I've shared a couple of other 18th-19thc love-letter puzzles on the blog before (here and here), but this one, now in the Graphic Arts Collection of Princeton University's Rare Books and Special Collections, is the first that I've seen that invites solving.
This blog post from the Firestone Library asks readers to print out the two sides of the puzzle, figure out the folds, and, if successful, to share the solution in the comment section. (The images in Princeton's post are larger than I can manage here.)
Now, I'm not sure how they got the pictures of the folded puzzle if they themselves were unable to solve the folds. Perhaps it's been folded together to match the heart for the photo, and inside it's a mismatched mess. And in a further case of unsolvable puzzles, the only way to leave a comment on the post is to possess an active Princeton University webID - which I, for one, do not possess, nor likely ever will.
Whatever. It still seems like a challenge that some of our readers – who surely must include origami experts, cootie-catcher-and-fortune-teller-makers, and the stray skilled road-map-refolder – would enjoy. As with every historical love-letter, I wonder about the ultimate purpose of this letter as well: did it prove the sender's devotion, and help win the recipient's heart?
From Princeton's blog, I also learned that rare book librarians have a more formal expression for puzzle letters like this one. Such techniques are called examples of "letterlocking," clever ways to deter snoopy folk and impress the recipient with the amount of time and energy spent on the production. Here's a link to a blog by Jana Dambrogio, the Thomas F. Peterson conservator at M.I.T. libraries, that has many more examples of letterlocking. Pretty cool!
Valentine puzzle, no author known, c1700s. Graphic Arts Collection, Firestone Library, Princeton University.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.