Every Sunday morning Will Shortz challenges NPR listeners with one of his dastardly word puzzles. While his puzzles may not be strictly mathematical, strategies to solve them are not so different from the strategies employed when doing mathematics.
This past week, the challenge was to find what the four words THESE, BARBARIANS, AMBUSH, and HEAVIER have in common. I turned these words over in my head as I was taking a walk to town but didn't find any patterns. When I returned home, I remembered that it is important to make sure you understand the question correctly. After listening again, I realized the actual puzzle asks what the five words THOSE, BARBARIANS, AMBUSH, HEAVIER, and FIANCEES have in common.
- list the alphabet in order
- letters on a keyboard
- vowels & consonants
- the sounds of the words
- the physical shape of the letters.
- Perhaps the position of the final letter in the alphabet equals the length of the word.
- Perhaps the position of at least one letter in the word is equal to its position in the alphabet.
- Perhaps the word has two letters, the alphabetic distance between which is equal to the length of the word.