📖 Rebus

A game device using word fragments and imagery to produce phrases

A rebus is a puzzle device that hides a word, or phrase, behind a series of images, and word fragments. The player needs to interpret the parts of the puzzle and assemble a complete word, or phrase.

Using the limited confines of text, here are a word examples:

Here is a more graphical example:

Words, Images, Positioning, Instructions

As shown in the examples, both images, letters, and words, or word fragments, can he used in the puzzle.

The positioning, and orientation of those aspects become part of the puzzle. This can show relationship between words, or denote prepositions such as "up", "beside", or "down".

An image may make use of common comic markings to show movement, such as something falling, floating, or shaking.

A puzzle may further include instructions, on how to adjust a word. For example, again using the confines of text:

  • ← 🐍-sn: back•(snake-sn) -> back•(ake) -> backache

It can a challenge for the player to decide what is meant by an instruction. This creates levels of difficult in rebus, or levels of ambiguity, with more difficult puzzles requiring a higher level of player experience.

While the variety of elements of a rebus is unbound, if a designer strays too far from known forms they risk the player not understanding the puzzle at all. Like all puzzle mechanics and qualities, the player needs to be introduced to them, either through experience, or through previous game elements.

Lingual Quality

Rebuses have a strong lingual quality to them. This requires the player to have a good understanding of the language of the target phrase. This also impacts the challenge of the puzzle, as uncommon phrases, and rare words, become harder to solve.

Idioms are frequent target phrases, but idioms are not universal to speakers of a language, and can often be regional. Even if a player can decipher the words, they may be unfamiliar with the phrase, and fail to appreciate the puzzle.

While rebuses exist in all languages, translation from one language to another is not possible. The derivation of the final phrase depends on specific words for the graphical aspect as well as the answer.

Not an Encoding

A rebus is not considered an encoding as there is no algorithm by which a message can be encoded. Each puzzle designer effectively choose a unique way to represent a phrase.

However, one could argue that, with a fairly large set of rules, generic decoding of rebuses can be done.

Feedback on Working Draft

If you have any questions, need an example, or want clarification, then let me know. Ask on Discord or Twitter.

Assume everything in this reference is a working draft, there's prone to be some mistakes and inconsistencies. I figure it's best to publish and get feedback rather than write for years in secret. The terms will change, the structure will shift, and the bugs will be chased out. It'll take a while.