Introducing “Plate of Spaghetti”

…or quite possibly just “Spaghetti.”

Some years ago, I wrote an article about puzzles. I think this when I still writing for Internet World magazine. If I remember correctly, over the course of this article I tried to explain the concept of metapuzzles. (God knows why. Probably to pad the word count.) Metapuzzles are formed from the answers to other puzzles — they are a staple of large-scale puzzle events like the MIT Mystery Hunt. Slowly, the puzzle answers for a particular round get filled in on the blackboard. Eventually, somebody (not me) looks at those answers and notices: hey! If you change one letter in each answer, you’ll have a list of presidential middle names! And then you use that esoteric observation to find your way to the metapuzzle’s intended answer.

In the article, I extolled the amazing ability certain people had of solving metapuzzles — of making connections between words that ordinary people would simply never see. I said something along the lines of, “Some of my puzzle friends can find a meta-answer in a plate of spaghetti.”

Last week on my Facebook wall, this notion was put to the test.

It started off as a practical joke that I wasn’t quite brave enough to play: I was going to post a bunch of random words, claim they had something very clever in common, and then sit back and watch people tear their hair out trying to figure out the puzzle. After describing the unplayed joke, someone suggested we try it after all: Throw up some words and see if people can nonetheless figure out a common thread between them. I was skeptical, but what the heck.

I assumed the best that would happen is that someone would find some mildly interesting wordplay connection. I did NOT expect anybody to turn the randomly chosen words into a metapuzzle. That would be like… well, like finding a puzzle in a plate of spaghetti.

On the first day, these were the words:

NATURAL GAS
BOTTOM
DOBERMAN PINSCHER
MUSKETRY
CARDAMOM

Perhaps you can understand how I was skeptical that this could possibly go anywhere.

But Todd Etter found not just a common thread but an actual meta-answer in these random words. He wrote:

The answer is GEORGIA. There’s a word at the end of each of your words that’s pronounced differently than the context of the word: AS, TOM, CHER, TRY, MOM. Rearrange these to get TRY CHER MOM AS TOM. Clearly TOM refers to Tom Riddle from Harry Potter. So, you’re telling us to try Cher’s mom as the answer to your riddle. Cher’s mom is Georgia Holt. So, I’m going with GEORGIA, anticipating that every answer in this round will be a person’s name that’s also a country/state. Nice!

I was flabbergasted. Yeah, the whole “Tom Riddle from Harry Potter” thing is a little stretchy, but good heavens — the words were CHOSEN AT RANDOM, and yet Todd found a perfectly lucid way of extracting a meta-answer from them.

So I posted a new set of words the next day, and the results were even more amazing. Here are the words:

SULFATE
SKILLFUL
PROPANE
FUME
RAMBUNCTIOUS

This time the best answer came from Jeffrey Harris:

Ooh, I got it. The key is to realize that FUME is not only part of the meta, it’s the key to the whole meta. If you just consider which letters in each entry are in FUME, you get the patterns…

.#.#..#
…..##.
……#
####
and ..#.#…..#.

Now, interpreting one # as “short” and two consecutive #s as “long”, this spells STEMS in Morse code.

Can you freaking believe that?

So now, after just two days, I’ve become convinced that one or another word genius out there can perform miracles with ANY set of five randomly chosen words. And we’re going to continue this experiment right here on this blog.

Each weekday sometime in the late morning — not forever, but for a while — I’m going to post a set of random words in this space. You do NOT have to turn them into a metapuzzle. Any interesting common thread you happen to notice can be posted in the comments. But if you can turn the words into a metapuzzle and extract an answer, I’m sure everyone here is going to want to see how you did it.

I’ve installed a new WordPress plug-in that lets you “Like” comments. If you enjoy or are amazed by a particular response to a bunch of Spaghetti words, go ahead and push the Like button. (You can Like more than one comment. This isn’t a state election we’re running here.) We’ll see who gets the most Likes in a given day. This person will win… absolutely nothing, except maybe a little additional cred among wordplay geeks.

The first round of Spaghetti will go up tomorrow. I’m looking forward to being astonished at the results.

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7 Comments

  1. Ken / Cazique / SternK
    Posted September 30, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    I’d think you’d have learned by now not to be surprised by anything wordplay related that starts with (nay, even involves) Todd Etter or Jeffrey Harris.

       3 likes

  2. Posted September 30, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    “Heisenpuzzles”?

       0 likes

  3. Kevin West
    Posted September 30, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Eric,
    I am enjoying this! Good call on throwing it out there.
    Do you mind if I post this on FB? I know there will be crossover, but some of my other friends might be interested. I wouldn’t want your “Comments” to explode…

       0 likes

  4. Eric Berlin
    Posted September 30, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    Feel free to spread the word as wide as you want. The more the merrier.

       0 likes

  5. Posted September 30, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s a mistake not to do this on Facebook.

       0 likes

  6. Eric Berlin
    Posted September 30, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Why so?

       0 likes

  7. Kevin west
    Posted October 1, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I think here is a good plan. Spaghetti wouldn’t get lost in the ever-flowing stream that is FB.

       0 likes

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