Putting Clever Cluing to the Test?

crossword1

As a puzzler, there are few article titles that serve as more efficient clickbait than “6 CHALLENGING CROSSWORD PUZZLE CLUES THAT WILL LEAVE YOU CLUELESS,” so when I saw that title, fellow puzzlers, you know I clicked.

This article by the crew at Wealth Words claims to offer “the trickiest clues that have ever existed.” That is quite a bold statement. Shall we try our luck and see how we do?


Now, before we start, it’s worth noting that we’re at a huge disadvantage here, because any clue, easy or tough, can be made easier if you know some of the letters in the word thanks to words in the grid you’ve already placed that cross this particular entry. We don’t have any of those helper letters, so we’re going to have to rely solely on our sharp wits, wordplay skills, and love of punnery.

Okay, let’s get to it.

Clue #1: Leaning column? (9 letters)

Most crossword fans know that a question mark virtually always means there’s wordplay afoot, so you know you can’t take this clue at face value, which means anything relating to Pisa is probably out. If you focus on “leaning,” that could take you anywhere from Jenga to drunkenness, so let’s play with “column.” Other columns appear in graphs, Excel files, and newspapers.

A-ha. Newspaper column. And some of those “lean” to either the left or the right, depending on the author. This train of thought leads us to the intended answer OPED PIECE.

Grade: A- (It’s a solid clue where the answer doesn’t necessarily immediately jump out at you, but makes total sense once you’ve puzzled it out.)

Clue #2: Strips in a club (5 letters)

[Now, to be fair, “club” was capitalized in the clue on the webpage, but I felt like that was misleading, so I fixed it here. After all, capitalization can be used to great effect in crafty cluing — particularly if you conceal the capital word by making it the first word in the clue, which is always capitalized regardless — but here, it becomes an unnecessary red herring.]

This one is slightly harder, because you don’t immediately get the hint that there’s wordplay involved, since there’s no question mark.

This is one of my favorite kinds of clever cluing, the sort where our preconceived notions of word forms works against us. (Also, it sounds naughty, but isn’t, which I also quite enjoy.) At first glance here, the phrasing makes it sound like “strips” is a verb, when it’s really a plural noun.

And once you get into that mindset, you realize that we’re not talking about that kind of club, and the intended answer emerges: BACON.

Grade: A (Misdirection plus a tongue-in-cheek bit of lewdness? Great stuff.)

Clue #3: Group of crows (6 letters)

I have no idea how this one made it onto the list. Anyone who knows their animal groupings knows that a group of crows is a MURDER. There’s no tricky cluing or misdirection here, just something that might not be in the common knowledge. (But again, I think people are more likely to come up with this one that “exaltation of larks,” “smack of jellyfish,” or “parliament of owls.”)

Grade: D- (Could be difficult for some solvers, but only for unfamiliarity, not style.)

Clue #4: “Yep, perfectly clear” (7 letters)

Okay, this one has quotations around it, which both means it’s a spoken line and it’s likely non-standard, so you won’t find it in a dictionary. It’s probably a phrase, and used in casual conversation.

The answer, as it turns out, is I HEAR YA, which I don’t think any solver would come up with unless they had a few crossing letters filled in for them. The slangy spelling of YA and the informal wording altogether pretty much precludes this from being a “see-it-and-get-it” sorta clue.

Grade: C

Clue #5: [Boo-Hoo] (5 letters)

Brackets are used less commonly than quotation marks or question marks in crossword clue, so it’s more likely that a casual solver wouldn’t immediately recognize what to do with this clue. Usually, brackets indicate this is a non-traditional clue, either making an oblique reference to something or indicating it’s a non-verbal clue like a cough.

In this case, this is meant to be the actual sound of someone crying or something of that nature. So it could be something informal like CRYIN’ or TEARS (as opposed to the more traditional “in tears”) or something like that.

As it turns out, they were looking for I’M SAD. Which is pretty blah. It’s not a standard phrase, and comes off as a cheaply constructed way out of a bad corner, not a solid bit of fill to keep the puzzle interesting.

Grade: F

Clue #6: They come in last (3 letters)

This clue is fairly tough, because it’s both vaguely worded and has a curious letter count. It’s plural phrasing (with “they”), so that immediately makes you want to tack an S onto the end of the word. But it’s also such a short entry that a two-letter word plus S doesn’t seem to fit the clue.

So what comes in last? “End” would fit, if not for the plural phrasing. “P.S.” comes in last, but “P.S.’S” is really clunky, and I don’t recall ever seeing that pluralized.

So what were they looking for? XYZ. Ah. Alphabet entries. You’ll usually see entries like this centering around the first three letters (ABC) or a random string (“RST” seems to come up more often than most), and XYZ certainly fits the bill. But, in the end, it’s not a real entry, and it feels a little cheap, despite the decent wordplay involved in the cluing.

Grade: C-


So, what did I think of the Wealth Words “6 CHALLENGING CROSSWORD PUZZLE CLUES THAT WILL LEAVE YOU CLUELESS” challenge?

