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This is an ancient puzzle from an old book that I've never seen anywhere else. Can any of you puzzlers solve it?

If the B MT put:
If the B. putting:
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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Maybe the wordplay tag? $\endgroup$ – jpmc26 Jan 6 '16 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ And I thought this might have to do with the New York City subways. $\endgroup$ – phoog Jan 6 '16 at 21:52
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    $\begingroup$ You missed the second half: Never put more : over a - der You'd be an * it $\endgroup$ – phoog Jan 6 '16 at 22:11
  • $\begingroup$ A little google searching suggests that the * line is a much more recent innovation, but the puzzle dates back at least to 1864. Only one of the 1864 hits includes the third line about the - der; the rest have only the two lines given here. But it may also be that the * is original but was considered too course for publication in the 19th century. $\endgroup$ – phoog Jan 6 '16 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ Include the title and publication date of the book? Might give us some ideas. $\endgroup$ – user2174 Jan 7 '16 at 3:57
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If the grate be (great B) empty, put coal on (or maybe in?) (colon); if the grate be full stop putting coal in (on?).

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  • 3
    $\begingroup$ A game of telephone in the age of the telegram. $\endgroup$ – Ian MacDonald Jan 6 '16 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ Ah, UK English riddles. Makes more sense than "If the capital be period, putting coal in". $\endgroup$ – Todd Wilcox Jan 6 '16 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ I think one puts coal on a grate, which makes sense, since : is a "colon." $\endgroup$ – phoog Jan 6 '16 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ @manshu, where is colon pronounced co-lin? $\endgroup$ – Holloway Jan 7 '16 at 11:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Holloway: I pronounce it that way. It's probably a regional thing. $\endgroup$ – Deusovi Jan 7 '16 at 12:03

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