Thursday, August 26, 2010

NPR Sunday Puzzle (Aug 22, 2010): Countries Trading Chemicals

NPR Sunday Puzzle (Aug 22, 2010): Countries Trading Chemicals:
Q: Take a country whose name contains a symbol for a chemical element, and change it to a different chemical element to get another country. For example, if Aruba were an independent country, you could take the 'AR,' which is the chemical symbol for argon, and change it to 'C,' which is the chemical symbol for carbon, to come up with Cuba. There are two answers to this puzzle, and both must be found.
I've tried thinking of clues but whatever hints I create, they seem too obvious. The nature of the puzzle limits me, in what I can say. I've got the two pairs of countries that Will is thinking of. Let's see if you can figure them out too.

Correction: I've now found 3 pairs of answers. All meet the criteria that Will provided. One of the pairs I hinted at before is probably not in Will's intended answers but does fit. All countries and chemical symbols are valid.

Edit: My clues were the words just before the commas above. "I create" is an anagram of I, TA, CE, RE (the chemical symbols from two pairs of answers). "Limits me" is an anagram of ML, MT, IS, IE (the ISO country codes for two pairs of answers). The elements from the third pair would be AL, NI and the country codes would be DZ, NG.
First country pair:
ALGERIA and NIGERIA, exchanging Aluminum (Al) and Nickel (Ni)

Second country pair:
MALI and MALTA, exchanging Iodine (I) and Tantalum (Ta)

Bonus country pair:
ICELAND and IRELAND, exchanging Cerium (Ce) and Rhenium (Re)


  1. Here's my standard reminder... don't post the answer or any outright spoilers 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. Thank you.

  2. Blaine, how is it you are able to post the puzzle so early?

  3. Another one solvable by computer... except I got four answers. I'm going to have to double-check those :)

  4. Whoops, have to throw out "Aruba->Cuba" as Will's example of what *not* to do. However the other three seem to stand up, at least according to Wikipedia's List of sovereign states.

  5. Guess I'm stuck on numbers still.


  6. Doesn't it seem like one of these pairs showed up in another NPR puzzle a while back?

  7. Wow - a tricky one this week. I suspect there might be more than two answers.

    Deja-vu ? the four elements I have so far can be arranged to make a girls name (alternate spelling though)

  8. Kathy Banned the Super Rails but not Griffin; Rotten hit a bogey but not Johnny.

    -- Other Ben

  9. I concur with Doctechnical. I've found 3 pairs. Here are the "close but no cigar" answers:
    Gambia Zambia
    Iran Oman
    Uganda Rwanda
    China Chile
    Guyana Ghana
    Iran Iraq
    Slovakia Slovenia

    P.S. This list of Chemical Symbols is pretty helpful.

  10. Numerical clues would be 20 and 17.

    -- Other Ben

  11. I notice the written puzzle states "contains" while the example was only the first letter(s). Does this mean the chemical symbol can be anywhere within the words?

  12. My Little Family, I recommend that you refer to "contains" as you guide to the solution.

  13. MLF, the chemical symbol can appear anywhere within the country. Just like the example, it need not be somewhere in the middle. Symbols at the beginning, middle or end are all possible.

  14. I'd consider Paraguay and Uruguay to be an "almost".

  15. And I've only found two pairs.

  16. Rob, I defined "close" as being able to replace one or two letters to get another country name. Paraguay and Uruguay would require replacing 3 or 4 letters.

  17. I wonder if NPR will accept the alternate pair as one of our answers, or expects us to send the two intended pairs. I sent all 3 pairs just to be safe.

  18. Blaine, I hope the screening of answers is not set up to deselect submissions that have more than two answers.

  19. Whatever. I'm destined to never get called anyway...

  20. One of the pairs I came up with contained the symbol for an element I wasn't familiar with before now (we English majors didn't have to memorize the Periodic Table). I don't think I can name it without dropping a dime on the whole answer.

  21. I was not familiar with that element either...Must be a new one since I memorized the periodic table. I submitted my entry with an alias name this time to see if it improves my chances of a call.

  22. I had one with well-known elements, another with one known and one not so well known. I think those are the intended answers.

    The third pair has elements that would probably be only known if you looked them up a table.

  23. I find it hard to believe that I missed the pair that I did. The fact that they were the farthest apart on a sorted list shouldn't have been a problem. I just stopped looking when I found 2 solutions. 3 and 300 by way of confirmation.

  24. Hugh, I had the same experience. I found two and stopped. I like the "trickiness" of the pair that I ended on, but I think it must be the pair that Will hadn't counted on.

  25. I agree, the second pair is tricky. Guess I had some luck in figuring it out.

  26. I had to spell each country backwards to get the third pair - I think there are only three valid pairs though.

  27. Ken, I was insanely envious of your perfect clue. Sadly, I am in agreement that one pair is not part of the intended answer. Hope I don't sound like a malcontent. Tom

  28. Tom, I think Will has to accept any combination of the three pairs. Besides the "real nice" solution, there's the "Italian" solution and the "I create" solution.

  29. Ken, I agree whole heartedly.

    “An Icier Tale”

    A submitter of two and a submitter of three
    Would definitely be “in a clear tie.”
    For Will to claim that the third isn’t valid
    Is absolutely ”a certain lie.”

