Thursday, September 06, 2012

NPR Sunday Puzzle (Sep 2, 2012): Autumn Leaves

Beech Leaves on Black Glass, Elsa Blaine@FlickrNPR Sunday Puzzle (Sep 2, 2012): Autumn Leaves:
Q: It's an anagram word ladder. For example, take the word "spring." If the last letter is changed to an "o" and the result is rearranged, you get "prison." Or, instead, if the last letter is changed to an "e" and the result rearranged, you get "sniper." Or change the last letter to an "a" and get "sprain," and so on. For this challenge, start with the word "autumn." Changing one letter at a time, and anagramming it each step of the way, turn "autumn" into "leaves." Each step has to be a common word. In how few steps can you do it?
I know Will frowns on capitalized or plural words, so I initially looked for an ideal answer without any plurals (except for leaves). As luck would have it, that forced me to use "vestal" or "teasel" which seemed worse than using plurals so I relaxed that restriction. There are multiple answers, but I believe only one acceptable length.

Edit: My clue was intended to hint (but not give away) that there is an ideal 5-step* answer. The word "luck" hinted at amulet being required in most of the common 5-step chains. *In my terminology a step is when you go from one word to the next.
A: The following chain is 5 steps and uses common words. Your answer may be different.
AUTUMN (remove N, add L)
MUTUAL (remove U, add E)
AMULET (remove M, add S)
SALUTE (remove T, add V)
VALUES (remove U, add E)
LEAVES

131 comments:

  1. Here's my standard reminder... don't post the answer or any hints that could lead directly to the answer (e.g. via Google or Bing) before the deadline of Thursday at 3pm ET. If you know the answer, click the link and submit it to NPR, but don't give it away here.

    You may provide indirect hints to the answer to show you know it, but make sure they don't give the answer away. You can openly discuss your hints and the answer after the Thursday deadline. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Blaine:

      Had I submitted your above hint, it would have been stricken!

      Delete
  2. ‘Twas a curious day, an Autumn afternoon that no one suspected would come to anything. Well, out of the blue comes this ghastly creature who provokes the guards at the castle gate by exposing his backside and releasing something quite horrible. When the desert despot catches wind of this, he leaps into action. He and several of his attendants rush to the castle entrance waving their arms frantically and making silly faces. The creature, looking for something a bit more contentious, shrugs and leaves. Very curious, indeed.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That *is* the crux of the puzzle, though.

      Delete
    2. Help! Blaine! I keep trying to participate in your awesome blog, but it seems every time I submit a clever, well-thought-out, humorous, non-revealing hint, some guy named "Administrator" removes it. He's ruining it for everyone! Isn't there some way you can block this fellow from your site? It would certainly make things more interesting.

      Delete
  4. In both of Will's examples, the LAST letter is changed before anagramming. Do you believe this is a requirement for this puzzle? I.e., must the second word in the ladder contain the letters A, U, T, U, and M, (with one more, of course)?

    ReplyDelete
  5. A tip of the hat to Will for this one. I’m sure there’ll be no communal grousing about it being too easy by our little community here.

    Chuck

    ReplyDelete
  6. These puzzles are labor day of love.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I need a vet. I just found a sick hippy tiger in my boat tank

    ReplyDelete
  8. In autumn, my out of control sorrow serves as an impenetrable cover, but rising above it all leaves me peaceful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Poetry is poetry; rough drafts are rough drafts....duh!

      Delete
    2. Janice ~
      Just remember, "Those who would discourage your dreams have most likely given up on their own."

      My wives and I thoroughly enjoyed your poetry with its Zen-like simplicity. Keep up the good work!

      ABQGUERRILLA
      Provo, Utah

      Delete
  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Blaine, how did Janice Designs manage to completely obliterate her previous post, while AbqGuerrilla's stub remains?
    I only ask because, as you're probably aware, I have a post I might not mind completely obliterating.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not understanding the question. I see a comment by Janice Designs and a reply by AbqGuerrilla.

      Delete
  11. Alas, I now realize my above post was too long winded.

    Everyone appreciates hard work and we should commend Blaine on a tough job well done. He works hard for our shared enjoyment and I for one feel it was a fine piece of luck to stumble upon this site.

    We all get administratored from time to time.

    Keep up the good work, Blaine!

