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Guide to Rebus Puzzles

If you've never met rebus puzzles before, then this quick introduction will explain all you need to know. They are essentially little pictures, often made with letters and words, which cryptically represent a word, phrase, or saying. This page explains – with the help of examples – eight of the main ways in which a rebus puzzle might encode its solution. Once you've read through these, go to our Rebus Puzzles gallery to attempt a few for yourself.

POSITION
One of the most common devices is the positioning of the words and symbols, both relative to the rectangle containing the puzzle, and to the other words and symbols. In the example MAN is in MOON, so it is the man in the moon.

HIGHLIGHTING
Often attention is drawn to some part of the picture, often by an arrow or underlining, indicating that this is where we should be looking for the clue. Here the arrow points to the first AID, and thus the answer is first aid.

DIRECTION
Closely related to position is direction. When a word is spelled in any direction other than the usual left-to-right it is generally relevant to the solution. The example illustrates wake up.

SIZE
Unusually large or small words or symbols may be used to convey concepts like big, large, small, wide, etc. For example, the rebus puzzle on the right represents big deal.

NUMBER
The device of number is frequently exploited, due to the closeness in sound of 0, 1, 2, 4, 8, 10, etc. to other English words. This cryptic example shows 4 GOT 10 HEROES, and so the answer is forgotten heroes.

COLOUR
If a word or symbol is not printed in black, then you can expect the colour to be a relevant in the solution. More difficult rebus puzzles may make use of somewhat more obscure colour names like scarlet or beige. In this fairly easy example CHEESE is blue; it is blue cheese.

STYLE
The style of the font is sometimes relevant. It might convey such concepts as tall, pretty, thin, slanted, etc. The fat letters in the example here lead the puzzler to conclude that the answer is fat chance.

SOUND
Very often rebus puzzles are phonologically cryptic. The sound will not always be exactly like the answer, but it will always be close enough to recognise, as in 1s upon TIME: once upon a time.

Now you're ready to have a go at a few yourself! Go to our free online rebus puzzles collection.

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