Another helping of Spaghetti

Thousands of puzzlers around the country are vibrating in excitement: This Friday, the MIT Mystery Hunt kicks off! Many of us will soon be locked away in uncomfortable classrooms, staring at insane puzzles with no instructions, fighting off exhaustion and trying to have the flash of insight that will turn us, momentarily, into puzzling heroes. For a certain kind of person — and I am one of them — it is one of the highlights of the year.

Like many puzzle hunts, the key to winning is in solving not just the puzzles but the “metapuzzles” — you take all the answers to the various puzzles, do some wordplay magic, and come up with the secret word that will unlock the next round in the hunt.

In preparation for the Hunt, I’ve created a few practice metapuzzles for my team to solve. I’ll post those next week. But as we have learned in the past, some puzzlers are so amazing at solving “metas” that they can do it even when there is no puzzle to solve. You can toss out a few randomly chosen words, and these people will transform those words into a metapuzzle, which they will then solve. It shouldn’t be possible, but somehow, it is.

That’s the game of Spaghetti in a nutshell: I provide you with some words, randomly selected from an abridged dictionary. (The 60K-word New Merriam-Webster Dictionary.) You pretend those words are part of a well-crafted metapuzzle, and you try to solve it. Or, if you can’t figure out a “solution,” you can read other peoples’ attempts, and vote for the ones you like best. (You can vote more than once.)

As a warmup to this year’s Mystery Hunt, we’ll be playing Spaghetti over the next three days. So remove your brain from your head, twist it into a pretzel, but it back inside your skull, and come up with a meta-answer that makes use of the following five words:


Good luck!

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  1. Andrew Greene
    Posted January 14, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Alphabetizing and taking the first letter gives ADFIX. The only adfix in these words is in-. That leads to infix, and there’s only one of those in English, but it’s not suitable for a family-friendly blog. Nevertheless, that’s my a-____-mazing answer.


  2. Kevin West
    Posted January 14, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Four of the words have a pattern where there are 2 letters between letters or ounds that are the same: A-ur-A, forTH-wi-TH… These pair up as A-TH-O-I and UR-TH-PH-ND.
    FORTHWITH suggests taking the 4th pair, WITH the leftover word DWARF, giving us DWARF PHO.
    The answer is clearly A Cup (not a bowl) of Pho.


  3. JanglerNPL
    Posted January 14, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    All the answers start with a car minus a letter:


    All except DWARF, that is. The added letters can be rearranged to spell DOCK, but “dwarf” tells us that the actual answer is its homonym, DOC.


  4. Posted January 14, 2013 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    This one’s more of a My First Meta, isn’t it? Just sound out the first syllables:

    aur forth xen in dwarf = R, fourth seen in “dwarf”

    The answer is R. Too easy, Eric, too easy.


  5. Debbie Kupfer
    Posted January 14, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    How about – all words that can be used in a synopsis of The Hobbit :)


  6. DenisMoskowitz
    Posted January 14, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    DWARF is clearly some sort of final clue. The first four all contain exactly one standard constellation abbreviation: AURiga, FORnax, OPHiuchus, INDus. Using the positions of the abbreviations as an index into the full constellation name gives AFII. A Caesar shift of 3 gives us DILL (3 for this week’s 3 days of Spaghetti). Bringing DWARF back in, Dwarf Dill is also known as FERNLEAF which is our answer.


  7. Posted January 14, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Eric: are you sure AURA isn’t RURAL? That would make a much better meta … :)

    (posted at elevenses)


  8. Posted January 14, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    The first four of the five words start with a chemical symbol:

    AURA = Au = 79
    FORTHWITH = F = 9
    XENOPHOBIA = Xe = 54
    INDISTINCT = In = 49

    That leaves “DWARF”, which we’ll get back to later.

    If we rearrange the words in order of their respective elements’ atomic numbers, we get:


    Notice that there’s clearly a pattern forming in the first two columns: FIXA_ ONEU_. “ONEU_” looks like it could be filled with a “P” to make “one up”. What’s the only element with a “p” as the second letter of its symbol? Neptunium (Np), which fills in the blanks to make “FIXAN ONEUP”.

    Clearly, we’re not done yet– we have to fix the answer by “one-upping” it. Immediately after neptunium on the periodic table is plutonium. This is where “dwarf” comes in–remember how that element’s namesake is now considered a dwarf planet? Clearly, the “dwarf” that remains has to be PLUTO.


  9. Joseph DeVincentis
    Posted January 14, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Start with a word defined by aura, that is, ETHERS.
    Then, for TH, substitute WITH, making EWITHERS.
    Due to xenophobia, get rid of E and T, leaving WIHERS.
    Make the word indistinct by rearranging its letters to spell SHIWER.
    Finally, dwarf it by shrinking the W down to a V, leaving the final answer, SHIVER.


  10. Posted January 14, 2013 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Each of four words contains a different valid spelling for the “oar” sound, starting at a different position in the word:

    XEN[OP]HOBIA (valid if all the letters in the word are read as *Greek* letters).

    Following this pattern, the next word should consist of yet another spelling for the “oar” sound, preceded by four letters, and followed by one. The remaining word, INDISTINCT, provides a clue; there is a word fitting the criteria that, meaningwise, is maximally DISTINCT from IN, namely OUTDOORS.


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