    ReplyDelete
  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
  13. Alas, my answer looks very long....

    ReplyDelete
  14. It may seem arbitrary, but I would prefer that there be no mention of the exact number of steps required. I will continue deleting any posts that ask for this number or provide this number.

    In fact, if you just look at the puzzle as worded, all that Will is asking for is the number of steps, though I think he intends for the answer to include the words used. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, based upon the administrator's choice of blog entries for deletion, we kinda figured that out. Despite Will's ambiguous wording, I agree with Blaine that it is highly unlikely he would settle for the number of steps without any mention of the actual words used to achieve the transition. I still think that divulging the number of steps is a trivial matter and seriously thought about leaving the blog in protest, however after scouring the web, I was unable to find a __-Step Program that would see me through my cold turkey puzzle-blog withdrawal phase. So I guess I'll hang my tears out to dry...

      Delete
    2. Wow, that's a really good point, Blaine! Will also says on air that "your answer doesn't have to match mine." So technically we could submit any integer and it would have to be considered correct!

      Delete
    3. Will said he would accept the answer with the fewest steps, but that it didn't have to match his. I understood that you had to have the correct number of steps (previously unstated and for people to determine) and solutions with a higher number of steps wouldn't be considered winners.

      Delete
  15. My tiger has escaped and is now wearing bling and driving fancy cars.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Does he wave to the guy who parks those cars for him when he goes out to restaurants?

      Delete
  16. I'm going to respectfully disagree with you, Blaine, on what the puzzle is asking. As all roads lead to Rome, there are many ways to get a specific number of steps from one word to another. The number of steps is meaningless if one does not provide the path those steps take. The tools I used to find an answer are freely available to all others. I believe the puzzle is asking for the words used to get from Autumn to Leaves, not necessarily the number of words.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If I can make it in 42 steps and you can make it in 15 steps, I say that your answer will be chosen over mine. So if you can say with certainty you have the optimal solution at 15 steps then you have told everyone with more than 15 steps to throw out their answer and keep working. Hence I still think that giving away the number of steps in your solution gives away information.

      Delete
    2. In reading the puzzle carefully, I believe Mr. Shortz implied the optimal number in his wording. I took that number and worked my answer out from there. The one thing left vague by the wording is whether the initial and terminal words (Autumn and Leaves) count as steps, or just the intermediate words. Hence, the number could vary by as much as two. Therefore, I believe the words taken from the beginning to end count more than the actual word count. That is why I put my word path in my answer, and not the word count.

      Delete
    3. I give up. Apparently everyone is willing to give away the fact that it *can* be done in the optimal number of steps (call it 5). I was going to be a little more circumspect since I think some people are working on higher counts. In any case, if you haven't found an optimal solution, you have a new challenge.

      Delete
  17. How about this? There are six letters in the starting and target words, with one letter in common. The optimal answer would take five steps (four different words between "autumn" and "leaves"), replacing one of the five not in common letters in "autumn" with one of the five not in common letters in "leaves". It is possible that there is no optimal answer.

    ReplyDelete
  18. What's wrong with "vestal"? Or "valets"? Anyway, together we could provide flowery medals as a tribute to our troops. Does anyone else have these words?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I got those words at one point....and I think they work. However, in my final answer, I didn't use them because the ensuing words weren't that common. I hope Will says how many unique "right" answers were submitted.

      P.S. I deleted my first comment because it reflected a mistake I had made.

      Delete
    2. I understand why Blaine gave the examples he did but why did you add the second word? I think people should determine for themselves whether a word is considered common or not and not give away too much. Blaine, I have to agree with David that if you are only changing one letter at a time that would dictate a set number of steps unless I am missing something and you can change two at a time.

      Delete
  19. I finally got it in the fewest possible steps, but as is so often the case one of the words is not as common as it once was, or anagramed differently it is a fairly new word. Also a rather suspect third word might even be accepted.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I think all the words are common or valid, more common than many words in a crossword puzzle. The third word may be rarely used, but is clearly a word. And there are two possibilities on the fifth word, as I pointed out, perhaps giving away too much.

    Isn't this puzzle a little early, anyway?

