Scaling a Word Ladder to Success!

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If I challenged you to transform the word ROCKS into the word SPARK, could you do it? By changing one letter at a time, making a new word every time, five changes would complete that chain of words.

ROCKS – SOCKS – SOAKS – SOARS – SPARS – SPARK

Congratulations, you’ve chipped away at those rocks, created a spark, and ignited a puzzly fire! Not only that, but you’ve just built yourself a Word Ladder.

Word Ladders, also known as Changawords, word-links, laddergrams, doublets, word golf, and numerous other names, have been around in their current form for nearly a hundred and forty years. Lewis Carroll is credited with creating them, publishing a series of them in Vanity Fair magazine and a collection of them under the name Doublets.

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For example, in Doublets he challenged solvers to connect CAIN to ABEL. He did it in nine steps. Can you match him, or beat him?

Can you turn TEARS into a SMILE in six steps?

As you can see, there’s often a theme or connection linking the words. Some Word Ladders connect anagrams (like SEAT to SATE) or semordnilaps (like WOLF to FLOW). Others connect two words in a phrase (like TRUE to BLUE) or link two words in the same category (like LION to LAMB if the theme were “Mammals”).

They can vary in word length as well as in number of steps between words. Often (but not always), the fewer steps, the easier the solve.

But, as it turns out, solvers continue to add new variations and wrinkles to the established format.

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Sunday’s New York Times crossword puzzle featured Word Ladders as themed answers, but these Word Ladders actually formed coherent sentences! 92 Across, for instance, was clued “Boisterous oaf confused the previous set of actors.” And you’d have to be a pretty savvy solver to come up with LOUD-LOUT-LOST-LAST-CAST as the word ladder that fits the clue!

And the constructor, Joe Krozel, kindly offered a few bonus Word Ladders for solvers to unravel. Can you crack them all?

1. Table tennis: For ages, the only joy in my life.

2. Unspeaking inspirer will simply have to communicate in taunts.

3. Upon removing the strap, Mr. Rogers dashed away from his snow vehicle and glided.

4. Sell contraband to a flock of Jerry Garcia fans with intensity.

5. Audacious poet (with signs of aging) outlaws military conflict.

How many successful Word Ladders can you build? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!

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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Riddled and Tippled edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of riddles and brain teasers!

We’ve featured plenty of them on the blog over the years, from this Parking Lot puzzler to Lewis Carroll’s most infamous riddle. But it never occurred to us to test our riddle-solving and brain-teasing skills under the influence of a few glasses of wine.

Thankfully, Sudoku enthusiast and YouTuber Hannah Hart (of My Drunk Kitchen fame) took it upon herself to ask her fans to submit riddles for her to unravel while tipsy.

Did you figure them out faster than Hannah? Do you think a glass of wine would help your puzzling? (Or perhaps I should ask “do puzzles drive you to drink?” *laughs*)

Since people were submitting more riddles for her to solve, I couldn’t resist tossing in one of my own:

Four jolly men sat down to play,
And played all night till break of day.
They played for cash and not for fun,
With a separate score for every one.
When it came time to square accounts,
they all had made quite fair amounts.
Now, not one has lost and all have gained –
Tell me now, this can you explain?

A little something to keep you busy on this lovely Friday. Enjoy.

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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Alice in Wonderland edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I want to follow up on a classic unsolved riddle from Lewis Carroll.

Last week, I mentioned in my mondegreens and malaprops post that I often preferred the nonsensical, silly misheard lyrics of songs to the actual lyrics. And I received a private comment from author Mary Hammond, who likened my position on mondegreens to a topic that deeply interested her: Why is a raven like a writing-desk?

You see, many Carroll fans and scholars believe that the riddle is purposely nonsensical, taking Carroll’s word at face value when he claimed that the riddle was designed with no answer in mind. But Hammond believes that Carroll, wordsmith and gamesman that he was, hid the true answer to the riddle in plain sight.

Check out her solution to Carroll’s riddle, wonderfully summed up in this short YouTube clip:

Now, this is a Follow-Up Friday post not only because it calls back to my mondegreens post, but because over a year ago, I penned a post where I presented my own solution to Carroll’s riddle.

So I leave it up to you, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Did Mary crack Carroll’s riddle? Did I? Or is the riddle simply destined to baffle and delight more puzzlers and scholars in the years to come?

[Thank you, Mary, for reaching out and sharing your solution with the PN readership. Click here to check out Mary’s book The Mad Hatter: The Role of Mercury in the Life of Lewis Carroll, and be sure to follow her on Twitter (@Hg4words) for all things Hammond (and Carroll).]

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

Riddle me this!