I thought it started off very strong with two clever, slippery clues that required you to play with the words and come at them from several angles before stumbling upon the correct solution, and I quite enjoyed those clues.

But the quiz took a real nose dive in quality starting with Clue #3, which had no wordplay at all. #4 and #5 relied heavily on being slangy non-standard verbiage rather than adept cluing or creative fill, and #6 was a bit of a cop-out, even if the cluing quality rebounded nicely.

All in all, I thought the specious entries outweighed the clever cluing on display early on, making for an underwhelming set of clues.

Final grade: C+.

What did you think of these group of challenging clues, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Did you enjoy them or find them wanting? Let us know in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you!


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A Coin Puzzle: My Two Cents (Plus 97 More)

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles recently shared the following brain teaser on their social media:

Naturally, we accepted the challenge.

Now, before we get started with this one, we have to add one detail: which coins we’re allowed to use. It’s safe to assume that pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters are available, but the question doesn’t say anything about half-dollar coins.

So we’re going to figure out the correct answer without half-dollar coins available, and then with half-dollar coins available.

Let’s begin.


[Image courtesy of How Stuff Works.]

The easiest way to get started is to figure out the smallest number of coins we need to make 99 cents, since that’s the highest number we need to be able to form. Once we have that info, we can work backwards and make sure all the other numbers are covered.

For 99 cents, you need 3 quarters, 2 dimes, and 4 pennies. That’s 25 + 25 + 25 + 10 + 10 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 99.

Right away, we know we’re close with these 9 coins.

You don’t need more than 3 quarters, for instance, because your possible totals are all below $1.

Now, let’s make sure we can form the numbers 1 through 24 with our chosen coins. (If we can, we’re done, because once we’ve covered 1 through 24, we can simply add one quarter or two quarters to cover 25 through 99.)

Our four pennies cover us for 1 through 4. But wait, there’s 5. And we can’t make 5 cents change with 4 pennies or 2 dimes. In fact, we can’t make 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9 cents change without a nickel.

So let’s add a nickel to our current coin count. That makes 3 quarters, 2 dimes, 1 nickel, and 4 pennies. (Why just 1 nickel? Well, we don’t need two, because that’s covered by a single dime.)

Our four pennies cover 1 through 4. Our nickel and four pennies cover 5 through 9. Our dime, nickel, and four pennies cover 1 through 19. And our two dimes, one nickel, and four pennies cover 1 through 29. (But, again, we only need them to cover 1 through 24, because at that point, our quarters become useful.)

That’s all 99 possibilities — 1 through 99 — covered by just ten coins.

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

But what about that half-dollar?

Well, we can apply the same thinking to a coin count with a half-dollar. For 99 cents, you need 1 half-dollar, 1 quarter, 2 dimes, and 4 pennies. That’s 50 + 25 + 10 + 10 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 99.

Now, we make sure we can form the numbers 1 through 49 with our chosen coins. (Once we can, we can simply add the half-dollar to cover 50 through 99.)

Once again, we quickly discover we need that single nickel to fill in the gaps.

Our four pennies cover 1 through 4. Our nickel and four pennies cover 5 through 9. Our dime, nickel, and four pennies cover 1 through 19. Our two dimes, one nickel, and four pennies cover 1 through 29. And our one quarter, two dimes, one nickel, and four pennies cover 1 through 54. (But, again, we only need them to cover 1 through 49, because at that point, our half-dollar becomes useful.)

That’s all 99 possibilities — 1 through 99 — covered by just nine coins.


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View a Clue: Crosswordese Answers!

Last week, we brought back one of our trickiest recurring features, the View a Clue game!

If you recall, we selected ten words that commonly show up in crossword grids — frequently and infamously enough that they’ve becomes crosswordese at this point —  to see if the PuzzleNation audience could identify them from pictures.

Without further ado, let’s get to it!


#1 (3 letters)

Answer: SST, aka supersonic transport

#2 (5 letters)

Answer: AERIE, a high nest for a bird of prey

#3 (3 letters)

Answer: TAW, a large marble used as a shooter

#4 (4 letters)

Answer: SERF, a medieval laborer bound to serving a feudal lord

#5 (5 letters)

Answer: AIOLI, mayonnaise flavored with garlic

#6 (4 letters)

Answer: YEGG, a safecracker

#7 (5 letters)

Answer: SABOT, a wooden shoe worn in European countries

#8 (4 letters)

Answer: OGEE, a pointed arch or molding in an S-shape

#9 (4 letters)

Answer: APSE, a semicircular vaulted area of a church

#10 (3 letters)

Answer: ELL, a building extension added at a right angle to the main building


How did you do? Let us know in the comments below!

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View a Clue: Crosswordese Edition!

Welcome to the latest edition of one of PuzzleNation Blog’s most visual features: the View a Clue game!

I’ve selected ten words that commonly show up in crossword grids — frequently and infamously enough that they’ve becomes crosswordese at this point — and I want to see if the PuzzleNation audience can identify them from pictures. It’s a visual puzzle I call View a Clue!

