The Original Puzzle
Home Up Plagiarism

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This is the Original Christmas Puzzle
that Rick Archer first saw in 1996.

Rick Archer's Note: Tiffany Hayden faxed me the above copy of the Original Puzzle in 2005.  I had misplaced my copy, so thank you, Tiffany!

Various people have written me over the years to say they remember the Original Puzzle first appeared in America sometime in the Eighties. 

However, I have one Catholic sister who said she used it in 1978.  Here is her note.

Sent: Saturday, December 24, 2011 12:49 PM
Subject: Original Christmas Puzzle

Hello Mr. Archer,

Just a quick note to tell you that I came across your sight as I was looking for the Christmas Carol Puzzle that I passed out to my students this week but forgot to bring a copy home for my family to enjoy.  I have been sharing with my students the original (carbon copy!) Christmas carol puzzle since 1978. 

I have no idea where I got it but I have had it in a file for at least 33 years now.  (I did not know there was an updated version.) 

As I grow a tad bit older each year and my student's parents seem to be younger and younger, I wonder if the students will even know half the songs on the (original) puzzle, but to my amazement they do... even I Saw Three Ships.  I will research as to where I got the original puzzle and let you know if I find anything. 

Please note:  Twenty-five years teaching in a Catholic diocese has aged me but I don't believe I am as old as that original puzzle.

Thank you for your awesome site and for treasuring and sharing your fun Christmas activities. 

Merry Christmas and Blessings in the New Year,


Ann's 1978 date suggests that the 80s claim is in doubt.  

The invention of the Fax Machine allowed this puzzle to become popular across America and perhaps even the world.  Every year at Christmas time, someone would bring a copy to the office.  People would laugh, try to solve it, then make a copy of their own.  Then they would in turn Fax the puzzle to someone else.  I have little doubt this puzzle has circled the globe several times.

 I first saw the Original Puzzle in 1996.  I scanned the copy above into my computer in 1999.  That is the year I decided to use my website and the Internet to popularize the puzzle.

As of 2013, I still have no idea who created the puzzle.  For twelve years (1999 through Christmas 2010), no one ever came forward to claim authorship of the Original Puzzle.


There was a curious development in December 2011.  Two different ladies emailed one day apart to say they did it. One of the ladies refused to share her name with me, so I use her email initials FMY to identify her.

The other lady was Lahlete Pearson who said she created the puzzle in 1985.   I thought it was very odd to have complete silence for twelve years, then to have two women email me on consecutive days to claim ownership.  I could not help but wonder if they know each other, but FMY said no.

 In January 2012 Ms. Pearson took the time to fax me this copy of her work

December 2011 - Lahlete Pearson steps forward

From: Lahlete Pearson
Sent: Tuesday, December 20, 2012
Subject: Original Christmas Carol Puzzle

This morning, I attended my grandson's Christmas Program in Brandon, Mississippi.

After the program we were invited to go to his classroom for refreshments. The teacher had provided activity sheets to entertain the students while the adults served the food.

Imagine my surprise when I looked down and saw MY art work on his desk.

I did the original as entertainment for a Sunday School Christmas Party so long ago that I can scarce remember when. I will however question other church members to see if they can remember. I have NO idea how the puzzle spread so far, but I'm pleased as punch that so many people have enjoyed it.

On the sheet that you are calling the "Original Puzzle," several of my original puzzles have been left off and several have been added.

The original puzzle was done by myself, Lahlete Pearson, in Belzoni, Mississippi for the members of the Garner Shannon Sunday School Class at the Belzoni United Methodist Church. I believe the first time we used it was around 1985.

I am amazed that my puzzle has gone so far and wide….and that so many new puzzles have been added to it. It was only intended for that first little party, but, as I said, I'm thrilled that so many have enjoyed it. The only thing I see that bothers me, and it REALLY bothers me, is that someone has changed my word "Christmas" to X-mas. I can't begin to tell you how offended I am to see anyone substitute an "X" for my Lord and Savior. How can anyone want to celebrate an "X-mas"?

