A Riddle From Isaac Newton?


Horace Walpole (1717-1797) sent the following riddle to Lady Ossory, claiming that it was composed by physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton:

Four people sat down at a table to play;
They play’d all that night, and some part of next day;
This one thing observ’d, that when all were seated,
Nobody play’d with them, and nobody betted;
Yet, when they got up, each was winner a guinea;
Who tells me this riddle I’m sure is no ninny.

“A very old riddle; but if you never saw it you will like it, and you will revere the Riddle-maker,” Walpole wrote, “which was one Sir Isaac Newton, a great stargazer and conjuror.”

The answer was provided in a subsequent letter. Lady Ossory figured out the answer, which is “musicians”, while Walpole admitted that he was unable to solve it when he first encountered the riddle.

Anyway, one thing still baffles me — was it really Isaac Newton who wrote the riddle? I tried to research it but I arrived at a dead end. So, probably, it wasn’t Newton who wrote it. There’s also a possibility that this “Sir Isaac Newton” named in Walpole’s letter was a different person, but I highly doubt it.


About Edmark M. Law

My name Edmark M. Law. I work as a freelance writer, mainly writing about science and mathematics. I am an ardent hobbyist. I like to read, solve puzzles, play chess, make origami and play basketball. In addition, I dabble in magic, particularly card magic and other sleight-of-hand type magic. I live in Hong Kong. I blog at learnfunfacts.com. You can find me on Twitter @EdmarkLaw and Facebook. My email is edmarklaw@learnfunfacts.com
This entry was posted in Poetry, Puzzles and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to A Riddle From Isaac Newton?

  1. Yes, and who really wrote Shakespeare’s Sonnets? 🙂


  2. Thanks for sharing! your posts are fantastic!


  3. Abigail says:

    Isaac Newton was a talented fellow, but I’ve not heard of any riddle-making skills. Perhaps, in attributing the riddle to Newton, Walpole wished to attach the same significance as people do today in attributing quotes to Albert Einstein. A good riddle, either way.


  4. masercot says:

    Finally! I guessed one right…


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