“When is a door not a door?”
“When it’s ajar?”
“What’s big and red and eats rocks?”
“A big red rock eater.”
“How do you make time fly?”
“Throw the clock out of the window.”
The silly riddles from childhood days are still easily memorable. Perhaps they had been around for years when I first heard them in the 1960s. The pun on words, the creature that sounds like something from Dr Seuss, the flying time that sounds like something from the pages of The Beano: none were particularly funny or clever, but they made us smile.
It is years since I last heard a riddle. Perhaps children no longer ask and answer riddles.
I talked to a Year 7 class this morning about their engagement with social media. They talked about using TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram. Some followed particular influencers, they followed, although no-one could explain why they followed an influencer, other than to say that it was because other people did. Two of the boys talked about the YouTube channel that they watched and how they enjoyed the videos.
The class of eleven year olds seemed infinitely more sophisticated than those of us who grew up asking and answering riddles. Presumably, if you are the sort of person who is among the eight-four million followers of one of the influencers, you would not be impressed by simple plays on words.
Perhaps they are more sophisticated, perhaps they are also less resourceful.
One of the students talked about the addictive qualities of social media, how many people felt a need to be engaged with the online communities from the moment they woke in the morning to the moment that they went to sleep at night. Such addictions can only be detrimental to the intellectual and imaginative powers of those whose world is bounded by a smartphone screen.
Riddles were among the activities of children who were forced to depend upon their own resources for amusement. It would be the 1980s before electronic games found a wide market and came to command a significant portion of children’s time. Prior to the advent of electronic technology, there was a requirement for a much greater exercise of mental capacity. Even board games demanded much greater thought than simply pressing buttons on a console or a phone keypad.
Perhaps there are still students who ask riddles. Perhaps the riddles have changed and are now as sophisticated as the technology the students take for granted.