May I ask a favor?  I WOULD REALLY APPRECIATE IT IF YOU WOULD PUT MY CHRIST BACK INTO MY PUZZLES. As I remember, and this was a loooooong time ago, I probably spent an hour or maybe and hour and a half on the whole thing. Maybe it spread the next year when I sent a copy in my Christmas Cards to my high school classmates. (That would be the class of 1957). They are spread from Alaska to Florida and California to Maine. At the time, the most recent song, I believe, was "Grandmother Got Run Over…", and I believe that copyright was around 1973. I still think the puzzles were done between 1980 and 1985.

Dear Rick, Thank you so much for removing the "Xmas" clues in your puzzles. I'm really not a religious nut, but I firmly believe that we teach by example, even when we do not realize that others are watching us. And I believe that if our country does not return to God soon, we are doomed to destroy ourselves.

About your confusion on the dates. I told you that I sent the Christmas Carol Puzzle to my classmates in the Class of 1957. That's how old we are, not when I sent the puzzle. I asked other church friends today and they agreed that the first puzzle was used between 1980 and 1985. We arrived at this by remembering the preacher who was here at the time, and then checking to see when he served our church.

If your will share your fax number with me, I will send you a copy of my original puzzle. There are 4 or 5 clues that I don't see on any of your later copies.

I, personally, think that my original "OH" Christmas Tree is a much better hint that the "O", which can be misconstrued as an apple, or other fruit. And I think the original clue with the head of lettuce and the snow flakes (x3) is a much better idea for "Let it Snow". Just try saying "lettuce snow" 3 times , quickly, and you will understand why I say this.

I am a retired elementary school teacher, which should explain to you why I chose to make the clues so "elementary". Also remember that this was done before the advent of Clip Art and internet.


Rick Archer's Note:  Lahlete Pearson was kind enough to look through her files and find a copy of her original work.  (see it posted above)

There are two things in particular to notice.

First, some of Ms. Pearson's clues are different from the version most people first saw back in the Eighties and Nineties.  For example, Ms. Pearson's version of "Dreaming of a White Christmas" uses the entire word "Christmas" while most later versions only use "Xmas". 

That leads me to conclude that along the way "mutations" occurred when people decided they could improve on some of the clues and added their own version.

Second, you will notice that Ms. Pearson's version has 30 clues as opposed to the standard 24.   In addition, all 30 clues are drawn in an identical style.  I believe there is a definite possibility that Ms. Pearson could be the originator as she contends.  



FMY'S COPY, December 2011

Rick Archer's Note:  The copy of the Original Puzzle listed below was sent to me in December 2011 by an anonymous woman FMY who said she had developed the puzzle back in 1985... then later changed her date to 1984.

Unfortunately since she insisted on keeping her identity a secret, I was unable to determine if she was the true author or not.  But I doubt it.

Here is a look at the information FMY shared:

From: fmy
Sent: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 11:04 AM
Subject: christmas puzzle

Hello, I came across your website while looking for these puzzles. Oddly enough, My cooperating teacher and I created these puzzles in 1985 and could not find my original this year. Every year I laugh when a much younger teacher shows these carols to their class. Thank you for fixing the artwork they look much better now. I am excited to try the long version. Have a great Christmas and please continue to do the great job you have done with these. I do not want " the credit" just wanted to let you know/

Hello again.
I last night I remembered 12 and 18
12 was little drunner boy with a lttle boy sitting on top of the drum playing
18 was All I want for christmas but it was a person with a big smile no front teeth and holding a long list

Hi again,
Im sorry Rick It was # 8 not 12- and looking at it again I did not have Grandma fot run over either we had Joy to the world
Gift box

Actually, I live in Long Island NY and my cooperating teacher was a man. I have lost contact with him and am not so sure that he would want his name on the internet for this. 2 of the drawings (12 and 18) are different from the original but for the life of me I can not remember what we had in place of those. If I think of it I will let you know. Again Have a great Christmas.

ok here I go again..... lol

One of my students came to me today and asked me to guess the carols. Imagine my happiness when I saw my original sheet. She said that one of her teachers gave it to her.

