When I was little, my dad used to sing me songs. I can't remember them very well, so I asked my brother if he could remember them.

"Yeah," he said, "I can remember a few" He then proceeded to list two.


As I was going to St Ives

We turned ourselves about

We found the one who rubbed his hands

And marched him up to the top of the hill


The little boy who lives by

Robin Hood Robin Hood

Killed Cock Robin

"Those aren't like I remember," I said. "They don't even make sense!"

"Well, perhaps they're not like you remember," he replied, "but they do make sense. It's something we always used to say dad does. Now we do it too."

I can't let my brother fool me, I'd never hear the end of it! I think the verses must have some hidden meaning. Can you help?


treat the rhymes as cryptic clues so to start you off: "I goes to St Ives

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    $\begingroup$ Hey, whoever the downvoter was, I don't mind it at all, but would you mind just giving a reason, or explaining what's bad about the puzzle? Thanks ;) $\endgroup$ Nov 23, 2016 at 1:17
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    $\begingroup$ (The most likely way for it to be bad, if in the end it turns out to be bad, is that it might be a "guess what I'm thinking of" puzzle that can only really be solved by happening to think of whatever was inside your head when you wrote it. But I repeat that I have no reason to expect it to turn out to be bad.) $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Nov 23, 2016 at 1:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Techidiot Added a tag, which should help. Will add more hints after a while if there is still no answer $\endgroup$ Dec 2, 2016 at 6:02
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    $\begingroup$ Not sure if it follows the rules $\endgroup$
    – Techidiot
    Dec 2, 2016 at 6:09
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, are you sure these are cryptic clues? They very well could be, but that's not what they look like. $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi
    Dec 2, 2016 at 6:19

2 Answers 2


This is looking a little lonely without any answers so I hope you don't mind me spitballing a little. Thanks to Techidiot and Samthere for finding the rhyme each line is from. And for the record:

I believe that "It's something we always used to say dad does. Now we do it too" is the real key to solving the riddle. I just don't know how yet.

Attempt #1:

The line numbers of each line within their respective nursery rhymes.

- "As I was going to St. Ives" is line #1 of its eponymous rhyme
- "We turned ourselves about" is from line #6 of "The Hokey-Cokey"
- "We found the one who rubbed his hands" - he's in line #10 of "Apple Pie ABC"
- "And marched him up to the top of the hill" is from line #3 of "The Grand Old Duke Of York"
- "The little boy who lives by" is from line #7 of "Baa Baa Black Sheep"
- "Robin Hood Robin Hood" is again line #1 of its eponymous rhyme
- "Killed Cock Robin" is from line #1 of "Cock Robin".

So that's 1 - 6 - 10 - 3 - 7 - 1 - 1. Let's turn that into letters and we get AFJC GAA. It looks like nonsense but it rings a bell for some reason...

Complete Spitballing Attempt #2

Using the references to the rhymes for some purpose

- "As I was going to St Ives, we turned ourselves about..." Heading away from St. Ives, you'd be heading roughly south-east (SE).
- "The one who rubbed his hands" in the rhyme is R. ("SER-"?)
- The "hill" referred to in "The Grand Old Duke Of York" is commonly thought to be Cassel, France, but could also be in Wakefield or in Salisbury Plain. Salisbury Plain is by far the closest to St. Ives. - "The little boy who lives by Robin Hood"... Little John, perhaps?
- The one who "killed Cock Robin" was the sparrow, with his bow and arrow, just like Robin Hood...

Attempt #3

Something to do with the songs' Roud numbers.

"As I was going to St. Ives" has a Roud number of 19772.
"The Hokey Cokey" doesn't seem to have a Roud number which might scupper this idea.
Nor does "Apple Pie ABC".
"The Grand Old Duke Of York" has a Roud number of 742.
"Baa Baa Black Sheep" has a Roud number of 4439.
"Robin Hood, Robin Hood" doesn't seem to have a Roud number.
"Cock Robin" has a Roud number of 494.

I don't feel much closer to solving this than I was when I started, but is any of this on the right track?

  • $\begingroup$ Not really on the right track. I will add a hint $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2016 at 5:11

Possibly "Survives Books" = Ding Dong Bell? (the oldest known recorded nursery rhyme)

As I was going to St Ives ->

I could mean "me" or could remain as I "was going" sounds like a subtractor, so "me" or "I" is removed from the word "to St Ives" - "st" could mean "start", and the next word is Ives, which begins with an I, so I'll guess the first part is to remove the I leaving "ves".

This would suggest each part of the clue is a portion of a single word, so the final solution is probably two words.

We turned ourselves about ->

Turned is likely a reversal of letters, so either "ew" or.. The word ourselves could be rewritten as "us", which would leave "su"

We found the one who rubbed his hands ->

"We found" sounds like we need to identify a new word or letter "the one" likely means a single letter we need to identify "who rubbed his hands" would indicate which letter. I have no idea which letter this would be, but filling in the blanks from the rest suggest "r"

And marched him up to the top of the hill ->

"And marched" probably means to shift the letters of "him" Either I'm moving the whole word "him", or I'm doing a rotation of "him" "to the top of the hill" to me sounds like placing it in the center of the word, or it could indicate that I'm taking the middle of the word "him" and then rotating the letter, but by how much? rot13 = v

So my answer for the first portion is:

"Su" r "v" i "ves" = Survives

The little boy who lives by ->

"little" is probably meaning taking portion of the word, could be of "boy" "who lives" could mean, that exists within, and then the word "by", so taking a portion of boy that is also in by = "b"

Robin Hood Robin Hood ->

As a repetition I'm going to assume it's either a double-letter or a repeated step. Robin sounds like "robbing" or to take away something. A hood is a type of cover or cloak, or something on the head, so it could be that it relates to the front of the word. This could mean I'm removing the double letter "o" leaving "hd" or else I'm removing the "cover" (left and right) of the word giving me only "oo"

Killed Cock Robin ->

Killed is clearly a subtraction. Robin again like above is likely "robbing" or again a subtraction. Both relate to "cock" so I'm removing letters. If I remove the c's and o, I'm left with "k"

Second word:

"b" "oo" "k" = book

Not sure how "Survives Book" relates... If I assume this is the "correct" method, then perhaps there's another step I need to take. Maybe the solution is yet another cryptic puzzle? If so, then the oldest surviving recorded nursery rhyme would be Ding Dong Bell.


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