Better known for his realist paintings of New York City street life, Ashcan School artist John Sloan was also a master of visual mind-bending. The Puzzling World of John Sloan at the Delaware Art Museum features 25 of his newspaper puzzles created for the Sunday supplement of the Philadelphia Press between 1900 and 1910.
“Each puzzle has a set of ‘Conditions,’ which basically lays out the challenge for the reader, usually it’s near the top of the page,” Heather Campbell Coyle, curator of American art at the museum, explained to Hyperallergic. “Depending on the puzzle, the reader might need to find a hidden image or solve a maze or fold the paper to create another image.”
For example, in the “Bang-Up Puzzle” a car crash from a wild driving Uncle Silas can be folded back to its assembled self, while the “Halloween Puzzle” has an illustration of an apple paring that can be divided to reveal a woman’s suitor’s name. Others have secret images, like the “Snake Charmer Puzzle” where a flute player is hidden against the body of a voluptuous snake charming lady. Much of the illustrations have an Art Nouveau feel, with influences from French illustration and Japanese woodblocks. Sometimes the long tresses of the hourglass-shaped women flow into ocean waves or flowers, and the full-page color printing allowed for decorative elements to spill into the text.
“These are a big contrast to his typical Ashcan School images of city life, but I think you can see some of the humor as well as the strong compositional sensibility that structures his best paintings,” Coyle stated.
The museum holds the largest collection of Sloan’s art, although this is the first time the puzzles are on public view. The Puzzling World of John Sloan is based on research by Curatorial Fellow Margarita Karasoulas, who delved into the 100 newspaper pages saved in the archives, retrieving selections for gallery visitors to attempt to decipher.
At the beginning of the 20th century, puzzles were all the rage as newspapers competed for readers, and the Philadelphia-raised Sloan found an engaged audience who would compete for $10 prizes. But are sharp-eyed solvers still up to the task over a century later? The Delaware Art Museum shared a few of the puzzles below, where we have the instructions and the image. Some require folding that, unless you print them out, you’ll have to imagine digitally, and all the answers are at the end of the post. Good luck!
1. Blackbird Puzzle (1901) (at top of page)
“To-day’s puzzle is an adaptation of the old ‘four-and-twenty-blackbird’ rhyme. The object is to cut all of the blackbirds out and fit them all into the inside oval of the pie without letting them overlap.”
2. Halloween Puzzle (1901)
“Here we have a lady giving herself a Halloween party. She has just thrown an apple paring over her shoulder. Its meaning is not apparent until she finds that she can cut it into six letters that spell the name of her future husband. Can you show how she cut the paring?”
3. Sherlock Holmes Puzzle (1901)
“Sherlock Holmes is trying to solve the problem of the paper on the floor. He cannot do it. Can you?”
4. The Bang-Up Puzzle (1902)
“The chaotic picture of Uncle Silas and his ‘Auto’ in mid air can be folded so that the machine will appear in its original condition with Uncle at the wheel.”
5. The Football Puzzle (1901)
“Here is the Varsity Girl with ten little football players around here. There is still another one near her who cannot be seen at first glance. Can you find the eleventh little football player?”
6. The Hidden Hans Puzzle (1901)
“The lady is looking for Hans. Hans is hiding from the lady. Can you find him? He is in two pieces and you will have to cut them out and paste them together before you can recognize him.”
7. The Snake Charmer Puzzle (1901)
“Here you have a snake charmer and a man who is playing the flute for her. Can you find the man?”
8. What Are the Wild Waves Saying? (1900)
“What are the wild waves saying? If you examine them closely you will soon discover words hidden in the sea. Put them together in a sentence.”
2. The apple paring can be sliced to spell the name “Oliver.”
3. If held in front of a mirror (or held up to a light and reversed if using the original newspaper), the figures on the paper are reversed to say: “Stop note, then it depends on Jones to postpone the deposition.”
5. The missing player is upside down, secreted along the woman’s torso with his head at the end of her boa.
6. Half of Hans’s face is in profile on the right side of the puzzle, the other with his hat and nose is on the bottom edge.
7. The flute player is resting at right angles to the woman, best seen if the picture is held upside down, showing his head partly made up by a flower petal.
8. The words from the wild waves form this sentence: “Beneath my never-resting bosom many sleep forever.” What fun!
The Puzzling World of John Sloan continues at the Delaware Art Museum (2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington, Delaware) through September 6.