Guidelines for Composing and Solving Puzzles
By Hudu, Brillig, Treesong, and Sibyl
Most of the puzzles in The Enigma are flats. A flat is a puzzle whose solution is a single, flat line of letters. (Its opposite is a form, a puzzle whose solution is a two-dimensional grid, like a crossword puzzle or a word square.)
Most flats - all but anagrams, in fact - are in verse. In each verse, one or more words are missing, replaced by cuewords like ONE and TWO. Your job is to figure out the missing words.
Here is an example:
The title tells you what kind of solution you need. In this case, it’s a fifth-letter change: a word (ONE) becomes a new word (TWO) when its fifth letter is changed - like medic to media, or irritate to irrigate. The number in parentheses says you’re looking for six-letter words as your answer. The context gives you your clues, and after some thought you hit on the answer: ONE is catnip and TWO is catnap.
When you understand that example, you’re ready to tackle the rest of the puzzles in The Enigma. Other sections in this Guide provide explanations of every kind of puzzle you’re likely to encounter, along with a few helpful tips on solving them.
Though flats make up the great majority of the puzzles in The Enigma, you’ll see a few other kinds of puzzles as well. These are grouped into three other categories: forms, extras, and cryptograms (or crypts for short). All these puzzles are explained elsewhere in this Guide.
In The Enigma, flats are grouped together and sequentially numbered. To distinguish them, the numbers for forms are preceded by F, the numbers for extras are preceded by X, and the numbers for crypts are preceded by C.
Puzzles in The Enigma should conform to some general principles, which are given briefly here. Once you have read the following six paragraphs, you’ll have enough background to look at the puzzle descriptions in the Flats section and start solving. For more detailed discussions of the finer points, read Enumeration, Guidelines for Bases, Cuewords, and Tagging in Flats - all in this section.
After the flat’s title, which tells what type of flat it is, the number of letters in each puzzle’s solution is given in parentheses. This is called the enumeration. If the solution is a phrase, the enumeration gives the number of letters in each word of the phrase, as well as any punctuation. Contractions retain their apostrophes and hyphenated words their hyphens. Capitalized words are preceded by asterisks. For example, the enumeration of United States of America is (*6 *6 2 *7), while that of will-o’-the-wisp is (4-1’-3-4). See Symbols Used in Tagging Flats, for more on the asterisk and caret in capitalized words.
Words having a mixture of uppercase and lowercase letters are treated accordingly: for example, RNAase is (*1*1*4). If a solution contains numbers, each digit is counted as one character: 1984 is enumerated (4); Top 40 is (*3 2).
When a solution has more than one part and all parts of a puzzle have the same enumeration, it’s given only once. For example, a transposal of alerting, altering, integral, and triangle is enumerated (8). However, if any part differs from the others, all the parts are enumerated, separated by commas (or semicolons if the parts themselves contain any commas). For example, a transposal of mattress and smart set is enumerated (8, 5 3).
Similarly, when you can infer the enumeration of all parts of the puzzle from the length of the longest part (as in a beheadment in which the shortest part or parts are all single words), only the longest is given. Otherwise, the enumeration of all parts is given in full. For example, a curtailment changing aspiring to aspirin is enumerated as just (8), but a deletion changing itching to I Ching is enumerated in full: (7, *1 *5).
For detailed descriptions of each flat type, see Flats.
The solution to a flat is called its base. Choosing a good base is the important first step in writing a flat. Because tens of thousands of flats have appeared in The Enigma over the years, many people think all the good bases have already been discovered. And it’s true that the editor may reject a flat using a base that has recently been published. But new words come into the language yearly, giving members new possibilities to work with, and even a base that has been used before can get a fresh twist from a deft constructor.
One feature of a good base is that its words are reduced to their shortest possible form. A good transposal, for example, is not based on tacos and coats but taco and coat. Instead of beheading puttering to uttering, use putter and utter as your base.
On the other hand, as a base for a deletion, starting and stating are already in their shortest possible forms, since start and state wouldn’t work. Therefore they make an acceptable base. Similarly, a letter shift based on auctioned and cautioned alone should be avoided - you should use auction and caution instead - but a transposal based on auctioned, cautioned, and education is acceptable.
