Christmas entertainment and festivities in Wales were often accompanied by the appearance of a puzzle jug. This drinking game was guaranteed to make any party a roaring success!!!
A descendant of medieval drinking games (which included the fuddling cup and the pot crown) the puzzle jug became popular from the 18th and 19th century all over the UK. The challenge of the game was to drink from the jug without spilling any liquid. This is not as easy as it sounds as the task is made difficult by perforations that encircled the neck of the jug. The aim of the puzzle jug was to confuse the user. If you didn’t know the secret of how to drink from the jug successfully, the ‘drinker’ would end up spilling the contents – usually beer or wine – all over themselves which would be accompanied by a riot of laughter from the onlookers. The more the evening went on, and the more alcohol was consumed, and the game was guaranteed to become messier and messier.
It was not only a popular form of entertainment for tavern-goers. Many a Welsh home would have a puzzle jug which would have been brought out of the cupboard or taken off the Welsh dresser and then used for private gatherings of friends and family.
At first, drinking from the jug without spilling its contents seemed impossible. The solution to the puzzle was that the jug had a hidden tube, one end of which was the spout. The tube usually ran around the rim and then down the handle, with its other opening inside the jug and near the bottom. To solve the puzzle, the drinker had to suck from the spout end of the tube. To make the puzzle more interesting, it was common to provide a number of additional holes along the tube, which must be closed off before the contents could be sucked. Some jugs even have a hidden hole to make the challenge still more confounding, usually hidden beneath the handle.
The quality of the puzzle jugs varied depending on who they were made for. Many surviving examples can be found, including one from Swansea which was made in 1848 (The People's Collection of Wales).The puzzle jug became popular as gifts or commemorative pieces and they continue to be manufactured today by ceramicists.
Image: A puzzle jug from Swansea, dated 1848