What are Rebus Puzzles?
A rebus is a visual word puzzle that uses the positioning of words, letters, and/or symbols to represent a common phrase, sometimes in an indirect or tricky manner. They are sometimes referred to as “hidden meaning” puzzles.
Here are some common things to look for that can help you solve rebus puzzles. Happy decoding!
The positioning of words and letters relative to each other is often used to replace a word or part of a word.
Positioning Example 1
The words “A FRIEND” appears in the word “NEED”, which means this represents “a friend in need”.
Positioning Example 2
The word “PANTS” appears on the word “FIRE”, which means this represents “pants on fire”.
So if you see words or letters placed in unusual arrangements, think about what words that appear in common phrases could describe that positioning. This could include “on,” “above,” “below,” “down,” “between,” and many more.
Try it Out
Use what you just learned about positioning of words in rebuses and try this fun rebus.
There may be an arrow, circle, or square highlighting one part of the rebus, which is often a clue pointing to an adjective to describe the word shown.
Highlighting Example 1
There are multiple “AID” words, but the first one is highlighted, which means this represents “first aid.”
Highlighting Example 2
There are multiple “SECRET” words, but the top one is highlighted, which means this represents “top secret.”
So if you see any emphasis on certain words or letters, think about how to describe that emphasis in the context of a common phrase.
Displaying the word in a different color, size, direction, or style is likely a clue to an adjective or verb to pair with that word.
Font Properties Example 1
“Wake” is displayed with the letters reading upward, which means this represents “wake up.”
Font Properties Example 2
“Deal” is displayed in really big font, which means this represents “big deal.”
Try it Out
Use what you just learned about fonts in rebuses and try this fun rebus.
To be clever or tricky, rebuses sometimes lead you to a word that sounds like (but is not spelled like) another word or part of another word. Tougher and more creative rebuses use this quite often.
Homophones Example 1
A bunch of 1’s are on top of the word “TIME”. “Ones” sounds like “once”, which means this represents “once upon a time.”
Homophones Example 2
There are three Y’s, and “Y’s” sounds like “wise”, so this represents “three wise men.”
There’s no trick to solving these, but now that you know it’s possible, you’ll know that sometimes you have to think outside of the box and maybe try saying things out loud.
Some rebuses contain multiples of words, and the number of times the word appears can usually be interpreted as a word or part of a word in the phrase. The number is sometimes replaced with like-sounding words (see homophones above) in the phrase.
Repetition Example 1
TIRED TIRED WALK WALK
“Tired” and “walk” show up two times each. Sometimes this just represents the word “two,” but sometimes it could represent the like-sounding words “too” or “to” instead. In this case, this represents “too tired to walk.”
Repetition Example 2
“Instant” shows up four times. Sometimes this just represents the word “four,” but sometimes it could represent the like-sounding word “for.” In this case, this represents “for instance.”
Try it Out
Use what you just learned about repetition in rebuses and try this tough rebus.
Context and Clues
There are many, many more ways a puzzle designer can cleverly represent a a hidden meaning. Some more challenging rebus puzzles may include words that are there just to provide context, or you may have to replace a word with a synonym. You will usually know when you get the right answer to a well-designed rebus, so think creatively and keep trying – deciphering the clues is why rebuses are fun!
Still having trouble? Try some easy rebus puzzles to warm up and start thinking in the right direction.