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Did you solve it? Gems from the vault of the National Puzzlers’ League

Did you solve it? Gems from the vault of the National Puzzlers’ League

Earlier today I set you these problems from the National Puzzlers’ League, the world’s oldest association of word puzzle aficionados, active since 1883. Here they are again with answers.

The puzzles are “flats”, a genre unique to the NPL, which are small pieces of light verse with some missing words. Here’s an explanation of the puzzles for those who missed the original story. For those who did, please skip ahead.

1. HETERONYM (4 6, 4 3 3)
Ranger station by frozen lake:
Two signs posted JOIN and BREAK
=HOT, Berkeley CA

All flats have the same form. The title explains the type of wordplay, and the number of letters in the answer. Words in UPPER CASE are the missing words, i.e. the spaces in the text where each answer goes, in order. The final line is the author’s nom de plume and address.

In the above example, “heteronym” means the answer is two phrases consisting of the same letters in the same order. One phrase has word lengths 4 and 6. The other has word lengths 4 and 3 and 3.

Answer: park office, park off ice

Note: An asterisk means the first letter of the word is a capital.

2. HETERONYM (6 3 4, *5 *2 *6)
See how he PRIMAL deftly on his hand-made telescope –
He’ll study FINAL, peaceful now, with lovely snowy slope.
=NEWROW, Brookline MA

hint: it is about a now dormant volcano in the US Northwest.

Answer: mounts the lens, Mount St Helens

3. HETERONYM (3 4, 7, 2 5)
Aragorn will hit the ONE
Then, retreating through the TWO
Have a snack of spinach THREE
(Any leafy thing will do).

hint: Aragorn is a character in the Lord of the Rings. The second line requires an extra detail: in the place he is retreating through there may be apples in the trees.

Answer: orc hard, orchard, or chard

4. HETERONYM (6, 2 4)
He was a beginner, a tyro, a ONE.
TWO or dark sin. He just hadn’t begun.
=NEWROW, Brookline MA

Answer: novice, no vice

Flats may be one of dozens of types of wordplay. The REBUS, for example, is when an image presents a heteronymic reading of the answer. In other words, the image describes a phrase which contains the same letters in the same order as the solution. Here’s an example.

5. REBUS (14)

NPLView image in fullscreen

I raise my glass on Mother’s Day
“To Mom – you’ve earned your combat pay.
Your zest for raising brats I lack.
Who needs the whining, fights, or flak?”

My mom quaffs back a fuzzy navel
“Mixed-up kids who misbehave’ll
Grow. One day, you’ll find that CAIN
Has all the joys without the pain.”
=CRAX, Mountain View CA

Note for word nerds: the second stanza is a pangram, i.e. it contains every letter of the alphabet. Note for drinkers: the fuzzy navel is a cocktail.

Answer: grandparenting (G; R and P aren’t in G)

6. REBUS (*3 *4 *5)

Screenshot 2024-05-11 at 10.19.05View image in fullscreen

A film like ANSWER shows there’s great enjoyment
In dancing nude when faced with unemployment.
=MO’ NATURUAL, Pebblework CY

Answer: The Full Monty (The full M on TY) (Another clue was the picture at the top of the story, a still from the movie.)

7. REBUS (6 6)

NPLView image in fullscreen

He prides himself on being debonair.
Self-image is a tricky business, though.
He’s kind of slow and clunky to be fair.
He’s ALL, although he is the last to know.
=NEWROW, Brookline MA

hint: the animal on the left is a common rodent, and the animal on the right requires an article.

Answer: rather oafish (rat hero, a fish)

8. REBUS (*6 2 8)

NPLView image in fullscreen

In ANSWER toil for greater dough
Than nearby Idaho? Don’t know.
=NEWROW, Brookline MA

hint: look at the content of stamp 1, then stamp 2, then stamps 3 & 4 together. The answer contains an americanised spelling, i.e an ‘o’ where in the UK we would write ‘ou’.

Answer: Oregon do laborers (Ore, gondola, borers)

9. REBUS (6 6)

NPLView image in fullscreen


hint: what’s clever here is that both the wordplay and a representation of the answer are in the image

Answer: forest ranger, (for E, strange R)

10. REBUS (15 17)

The telephone rings.
I answer it, then hang up.
How I hate HAIKU.

(MR TEX, by the way, is Mike Reiss, a former showrunner of cartoon series The Simpsons.)

Answer: wrong numbers

In a homonym, the answers are spelled differently but sound the same.

11. HOMONYM (3, 4, 4)

NPLView image in fullscreen


hint: there are three words here, all spelled differently, but all pronounced identically when spoken in an American accent. (This is probably my favourite.) When spoken in British English two have a dipthong and are pronounced identically and the third without dipthong is very close to the other two.

Answer: nus, gnus, news

12. HOMONYM (10, 3 9)
My tech guy went rogue.
He froze my machine.
He wants me to pay.
He got away clean.
I can’t access files.
He took what was mine.
I’m gobsmacked that he
Deployed TEN, then THREE NINE.
=FEMUR, New York NY

hint: this is very topical, especially if you are a user of the British Library,

Answer: ransomware, ran somewhere

The final flat is a mixture of homonym and rebus. The image describes a homonym of the answer.


NPLView image in fullscreen

When crops start to STAND,
Green carpets the land.
=NEWROW, Brookline MA

Answer: germinate (German 8)

If you would like to join the NPL, membership is only $30 and it gets you 12 monthly issues of its house journal The ENIGMA.

Thanks to Henri Picciotto (aka HOT), who introduced me to the NPL and helped research this column.

I hope you enoyed today’s fare. I’ll be back in two weeks.

I’ve been setting a puzzle here on alternate Mondays since 2015. I’m always on the look-out for great puzzles. If you would like to suggest one, email me.

Source: theguardian.com