    ReplyDelete
  21. So here is a weird thought, what if Jan is right and you only change the last letter and use all kinds of letters to get back to leaves. Has anyone tried that? That would certainly take more steps than we seemed to be discussing here. If I only stuck to the letters included between the two words that did not work each time (although I did let my tiger go).

    ReplyDelete
  22. Question: would changing the both u's in autumn two letters that are the same--for example u,u to b,b--count as one step or two steps?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A joke right, similar to: Is it a girl or a boy? Answer: yes!

      Delete
  23. This reminds me of the TV game show "Name That Tune", where two contestants squared off against each otherto see who could name a tune after hearing the fewest number of notes. The contestants bid downward against each other starting with 7 notes ("I can name that tune in 7 notes") then bidding downward ("I can name that tune in 6 notes", "I can name that tune in 5 notes", etc.) until one contestant stopped the bidding with the challenge to his/her opponent (said in a somewhat sneering and sarcastic way) "Name that tune."

    With regard to Will's current challenge, I got an answer, but of course, I'm not going to divulge how many "notes" I used to "Name that tune." However, I ran across some interesting words along the way--as I'm sure we all have. To use the title of a feature in the Reader's Digest "It pays to increase your word power."

    This would be an interesting puzzle if proper nouns were allowed, as well as requiring double letters (i.e., the 2 "u"'s in AUTUMN) to be simultaneously changed to the same letter (i.e., change the 2 "u"'s to 2 "a"'s, etc.) In coming up with words, it wasn't too difficult to eventually encounter a proper noun, but of course, I scratched that possibility.

    Enjoy your Labor Day holiday as you labor over this puzzle!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Be careful because those two ewes are ram tough.

      Delete
    2. Them EWES may be ram tough, but if you work backward from "leaves" the EASE can be replaced with minimal difficulty.

      Delete
    3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
    4. @EKW,

      Please save that specific discussion for after the deadline.

      Delete
  24. Check out the "Ask Marilyn" column in Parade magazine from one week ago (08/26/12) where Marilyn answers a reader's question why do we like puzzles:

    http://www.parade.com/askmarilyn/2012/08/26-sunday-column.html

    Enjoy!

    LMP

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I read it, but I'm far more interested in why we (and I don't include myself) like Ask Marylyn.

      Delete
    2. That's a great question, Blaine! Let's ask Marylyn.

      Delete
  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I see you beat Blaine to it this time. -:)

      Delete
    2. Yes. With the possible exceptions of my wife and the judicial system, I am my harshest critic. )-:

      Delete
  26. OK, maybe it's me, but I had no problem with this week's puzzle. I found it easier to work backwards, if that helps.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I tried working backwards too, but I found it a bit annoying having to read my computer screen via a mirror.

      Delete
    2. .TI FO GANH EHT TEG UOY ECNO TLUCIFFID TAHT LLA TON YLLAER S'TI

      Delete
    3. Yes, and that reminds me of Saddam Husein. All most of us remember about him is how cruel and awful he was, but consider this. He was the head of his country for about thirty years and it was only at the very last that he finally got the hang of it.

      Delete
    4. I forgot to point out that you should have used spell check because you spelled GNAH incorrectly. :)

      Delete
    5. Of course, one could further the positive spin on a nefarious tyrant's demise and call it a "suspended sentence." As for the spelling error, my wife beat you to it. Like I said, "my harshest critic." ;-)

      Delete
    6. After the suspended sentence was dropped, they might have used the left overs as a pinata. I don't know if they did this, but you have to agree that it would put a different spin on it.

      Delete
  27. I believe there are 3 answers which are acceptable, and easily arrived at.

    The teasel/vestal isn't one, nor is the one including unseat/senate no matter how desirable/undesirable.

    How many angels could dance on the head of a pin?

    ReplyDelete
  28. Speaking of the commonness of words, I found this great web site called Wordcount (http://www.wordcount.org/main.php). It has an archive of 86,800 English words and ranks them in order of their relative use or commonness. For example, the most common word (rank #1) is the, followed by of, and, to, a, in, that, it, is, was, etc.

    Using Wordcount I ranked all the words in this week’s puzzle. While one of the words is well outside the ranks of the others, and another word is somewhat outside the ranks of the others, overall the median rank is 3,248. So I’d say this group of words is fairly common.