In the verse, the solution words are replaced by cuewords wherever they appear. For example, if a puzzle is a transposal based on threat and hatter, those words must be replaced by cuewords (such as FIRST and SECOND) throughout the verse, and related words like threaten and hat cannot be used.
(This rule, by the way, can sometimes provide help in solving a flat. Ask yourself, does the author seem to have been avoiding some common word in the verse? If the verse refers to canines and hounds, but never simply to dogs, maybe that’s because dog is part of the answer.)
If the answer is a phrase, minor words from it - articles and prepositions and pronouns and conjunctions of three letters or fewer - may appear in the verse. For example, if the answer to a puzzle is the farmer in the dell, the words the and in might appear in the verse, but no form of farmer or dell.
Cuewords in the verse may be inflected to make them plural if they are nouns (ONEs and TWOs) or past tense or participles if they are verbs (ONEd, FIRSTed, WHOLing). Plurals are formed by adding -s and verbs are inflected according to the rules of regular English verbs. For example, the solution word child can be “an ALL” or “the ONEs”; the solution word bring can be “to ONE,” “he ONEs,” “she ONEd.” Those are not childs and bringed; they are “plural of solution word child” and “past tense of solution word bring.” Of course, uninflected cuewords are always preferable and more elegant.
The most common cuewords are sets like ONE and TWO; FIRST, SECOND, and THIRD; A and B; PRIMAL and FINAL - also, BEGUN and DONE or BEGIN and END. Reading Enigma flats will give you many more ideas. Some cuewords are quite fanciful: WHATZIT and WHICH; KIT and CABOODLE. Don’t combine sets: FIRST/TWO, ONE/DONE, PRIME/SECOND, and so on are not acceptable pairs.
Another common cueword is the number of letters in the answer. In a beheadment, for example, the cuewords for pirate and irate might be SIX and FIVE. Cuewords sometimes exemplify the flat type. In that same beheadment, the cuewords might instead be, say, BROOK and ROOK. If BROOK/ROOK make some sort of amusing or misleading sense in the verse, so much the better.
In some flat types, it doesn’t matter which cueword you assign to which part. In a reversal, ONE can be desserts and TWO stressed, or vice versa. A reversal works either way. But in a beheadment, the order of the cuewords matters. ONE can be pirate and TWO can be irate, but not vice versa, because a beheadment works only one way. Other common cuewords used in beheadments - and many other flat types that have solutions of different lengths - are words like LARGE and SMALL, or LONG and SHORT. In this sort of puzzle, try to use a pair of cuewords (unlike WHATZIT and WHICH above) that clearly indicates which word comes first; if you can’t, you must note with the title which cueword goes with which enumeration.
Since some puzzles in The Enigma involve unusual or even obscure words, it’s important that solvers know where to look to confirm their answers. The National Puzzlers’ League has chosen these Merriam-Webster’s dictionaries as its standard reference works: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, which we abbreviate as 11C, and the two most recent unabridged dictionaries, Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition (abbreviated NI2), and Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (abbreviated NI3). 12,000 Words (abbreviated 12W), a dictionary of words and usages that have appeared since NI3 was published, is not easily findable and therefore is no longer an official source.
The answers to most flats in The Enigma appear in 11C and thus they get no special label. Any flat with an answer not in 11C is given a label - commonly called a source tag - indicating the most recent Merriam-Webster dictionary in which the answer can be found, NI3 (the more recent) or NI2. A solution whose only source is the addenda section of NI2 is labeled “NI2 Add.”
A solution word or phrase gets at most one source tag, no matter how many dictionaries it’s in. For example, a word in both NI3 and NI2 is tagged only “NI3” (the more recent source); a phrase in both 11C and NI3 gets no tag at all (since 11C answers are not tagged).
A number in an enumeration might be underlined to show which word is being referred to, as in the tag (4 2 4 5) (4 = NI3), where the second four-letter word is the tagged one. Sometimes the editor will simply note: “second 4 is NI3.”
