Free Puzzles: Can You Read This Rebus?

“Can You Read This Rebus?” The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, CA), July 13, 1913.

Solving puzzles didn’t just pass the time in the early 1900s, solving puzzles could sometimes even win you a prize! Puzzle contests abounded, sometimes run by the newspapers and sometimes run by local companies hoping to get readers’ business. One of the favorites for contests of the era was the rebus.

What is a rebus? It’s a series of letters and pictures that put all together can sound like a word or a phrase. It can range from the simple to quite complex. Did you solve the one above? Here’s a hint: it’s an old saying about birds. The solution can be found here.

Some newspapers such as the Salt Lake Herald and the Los Angeles Herald printed whole pages of ads with miniature rebus puzzles in each as contests. Winners for each puzzle were chosen and given a small prize. Other ads were much larger with more complex puzzles and prizes as large as a new piano.

“This $400 Kimball Piano First Prize.” Arizona Republican (Phoenix, AZ), February 23, 1916.

Some puzzles were just meant for fun though. Did you know that if you search our Chronicling America* historic online newspapers for the word “rebus” that you get more than 18 thousand resulting pages? That’s how popular these puzzles were. But if you want to search for some of your own and don’t want to look through hundreds of ads for pianos, try using the advanced search and add in some of these additional words: fun, Billy Bounce Club, young people, kids, or puzzler.

“Prize Rebus of Various Kinds of Boats.” The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 18, 1904.

The solutions to these names of various kinds of boats can be found in the following week’s Washington Times here.

“A Prize Rebus—Well-Known Flowers.” The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 4, 1904. Solutions: //chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026749/1904-09-11/ed-1/seq-34/

Did you know that if you find a puzzle and you want to crop it out to save it or send it to a friend, that there’s a way to do that? There is a cropping tool that looks like a pair of scissors above the page image that can help you to capture just the part of the page that you are zoomed in on. Need help? Send us a question!

“Illustrated Rebuses–Minnesota Towns–2.” The Labor World (Duluth, MN), April 27, 1907. Solutions: //chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn78000395/1907-05-04/ed-1/seq-2/

“No. 635–Rebus–Wise Words.” The Florida Agriculturist, (DeLand, FL), November 6, 1889. Solution: //chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn96027724/1889-11-13/ed-1/seq-11/

On occasion, you might find that some of these may have gotten a little too…ambitious. If you can make it through this one without looking at the solution, consider yourself an expert rebus puzzler!

“A Rymed [sic] Rebus.” The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, CA), February 9, 1913.

* The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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