    Also, a musical clue:
    Tea for two and two for tea
    Me for you and you for me

    Chuck

    ReplyDelete
  29. Tommy Boy - I had fun working with your story which works if I leave out one possible clue. TAUNTS works, but I can't make FLOUTS get me to the top.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. I started out with 6 in between words and realized I only needed 5.

      Delete
  30. I got my anagram packing a small bag to go backwards from leaves to autumn. Tommy Boy (Taunts did work going forward).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm guessing that just losing the bag and doing nothing else would lighten the load.

      Delete
  31. Today, as the seasons change, I went to the horse races with my lucky rabbits foot, and my hat went off to the 20-1 winner which made my day so I went home.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is the first hint I've understood this week, and it matches the answer I got (which did involve changing letters other than the last ones in some words).

      Delete
    2. I think the answer is five, and that submitting your logic is like answering an algebra problem. Show me how you got there. (I looked at Martha Brainiacs homework?)

      Delete
  32. I found my tiger again. This time he lost an election and is very contemplative.

    ReplyDelete
  33. It's Wednesday and I actually have the puzzle ready. Can you believe it?

    Come fly with me

    ReplyDelete
  34. I have found 70 distinct answers to this puzzle, each of five steps.

    ReplyDelete
  35. The ladder requires a total of six rungs or steps with the first and last steps provided. We are challenged to discover the four missing steps to complete the ladder.

    Here are a few solutions I found.

    AUTUMN
    MUTUAL or UMLAUT
    AMULET
    SALUTE
    VALUES
    LEAVES


    AUTUMN
    MUTUAL or UMLAUT
    AMULET
    METALS or LAMEST
    VESTAL
    LEAVES


    AUTUMN
    UNTAME or UNTEAM or UNMATE or UNMEAT
    MENTAL or LAMENT
    ENAMEL
    MEASLE
    LEAVES


    NOTE: I'm having trouble understanding why some here are not accepting of VESTAL as being a common word. While I fully agree that vestal virgins are in rather short supply, I have come in contact with this word throughout my life. And since Will seems unclear as to what constitutes a syllable, as recently demonstrated, common seems a bit nebulous.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I matched skydiveboy's second above, with UMLAUT and METALS. I did not submit:

      AUTUMN
      UNTAME
      UNSEAT
      UNSEAL
      NAVELS
      LEAVES

      because I tried to avoid "UN-"s and plurals. Also, I think "untame" is problematic, but better than "unmate" (divorce?) or "unmeat" (tofu?).

      Delete
    2. Perhaps it's because Vestal a proper name? Though I'm not sure whether that actually has any bearing on its validity here, since "common" was the only qualifier the PM gave us...

      Delete
    3. Vesta is a proper name, but vestal is not. It means chaste.

      Delete
  36. Here is one answer.

    Five steps. Start with "autumn".
    1. Change n to l and rearrange to get "mutual".
    2. Change u to e and rearrange to get "amulet".
    3. Change u to s and rearrange to get "metals".
    4. Change m to v and rearrange to get "valets".
    5. Change t to e and rearrange to get "leaves".

    ReplyDelete
  37. autumn, mutual, ?
    autumn, mutant, ?
    leaves, vestal, metals, amulet, aha!, mutate...six
    autumn = leaves = 5+1
    *************************
    "releasing something quite horrible"; "vestal... seemed worse"; AbqG&wife got it in 5.....
    **************************************
    Oh, right; autumn, mutual, amulet, metals, valets, leaves
    ***********************
    yada, yada, yada
    **********************
    autumn, mutual, amulet, salute , values, leaves

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I read Blaine's edit after submitting the comment above, and, yes, I know I have no way of provong that.

      Delete
  38. Mutual
    Amulet
    Salute
    VESTAL (WHICH BLAINE CLEARLY GAVE AWAY IN HIS HINT)
    leaves

    ReplyDelete
  39. Everyone appreciates (values) hard work and we should commend (salute) Blaine on a tough job well done. He works hard for our shared (mutual)enjoyment and I for one feel it was a fine piece of luck (amulet) to stumble upon this site.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. With that said, there shouldn't be a double standard!

      Delete
  40. Poetry's poetry; stamp collecting is pointless.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Anagrams of these words omitted.
    Does their use count as a different chain?

