What is an Enigma?

What is an enigma? Perhaps you have heard that term used to describe Amelia Earhart. Maybe you are aware that it is somehow linked to Oak Island or Cleopatra. It is true, people consider these subjects as enigmas. But what does it really mean?

An enigma is a puzzle. People use the word in various ways. Sometimes, it refers to something that is simply hard to comprehend. Think about the most challenging topic you have ever studied. Was it the Big Bang Theory? Maybe the Fibonacci Sequence? Many individuals would describe these concepts as enigmas.

People themselves can also be enigmas. Have you ever encountered someone who seemed mysterious? Perhaps you thought they were a spy or a fortune teller. They might have been secretive, unpredictable, or simply difficult to understand. Any of these characteristics can make a person an enigma.

An enigma can also be an unexplained event or an unsolvable question. There are numerous such enigmas in the world! Unsolved mysteries have existed throughout history. Would you like to attempt solving a few of them?

One enigma that still puzzles many is the Dancing Plague of 1518. Similar to many plagues, it rapidly spread to numerous individuals in the affected area. However, unlike other plagues, it did not cause illness. Instead, those who caught it began to dance uncontrollably!

What caused the Dancing Plague? That is the enigma—no one knows. It began with a woman named Frau Troffea who lived in Strasbourg, which was then part of the Holy Roman Empire. One day, she walked out of her house and started dancing without being able to stop! Frau Troffea danced and danced until she collapsed from exhaustion. Then, after some sleep, she got up and danced some more! Soon, this mysterious condition spread to over 400 people. It eventually faded away, but the cause remains a mystery to this day.

Plenty of enigmas also occur in modern times. One example is the 2014 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 (MH 370). On March 8, the airplane took off from Kuala Lumpur and was headed for Beijing, China. However, 39 minutes after takeoff, it vanished.

What happened? No one really knows. Records revealed that MH 370 sharply deviated from its intended course before disappearing from radar. Unless crucial evidence such as the plane’s black box is discovered, this will remain an enigma for many years to come.

Can you think of any other ways to use the term “enigma”? Would you use it to describe the Loch Ness Monster or the Bermuda Triangle? Is there a person you would consider an enigma? How about a very complex subject you have learned about in school? As you can see, this word has numerous applications!

Try It Out

Ready to continue investigating? Find an adult who can assist you in trying out the activities below!

  • Imagine if someone you know asked you to explain what an enigma is. What example would you provide? Are you thinking of a person? A concept? An unsolved mystery? Write a paragraph describing your example and clarify what makes it an enigma.
  • Throughout history, there have been many enigmas. Read about Atlantis, Stonehenge, or Roanoke. Can you solve any of these mysteries? Decide which theory you support the most and then discuss your thoughts with a friend or family member.
  • Explore another type of enigma – the Enigma machine. What made the machine’s code so challenging to decipher? How was the encryption eventually cracked? Summarize what you learned for a friend or family member.

References for Further Reading

  • https://www.britannica.com/event/dancing-plague-of-1518 (accessed 05 May 2020)
  • https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/07/mh370-malaysia-airlines/590653/ (accessed 05 May 2020)
  • https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/enigma#examples (accessed 05 May 2020)

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