At the MIT Mystery Hunt, which begins this Friday, solvers will spend a lot of time staring at lists of words. Each list may seem like a random assortment (FLEMINGS, DOGHOUSE, READING, DUCHIES, UNSHORN…), but in fact each list has been carefully put together to be a puzzle. (Hey! You can change two letters in each word to make the name of a creature out of Lewis Carroll! FLAMINGO, DORMOUSE, RED KING, DUCHESS, UNICORN.) Once you figure out the key to each list, you’ll generally arrive at an answer word or phrase, which is always a huge and satisfying leap forward in the Hunt.

Below are five words. Just like in the Mystery Hunt, these five words are a puzzle. Unlike in the Mystery Hunt, however, these words were not carefully selected. Indeed, this random assortment really was chosen completely at random. I used a random number generator (this one, if you’re curious) and an abridged dictionary so we didn’t get anything too crazy.

Despite the fact that these words that do not belong together in any conceivable way, I’m going to ask you to pretend that these words comprise a puzzle… and solve it. That’s the game of Spaghetti.

Your five words:


You have the option of adding a sixth word to this list, of your choosing. Figure out the “solution” to these words and put it in the comments — along, of course, with your detailed explanation of why your solution is correct. Check back every so often to read the other solutions, because the winner will be determined by vote: If you enjoy a particular explanation, be sure to click the Like button. We’ll have a wrapup of the best answers tomorrow, along with one more game.

Happy solving! Or, well, maybe solving isn’t exactly the right word for this…

Update: Just to clarify, you can vote for as many or as few solutions as you wish, and you certainly don’t have to submit your own answer before voting for somebody else.

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  1. Posted January 12, 2015 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    For each of these words, there is a consecutive run of six letters in the alphabet for which the word contains the first and last letters in the run, plus at least one letter in-between (in cases where there is more than one option, such as in ACIDIFY, choose the run that contains the most letters).

    The subset of letters used in each run can be interpreted as Morse code, with a single letter representing a dot and a run of consecutive letters a dash:

    ACIDIFY = A.CD.F = .-. = R
    WHIMSICAL = HI..LM = — = M
    IMPROVE = M.OP.R = .-. = R
    MORROW = M.O..R = … = S
    NONPERSON = NOP.RS = — = M

    Despite the lack of vowels, these letters anagram to MR. & MRS., cluing the word SPOUSES, which has the same property as above, cluing one additional letter:

    SPOUSES = P..S.U = … = S

    Pronouncing the new word and letter together out loud gives the final answer ESPOUSES.

    As always, I sincerely hope this is not the sort of meta we will see this weekend.


  2. Andrew Greene
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    ACIDIFY provides an indexing mechanism. Taking the remaining words in length order (sorting lexically as a tie-breaker), you get


    Indexing from the ends of these words by the values of the letters ACIDI (1, 3, 9, 4, 9), you get WON IT.


  3. Andrew Greene
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Four of these words can be arranged in a chain, where there is a sequence of two or three letters that overlap. The middle two words are mirrored:

    forward MORROW
    reverse EVORPMI
    reverse LACISMIHW
    forward ACIDIFY

    Removing the letters that form the chain, and taking the first letters of what remains, you get MELD

    The remaining word, NONPERSON, combined with MELD, refers to the classic Star Trek episode The Devil in the Dark, giving the answer word HORTA


  4. Eric Berlin
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Now I want to create a puzzle hunt where the answer words can lead to two entirely different meta-answers, and which one you find first affects which puzzles you see in the next round. A “Choose Your Own Adventure” kind of puzzle hunt…


  5. James McTeague
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Each of the 5 words has two Is and/or Os. Sort by word length, ties broken by where the first I or O in the word. Then read down the Is and Os as 5 digit binary.

    00 MORROW
    10 IMPROVE
    11 ACIDIFY

    Reading the 5 digit binary gives the most important person – ME.


  6. Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Without looking at the others (which I’ve probably duplicated):
    We have prefixes/suffixes that either are there or could be there:
    acidIFY, whimsical(LY), IMprove, (TO)morrow, NONperson.
    We take the word that was not given (MISTLE), add the letters from the given affixes (IFYIMNON) and remove letters from the missing prefixes (LYTO), and anagram for FEMINISM.