The spirit of puzzle-solving has always been with us — every problem is a puzzle of some sort, after all — so it’s surprising to realize how relatively brief the history of paper puzzles is in the long run.

I mean, the Sudoku puzzle as we know it first appeared in print in Dell Magazines in 1979, a little over thirty years ago! (Yes, some puzzles with similar attributes appeared in French publications nearly a century before, but the Sudoku as we know it is a modern creation.)

This year marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the crossword puzzle. One hundred years! Amazing when you think about it, but also just a drop in the bucket when compared with the span of human history.

So, if the two most famous puzzles are both fairly recent developments, what sort of puzzles kept humans occupied for centuries and centuries before that?

Riddles.

Yes, plenty of wordplay and mathematical games predate the modern puzzles we know and love, like the famous ancient word square found in the ruins of Pompeii that features a Latin palindrome.

But I suspect that riddles were, in fact, our first experiments with puzzles and puzzly thinking.

They appeal to our love of story and adventure, of heroes with wits as sharp as their swords. Riddles are the domain of gatekeepers and tricksters, monsters and trap rooms from the best Dungeons & Dragons quests.

The Riddle of the Sphinx — in its most famous version: “What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?” — has origins as far back as the story of Oedipus and the tales of Sophocles and Hesiod, more than 2000 years ago.

And variations of logic puzzles and riddles have been with us at least as long. Consider the famous “a cabbage, goat, and wolf” river crossing, or the Man with Seven Wives on the road to St. Ives.

Nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, Lewis Carroll unleashed a doozy of a riddle in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, one we discussed in detail in a recent blog post.

In more recent times, one of Batman’s most capable and dogged adversaries has employed riddles to confound and challenge the Caped Crusader.

His debut episode of Batman: The Animated Series features a corker of a riddle: “I have millions of eyes, yet I live in darkness. I have millions of ears, yet only four lobes. I have no muscles, yet I rule two hemispheres. What am I?”

While we’ll probably never be able to trace the history of riddles as definitively as that of crosswords and sudoku, it’s fascinating to consider just how long puzzles in one form or another have been with us.

And so, in the spirit of puzzling, here are a few riddles for the road. Enjoy.

A man lay dead on the floor, fifty-three bicycles on his back. What happened?

Bob walked into a bar and asked for a glass of water. The bartender pulled out a gun and pointed it at Bob’s face. A few seconds later, Bob said, “Thank you” and walked out. What happened?

Rhonda lay facedown in the middle of the desert. On her back was something that could have saved her life. What is it?

Frank did not want to go home because of what the masked man held in his hand. What is the masked man holding?

Joe was dead. Across his back was an iron bar. In front of him was some food. What happened?

[Answers will be posted on Friday!]

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! Don’t forget about our PuzzleNation Community Contest, running all this week! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (three volumes to choose from!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!

Carroll’s classic conundrum!

After my post on Brain Melters (the diabolical siblings of brain teasers), I’ve had riddles on the brain, one in particular.

There’s a famous riddle that compares a raven and a writing desk. It was first penned by the brilliant, controversial, and utterly ridiculous Lewis Carroll.

The Hatter asked Alice, “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”
“I give up,” Alice replied. “What’s the answer?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter.
Alice sighed wearily. “I think you might do something better with the time,” she said, “than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers.”

It was purposely devised as a riddle with no answer — prime Brain Melter territory — but that hasn’t stopped people from trying to solve it in various silly, pragmatic, and clever ways through the years.

A practical answer is “They both have legs”, but not only is that terribly boring, but it seems to abruptly ignore Carroll’s legacy of whimsy and logodaedaly.

(Come on, it wouldn’t be a truly Lewis Carroll-worthy post without some curious vocabulary. *smiles* And a pat on the back to those who didn’t have to look it up!)

Many people have incorporated assonance, rhyme, and wordplay into their solves. Here are some of the possible solutions people have conjured over the years:

–It is used to carry on work and work carrion.
–Because the raven has a secret aerie and the writing desk is a secretary.
–It understands its tails and quills would nevar [sic] work with the wrong end in front. (This is a variation on the answer Carroll eventually provided)

Carroll himself was quoted as saying that a raven is like a writing-desk “because it can produce very few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar [sic] put with the wrong end in front.”

Despite Carroll’s typically obtuse and curious response, several sources have stated that the correct answer is that “dark wing site” is an anagram for “a writing desk”.

Ignoring all of these possible solutions, I prefer the one I consider the most simple, the most clever, and the most sensible…

How is a raven like a writing desk? Poe wrote on both. =)

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, check out our Classic Word Search iBook, play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!