    1. AUTUMN> MUTUAL,UNTAME*

    2. MUTUAL> AMULET
    2. UNTAME> AMULET,UNSEAT

    3. AMULET> SALUTE,LAMEST
    3. UNSEAT> SALUTE,SENATE

    4. SALUTE> ELATES,VALETS**,VALUES**
    4. LAMEST> MEASLE
    4. SENATE> ELATES

    5. ELATES> LEAVES
    5. VALUES> LEAVES
    5. VALETS> LEAVES
    5. MEASLE> LEAVES

    * Rare UNTAME (adj), not tame. UNTEAM (verb), unyoke draft animals.
    ** The verb

    ReplyDelete
  42. Six rungs, five steps:

    AUTUMN
    1. MUTUAL (substituting an L for the N)
    2. AMULET (substituting an E for the U)
    3. SALUTE (substituting an S for the M)
    4. VALUES (substituting a V for the T)
    5. LEAVES (substituting an E for the U)

    Last Sunday I said, “A tip of the hat to Will for this one. I’m sure there’ll be no communal grousing about it being too easy by our little community here.” “A tip of the hat” is intended to evoke SALUTE and “communal” to evoke MUTUAL.

    Also my musical clue:
    Tea for two and two for tea
    Me for you and you for me

    This evokes the fact that we twice have to swap a U and an E.

    Chuck

    ReplyDelete
  43. My solution:

    AUTUMN
    UNTAME (U-->E)
    UNLAME (T-->L)
    ENAMEL (U-->E)
    LEAVEN (M-->V)
    LEAVES (N-->S)

    ReplyDelete
  44. I got the call today to be the first alternate for this weekend's show. So close!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Never knew they had alternates. What's the deal? Does this up your chances of being picked in the future? Do you get a lapel pin?

      Delete
    2. NPR sent me a 'we don't need you, but keep at it' e-mail later that day, so I've been thrown back in the ocean with the rest of the fish.

      Delete
  45. I did a slight variation:

    AUTUMN, UNTAME, UNSEAT, SATEEN, ANELES, LEAVES

    -- Other Ben

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mine was similar:
      AUTUMN, UNTAME, LAMENT, LATEEN, ANELES, LEAVES

      Delete
  46. I was playing the tiger game based on the word untame although I ultimately ended up with EKW's solution. the hippy was stamen (flower child), seamen, sick was measle (although only one did not seem common). then the untame tiger wore bling - metals, drove cars - valets. Finally the untame became unseat and navels (contemplative)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why am I thinking of Marlin Perkins?

      Delete
    2. The Feeling's Mu-tu-al I'm su-re!

      Delete
  47. Insight which follows from meditation?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. no, from guys and dolls and from contemplating "navels"

      Delete
  48. This just occurred to me this morning. Although it has it's problems, I like it:
    autumn, unteam, lunate, Levant, leaven, leaves

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It might win an Oscar, but I would have to vote against it.

      Delete
    2. Well, thumbs down to U2! :-)

      Delete
    3. I could not agree with you more. I much prefer Classical and opera.

      Delete
    4. "much prefer"/"prefer(yada,yada,yada)better"....rather interesting; but is the game worth the candle?

      Delete
  49. New puzzle came up 11 minutes ago and it is really a stupid one this time. I've already sent in my answer and am taking a shot of my favorite drug: Scotch.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This new puzzle is so incredibly lame that the only way I think it could be cheapened would be for those listening to NPR in Canada to get it.

      Delete
  50. I thought it was interesting that Will used VESTAL in his first choice of solutions to this puzzle.

    ReplyDelete
  51. For some reason, the title of a Clint Eastwood film comes to mind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Is it: The Man With No Name Speaks To Empty Chair?

      Delete
    2. Same era and genre (except for his more recent empty chair role.)

      Delete
    3. How about a Martin Scorsese film for a different drug?

      Delete
    4. Probably not a prescription drug.

      Delete
    5. Speaking of Clint Eastwood, it's 82 and cloudy here in Provo this morning...

      Delete
  52. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. Maybe you didn't see, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. ???

      Delete
  53. No, in fact I didn't. I was thinking of valium in The Departed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  54. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  55. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  56. Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. Actually it should be Motecuhzoma.

      Delete
  57. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A little too obvious... I got the answer from your comment.

      Delete