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How Acrostic Puzzles Work


Acrostics Across History
The Christian fish symbol has an acrostic connection.
The Christian fish symbol has an acrostic connection.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Acrostics have been around so long that they've had their brushes with lasting fame. As an example, one religious Greek acrostic is Iesous Christos, Theou Yios, Soter, which means Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior. In the Greek alphabet, both "th" and "ch" are actually one letter. So when you take the first letter of each of those works, you wind up with ICHTHYS, which in Greek means fish, and accounts for the frequent use of the fish symbol for Jesus.

The mental conniption fits that acrostics inspire have attracted famous people in history. Lewis Carroll, for example, included an acrostic in his story, "Through the Looking Glass." A poem in the story's final chapter spells out the full name of Carroll's most famous character: Alice Pleasance Liddell, who of is the heroine in "Alice in Wonderland."

Edgar Allan Poe interwove acrostics into his work, too. He actually titled one of his poems, "An Acrostic," and the not-so-hidden message spelled out Elizabeth, a female admirer.

As you already know, not all acrostics are puzzles, and there are some notable variants within the acrostic form itself. One type is called double acrostic. In a double acrostic, the first and last letter of each line of text results in the same word or phrase. In an alternate version, the last letters spell the same word, but they do so in reverse order, with the mystery word spelled beginning at the end of the last line.

Double acrostics are a type of multiple acrostic. But some acrostics of the multiple type go to the next level, such as with William Browne's poem called "Behold, O God." The poem's text has highlighted letters that, when isolated from the other letters, form three independent phrases, for example, "O God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

But this particular multiple acrostic takes things even further. As you push the highlighted letters together, they actually form three crosses. So not only does it result in new phrases, but it celebrates Browne's convictions visually, too.

It's no wonder that people who love a good mental workout decided to put acrostics into puzzle form. Speaking of which, we'll take a look at the history and popularity of the acrostic puzzle itself in the next section.