  7. Dan Chall
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Still new to this, but:
    If you delete all possible sub-words, sequentially, from each word (valid TWL Scrabble plays, longest to shortest), you get

    WHIMSICAL -WHIMS -CAL -I (valid on the first move) = { }
    MORROW – MOR -ROW = {}

    Leaves YEN.


  8. Ken Stern / Cazique
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    With the sixth answer, COLOR GUARD, we have six part words each of which contains a common three-letter “crossword-ese” entry:


    Take those crosswordese entries and put them in alphabetical order:


    The last letters of the crosswordese, running up from bottom to top, spell the answer to the metapuzzle, CORGIS.


  9. Ange
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Each word contains a string of letters which, if you reverse it and add one letter, gives you the last name of an actor who has been in a movie with a punctuation mark in the title:

    K: ACIDIFY > DIC > DICK (Brian Dick, in “Eric & Ernie”)
    E: MORROW > ROM > ROME (Synde Rome, in “What?”)
    I: NONPERSON > PNON > PINON (Dominique Pinon, in “Sabotage!”)
    T: WHIMSICAL > SMIH > SMITH (Mike Smith, in “Trailer Park Boys: Live from F**kin Dublin”)
    E: IMPROVE > VOR > VORE (Mia Vore, in “Get Ca$h”)
    L: FIREBUG> GUBER > GUBLER (Matthew Gray Gubler, in “(500) Days of Summer”)

    So the answer is KEITEL (Harvey Keitel was in “The Path to 9/11”)


  10. Kevin West
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    We begin by removing the first 3 letters our initial words.

    Adding one letter to the remainders, we find:

    Those letters rearranged offer TAUPE

    When these functions are reversed, we find our 6th word:



  11. Posted January 12, 2015 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    I only can bow low before the awesomeness that its the entirety of this page.


  12. Posted January 12, 2015 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Put the six words in alphabetical order, and you get

    Take the first letter of the first word, the second of the second, etc., and you get


    Which is reordered into ARM PM.

    The Prime Minister who was most armed in WWII was:

    Winston Churchill.


  13. Posted January 12, 2015 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    First, string all the words together to form two rows of equal length:


    Note how all the “I”s are in one row, and all the “O”s are in the next– and that “IMPROVE” splits into two separate words, “IMP” and “ROVE”. Both of these are intentional clues to identify that you’re on the right path.

    What now? This is where the remaining word, VITA, comes in. Split that word in half as well, then position the two parts in the only way that will form two new valid words, VISION and TAMPON:


    Appropriately enough, these two words surround the answer, “CALIPERS”, in a way that looks just like the thing described!


  14. Posted January 12, 2015 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    When the answers are alphabetized:


    the first column gives AIM NW. So turn this entire grid so that its top is aimed northwest:

    F E N
    I V O L
    D O W S A
    I R O R C
    C P R E I
    A M R P S
    I O N M
    M O I
    N H

    Reading down to the W as before, we now get IR ROW. There is one row in the above that starts with IR; the rest of it is the answer, ORC.


  15. Posted January 12, 2015 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, here’s the second grid formatted (I hope) properly:



  16. Ken Stern / Cazique
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Codeman38’s suggestion is one of the best Spaghetti answers of all time. OF ALL TIME.


  17. Jeff Madsen
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    The answers (including the missing answer, IMMATURE) can be paired so that the first answer may have its first three letters replaced by a single letter to make a word related to the second answer. Alphabetically by first answer:

    ACIDIFY -> EDIFY, which means to IMPROVE
    IMMATURE -> NATURE, which might be WHIMSICAL
    MORROW -> DROW, a fictional race of NONPERSONs (literally and figuratively)

    The first letters in the changed answers spell out END, telling us to look at the ends of the words for the answer, YEW.


  18. Projectyl
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    If you imagine the six answers as descriptions of situations one might have to handle, they have a clear, unambiguous ranking from worst to best:

    ACIDIFY (Gyaaah! Definitely fatal.)
    NONPERSON (Kafkaesque. Chilling. Not fatal, though.)
    PIGSTY (Obviously not good, but surely better than those last two.)
    MORROW (Neutral. It’s just another day.)
    WHIMSICAL (Lighthearted, not unpleasant, but nothing really gained, unlike…)
    IMPROVE (The only one where you’re guaranteed to come out of the situation on top.)

    Now just check to see which column spells something out. It turns out it’s the third one, and the meta answer is IN GRIP, appropriate for a puzzle all about handling things.


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