Without further ado, let’s give it a shot!


#1 (3 letters)

#2 (5 letters)

#3 (3 letters)

#4 (4 letters)

#5 (5 letters)

#6 (4 letters)

#7 (5 letters)

#8 (4 letters)

#9 (4 letters)

#10 (3 letters)


How many did you get? Let me know in the comments below! And if you have ideas for another View a Clue game, tell us below!

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Brain Teaser Week: Answers Edition!

Did you enjoy Brain Teaser Week, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? We certainly hope so! It was a fun experiment in dedicating an entire week to a particular type of puzzle.

We gave you three puzzles to challenge your deductive, mathematical, and puzzly skills, and now it’s time to break them down and explain them.


Tuesday’s Puzzle:

A set of football games is to be organized in a “round-robin” fashion, i.e., every participating team plays a match against every other team once and only once.

If 105 matches in total are played, how many teams participated?

If every team plays every other team once, you can easily begin charting the matches and keeping count. With 2 teams (Team A and Team B), there’s 1 match: AB. With 3 teams (A, B, and C), there are 3 matches: AB, AC, BC. With 4 teams (A, B, C, and D), there are 6 matches: AB, AC, AD, BC, BD, CD. With 5 teams (A, B, C, D, and E), there are 10 matches: AB, AC, AD, AE, BC, BD, BE, CD, CE, DE.

Now, we could continue onward, writing out all the matches until we reach 105, but if you notice, a pattern is forming. With every team added, the number of potential matches increases by one.

With one team, 0 matches. With two teams, 1 match. With three teams, 2 more matches (making 3). With four teams, 3 more matches (making 6). With five teams, 4 more matches (making 10).

So, following that pattern, 6 teams gives us 15, 7 teams gives us 21, and so on. A little simple addition tells us that 15 teams equals 105 matches.


Thursday’s Puzzle:

You want to send a valuable object to a friend securely. You have a box which can be fitted with multiple locks, and you have several locks and their corresponding keys. However, your friend does not have any keys to your locks, and if you send a key in an unlocked box, the key could be copied en route.

How can you and your friend send the object securely?

(Here’s the simplest answer we could come up with. You may very well have come up with alternatives.)

The trick is to remember that you’re not the only one who can put locks on this box.

Put the valuable object into the box, secure it with one of your locks, and send the box to your friend.

Next, have your friend attach one of his own locks and return it. When you receive it again, remove your lock and send it back. Now your friend can unlock his own lock and retrieve the object.

Voila!


Friday’s Puzzle:

The owner of a winery recently passed away. In his will, he left 21 barrels to his three sons. Seven of them are filled with wine, seven are half full, and seven are empty.

However, the wine and barrels must be split so that each son has the same number of full barrels, the same number of half-full barrels, and the same number of empty barrels.

Note that there are no measuring devices handy. How can the barrels and wine be evenly divided?

For starters, you know your end goal here: You need each set of barrels to be evenly divisible by 3 for everything to work out. And you have 21 barrels, which is divisible by 3. So you just need to move the wine around so make a pattern where each grouping (full, half-full, and empty) is also divisible by 3.

Here’s what you start with:

  • 7 full barrels
  • 7 half-full barrels
  • 7 empty barrels

Pour one of the half-full barrels into another half-full barrel. That gives you:

  • 8 full barrels
  • 5 half-full barrels
  • 8 empty barrels

If you notice, the full and empty barrels increase by one as the half-full barrels decrease by two. (Naturally, the total number of barrels doesn’t change.)

So let’s do it again. Pour one of the half-full barrels into another half-full barrel. That gives you:

  • 9 full barrels
  • 3 half-full barrels
  • 9 empty barrels

And each of those numbers is divisible by 3! Now, each son gets three full barrels, one half-full barrel, and three empty barrels.


How did you do, fellow puzzlers? Did you enjoy Brain Teaser Week? If you did, let us know and we’ll try again with another puzzle genre!

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The Conclusion of Brain Teaser Week!

It’s the third and final day of our celebration of all things brain-teasing, riddling, and word-tricky, and we’ve got one last devious challenge lined up for you.

Remember! On Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week, a different brain teaser or word problem will be posted, and it’s up to you to unravel them. Contact us with the correct answer — either here on the blog through the comments, or on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram through our messages — and you’ll be entered into a pool to win a prize!

And yes, you can enter more than once! Heck, if you solve Tuesday, Thursday, AND Friday’s puzzles, that’s three chances to win!

Let’s get started, shall we?


Here’s today’s brain teaser, which mixes the math of Tuesday’s puzzle with the deductive reasoning of Thursday’s puzzle:

The owner of a winery recently passed away. In his will, he left 21 barrels to his three sons. Seven of them are filled with wine, seven are half full, and seven are empty.

However, the wine and barrels must be split so that each son has the same number of full barrels, the same number of half-full barrels, and the same number of empty barrels.

Note that there are no measuring devices handy. How can the barrels and wine be evenly divided?


Good luck, fellow puzzlers! We’ll see you Tuesday with answers for all three brain teasers!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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