I have attached the copy for you.
I also was mistaken with the year this was made. You see, I started my teaching carreer in Sept 1985 which means that my student teaching was in 1984

Thanks again

As you can see, all of FMY's clues have some differences from the ORIGINAL PUZZLE.  The only exception might be #21 (Let it Snow).  The snowflakes in the ORIGINAL PUZZLE and the FMY PUZZLE are identical.  Since the artwork of the anonymous woman is very similar to Tiffany Hayden's copy directly above, I assume one puzzle came from the other.

When it comes to copying, I have a theory.  My theory says that each new effort typically improves on the Original.  Since FMY's copy is an improvement over the ORIGINAL PUZZLE, I conclude that FMY is the Copy.  Furthermore, Sister Ann says the ORIGINAL PUZZLE dates back to 1978, FMY says she did hers in 1984.

Isn't this just so mysterious?

Author is anonymous.

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Judy Panter, December 2012

Rick Archer's Note:  This copy of the Original Puzzle was sent to me in December 2012 by Judy Panter.  Here is her note.

From: Judy Panter
Sent: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 11:18 PM
Subject: Original Christmas Puzzle


I read with interest your Blog about the possible origin of the puzzle, so I decided to send you my copy of the Original Puzzle.  It was not perfectly straight on the page. It seems to match the one you felt was the original.

It came on legal sized paper with the heading attached (separately so I could scan it).

I got my copy in the early - mid 1980's when I was teaching at Birchcliffe Heights Public School in Scarborough ON.

(I taught there between 1982-1990, but I am sure it was within the first two or three years [1984-85] that I got it!)

Our principal brought it to a staff party and we had loads of fun with it. But, there was no explanation as to where he got it.

Following that I did see Mickey Weitzen's version at another staff party, but I didn't keep a copy of that one because I still had my original.


Rick Archer's Note:  Although the quality is poor, Judy Panter's copy here is identical to the Original Puzzle that I first saw in 1996. 


Terry Ohare, December 2012

Rick Archer's Note:  This copy of the Original Puzzle was sent to me in December 2012 by Terry Ohare.  Terry was pretty sure he first saw the puzzle back in the Seventies, but then hesitated a bit when his wife had a different memory.  Here is Terry's note.

-----Original Message-----
From: Terry Ohare
Sent: Monday, December 24, 2012 8:01 PM
Subject: Christmas Song Rebus

Hey there, Rick

I'm a long-time fan of the Christmas rebus. I bring it out periodically for Christmas gatherings, like once every 6-10 years. I thought I got this copy in the 1970s, but I could be wrong. My recollection was that I was in the Marines and that ended for me in 1977. We used Xerox machines to copy.

My wife thinks she saw it for the first time in 1982-85, shortly after we got married. If her recollection is correct (and she has a mighty powerful memory), then the rebus has been around since the early eighties.

Anyway, I lived in Concord and San Bernardino during the Marines, and in the early eighties I lived in Lemoore, all in California. The sheet I have was definitely copied using a photocopier, so it could have been made as early as the mid-seventies. But as I think this over, the copying technology that I used in the Marines probably did not include a plain paper Xerox machine. I just can't remember. The copy that I do have had to arise when copiers used plain paper, and those became popular from 1975-1985.

For the first time since I had it, I wondered if anything like it was available on the internet that was of superior quality. That's when I discovered Santalady and you. I used the Santalady color version recently for an office party instead of the one I have. Interestingly, I didn't like the rebus for "All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth" which shows a saw with missing teeth. That rebus was in your version and the Sanatlady's color version, but not mine. My version looks like a blend of your two earliest versions.

