Puzzling Over Poe – 160-year-old puzzle attributed to Edgar Allan Poe

Puzzling Over Poe – 160-year-old puzzle attributed to Edgar Allan Poe – Brief Article

Charles Paul Freund

This scramble of symbols, attributed by Edgar Allan Poe to one “W.B. Tyler” and offered to the readers of Graham’s Magazine in 1841, remained impenetrable for 160 years. Last year, however, it was posted on the Web by Poe scholar Shawn Rosenheim and was soon cracked by a software engineer in Canada (who won a $2,500 prize for his effort). But for some, the answer is a greater mystery than was the puzzle. Perhaps they are searching for solution in the absence of mystery.

Poe specialists believe that “Tyler” is really Poe, and some have hoped that the puzzle would yield a deep message from the author, or at least an insight into the man. What the code says, they think, is just schlock. “It was early spring,” the passage begins, “warm and sultry glowed the afternoon.” It goes on to describe a stiff scene of lovers at a window. “Why pick this dopey thing” to encode, Rosenheim wondered to the press.

Why? Because Poe’s ratiocinative work–his mysteries as much as his puzzles–is about the pleasure of solution, of thinking methodically for its own sake. In contrast, literary canon-making and the construction of genius is an effort in mystification. But if one wants a mystified Poe, one will have to be content with Baudelaire. Much as he may have invented his own biography, Poe refuses to let his solutions become mysteries.

“No, no, dear Charles,” softly says the puzzle’s woman at the text’s end, “much rather you’ld I have a little sun than no air at all.”

COPYRIGHT 2001 Reason Foundation

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group