Friday, November 02, 2012

The Sound of Letters

Word Mechanics
Part Two

Context and familiarity are you enemies in this puzzling post on the sounds of letters. English is such a ridiculously complex language in terms of pronunciation that many puzzles rely on the way words are said to work.

Interestingly the riddle from the last post splits people down the middle; some people get it straight away while others find it a struggle. It's all about the way we understand words and letters; adding the initial letter to ENY changes the expected pronunciation. 

When solving certain types of puzzle your understanding of the structure and sound of words will be tested as much as your ability to analyse letter positions and frequencies. 

Here's an example of what I mean:

Give A Dog a Bone

How many four letter words can you name that end O-N-E.

Bone, Cone, Hone, Lone, Tone, Zone are nice easy examples that most people would get. Collect some bonus points if you managed to get Sone and Pone as well.

Done, Gone, None on the other hand are a bit more challenging as they ignore a rule of language most of us learn at primary school - 'magic e'.

As with any other strategy for puzzle solving it can be used against us, so never rely too much on just one tool. Just as when we looked at riddles and learned that puzzlers use obscure meanings of words; word puzzle setters will look for words that have an odd pronunciation; just like in 'An Accepted Truth'. Here's an example of the same sort of thing, you should be wise to what's going on here - which makes up for the fact that it's a slightly more obscure word.

The Man Who I Met At The Prom

Think of a four letter word which ends H-O-M.

There is only one example of that, and it should take you a bit longer to find than even the trickier examples from the previous puzzle. 

Of course in both of those puzzles I'm manipulating your most recent experience of the English language by using a certain pronunciation in the title. It's surprising how difficult it is to break out of a run of words with the same sound.

So in the puzzles to come always remember to use your understanding of language as one of your tools. Until next time, do keep puzzling.

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