The Rev. Eric Brown really thought he had stumped his six younger siblings on March 29.
“Oh no, they’re not getting this one,” he said confidently and with a chuckle just moments after filming a short video of him asking a daily riddle for the group and sending it to his two brothers and four sisters.
What can you keep after giving it to someone else?
But sister Stephanie Mayfield — who recently earned the nickname “Game Show” for her uncanny ability to solve these daily word puzzles — wasn't about to let big brother get the best of her.
It took her no more than 10 minutes to figure out the correct answer: Your word.
“He was so funny saying, ‘I’m bringing the thunder today,’” Mayfield said, ribbing her eldest sibling in a way that only little sisters can.
And so goes the daily ritual between members of the Brown family.
What started as a silly way for the brothers and sisters to stay connected at the beginning of the pandemic has evolved into a form of sibling rivalry — full of friendly banter and plenty of laughs — to see who can guess the answers to Eric Brown’s riddles first.
Each weekday morning, siblings in Columbus; Huron, Ohio; and Colorado eagerly wait for Brown, a 65-year-old pastor at Woodland Christian Church on the Near East Side, to send his riddle through the video chat app Marco Polo.
“It’s a hoot,” said sister Valerie Whittaker, 56, who lives in Huron in northern Ohio near where the siblings grew up. “I look forward to the riddle each day. Eric will play some music first — it's usually '70s rock and roll or '70s R&B or sometimes it’s gospel.”
He’ll say “riddle me this” and recite the puzzle, which he usually finds on the Internet. Then, it’s off to the races.
Guesses are sent in video messages, too, so the siblings are able to feed off each other throughout the morning to determine the answer — if Mayfield doesn’t get it first. And it's scout's honor to not go searching Google for the solution (or at least divulge it if everyone's stumped and you need a little help).
For the morning riddle on March 29, Mayfield said that Whittaker — her biggest competition — almost solved it by guessing "your imagination."
“Eric said, ‘That’s close,’” said Mayfield, 61, who also lives in Huron. “Sometimes he gives it away.”
Mayfield is actually the one who started the daily riddle contest. One day her mother, who lives with her, received a sheet of riddles with her Meals on Wheels food, and Mayfield forwarded one to the group's chat. Then, she got busy at work and couldn't continue to pose the daily puzzles, so her big brother stepped up to become the riddle master.
Now, the family is nearly 300 riddles into its game.
“It kind of came out of the blue, but it’s been something that keeps us from getting bored and enables us to keep in touch during the pandemic while some of us are getting cabin fever,” Brown said.
The tight-knit siblings typically see each other regularly, but visits have been few and far between over the past year. So they look forward to each morning between 9:30 and 10 a.m. when big brother tries to stump them with questions such as:
What water can you eat and chew? (a watermelon)
What kind of tables do not have legs? (periodic or multiplication tables)
What's fluffy, cute, huggable, and goes up and down? (a puppy in an elevator)
Generally, someone is able to solve the daily question within the hour, often before Tim Brown, 50, who lives in in Brush, Colorado, is even awake because of the time-zone difference. Still, all the siblings have gotten at least a few correct, and if the answer is given too quickly, Eric Brown will send a second riddle.
Sometimes, however, it takes them two or three hours to solve, to Eric Brown’s delight. He said if afternoon arrives, the rest of the family will start asking for clues and even the answer.
“It’s fun to watch them struggle,” he said. “Some of the guesses are outlandish, and everyone is cracking up.”
But getting the answer is only a small piece of the enjoyment the ritual has brought.
“It’s so fun listening to everybody throw out answers,” Whittaker said. “It’s been a wonderful way to stay connected during the pandemic.”
Even though the family members are planning in-person gatherings as they all begin to get vaccinated, Whittaker said they’ll more than likely continue the riddle games. Daily smiles from each other are always needed — pandemic or not.
“It’s something random that has started to blossom into an everyday thing,” Whittaker said. “I love to see their faces every day.”
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