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Puzzle cups

Europe has a long tradition of puzzle and prank cups and jugs: to drink out of these vessels you must first solve a mechanical challenge.

This goes back to ancient Greece, as many things do. The Pythagorean cup looks like a normal drinking cup, except it has a weird column going up the middle. Fill it up with water, and up until a point it works fine. As soon as the water gets about halfway up the cup, though, it suddenly empties out the base. The mechanism is quite clever, and operates a little like a flush toilet’s trap pipe (S-bend or U-bend). It’s a shame that the Classical inventor concentrated on pranking people rather than, you know, sanitation engineering.

Puzzle jug

Metropolitan Museum of Art [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

The puzzle jug dates back to the 14th century, but was popular right through until the 19th century. It looks like a regular jug, except that the top half is full of holes. This one also had a nice trick: a tube runs around the rim of the jug, down through the handle and into the bottom of the vessel. If you sucked on the right hole you could drink through it just fine, but everyone else gets wet pants. (Sorry, that came out dirtier than I had intended.)

Fuddling cup

Daderot [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

You might find a fuddling cup in an antique store. It looks like three cups all connected together, and they typically had a series of tubes and openings so that the cups could only be drained in a specific order.

Finally, there’s the Jungfernbecher: a German invention, it’s two cups opposite each other (like an hourglass), connected together on the sides with some bars. If you knew the trick of it, you could fill and drink from both cups at the same time. It was a wedding tradition for the bride and groom to drink simultaneously – a metaphor of some kind, no doubt.

Categories: Ancient history Arts & recreation Early modern history Fashion & design History Medieval history

The Generalist

I live in Auckland, New Zealand, and am curious about most things.

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