Dear Inquisitive Stranger,
A cowboy rode into town on Friday. After knocking back tornado juice in the saloon for three days, he rode out of town on Friday. How in the heck was this possible?
Oooh, a riddle! Mini mysteries with potential to drive us bananas if we don’t get answers. Like flirting peacocks, these word puzzles tease us with a charade that teeters on tiresome if the moveables are not revealed in a timely fashion.
There are plenty of humdingers that keep me awake at night:
Why is it so hard to draw a star?
When warned of it’s wetness, why is my hand compelled to touch paint?
Trousers come in pairs so why doesn’t a shirt or jacket have plural status too?
Where in the heck is Tarzan’s beard?
Raven, crow, rook. What’s the difference?
So many questions!
Yet these perplexing puzzles are pasty pale in comparison to the riddle of the dancing plague of 1518, when townsfolk of a French town danced themselves to death.
One morning in July, Madame Troffea took to the narrow streets of Strasbourg with a heel-toe tapping in her stride. Soon the tempo had spread to her jazz hands, taking the rest of her body along for the ride too.
Six minutes later and passersby became spectators to her dance repertoire.
Six hours later and she was really throwing some shapes.
Six days later and our dancing queen, limbs still flailing, had been joined by 34 partners. Each seemingly incapable of desisting the two-step.
The rhythm had truly got them.
But before long, so did exhaustion, strokes, heart attacks and demise.
By the time the dance crew numbers had mushroomed to 400 revellers, the town council decided action must be taken, lest the entire town fell into dance madness. This was Footloose. Just without the fun, suppressed inhibition or Kevin Bacon to the rescue.
Medicine men were consulted who prescribed more dancing in order to shake their sillies out. A platform was erected in the marketplace for the dance massive, henceforth getting billed as the first outdoor rave in the Guinness Book of Records. Resident lute players went back-to-back with hardcore harpsichord musicians for maximum mayhem! Flute instru-mentalists dropped some filthy tracks while professional dancers encouraged the inflicted to keep up the dubstep to the wub wub wub.
For the first time in rave history, it was the dancing, not the narcotics causing the casualties as ravers gurned themselves into a grave. Ebeneezer goode they were not.
In a further twist to this tale, the inflicted, unable to control their limbs were incapable of staying still long enough to quench their thirst. Every good 90s raver can testify to the importance of hydration during a dance marathon. After 6 days of solid physical exertion without liquids, they should have expired already. So where did this medieval community get the energy to dance themselves to an early exit?
Or, more importantly, why did this happen?
Scientist and historians speculate.
Possibly an intolerable stress-induced psychosis triggered by famine and disease.
Or superstition that the displeased Sicilian, Saint Vitus, already vexed by martyrdom, would send a plague of compulsive dancing. Starving and sick, an anxious society was susceptible to manifest a reality of mass hysteria.
Or possibly, a misadventure in food foraging. Ergot fungus, found in wild grasses, is nature’s LSD. A medieval ecstasy, which would explain the liveliness.
Despite the theories, the riddle of the dancing plague of 1518 remains a mystery to this day. Yet it does throw light on what we do know: life sure is a mystery.
Sometimes we may never get answers but it is the exploration of the unknown which is what matters.
Today I sit in ‘Bread Comma’ sipping hot chocolate, a foamy fuel to get the cogs turning, as I deliberate over another riddle borne out of France. ‘Le Petit Prince’ (pop-up version) lays before me. The small chap is in convo. with a serpent he recently became acquainted with. “Why do you speak in riddles?”, the Little Prince wants to know. The snake, so cocky in his riddle solving dexterity, answers with another riddle! Confound it!
Like the Little Prince and those seeking answers to mysteries like the dancing plague, the key is to never stop asking questions or seeking answers. Question the answers and continue the curiosity. This is the journey that really counts.
In the meantime, can somebody please clear up the raven/crow/rook riddle? It will make all the difference to my Nosferatu costume this Halloween, not to mention preventing social embarrassment when next calling in at the Tower of London.
In return, I shall volunteer an answer for the cowboy conundrum. That there cowboy was ridin’ a horse called Friday. There now, you will be able to sleep better tonight.
Peace, love and cha cha cha.
Bread Comma – baked goods and punctuation
Hey there! This letter was delivered to the table by the door in ‘Bread Comma’. I hope the stranger that picked it up was not flummoxed by the contents but embraced it like a good brain-boosting riddle.
If you were that Inquisitive Stranger, I would love to hear from you. Maybe you did not find the letter, but discovered this blog instead. Do get in touch with your thoughts and riddles. I’ll put on my thinking top hat and get back to you with my answer.
With impishness and joy,