Now, you seem to care more about the history of the rebus, so I am sending this particular version to you. It varies from what you call the original version in a number of ways, but is definitely of the same DNA, as you call it. I do agree that following versions likely improved on the previous rebuses, so the version I'm sending may follow the original.  My version appears to be an early correction/improvement on the original. For example, #21, after numerous photocopying, the snowflakes and the numbers 1,2,3 lost their identity, so a new picture was drawn. The caricature of Santa Claus kissing mommy (#17) likely began to be unclear, requiring improvement of Santa's face. There are eight drawings that are different.

Sadly, I fear the original designer may have already passed away.

As for your question as to which came first - Lahlete Pearson or your 1996 copy of the "Original Puzzle" - I would have to put my money on the Original Puzzle.  I think the Lahlete Pearson version is not the original. I think she saw the original, and copied and expanded it.

Her dating of that in 1985 is likely accurate. That means the "autograph", or the ORIGINAL PUZZLE as you call it, was made prior to that and attained a greater distribution. That is why there are more of the other versions.

In particular, I'm not convinced that the original of #7 would have spelled out "Christmas" instead of the white "XMAS" on a black background. 

While Mrs. Pearson sounds credible, her theory about how it became popular doesn't make sense. If her copy was mailed all over and then copied more, you'd have a lot more versions of her copy.

Furthermore, I agree with your theory that the "uglier, the more original".  While Ms. Pearson's copy is drawn in the manner of the ORIGINAL PUZZLE, it is a definite improvement and therefore more likely to be a copy.

Finally, Rick, I take note of Ms. Pearson's six extra clues.  I recall that you too added new puzzles that you made up during the time you were updating the artwork from the fuzzy copy you owned.  I find it highly unlikely that a copier would drop the last six clues of something they were copying.  More likely, they would try to improve on the original by adding Christmas Carols that weren't included in the original effort.

Given the question of which came first, I give the nod to the one you call "The Original Puzzle".

Terry Ohare



Tiff Keetch, September 2012

Rick Archer's Note:  This copy of the Original Puzzle was sent to me in September 2012 by Tiff Keetch.  Here is her note.

From: Tiff Keetch
Sent: Monday, September 10, 2012 1:47 PM
Subject: Another Christmas Carol Version

I was sorting through my "old junk pile" which isn't on a desk, but filed away... and I came across my version of this Christmas Carol Game. I remember playing it at a Christmas party before my dad passed away (and that was in 1999, so I know this version is at least 14 years old.) But it doesn't have any credit at all. In fact, it copied with the top corner cut off. I wondered if there was a straightened copy available online, and in my search I found your website and hilarious stories of your adventures in sharing your version.

Anyway, I will definitely have to bookmark your site to see if I can figure out the multitude of new songs at a later date. I just wanted to send this copy on to you to add to your continuing mystery story of the origin. If you ever find out, let me know!! I think I'll post this version on my blog closer to Christmas time and I would love to credit the artist!

thanks for your creativity, Tiff


As you can see below, all the clues from the Original Puzzle have been completely redrawn, but the format is similar enough to realize this is likely the work of someone who not only loved the puzzle, but also thought they could improve on the art work. 


Paul Fujishige, January 2013

Rick Archer's Note:  This copy was sent to me by Paul Fujishige in January, 2013.  It has elements of the ORIGINAL PUZZLE in it, but also quite a few additions (#6, Hark the Herald Angels Sing).  It looks like all the copied clues were redrawn. 

Here is Paul's note on the date he received the puzzle:

As to when I first received it, I do believe it goes back further than I may have told you. I am pretty sure I received it when I was working in Barrhead, Alberta, somewhere between 1988 – 1992. However, I cannot remember the exact year, so I could be off base. I am certain though that I did not see it prior to 1988.

