ACROSTIC, a word composition, usually a poem, in which the initial, middle, or final letters of the lines, taken in order, spell out something besides the meaning of the text. The 119th Psalm, the initial letters of whose stanzas follow the order of the Hebrew alphabet, is the earliest known example. Acrostical religious verses and love poems were common in Europe for many years until the 19th century, when criticism made the form unfashionable.
The acrostic is most frequently used today in word puzzles. The best known is probably Elizabeth S. Kingsley’s invention, the Double-Crostic, introduced in the Saturday Review in 1934. The words to be discovered in this puzzle form a quotation. The definitions are arranged in acrostical order so that the initials of the unknown words spell the name of the author and the work from which the quotation is taken. A variation of the Double-Crostic uses both the initial and the final letters (the telestich) to disclose the author’s name and title, respectively.
The acrostic principle is further extended in the Syllabic Acrostical Enigma, a word puzzle in verse introduced by the National Puzzlers’ League. In this puzzle, the successive syllables of a key word—not just its single letters—are used to begin groups of verses. Each unknown syllable combines with the word following it, or the first part of that word, in order to complete the sense of the verses. In the following example composed by the author, each syllable to be guessed is printed as a capitalized tag (ONE, TWO, and so on). The tag represents either the unknown syllable or an unknown word beginning with that syllable. The tag “ALL” represents the key word.
ONE million in White Sea’s reflection
Suggests U.S.S.R.’s complexion: (vermillion)
TWO derived from flames tossed high
Brings sudden pain to many an eye. (cinder)
THREE tingles in the miser’s heart,
For acquisition is his art. (getting)
FOUR bit off more than one could chew:
A long way round for me and you! (orbit)
FIVE Ionic king so fine,
Who did his hopeless love resign,
Still turns and turns, yet comes up nine. (Ixion)
Triumphant Caesar, home from Gaul,
Led captives many, blond, and tall,
Who paved the way for General ALL.