Mental Floss

Weekend Word Wrap: cryptic puzzle no. 1

David K. Israel

As promised a couple weeks back, today we present Tom Toce's extremely clever and very challenging word puzzle composed mostly of cryptic clues and a few straight-up anagrams. If you're just joining the fun, check out my last two Word Wraps to get up to speed.

I'm going to turn the floor over to Tom Toce now, but before I do, let me just wish all of you luck in solving this. First person to figure out which three words fit in the diagram below and slap "˜em down in the comments, along with an explanation of how you arrived at the answer (including how you solved the cryptic clues!) gets a copy of the mental_floss book, Instant Knowledge. May the best Wordie win!


Check out the clues after the jump...

Below are five groups of clues. Solving them produces a six-letter word, a five-letter word, a four-letter word, and a three-letter word for each group. Within a group, the six-letter word comprises all five letters of the five-letter word, which comprises all four letters of the four-letter word, which—guess what?—comprises all three letters of the three-letter word.

For example, one group's clues might lead to BUTANE, BEAUT, TUBE, and BUT. The extraneous letters (i.e. the N from BUTANE "“ BEAUT, the A from BEAUT "“ TUBE, and the E from TUBE "“ BUT) go into the diagram above.

An anagram of the extraneous letters from group one fill the top row and make a new five-letter word. An anagram of the extraneous letters from group two will have one repeated letter. Delete the repeated letter, scramble, and make a new four-letter word for row two. An anagram of the extraneous letters from group three will have two repeated letters; delete them, scramble, and get a new three-letter word for row three.

Along with the N from the example above, the other 6-5 letters might be E-R-E-V, allowing you to make NEVER (NERVE, too, but never mind NERVE for now, the actual five letters can produce only one word). If the 5-4 letters were K-P-I-S-P, you could make SKIP by omitting the second P. And if the 4-3 letters were I-I-E-P-E, you could similarly make PIE and enter NEVER SKIP PIE into the diagram, for example.

Hint: The actual completed diagram will be another useful (mental) health tip. Another hint: Ignore punctuation, which is intended to mislead. Yet another hint: Well, ignore punctuation except if a clue has a final exclamation point (!), which by cryptic clue convention signals an "&Lit" type of clue. If you don't know what an &Lit clue is, you can still do okay, but you might want to review David's intro and follow a link or two. An incredible hint: because this is the first time a cryptic puzzle has appeared here: The answer to the first clue is "Els." If you don't see why, you probably need to review the general cryptic clue rules again.

THE CLUES Group A U. S. Open champ trains (3) A great offer to travel smoothly in the Sound (4) Mosh alert! At its core is soft rock (5) No good comes from halogens' eerie glows (6) Group B A tree grows in Belmar (3) The doctor, full of himself, said in Spanish, "Show your cards" (4) The top prize? Stick your nose in to the auditorium (5) One often in distress led Sam astray (6) Group C Berkowitz's father? Or Uncle? (3) Former giant department store! (4) Typical teacher's comment sounds pretty lurid (5) Contemptibly small and red (6) Group D Famous Norwegian golf position (3) Yodeling in the middle of Zabar's (4) Even characters in Neil's indies leave something out (5) Fielder runs out foul to foul (6) Group E That woman is Zeus's main squeeze, for the most part (3) Detect strains audibly at this position (4) A second note, alas, to the Germans is the most that can be accomplished (5) Guevara, man, said this might happen after a shot (6)

Check out all past Weekend Word Wraps here.