Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Lost Puzzle

Word Mechanics
Part One

A mysterious but true story of a puzzle that disappeared into the æther awaits and we learn that Letter Frequencies are great for Anagrams many word puzzles require a little more subtlety.

Originally this post was going to be called; 'The Sound of Words' which sums up much more neatly what the piece is about. However, the last few days have been something of a whirlwind for a couple of reasons. Firstly I have made the transition from working on a Windows PC at work to an Apple Macbook; any spelling errors in todays post, I blame wholeheartedly on this fact. (There were many, but I have since proof-read!)

The second reason however, is what informed today's title.

Last week, the night before I wrote about Multigrams, I read a puzzle which I knew just had use to head up my section on phonetics. It was the perfect example of why letter frequencies and word analysis can only take us so far. Come the dawn of Monday I had forgotten all the key information in the puzzle and which book it was from - it says a lot about my interests that I was reading five separate puzzle books at the time.

On Monday I trawled the internet to see if the puzzle was referenced anywhere, and in the evening I skimmed several books, even some non-puzzle ones that I had been looking at previously, in a bid to find this mysterious lost puzzle.

Come Tuesday I was irate, my team and seniors at work trawling their minds to see if they had ever heard of it, but alas there was no joy. I went through the books again on Tuesday but the books were bare, at least of the puzzle I wanted - maybe I had dreamed the puzzle - or more likely misread one.

A not uncommon sight in the world of the puzzle setter.
Wednesday was new computer day so I had a whole raft of new things to remember, and tonight, Thursday, I resigned myself to writing 'The Sound of Words' post without that star puzzle. I wrote two original puzzles on a similar theme and started to fit the first half of the post around them. I needed to check my answers so visited a crossword solving website, then to make sure I wasn't using a puzzle someone else had already come up with so I googled - 'puzzle what four letter word ends'.

And there was the answer to the lost puzzle, right before my eyes. Behind the link to the site was the puzzle itself, elation, I could finally write the post I wanted to write in the first place. I have to give my thanks to without whom this post would never have been written.  Interestingly the puzzle was on a page about the The GRY puzzle from my very first post. We certainly wouldn't get caught out by a puzzle like that any more, would we?

It's true that working with letter frequencies can really help with word puzzles of a certain type, but as Terry Pratchett says in the Discworld novels.

"Every probability curve must have it's far end"

That is to say that every puzzle setter will collect words that do not follow basic frequency rules. Next time you play hangman, try 'strengths' as a nice vowel to consonant ratio word. Pizazz is always worth a play if you can keep your opponent from going for the 'Z'.

For those of you from an English speaking country however, you have one further tool in the world of word puzzles that you've been developing for most of your life. You might not be aware of it, but after many years of speaking English - or any other language for that matter - you become intrinsically aware of how the different parts of that language fit together. 

Here then, is the puzzle in all its glory; the puzzle that will set up our next discussion on phonetics. No matter how frustrating it gets, please don't google the answer - I promise the feeling of glee when you get it will be worth it.

An Accepted Truth

There are many words in the English language that end with the three letters E N Y. Some are of course more obscure than others. Larceny and Progeny are not all that uncommon while Homogeny is a bit rarer The much teenier Teeny is probably quite common in a certain age group.

However, the most common word ending ENY is shorter still, at just four letters long. Your task is to add one letter to the start of -eny to give that four letter word.

No tricks, no underhandedness, a really common word that makes a great point about phonetics in puzzle solving.

Good Luck

photo credit: anchylosaurus via photopin cc

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