A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from April 03, 2015
Conundrum Supper

A “conundrum supper” ("conundrum dinner” is less frequently used) is a meal where each menu item is presented in the form of a riddle. For example, “A Group of Islands” might represent “sandwiches” (Sandwich Islands).

‘Conundrum supper” was cited in print in 1890 and “conundrum dinner” in 1889. The conundrum supper gained faddish popularity in the United States in 1891.

[This entry was assisted by research from George Thompson of the American Dialect Society.]


Chronicling America (NOTE: This page is damaged and the date may be incorrect.)
5 January 1883, Vermont Phoenix (Brattleboro, VT), pg. 5, col. 2:
The ladies’ aid society will give an entertainment and a conundrum supper on Monday evening of next week, in place of the usual Christmas festival.

8 September 1889, Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, “Society Small Talk,” pg. 3, col. 5:
Mr. and Mrs. Stewart Chisholm gave a conundrum dinner party week before last in honor of Mrs. Chisholm’s sister, Mrs. Hamilton.

Chronicling America
25 May 1890, St. Paul (MN) Daily Globe, “Merriam Park,” pg. 14, col. 2:
They propose to give a conundrum supper at the residence of Mrs. A. B. Robbins, next Friday evening.

24 July 1890, Elkhart (IN) Daily Review, pg. 3, col. 1:
An error was made yesterday in regard to the time of the holding of the conundrum supper by the young ladies of the Presbyterian church.

7 March 1891, Cleveland (OH) Gazette, pg. 1, col. 2:
A “Conundrum Supper.”
SANDUSKY, O.—(...) The following “conundrum supper” was served to about thirty guests: MENU—Mermaid’s companions; slice of shepherd’s flock; fruit of the vine; labor’s stronghold; what asthmatic people are; the most delightful age of childhood; measure cake; polish cake; Chinese apple; what I do when I mash my finger; ivory manipulators.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
10 March 1891, Ovid (NY) Independent, pg. 3, col. 3:
A “conundrum supper” is one of the latest social fads, of which the following is a “bill of fare:” 1. the fellow who knows when to keep his mouth shut (fried); 2. an eastern empire; 3. an unruly member; 4. intoxicated bovine; 5. a girl’s name and an ad.; 6. women of grit; 7. food of the spinning wheel; 8. fruit of the vine; 9. a fashionable color; 10. exaggerated recommendations; 11. confused mixtures; 12. ivory manipulators; 13. celestial pablum; 14. crayons belated; 15. what a boy does in strawberry time; 16. what asthmatics are; 17. Boston’s overthrow; 18. spring’s offering; 19. times specified; 20. hard water and Jersey extract for fifteen cents.

1 October 1892, Poseyville (IN) News, “Humorous,” pg. 2, col. 4:
Guess What’s In It.
Trivver.—“Conundrum dinners are getting to be quite a fad. How do you suppose they got that name?”
Dicer.—“Perhaps the principal dish is hash.”—Detroit Free Press.

4 June 1892, Hartford (CT) Courant, pg. 6:
From 6 to 8 o’clock a conundrum supper was supper was served in the dining room, and the manner in which the menu was gotten up caused much sport. Unique and amusing terms were applied to the various kinds of foods, and when one sent in an order, unless he happened to guess correctly, he was apt to be surprised at what the waiter brought on.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
3 December 1892, Waverly (NY) Free Press, pg. 1, col. 5:
Conundrum Supper.
The following bill of fare will be served at the reading room Saturday night from five to eight, upon the European plan:

New England Brains.
What Asthmatic People Are.
Intoxicated Bovine.
What Most People Need.
Food for the Spinning Wheel.
Women of Grit.
Boston’s Overthrow.
APPETIZERS.
Salmagundi.
Labors Stronghold.
What a Boy calls his Sweetheart.
Unruly Member.
Fruit of the Vine.
Tabby’s Party.
DESSERT.
Musical Confection.
Ivory manipulators.

9 September 1899, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, pg. 11, col. 4:
OUR “CONUNDRUM” DINNER
Across the Water We Are Credited With Introducing Riddle Feasts

Google Books
July 1900, Werner’s Magazine, pg. 487:
The following menu is merely suggestive:

CONUNDRUM DINNER MENU.
A la carte.
Appetizers.
1. Looking Backward. Ans. Salt.
2. Tears, Idle Tears. Ans. Onions.
3. The Result of Refinement. Ans. Sugar.
4. What No Man Wants with His Wife. Ans. Pepper. (Continues to 39.—ed.)

Google Books
June 1904, The Typographical Journal, pg. 633, col. 2:
Woman’s Auxiliary No. 33, of Spokane Typographical Union, gave its first reception to the general public at Fraternal hall. (...) The unique feature was the “Conundrum Supper,” a California importation by the president, Mrs. Foster.  The bill of fare contained such strange items as “A Group of Islands” (sandwiches). “Backbone of HIstory” (dates), “Things without Ends” (doughnuts).  However, the translations were not given on the bill; that was left to the wit of the person ordering.  The supper was served in courses and was the occasion of much merriment.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • Friday, April 03, 2015 • Permalink