NI2 has been out of print since 1961 and is becoming increasingly difficult to find. Some local libraries still have copies, as do, occasionally, used-book stores. Members who want to buy or sell NI2s can write to the editor or post a message to the NPL e-mail list. If you see one for sale at a reasonable price, someone is sure to want it.
What if the solution word appears in 11C, but it is used in a sense that 11C doesn’t include but NI3 does? In that case, the editor would add the tag “NI3 usage.” This will warn you that although you can find the answer itself in 11C, you’ll have to look in NI3 to see the relevant definition. The tag “NI2 usage” is likewise used.
How do you know the answer appears in 11C? Because the flat has no tag telling you otherwise; remember, all answers are in 11C unless otherwise indicated.
Similarly, a tag like “NI3, but NI2 usage” tells you that the solution word or phrase is not in 11C and is in NI3, but the relevant definition is in NI2.
Only spelling determines which dictionary a word appears in. The word mustang is in 11C only as a noun, and in NI3 as both a noun and a verb (meaning “to hunt mustangs”). If a flat uses the solution word mustangs as a verb, it will be tagged “NI3 usage,” since the word mustangs is in 11C (as a plural noun) but with a different meaning. But mustanged would be tagged “NI3” - no such word is in 11C (or can be inferred from the noun form).
Capitalizing the word makes it a different word. The brand name Mustang is simply “not MW.” (This rule is sometimes so confusing, the editor may note that some non-MW word would be 11C if it weren’t capitalized.) If the solution word is in 11C as an uncapitalized word but a capitalized form appears in NI3, and the capitalized one is used in the flat, then it is tagged “NI3” (not “NI3 usage”). Words marked “usu. cap” are treated as capitalized. (See also Symbols Used in Tagging Flats.)
The editor may use a tag to add helpful information to a difficult flat. For example, if the solution word is flannelmouth, the flat might be tagged “NI3; a form of ONE is in 11C”, since flannelmouthed is in 11C. This reassures solvers without access to NI3 that 11C may suffice for solving. “NI3; NI2 verifies” suggests that the solution word has the same usage in both NI2 and NI3, but the clueing in the verse turns on some detail found only in the NI2 definition.
Some phrases appear in the standard references, but not as (boldface) entry phrases. For example, skeleton in the closet is an entry phrase in NI2, but it appears in NI3 and 11C only in italics within the definition of skeleton. It is tagged “NI2; 11C-findable.”
The 11C and NI2 biographical and gazetteer sections vary slightly from printing to printing. (In fact, the main body of 11C varies from one printing to the next.) Occasionally a puzzle answer can be found in some but not all printings; the editor and composer may not know about the discrepancy until the puzzle is in print and they hear about it from solvers. In that case, the next month’s Enigma will make note of it.
NI2 addenda vary greatly, and checking one printing of NI2 after another is difficult or impossible for most of us. Because of this, words appearing only in the NI2 addenda don’t provide satisfactory puzzle bases.
In a few cases, by convention, we omit tags that the rules above require. These common usages will be left untagged:
At the editor’s discretion, puzzles with non-Merriam-Webster solutions may be printed, with the tag “not MW.” Non-MW solutions will be familiar to most solvers: nationally known brand names, celebrities, topical names and events, and so forth. (“Not MW” implies “but familiar” or, barring that, “but easily researchable.”) They will often be NPL noms and terms: Mangie, spoonergram. Occasionally they will be common words and phrases that inexplicably got left out of the dictionary, such as Old South, or that have come into use since our last dictionary appeared. “Not MW usage” means that the word is in the dictionary but isn’t being used in any dictionary sense. Most often, it suggests NPL usage (flat, Merlin, and so forth).
Non-MW words that are natural derivatives of MW words may be tagged inferable. Thus, unclued is tagged “11C-inferable” because it is derived using the 11C suffix “un-.” Such inventions should be used sparingly.
Once in a blue moon the editor may give another source for a non-MW answer. The most common are The World Almanac and The Random House Dictionary, Second Edition (sometimes abbreviated RH2). Words in 12W are now in this category.