No one is sure what #11 is.  It features an elf playing golf preparing to drive the ball off a tee.  Your guess is bound to be better than mine. 



Color Version of Original Puzzle

This color version below was sent in by Emily Schankweiler in 2006. 

As you can see, someone took the time to use the "Fill" function of some paint program to add simple color.  Cute.

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December 2010
The "Confusing Christmas Puzzle" from 1996

Rick Archer's Note: Thanks to a lady named Deb, in December 2010 I received a note that offered an important new clue towards solving the mystery of the Christmas Puzzle's Origin.  Here is the note.

Sent: Wednesday, December 01, 2010 7:45 PM
Subject: Confusing Christmas Carols -

Hi Rick,

I recently found your website while looking for "Confusing Christmas Carols". 

I have a different version of your 'original puzzle'.  I got mine back in 1996 - 1997 when a co-worker brought hers in to work.  She didn't know exactly how she had come to acquire her copy. 

I assumed it had come from a book because on the first page there is a page number at the bottom, and the top right corner says STARTERS.  The second page looks like the page number could have been cut off, but the top says THE PLAYBOOK, like it came from a party games book.  

Assuming that it had come from a book, I have on different occasions gone to book stores in hopes of finding this 'party games book'.  Back in 2005 I did an internet search and came across the santalady website which isn't exactly the same thing.  Hadn't given it much thought since then, but last week I was in Borders and thought I'd give it another shot...  No luck. 

But today, I found your website! 

I don't know whose version was first, but my copy reminds me a bit of a holiday activity book I had received back in the 70's

If I remember correctly, the book was like a coloring book with activities, crafts, and trivia, all pertaining to Christmas.

Attached you'll find my version.  Let me know what you think.    Deb

Rick Archer's 2010 Note:

As I have pointed out before, I had nothing to do with the original version of the Christmas Puzzle.  I openly admit I took some unknown person's work and expanded on it.   Please note Deb dated this "Confusing Christmas Puzzle" around 1996 which is the same year that I first received my Original Copy.   Deb was nice enough to scan two pages from her book and send me copies.  Here is what she sent me. 

Rick Archer's 2010 Note Continued

I think it is fairly obvious that the "Original Puzzle" and the "Confusing Christmas Puzzle" are near clones of one another.  As I compare the professional artwork in the "Confusing Christmas Puzzle" to the amateur artwork in the "Original Puzzle", I see that both puzzles have 24 clues.  Apparently both puzzles refer to the same 24 Christmas Carol titles. 

I have created a simple comparison of the two puzzles for you to look at.  As you will see, some of the clues are direct copies.  The Original is on the left, the Confusing is to the right.  


Rick Archer's 2010 Note Continued

So which copied which?  Did you conclude the Original Puzzle borrowed the work of the Confusing Christmas Puzzle??  If so, join the club.  That is what I did.  At first I assumed the Original Puzzle was a rip-off of the Confusing Christmas Puzzle

When I saw Deb's "Confusing Christmas Puzzle" pages, I mistakenly assumed these pages came from the Holiday Activity book she had seen back in the Seventies. 

I don't know whose version was first, but my copy reminds me a bit of a holiday activity book I had received back in the 70's

If I remember correctly, the book was like a coloring book with activities, crafts, and trivia, all pertaining to Christmas.

But when I re-read Deb's note, I realized I had jumped to conclusions.

I have a different version of your 'original puzzle'.  I got mine back in 1996 - 1997 when a co-worker brought hers in to work."

Oops!  That changed everything.  Since both puzzles could be dated back to 1996, now I didn't know which puzzle copied which.

After giving it some thought, I changed my mind and decided the Confusing Christmas Puzzle is the copycat.  I think someone took the amateur artwork of the Original Puzzle and improved it for use in a Christmas Activity book to be sold at bookstores. 

