In 17th-century Western Europe, there was nothing primitive about drinking booze out of a jug. In fact, to accomplish any level of intoxication via the beautiful-yet-brain-testing puzzle jug, imbibers needed to solve the not-so-simple system molded into the pitchers by its designers.
The vessels usually had several hidden channels sculpted into the pottery, as well as holes through which the precious liquid could escape if not properly plugged. Savvy swillers could prevent unwanted spillage by placing their fingers over the holes, effectively forming a seal and creating a vacuum through which the liquid could be drawn. As the jugs grew in popularity over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, designers added personal touches, some of which foresaw the friendly wagers the jugs inspired: “Here Gentlemen come try your skill/I’ll hold a wager if you will/that you don’t drink this liquor all/Without you spill or let some fall.” As the toys were often part of quaffing contests with a few pence at stake, the unprepared might not only find themselves with a lap full of liquid, but out some pocket change as well.
Think this jug is no match for you? Perhaps you’re ready to take on the true challenge of making a perfect replica of an original.
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Where to Try It
Victoria & Albert MuseumCromwell Road, London, England, SW7 2RL, United Kingdom
You can still find a few puzzle jugs in the museum's ceramics collection.