10 Classic Word Puzzles to Challenge Your Verbal Brain
... and why we're as much Homo Ludens as we are Homo Sapiens.
Posted February 13, 2017
The variety of word puzzles, many dating back to antiquity, is truly mind-boggling—riddles, anagrams, acrostics, and so on and so forth. Puzzles based on language are truly universal, revealing how the “verbal imagination” works. As a species, we have been dubbed Homo sapiens—the sapient species. But we are as much Homo ludens (the game-player), as cultural theorist Johan Huizinga characterized our species in 1938. Indeed, Huizinga’s argument is that game-playing is a basic characteristic of sapience and essential to human civilization.
It is hard to argue against such a theory, given the invention of so many genres of puzzles throughout human history. Word puzzles in particular have constituted a vast repertoire of mental game-playing activities since the Riddle of the Sphinx—possibly the first documented language puzzle.
In this post, I present 10 “Change-A-Letter” word puzzles, a genre that has been presented under different names at different times in other puzzle collections. In my view, these challenges bring out a fascinating aspect of the verbal brain—its need to connect form and meaning. While this topic is an ancient philosophical one, it is my view that a simple puzzle genre can reveal as much, if not more, than a sophisticated theoretical disquisition.
Let’s do a model puzzle together: Change one letter in a five-letter word that means “frighten” to get a word that means “gaze” or “gape.” (Note that you are not provided the initial word.) The solution? Change the C in SCARE (“frighten”) to T to get STARE (“gaze” or “gape”). That’s all there is to it.
As in previous posts, you might come up with different answers to the ones I have provided. These types of puzzles tend to be open-ended rather than closed, in contrast, for example, to a Sudoku puzzle that has only one solution. I would love to hear from you if you come up with different answers. Have fun!
1. Change one letter in a four-letter word that refers to a “small round mark or stain” to get a colloquial word for “saliva.”
2. Change one letter in a five-letter word that means “to move something from one place to another” to get a word that refers to a delicious dish cooked in “an Indian-style spicy sauce.”
3. Change one letter in a six-letter word meaning “excessive self-adulation” to get a word that means “sound mental health.”
4. Change one letter in a five-letter word referring to a “hand tool” to get a word meaning “oddly amusing.”
5. Change one letter in a five-letter word meaning “supporting structure” to get a word meaning “blaze.”
6. Change one letter in a seven-letter word referring to an “adult male domestic fowl” to get a word meaning “supporter.”
7. Change one letter in a five-letter word meaning “commence” to get a word meaning “bright, clever.”
8. Change one letter in a four-letter word referring to a color to get a word referring to a musical genre.
9. Change one letter in a four-letter word meaning “succor” to get a word meaning “cry sharply.”
10. Change one letter in a five-letter word meaning “chubby” to get a word meaning “feather.”
Answers below ....