the answer to the one from the Hobbit is "time," I think?

  2. I love riddles! Thanks for this helpful post.

    I THINK I've got it:

    "This thing all things devours..." Time
    1. Spencer's necklace
    2. Basketball
    3. Taffy
    4. Keyboard (typing not the musical variety)
    5. Spencer's hat

    1. Close, Georgina! It's not taffy. Check out Spencer's Facebook page for a hint.

  3. 2. Basket Ball- the scores they give like when you're fouled and you shoot to get a point.
    3. Salt Water Taffy
    4. computer keyboard
    5. hat!

  4. 1. Necklace
    2. basket ball
    3. taffy
    4. ketboard
    5. baseball cap

  5. From Amo Libros:
    The Hobbit: Time. This is one of my favorite riddles!
    3. Saltwater taffy
    4. computer (especially the keyboard
    5. Baseball cap.
    I think 2 has something to do with baseball, but I'm not sure what. I have no idea what 1 is.
    This is another one of my favorite riddles from the Hobbit:
    "Alive without breath,
    As old as death,
    Never thirsty,ever drinking,
    Clad in mail, never clinking". Any guesses?

  6. Time.
    1: Spencer's necklace - shaped like an Angry Bird
    2: A Basketball
    3: Saltwater Taffy
    4: Computer Keyboard
    5: Baseball Cap

    1. Close, Lydia! It's not taffy. Check out Spencer's Facebook page for a hint.

    2. Haha, remind me next time not to babysit during a contest.

  7. I think the Hobbit one was time, but I cant remember. Didn't pay the book much attention.

  8. The Hobbit one is Time. I ALWAYS loved Tolkien's riddles. My dad is genius in coming up with them. I'm not so clever, but I love a good riddle.

    1. Spencer's necklace.
    2. Basketball.
    3. Peanut Butter.
    4. Computer keyboard.
    5. Spencer's hat.

  9. Yay! Peanut butter was the right answer. You win, Pure Grace! Congrats! Email me your name and mailing address to jill@jillwilliamson.com. :-)

  10. Oh, ha, I thought Tolkein's was water! :) Fun contest, Jill!

  11. Thanks for you advice on riddles. I've always wondered how authors come up with those!

    1. You're welcome, Alice. If you come up with one, you should post it one here.

  12. The answer to the riddle from "The Hobbit" is 'time', I believe. :)

    Good post!

  13. Oh this is so helpful. Riddles and anything puzzle-like is pretty much impossible for me to do, let alone create.

  14. Answer to the riddle from '' The Hobbit '' is time.

    Thanks for the tip on making riddles

  15. Time is the answer to the hobbits riddle!!!

  16. I just got a riddle up in my head. Here's the riddle: what's something we can do all time? It's mostly quiet in the day, but can sometimes be noisy when it's nighttime.