    His possible coolness to the third tricky answer
    Simply wouldn’t sit well with me.
    But perhaps while he dips his biscotti in espresso
    He might consider dipping his “├ęclair in tea.”

    While the “Italian” solution is the one that may stick
    As Will flirts with Mediterranean mania.
    Our cold Northern neighbors have something we share –
    The sharpness of an “elite crania.”

    The End

  30. Wow T.! I will never call my hints poetical again after that. I only got two answers. My third was between two island nations but one was not independent. I'll chew on your pastriotic clues some more.

    So Blaine, if you do get chosen, I say we should all meet in a central location and party!

  31. oooh, I just got the third one which was so obvious I wonder which of my original two is supposed to be the obscure one. So now half of my countries are on the same continent. My daughter, Olufunmike could have given me a clue if I had only consulted her first.

  32. Tom,

    The Western Hemisphere got short shrift,
    Possibly due to Continental Drift.

  33. guess i have run out of time for solving the puzzle - was too busy sewing this week

  34. OK, here are the solutions I came up with (with some cybernetic help :)

    1) Algeria -> Nigeria (Al=Aluminum -> Ni=Nickel)

    2) Iceland -> Ireland (Ce=Cerium -> Re=Rhenium. Never heard of either of these)

    3) Mali -> Malta (I=Iodine -> Ta=Tantulum. Only heard of the latter because of tantalum capacitors, I'm a bit of an electronics hobbyist)

  35. Yep, those were the ones I found too. I found Mali/Malta and Iceland/Ireland first, then Algeria/Nigeria last.

    I'm pretty sure that Will hadn't thought of Iceland and Ireland. Certainly it doesn't work to swap C and R (only Carbon is an element). Similarly you can't swap Ic and Ir (only Iridium is an element). But if you swap Ce and Re, you can do it. That's the "tricky" pair.

  36. Doc, those were my choices as well. I used my daughter, Olufunmike's name as a hint because she was born in Nigeria and has a name from the Yoruba people, most well known region. I started to say I would bring the whiskey to Blaine's future party but I figured we were all a bit of the "wild Child" from the anagram series a couple of weeks ago and certainly my Irish friends would get on my case since Ireland is known for a lot of other wonderful things besides whiskey - potato salad? don't know. May also be a point of contention.
    So Ben and Hugh what were the Rotten Bogeys and the 3 and 300?

  37. Hey RoRo, funny you should ask.

    In fact, I have a degree in chemistry that I use perhaps once every five years or so. So maybe that's why I found Iceland and Ireland as well as Mali and Malta. After all, Rhenium and Tantalum are my friends.

    Once I found two pairs, I really didn't search more even though Algeria and Nigeria seem easier than the ones I found with hindsight.

    As for clues, "Kathy Banned the Super Rails but not Griffin" was a clue to IRELAND and MALI -- as in supermodel Kathy IRELAND. And of course everyone at Blainesville knows that one of the leading musical groups in MALI is the SUPER RAIL BAND of Bamako, which has introduced Malian superstars such as Salif Keita.

    (You must see Salif Keita sing if you ever get the chance. Really!)

    "Rotten hit a Bogey but not Johnny" was a clue to Robbie Rotten, the most compelling character in the ICELANDIC children's show Lazytown, which is pretty much a sad affair except for the amazing physical comedy of Steffan Karl, playing the role of Robbie. And Bogey was a reference to Humphrey Bogart's classic role in the MALTESE Falcon.

    Numerical clues of 20 and 17 refer to the distance on the Periodic Table between the elemental pairs that solve the puzzle -- Iodine is number 53 and Tantalum is number 73; Cerium is 58 and Rhenium is 75.

    -- Other Ben

  38. In fact, since many of you may never get the chance to hear Salif Keita sing, here it is -- your briefest intro to Mali's music.

    Salif Keita was born an albino, and would have been an outcast in Malian society. But his remarkable vocal prowess and the fact that he is a direct descendant of the founder of the Mali Empire, Sundiata Keita, gave him his chance. He is now the most famous musician in MALI, if not in northern Africa.

    Here is a video of him singing "Madan":

  39. I went with Iceland/Ireland and Algeria/Nigeria. Tonga and Togo is close but no cigar.

  40. RoRo, Confirmation numbers:
    3=number of solutions
    300=sum of atomic numbers

    My clue was in (297-242x+120x^2-16x^3)/3
    (So obscure to be just another confirmation?)

    for x = 1,2,3,4; equation = 53,55,73,75.

    My eye skipped a line looking up atomic numbers in the dictionary. 55 should have been 58.

    So I found Iceland/Ireland, Mali/Malta in that order.

    Shouldn't do this stuff before breakfast.

  41. Thanks Hugh, I figured it was about the atomic numbers but did not get it til now.

    Ben, thanks for the video link. Salif is wonderful!! My dance co. here in Baltimore does similar dances and we have been to Senegal to study, but I would love to visit Mali.

  42. North Korea and South Korea was another near miss.


For NPR puzzle posts, don't post the answer or any hints that could lead to the answer before the deadline (usually Thursday at 3pm ET). If you know the answer, 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 assist with solving. You can openly discuss your hints and the answer after the deadline. Thank you.