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Acrostics - From Poetry to Parlor Games


Double Acrostic

Double Acrostic supposedly written by Queen Victoria

Acrostics in honor of...:

In 1599, the English poet Sir John Davies wrote an acrostic poem honoring Queen Elizabeth. Each of the 26 Hymns to Astroea was an acrostic using the name Elizabeth Regina. Even though these works were criticized by better poets, they remained popular and, down through the years, the acrostic has been used to praise cities, people and events.

The acrostic craze...:

In the middle of the nineteenth century there was a flood of acrostic books published which not only praised kings and conquerors but were also intended to educate children in history and geography.

Edgar Allan Poe...:

In 1846, Edgar Allen Poe wrote A Valentine, a poem which spelled out the name of Frances Sargent Osgood in the first letter of the first line, the second letter of the second line, etc.

The master of acrostics...:

Lewis Carroll, who is called the master of acrostics, was probably one of the best known authors to devise these ingenious word games. He loved the simple diversion of puzzles and wrote many acrostic poems and puzzles dedicated to his child-friends including Alice Pleasance Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. Her name appears in the acrostic poem A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky, which appeared in Carroll's Through the Looking Glass.

Double acrostics...:

Probably invented in the 1850's, the double acrostic was a fad in the latter part of the 19th century. Queen Victoria was believed to be very fond of the double acrostic which, by this time, had evolved from a verse-form into a type of puzzle. This double acrostic was supposedly written by her royal hand. The first letters spell out the name of a well-known English city (NEWCASTLE) while the last letters, when read upwards, name what the city is famous for (COAL MINES).

Mystical significance?:

The acrostic craze continued well into the 20th century. A typical example of these puzzles is this one published in the 1930's when movies and actors were all the rage.

Here you may see, despite the veil of haze,
A heavenly body with most moving ways.

  1. A bustle that surrounds both you and me.
  2. This is not lawful; still may sometimes be.
  3. A priest or beast-if an odd spelling's found.
  4. The dregs of vinegar maternal sound.

The triple acrostic...:

A comparative rarity, the triple acrostic appeared occasionally in puzzle books, almanacs and children's magazines until the mid-20th century at which time, it seems to have faded from view. Here's an example from The Second Penguin Problem Book published in 1944.

Left, middle and right Give us a choice of light

  1. Kind of glance which he's who's lost his heart
    Bestows on her who wears the latter part.
  2. Here is one with a gun.
  3. This is bound to go round.
  4. Simplify taste and eliminate waste.
    My meaning is made plain by my saying it again.

Eclipsed by crosswords...:

Today the crossword puzzle has displaced the acrostic (and many other word games). However, there is at least one publication devoted entirely to acrostic puzzles. I have never seen it but a reliable source has told me this is so. Nonetheless, I don't expect the acrostic to ever regain its former popularity.

Acrostics - Mystical to Mind-boggling:

Did you know that acrostics predate Christianity and a truly amazing acrostic was found during archaeological digs at Pompeii? Find out more about the history of the acrostic from ancient Greece to the 16th century in Acrostics - Mystical to Mind-boggling.

To learn more...:

If you want to find out more about acrostics and other word puzzles, then you'll want to read The Oxford Guide to Word Games by Tony Augarde.
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