You will note that the artwork in the Confusing Christmas Puzzle is far superior to the Original Puzzle.  I believe someone decided to make some money off the Original Christmas Puzzle, but realized the artwork was far too pathetic to have much chance of enticing people to buy the book version. 

So the artist simply duplicated the clues he or she liked the most using much-improved artwork. 

In addition, the artist decided to upgrade some of the clues.  Using some imagination, he or she substituted completely original artwork of their own to replace the weaker clues from the Original Puzzle.

For example, please note the vast improvement in Let it Snow Let it Snow Let it Snow and All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth as well as Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

In my opinion, the Confusing Christmas Puzzle is basically a much-improved version of the Original Puzzle.  I like the new artwork a lot, but we still haven't discovered the true origin of the Christmas Puzzle. 

Let me add that Deb suggested she remembered a Holiday activity book that dated back to the Seventies.  Perhaps some readers will also recall this same book.  Maybe that Holiday Activity Book is the true origin.

If you are in position to shed more light on the mystery, email me at   Thanks!    RA 12-2010



January 2011 - Mickey Weitzen

From: Mickey Weitsen
Sent: Friday, January 07, 2011 7:26 PM
Subject: 2011 - happy new year and puzzle thanx

We played the christmas riddle puzzle with friends and family after christmas dinner (while all the dinner was settling to give us room for dessert!!)

What a lot of fun! I am attaching a copy of the "antique" puzzle page we used --- we all liked their Chestnuts Roasting picture!  What a hoot!!

Thanks for the happy times -

I'll check back next November to take a look at the BIG puzzle..
Good Health-- Mickey

Rick Archer's Reply:

How interesting, Mickey Your puzzle has clues that are slightly different versions of what I call the “Original Puzzle”, except the artwork is so close you have to assume that one of these puzzles copied the other.  

Since the artwork in YOUR VERSION is superior, I assume yours is the “copy”.  What I mean is, why would anyone go to the trouble of making a mediocre copy? 

So I assume that someone took a look at the original version and said, “Gee, I can do better than that.”   And yes, they did!

I agree…. The chestnuts is pretty funny!  Thank you very much for sharing!

Rick Archer's Note:  In the space of one month I received Deborah's version and now Mickey's version. Since most of the clues in all three puzzles are so similar, I assume all three puzzles share a common DNA. 

That said, I believe both Deborah's version and Mickey's version are COPIES of the Original Puzzle.  

I base my decision on the principle that the superior artwork indicates someone tried to IMPROVE upon the original.  Since the original artwork wasn't all that good, it had to be tempting to try to make the pictures a little more clear... which is basically the same conclusion I came to when I first started upgrading the clues in 1999.   RA 01-2011

Robert Chan, December 2015

Hello: I had a Pictionary type game on a printed sheet. I decided to researched for the solutions of X-mas carols names. I came across your website on the history of the printed game. I have enclosed a scanned page of my game. Your web info showed a page of "24" Pictionary images. On my game sheet I have the same "24" plus "2" more (# 25 and # 26). I remembered getting the game sheet from my secretary, buy I can't remember what got to be either in the late 80's or early 90's. I thought you may have an interest of seeing this version of the X-mas Pictionary game sheet.

---- Robert CHAN


Carol Cavanaugh, December 2020

-----Original Message-----
From: carol cavanaugh
Sent: Saturday, December 12, 2020 6:33 AM
Subject: Hello need 1 answer to a Christmas Carol puzzle


I received a Christmas Carol puzzle and figured all but 1 answer (or possibly two ).
It is the picture of two angels laying back on a cloud.

You presented that one sent in by Paul F and it had the addition of the elf teeing off  as well

Which I guessed  was : Frosty the snowman
I am guessing that the angel picture might be: Angels we have heard on high

But not sure

If you can help on this or the elf I would love that

Thank You, Carol


Rick Archer's Note:  To this date, no one has ever come up with a good answer for #23, an elf teeing up a golf ball.
If you think you have the answer, put me out of my misery and email to




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