These amateur puzzle newspapers aren’t for amateurs

The Bay State PuzzlerAAS has one of the largest collections of nineteenth-century amateur newspapers in the country.  These were little publications printed on table-top hobby presses and often done by children and young adults.   They became popular in the 1870s and by the 1880s hundreds of them were being published all over the country.  Their publishers even had regional and national organizations and conferences.

One sub-genre of amateur newspaper is the puzzle newspaper.  In each issue the editor would put together articles about puzzles and print puzzles for readers to solve.  Some even offered prizes.  Since these are so little known, we thought a list of the titles in our collection was in order:

  • American Puzzler  (London, AK)  1886
  • Ardmore Puzzler  (Ardmore, PA)  1899, 1900
  • Atlantic Poser  (New York, NY)  1883, 1884
  • Bay State Poser  (Worcester, MA)  1886
  • Bay State Puzzler  (Cambridge, MA)  1886
  • Black Imp  (Philadelphia, PA)  1897-1900
  • Buckeye Puzzler (New Lisbon, OH)  1884
  • Detroit Puzzler  (Detroit, MI)  1894
  • Empire Puzzler (New York, NY)  1884
  • Fairmount Puzzler  (Hyde Park, MA)  1884
  • Golden State Puzzler  (San Francisco, CA)  1884
  • Lake Shore Poser  (Buffalo, NY)  1884-1887
  • Materia Mystica  (Bangor, PA)  1892, 1893
  • Michigan Puzzler  (Grand Rapids, MI)  1883, 1884
  • The Mystic  (Winchendon, MA)  1878
  • Mystic Argonaut  (San Francisco, CA)  1884
  • Mystic Argosy  (Baltimore, MD)  1889, 1890
  • Mystic Courier  (New York, NY)  1883
  • Mystic Dots  (Brooklyn, NY)  1898-1900
  • Mystic Inn  (Whitehouse, NJ)  1897
  • Mystic Knight  (Danbury, CT)  1879-1882
  • Mystic Messenger  (Carson City, NV)  1879
  • Mystic Mint  (Liberty Falls, NY)  1884
  • Mystic News  (New York, NY)  1893, 1894
  • Mystic Record  (Davenport, IA)  1893
  • Mystic Record  (Moline, IA)  1894
  • Mystic Star  (Brooklyn, NY)  1884
  • Mystic Taps  (Philadelphia, PA)  1891
  • Mystic Tree  (Brooklyn, NY)  1897-1899
  • Mystic Times (New York, NY)  1880
  • Mystic World  (New York, NY)  1886, 1887
  • New Jersey Puzzler  (Newark, NJ)  1883, 1884
  • Newark Puzzler  (Newark, NJ)  1882, 1883, 1884, 1887
  • Our Poser’s Pride  (Danville, IL)  1880
  • Pacific Puzzler  (San Francisco, CA)  1880
  • Peninsula Poser  (Dover, DE)  1887
  • Peninsula Poser  (Detroit, MI)  1882
  • Pennsylvania Puzzler  (East Brady, PA)  1886
  • The Poser  (New Orleans, LA)  1894
  • Puzzle Bugle  (Smyrna, NY)  1881
  • Puzzle-craft  (New York, NY)  1890
  • Puzzledom  (Denver, CO)  1883
  • The Puzzler (Lambertville, NJ)  1877, 1878
  • The Puzzler (Champlain, NY)  1879
  • Puzzler’s Banner  (Clara, PA)  1884
  • Puzzler’s Monthly  (Philadelphia, PA)  1877
  • Puzzler’s Own  (Henderson, MN)  1879
  • Puzzler’s Own  (Harrisburg, PA)  1879
  • Puzzler’s Pride  (Harrisburg, PA)  1877
  • Puzzler’s Record  (Jersey City, NJ)  1877, 1878

The Bay State Puzzler (see picture above) was edited and published monthly by Edwin F. Edgett and Charles H. McBride in 1886 in Cambridge, Mass.  It appears to have lasted just six issues, ending with the December issue.  Each issue contained a variety of word puzzles.  One regular puzzle was a diamond or square.  The answer to each clue would fill in a line to form a square or diamond shape that read the same left to right as top to down.  For example, in the first issue, puzzle no. 10 is a diamond with the clues:

  1.  A letter
  2. Hebrew dry measure
  3. Demands
  4. The water-thistle
  5. Situated on the calyx
  6. Certain plants, growing in marshy places
  7. Enclosing
  8. One of the Orthodox Mohammedans
  9. French author, 1828 – .
  10. Slow.
  11. A letter.

