10 Puzzles for a Maximum Brain Workout

An ancient challenge that taps perception, memory, and knowledge.

Posted Nov 24, 2014

violetblue/Shutterstock

Although the form is still around and is used somewhat for recreation and educational purposes (in the case of children), it does not have the following of crosswords or Sudoku.

A rebus can come in various forms: It can consist of pictures, letters, and/or numbers in some combination, or else a layout of words and symbols that hide some message. The encrypted message might involve a play on the sounds of the letters, a play on the location of words and symbols with respect to each other, or on the pronunciation of the symbols used. The trick is to “read” the message to see what it yields. For example, the answer to the rebus below:

W1111HILE

is the phrase, "Once in a while.” This is so because we can see “ones” inserted in the word “while”—that is, “ones in while." With some adjustment we get “once in a while.”

In the rebus below, the trick is to decipher what message or phrase the layout suggests:

BRIDGE

DUCK

The answer is the expression, "Duck under the bridge," because the word “duck” is under the word “bridge.”

Rebuses have been used for creating secret messages, for imparting the ability to read alphabets, for making emblems in heraldry (hinting at the name of the owner of the coat-of-arms), on license plates, and, of course, as a source of puzzles.

Can you figure out what messages the following rebuses hide? Some of these are classic rebuses. The answers are given at the end of this post.

 1.

WONDER WONDER WONDER WONDER WONDER WONDER WONDER

 2.

ON

WORLD

 3.

RADAR

UNDER

 4.

CHIMADENA

 5.

HISTORY HISTORY HISTORY

 6.

MILLCHANCEION

 7.

LAN4GUAGE

 8.

POD POD POD

 9.

HCATAT

 10.

BAD BAD

There are many similarities between rebuses and the abbreviated style of writing used in text messages (“c u l8tr” = “see you later”). This suggests that the so-called “rebus principle” (reading pictures as sounds or words) is operative in various modern forms of writing, as it was in the origins of writing systems such as hieroglyphics. We respond to rebuses imaginatively, trying to “figure” out (literally) how a message is written.

Because rebuses involve both verbal and visual-perception processing, it is logical to assume that they are beneficial to brain functioning. They also implicate memory and cultural knowledge. Without a basic knowledge of sayings, expressions, quotes, clichés, literature, it will prove to be very difficult to solve rebuses. Thus, in a fundamental sense, the rebus is the “maximum” brainteaser puzzle, engaging cognition, memory, and perception and thus, theoretically, stimulating various areas of the brain in tandem. I was not, however, able to locate any specific research linking rebuses to brain functioning. (I would love to hear from readers who might know of relevant research.)

Clearly, the rebus is a marvelous puzzle that delights, challenges, and may be more beneficial to brain health than the ones that are now touted as being so.

Answers:

1. the seven wonders

2. on top of the world

3. under the radar

4. made in China

5. history repeats itself

6. a chance in a million

7. foreign language

8. tripod

9. The Cat in the Hat (via Dr. Seuss)

10. too bad