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Bishop's Riddle From The 1800s Has Never Been Solved In 148 Years

Bishop's Riddle From The 1800s Has Never Been Solved In 148 Years

Right, let's put our collective heads together for this one, because there's a chance to make history at stake.

There's a puzzle created by a bishop in the 1800s that has never been solved in the 148 years since it was discovered.

The mysterious brainteaser was discovered among the literary papers of Samuel Wilberforce, a Church of England bishop known as 'Soapy Sam' - more on that later - who was considered one of the greatest orators of his era.

Samuel Wilberforce, as painted by George Richmond. Credit: Creative Commons
Samuel Wilberforce, as painted by George Richmond. Credit: Creative Commons
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Anyway, he devised this riddle at some time before 1873, and to this day no-one has figured out what the answer is.

It goes like this: "I'm the sweetest of sounds in orchestra heard, yet in orchestra never was seen.

"I'm a bird of gay plumage, yet less like a bird, nothing ever in nature was seen.

"Touch the earth I expire, in water I die, in air I lose breath, yet can swim and can fly.

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"Darkness destroys me, and light is my death, and I only keep going by holding my breath.

"If my name can't be guessed by a boy or a man, by a woman or girl it certainly can."

So, any ideas?

On the Reddit thread where this ancient puzzle has resurfaced, a few people have had their say on what the answer could be.

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One person reckons it could be a shuttlecock, which certainly answers the question of being like a bird, but less about the sweetest of sounds or dying in light.

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Another suggested that it could be a musical note. After all, you can't see a musical note can you? It tallies up quite well.

It could refer to a whale, as one Redditor suggested. It makes a sweet sound, swims, and can't survive outside of the water, yet requires oxygen to breath.

However, as with all the solutions, it lacks a complete answer. Perhaps that's why this riddle has been left unsolved for so long?

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As for 'Soapy Sam' himself, the Bishop of Winchester was renowned for his public speaking, having debated the great Charles Darwin on the subject of evolution at one stage.

It's thought that his bizarre moniker derived from a hand gesture that he would make that looked as if he was washing his hands, as captured in a popular cartoon of the age.

'Soapy Sam' doing his distinctive gesture. Credit: Creative Commons
'Soapy Sam' doing his distinctive gesture. Credit: Creative Commons

Wilberforce was the third son of noted anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce, and an avowed abolitionist himself, but also famously courted controversy throughout his career as well.

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He was a famous proponent of antidisestablishmentarianism, arguing that the Church of England should not be removed as the official church of Ireland, Wales or England, although he later argued that no opposition should be made in the House of Lords after it was decided upon.

You didn't need to know that, but I've always wanted to write that word in an article.

That's got to be a first, surely?

Featured Image Credit: Creative Commons

Topics: Interesting, Weird

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Tom Wood

Tom Wood is a LADbible journalist and Twin Peaks enthusiast. Despite having a career in football cut short by a chronic lack of talent, he managed to obtain degrees from both the University of London and Salford. According to his French teacher, at the weekend he mostly likes to play football and go to the park with his brother. Contact Tom on [email protected]