And the answers are:

diamond example

Not that easy.  Squares are formed in a similar manner except each row and column have the same number of letters.

Edgett and McBride also offered prizes:
First complete list – Fifty cents
Second complete list – A bound book
Best incomplete list – This paper, one year
Next best list – This paper, six months
Next best list – American Puzzler, three months
For first correct solution to each flat, a copy of the Elzevir Library.
Open until September 15 [1886] to subscribers and exchanges only.

In the spirit of things, here are some examples for the gentle reader to attempt.

I. Diamond  (from July 1886)

  1.  A letter.
  2. A tree of the genus Abies.
  3. Clears
  4. Having a part displaced.
  5. Becoming brothers.
  6. Divided into small pieces.
  7. Relied
  8. Governing bodies.
  9. Low places between hills.
  10. Caused to go.
  11. A letter.

II. Diamond  (from July 1886)

  1. A letter.
  2. A mixture of carbureted hydrogen and olefiant gas.
  3. The heron, (Obs.).
  4. Talked without ceremony.
  5. Inscribed.
  6. Troublesome plants.
  7. Complied with.
  8. A difference in copies of a book.
  9. A village of the Netherlands, in Dreuthe.
  10. Drawn out.
  11. A letter.

III. Square  (from July 1886)

  1.  To drive back.
  2. A genus of mollusks.
  3. A special privilege.
  4. German philologist and critic, 1772-1848.
  5. Province of Ireland, county of Dublin.
  6. Earthy pigments.
  7. Hearty.

IV. Diamond  (from Aug. 1886)

  1.  A letter
  2.  A Hebrew measure.
  3.  Went.
  4.  More deadly.  (Obs.)
  5.  Alloys of gold, silver, and copper, of which an inferior quality of jewelry is made.
  6.  A compound of an element of boron with a base.
  7.  Locates a second time.
  8.  Carries on.
  9.  Certain plants.
  10.  Musical syllables.
  11.   A letter.

V. Square (from Sept. 1886)

  1.  Presses firmly together.
  2. A genus of fishes.
  3. Gratifying in self esteem.
  4. French-Latin poet (1480-1524).
  5. A town of China.
  6. A duty on ships.
  7. Russian measures of seven feet.

VI. Hour-glass (from Sept. 1886)

  1.  Imperfection (Worc. obs.).
  2. Activity (obs.).
  3. Inclined to run together.
  4. Income (obs.).
  5. A large kind of bat.
  6. A thin, metallic plate.
  7. Date.
  8. A letter.
  9. A virtue of the Deity, existing throughout eternity.
  10.  A throb.
  11.  A sea-woman.
  12.  One who advocates church denomination over civil power (Worc.).
  13.  Absolute.
  14.  State of being slighted.
  15.  Modesty.

Diagonals, left, down:  Indifference
Left, up:  Excessive indulgence of appetite.
Centrals, down:  Counter accounts.

3 thoughts on “These amateur puzzle newspapers aren’t for amateurs

  1. Emily Jaycox

    Great article on a favorite topic of mine. Do you think that these small presses for home use have any connection with field presses used during the Civil War?

    Reply
  2. Clair Wilson

    Is there any way to get copies of the puzzles and jokes in these papers? Do you know of a compilation of these that may have been published? I am the Archivist for Geauga County, Ohio and I have come across these types of games in some of our 18th and 19th century papers. I am working on one of them now and having a so much fun with them I am shouting the answers out loud in public places.

    Thank you for anything you can do.
    Clair Wilson, Archivist
    Geauga County Archives and Records Center
    Chardon, Ohio

    Reply
  3. Andrew Greene

    The various local puzzle groups merged over the years, and the National Puzzlers’ League (puzzlers.org) continues to print “The Enigma” as a monthly magazine with puzzles of these types (but for a more modern audience).

    Reply

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