Brain Workout

Challenging puzzles to sharpen your mind, improve your memory, and keep your brain fit.

Word Ladders Meet Anagrams

Take the word ladder challenge!

In a previous post, I dealt with word ladders, the puzzle genre invented by Lewis Carroll. As you might recall, you are given two words, with steps in between, as in a ladder. For example, there are three steps between LOVE and HATE.

LOVE
_________
_________
_________
HATE

You have to change just one letter at each step as you go from the top word to the bottom word. Each step must be a common English word. Proper names are not allowed. And you cannot change the order of the letters. Here's one possibility. First, change the "L" in LOVE to "c" to produce the word COVE. Then, change the "O" to "A" in COVE to produce the word CAVE. Now change "C" in CAVE to "H" to get HAVE. Finally, by changing the "V" in HAVE to "T" you will get the word HATE.

LOVE
cove
cave
have
HATE

In an even earlier blog, I dealt with anagrams-a word, phrase, or sentence made by rearranging the letters of another word, phrase, or sentence. The only rule in this case is that every letter must be used, with exactly the same number of occurrences as in the original word or phrase. For example, three anagrams of the word spate are paste, tapes, and peats.
Now, comes the interesting part: Can the two types be amalgamated to produce a double whammy puzzle? Lewis answered this query with a brilliant version of his own doublet puzzle in which you go from one step to the other either by introducing a new letter (as in the regular puzzle) or by rearranging the letters of the word (as in anagrams).

For example, here's how to go from HATE to VEIL in three steps. This puzzle was actually given to you in the previous blog. It is reiterated here solely for illustrative purposes: HATE-have (changing "T" to "V")-hive (changing "A" to "I")-live (changing "H" to "L")-VEIL (rearranging the letters of "LIVE").

Let's turn up the level a notch by making it a real double whammy with this rule: You must change a letter and then an anagram of the new word at each step. Let's do an illustrative puzzle.

MAKE
_________
_________
_________
FILE

For the first step, change the "K" to "L," which produces MALE. An appropriate anagram of MALE is LAME. So, the double procedure produces our first step:

MAKE
lame
_________
_________
FILE

For the second step, change the "M" in LAME to "V." This produces LAVE (to wash). An anagram of LAVE is VEAL. This is our second step:

MAKE
lame
veal
_________
FILE

Now change the "A" in VEAL to "I," producing VEIL, which in turn can be anagrammatized to LIVE. This is our third step:

MAKE
lame
veal
live
FILE

Finally, by changing the "V" in LIVE to "F," we will produce LIFE, which can then be anagrammatized to FILE. This type of puzzle can be made even harder if at each step you might have to do one or the other in no set order. That is, you might have to anagrammatize first and then change the letter (the reverse of what we have been doing so far). You will have to figure out on your own which procedure (letter change or anagram) comes first at each step.

Try your hand at these three puzzles. Each new word must not repeat any previous word in the ladder. These puzzles are, in my view, rather challenging, involving several psychological processes in tandem-semantic memory, knowledge of word structure, inference, and trial and error. By the way, I have never seen this kind of blending of two puzzle types in the puzzle literature. But I would certainly be interested in hearing from anyone who has.

1.

STOP
_________
_________
_________
RACE

2.

STEAM
_________
_________
_________
_________
SPEAR

3.
FEARS
_________
_________
_________
_________
RAKES

ANSWERS

The result of the first change (whether it be an anagram or a letter change) is shown in parentheses. The order of the procedures is indicated in italics. By the way, there may be other solutions of which I am unaware. Let me know if you come up with any.

1.
STOP
(pots) pets [order: anagram-letter change]
(peas) apes [order: letter change-anagram]
(aces) case [order: letter change-anagram]
(care) RACE [order: letter change-anagram]

2.
STEAM
(meats) means [order: anagram-letter change]
(names) tames [order: anagram-letter change]
(mates) males [order: anagram-letter change]
(mares) reams [order: letter change-anagram]
(reaps) SPEAR [order: letter change-anagram]

3.
FEARS
(tears) rates [order: letter change-anagram]
(mates) tames [order: letter change-anagram]
(tapes) paste [order: letter change-anagram]
(spate) skate [order: anagram-letter change]
(takes) RAKES [order: anagram-letter change]

 

Marcel Danesi, Ph.D., is a professor of semiotics and anthropology at Victoria College, University of Toronto. His books include The Puzzle Instinct and The Total Brain Workout.

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