A figurine of a grey-scale puzzled-looking king against a blue crossword puzzle.

You've got it! Cracking puzzles for all

Sharpen your code-cracking skills with these puzzles from The British Museum Puzzle Book and discover new perspectives on just some of the curious objects in the collection.

Try your hand at some of the puzzles from the book below or print out a worksheet to try at home.

The British Museum Puzzle Book

When the Assyriologist George Smith deciphered the 'Flood Tablet' from the 4,000-year-old Epic of Gilgamesh – the world's oldest piece of literature – he famously leapt to his feet in the Department of the Middle East Study Room at the British Museum, took off his clothes and ran around the room. Perhaps you've always dreamt of cracking codes and solving ancient puzzles – and have been plotting your own victory lap. Fortunately, The British Museum Puzzle Book has come to the rescue of apprentice code-crackers and proficient puzzlers everywhere.

Featuring 95 puzzles and packed with historical trivia, the book will introduce you to objects from pre-history through to modern times. From the Lewis Chessmen to the Rosetta Stone, Nasca geoglyphs to ancient Egyptian amulets, and featuring one object that is more than a million years old, these puzzles will take you on a journey through time and all around the world without ever leaving your seat. Whatever your level, they're a fun way to learn about the puzzling and expansive history of human culture.

Get started with the puzzles below and continue the fun with your copy of The British Museum Puzzle Book. Just be careful, as you wave your solutions victoriously in the air, not to promptly collapse with excitement – as Jean-François Champollion, code-breaker of Egyptian hieroglyphs, did in 1822.

The Lewis Chessmen

Black and white photograph of the Lewis chessmen
The Lewis Chessmen, carved walrus ivory chess pieces, Scotland, about 1150–1175.

Discovered in 1831 on a Scottish island, the Lewis Chessmen is a large collection of chess pieces thought to have been made in Norway in the 12th century. With 6 kings, 5 queens, 13 bishops, 14 knights, 10 rooks and 19 pawns in the collection of the British Museum, it's clear that the pieces came from multiple chess sets.

Solve the crossword clues below, completing the puzzle in the usual way, to reveal some further facts about these legendary figures. When complete, the letters in the shaded squares can be rearranged to spell out the two-word name of a well-known film series in which animated versions of the Lewis Chessmen appear. Print out the puzzle to have a go.
 

A blue and white image of a crossword

 

AcrossDown

4. Scottish archipelagos, can be Inner or Outer (8)

7. Chess piece (4)

8. Protective armour depicted on some pieces (6)

10. Archaic chess piece; custodian (6)

12. Standard colour of some chess pieces (5)

13. Shape of 7 across, in the Lewis sets (7)

15. Mammal whose teeth were used to make some pieces (5)

18. Scottish bay where the pieces were found (3)

19. Material used to make several pieces (5)

20. Marine mammal whose tusks provide 19 across (6)

21. Chess piece (6) 

1. Chess piece (5)

2. Scandinavian country, thought to be the sets' origin (6)

3. Frenzied Viking warrior, from which we derive a word for 'crazed' (9)

5. Weapon depicted on some pieces (5)

6. Colour shown on some Lewis pieces (3)

9. Chess piece (6)

11. Scottish city where some pieces are kept (9)

14. Chess piece (4)

16. Scottish island where the pieces were found (5)

17. Chess piece (4)

The Four Sons of Horus

Black and white photograph of four amulets depicting the Four Sons of Horus
Amulets of the Sons of Horus, glazed composition, Egypt, about 1069–747 BC.


In Egyptian mythology, the Four Sons of the god Horus are each depicted with the head of a different creature. 

Use the following clues to assign the correct name to the amulets of the Four Sons of Horus shown above. Print out the worksheet and enter your answers.

•    The Four Sons are: Duamutef, Hapy, Imsety and Qebehsenuef.    
•    The protector of intestines is shown with the head of a falcon. 
•    Imsety is not the figure with a jackal's head. 
•    Hapy was not considered the protector of the stomach or liver. 
•    Duamutef is not the figure with the baboon's head. 
•    The figure with a human head was traditionally the protector of the liver. 
•    Qebehsenuef is the protector of the intestines.
•    The baboon-headed figure is said to be a protector of the lungs. 

From left to right, the four amulets depict: 

  1.  

  2.  

  3.  

  4.  

Nasca lines

The objects shown above were created more than 2,000 years ago by the Nasca people in what is now present-day Peru. Nasca people are best known for their massive geoglyphs (lines etched into the land), which are only recognisable as images when viewed from above. Many of the geometric shapes create images of animals and figures that are thought to have spiritual significance, although their original purpose is unknown. 

Make your own geoglyph in the square below by connecting the dots to form a single loop. The loop cannot cross or touch itself at any point – and only horizontal and vertical lines between dots are allowed. Some parts of the loop have already been given. Print out the puzzle and get drawing. 

A puzzle with a grid of dots and lines

The Qianlong Bi

A round disk with a whole in the middle, on which columns of Chinese calligraphy radiate in circles.
Jade collared ring (bi), China, about 1200–1050 BC.

Bi, such as the one shown above, are generally unadorned ceremonial discs carved from jade and were associated with the heavens in ancient Chinese cultures. This particular jade bi may have been created as early as 1200 BC, but the inscription was added around 3,000 years later, in 1790. The Chinese emperor at the time, Qianlong, wrote a poem that he ordered to be inscribed on the ancient object, the lyrics of which he believed explained the provenance and function of bi.

Find a route through the maze on the bi below, revealing as you go what the emperor believed these objects were used for. You must travel from the entrance at the top of the maze to the exit at the bottom without retracing your steps. The correct route will pass over, in order, letters that spell out two words that form the crux of the emperor's poem. Print out the puzzle to get started.

A circular maze with arrows pointing to the entrance and exit, and letters hidden within the maze


 

Solutions

Did you get them all right? Check your answers below.

Lewis Chessmen

A crosswords puzzle with the answers filled in.

The Four Sons of Horus

From left to right in the image, the Sons and their affiliations are: 

1.    Qebehsenuef: he has a falcon's head and protects the intestines 
2.    Hapy: he has a baboon's head and protects the lungs 
3.    Imsety: he has a human head and protects the liver 
4.    Duamutef: he has a jackal's head and protects the stomach

Nasca lines

A grid of dots and lines, which have been joined up to create a geometric shape that uses all the dots without breaking the line.

The Qianlong Bi

A circulur maze with the solution pathway wiggling through it from top to bottom. The line passes through several letters: B, O, W, L, S, T, A, N, D

The letters spell BOWLSTAND – that is, 'bowl stand'. The first line of the inscription can be approximately translated as follows: 'It is said there were no bowls in antiquity / but if so then where did this stand come from?'.