Joho the Blog » puzzles

August 1, 2016

Why can't the Americans learn to pun?

(Prepare for the most first worldly of all problems.)

The New York Times Puns and Anagrams puzzles are a national embarrassment. Pardon my bluntness, but I’m a truth teller.

The clues in the British version provide a definition and a clever, hidden way of constructing the word. The NYT version sometimes does but sometimes just has the cleverness.

For example, in yesterday’s NYT Puns and Anagrams puzzle [SPOILERS AHEAD], the clue for 48 Down is “Fill time on stage again.” The answer is “revamp” because to fill time on stage is to vamp, and to do it again is to add “re” to it. But there’s no definition of “revamp” in the clue. In the British style, it might have been “Do over once again to fill time on stage.”

Another example: 57A “Fire starter” is “bon.” For the Brits it could have been something like “Good French fire starter.”

Adding the definition usually makes the clues harder, and thus more satisfying to solve. Sure, the definition is in them, which should make them easier, but that information becomes noise because with a good clue, you can’t tell which is the definition and which is the hint. When you can tell — e.g., when words in the clue seem oddly chosen, they may be there as an anagram — the clue gets easier, but that’s just fun getting even a little more meta.

And while I have your attention, let’s work to slow global climate change. Or, as the Brits might put it, “Climate activist may ogle sun god.” Answer: ogle + ra = Al Gore. See, wasn’t that fun? No. Ok, good point.

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February 20, 2013

How many birds are killed by cats? How many people subscribe to the Boston Globe online?

How many birds do domestic cats in the United States kill every year? You win if your answer is within an order of magnitude in either direction. However, you don’t actually win anything.

The answer comes from the journal Nature Communications as reported here

To reveal the answer, select the black box. (This assumes you don’t have black set as your selection color.)

“We estimate that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals annually.”

And now for extra credit, within an order of magnitude, how many people subscribe to the online version of the Boston Globe? Hint: It costs $3.99/week. Hint: Greater Boston’s population is about 4M. Hint: This quarter, online subscriptions rose 8%. (The answer comes from an article at BizOnline.)

28,000

By the way, I occasionally like to acknowledge that the “order of magnitude puzzle” was invented by my famous friend Paul English.

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January 11, 2012

Order of magnitude puzzle: Android sign-ins

One of the security options with Android lets you sign in by dragging you finger to trace a pattern you’ve chosen on a 3×3 square numbered 1-9. The codes have to be at least 4 digits long, you can’t repeat any digit, and you can’t lift your finger off the pad. To my always-wrong intuition, that seems like it affords too few possibilities. So, your task is to guess (or, if you must, figure out) roughly how many choices there are.

[Semi-Spoilers] You start with with the following range of numbers: 1,234 to 987,654,321. That is a boatload of numbers. But you remove all the numbers that have repeated digits. For a 9-digit number, there are only 362,880 numbers (9 factorial) without repeated digits, so that’s like subtracting 100 million numbers from the mix. Our son Nathan says that it’s the same number for all the 8-digit possibilities, because 8 factorial x 9 is the same same as 9 factorial. (I’m lost. Ask him.) After you do all of them down through 4-digits, you have to subtract the sequences that have non-contiguous numbers (based on the 3×3 square). So, it’s a big number, especially since the Android UI puts in a time-out after 10 wrong tries. But it’s not an astronomical number. I’m guessing it’s under a million.

But I fully expect to be shown to be wildly wrong.

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August 19, 2009

Order of Magnitude Quiz: The cost of street lights

Facing a budget shortfall, the town of Andover, MA, has decided to turn off 600 streetlights, leaving 900 on. How much do you think that will save Andover per year, according to the article in the Boston Globe?

This is an Order of Magnitude Quiz, which means you win if your answer is correct within an order of magnitude. It also means, however, that there’s nothing to win.

Click here for the answer

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7 Comments »

August 10, 2009

Dave Winer serves coffee to four logicians

From Dave Winer:

Four logicians are having breakfast. Waitress asks — Will you all be having coffee? The first logician says “I don’t know.” Second says “I don’t know.” Third says “I don’t know.” Fourth says “No.” The waitress returns with their coffees. Who gets coffee?

It does have a solution. The solution is not a cheat or wordplay or a sort of “lightbulb” joke anything extraneous to the puzzle. For example, it’s not “None of them, because logicians drink tea” or “None, because the first three were saying, “I don’t. No.” or “None, because coffee isn’t axiomatic.”

[HINT:]: Think about how each of the logicians would answer the question if she were going to order coffee or not order coffee.

I’ll put the answer in the first comment. [Actually, I changed my mind. I’ll post the answer in a comment if no one else comments.]

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August 8, 2009

Daily (Intermittent) Open Ended Puzzle [DOEP]: Optimal speed

Thirty years ago, we were told that we should drive 55mph (or, in Europe, 42 euros per hectare) on the highway because that was the “optimal” highway speed when it came to squeezing miles out of gallons.

What is the current optimal highway speed?

And, for extra credit, what is the optimal speed on or off the highway? If I want to get maximum miles per gallon but don’t care how fast I go, how fast should I drive? Two caveats: Yes, I know this will be different for different cars in different conditions. And, no, zero mph is not an acceptable answer, no matter how true it is.

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6 Comments »

May 30, 2009

Daily (intermittent) Open-End Puzzle (DOEP): Fattening yogurt

This is a “Let’s figure out how this statement might be true” puzzle. I have an answer in mind (which you probably won’t like), but I’m more interested in the ones y’all come up with:

For the sort of run-of-the-mill yogurt — no fruit on the bottom — you buy in your average American supermarket, I believe it is true that the further you go down in the container, the more fattening it becomes.

Why might that be true? More important, in how many different ways can we take that putative fact to make it true?

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May 28, 2009

Daily (intermittent) Open-Ended Puzzle: Skull-brain evolution

While watching our local squirrel digging up the flowerpots on our porch, thinking about how much easier it would be for both of us if the stupid thing would just evolve a bigger brain, I got to thinking about how unpleasant the bigger-brain mutation would be if it didn’t come with a simultaneous bigger-skull mutation. But having both of those mutations occur at the same time seems to multiply the improbability, doesn’t it?

So, how’s it happen? Are the two sizes controlled by the same gene? Do skulls form around brains so brains don’t rattle around in them? Does it really take multiplicative random mutations? Or what?

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April 18, 2009

The sort of achievement that boasting about is itself humiliating

I’ve once again made it into the list of winners at the Daily Show’s anagram contest. The headline to be anagrammed was: Gay Rights Groups Celebrate Victories in Marriage Push

My answer was: Man hitches goat? Girl buggers strap? I praise every curio!

But I actually preferred Dharam’s: I say great, but priggish Vermont preacher: “Sacreligious!”

Dharam is consistently excellent at this.

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March 19, 2009

Least impressive Daily Show connection ever

I’m on the Daily Show site!

No, I haven’t been exposed as the pompous evil little man that I am. Not yet, anyway. The site runs an anagram contest, and mine was one of three the selected this week. The headline you had to anagram was:

Envoys to Afghanistan and Iraq Are Named

Mine was:

On the QT, Iran damns any gain of area saved.

I have to admit that the first pick (by Dharam) is better than mine:

Q: Are any afraid to have an assignment nod

On the other hand, I think there’s a steep fall-off in quality with #3:

God in Heaven! Idea man farts, annoys Qatar.

This week’s headline is:

An outpouring of anger from lawmakers at AIG hearing

I just submitted:

A gain? A mean Frank urges room: Torture, flog, whip again

Eh.

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