In most types of flats, answer phrases must be dictionary entries. That is because if contrived nondictionary phrases were allowed, the huge number of possibilities would make the puzzles too difficult to solve.
But there are exceptions. In these puzzle types, nondictionary phrases are allowed (and are not noted in tags): anagrams, antigrams, ambigrams, heteronyms, homonyms, homoantonyms, homosynonyms (and other homonymic variations), rebuses and subers (but not rebades and subades), spoonergrams and their variations, and mutations. (Letter banks, also, may include familiar non-MW phrases, but these are customarily noted with the puzzle.)
If the answer, or part of the answer, to one of these types of puzzles is in fact a dictionary entry, the editor may put brackets around the enumeration to indicate this, if she thinks it will be helpful - or if she thinks it won’t give away too much of the answer. An anagram of the solution the real estate agents could be enumerated (3 [4 6] 6), since real estate is an 11C entry. Brackets mean the phrase has its dictionary usage. In the cards, for example, is an 11C phrase meaning “inevitable.” A rebus whose solution is in the cards could be enumerated [2 3 5] if the verse read, “It’s ALL that we will win,” but (2 3 5) if it read, “At Christmas she tucks money ALL.” If the phrase were used both ways, it might be enumerated “[2 3 5] (one usage not MW).”
All forms of an entry phrase count as entries. Eat one’s words could be bracketed [3 3’1 5], so eating her words could be, too: [6 3 5].
How a name is tagged depends on the person referred to. John Smith is not tagged if it is the John Smith mentioned in the biographical section of 11C; it’s tagged “NI2 usage” if it’s one of the other John Smiths in the biographical section of NI2; it’s tagged “not MW usage” for a John Smith (perhaps someone recently in the news) who isn’t in the dictionary at all. Noms of NPL members, when used as such, are tagged “not MW usage” if they appear in a dictionary with some other meaning (Merlin, Eric); “not MW” if they don’t (Treesong, Qaqaq).
Four symbols used in flats give solvers extra information.
+ is the symbol for the usage labels “slang,” “obsolete,” “archaic,” “dialect,” “British,” “foreign,” or “regional”; and for any word or phrase appearing in 11C’s “Foreign Words and Phrases” section. The tag “NI3+” tells you not only that the answer appears in NI3 (and not in 11C), but also that the answer is given a usage label in that reference. (For more information about usage labels, see the introduction to any of our standard references.)
* is the symbol for a capitalized word. Frederick the Great is enumerated (*9 3 *5). Occasionally * will appear only before a cueword; for example, if an answer word is polish, used once in the verse as a verb and then as a nationality, the cueword might be ONE the first time and *ONE the second time.
^ is used in place of an asterisk for nonce capitalizations in nondictionary phrases; that is, if a word in an answer is normally uncapitalized with the same usage, then it gets a caret. This comes up most commonly in names and titles, for instance: Bend It Like Beckham = ^4 ^2 ^4 *7; Doctor Frankenstein = ^6 *12. But The Taming of the Shrew is an NI2 entry, and thus would be enumerated [*3 *6 2 3 *5] - which is slightly confusing on the surface, but helps avoid all sorts of complicated issues, like “Should West Germany be enumerated *4 *7 or ^4 *7?”
Note that words starred or marked with a caret in titles (Eyeless in Gaza, ^7 2 *4; “Poem in October”, “^4 2 *7”) are not tagged as if capitalized. In the examples above, eyeless and poem are both in 11C (eyeless in boldface under eye) and are not tagged as not MW just because they’re capitalized in a title.
[Brackets] around the enumeration are the symbol for a phrase or hyphenated word that is a dictionary entry. Brackets are used only in those puzzles in which non-MW phrases are routinely allowed (see Nondictionary Phrases). In all other flats, phrases and hyphenated words are supposed to be dictionary entries and therefore don’t need to be bracketed.
Occasionally the editor will give more tagging information than is strictly required. This is always done to be helpful, never to mislead.
Please see the Enigma masthead for e-mail addresses and
for further directions on electronic submissions.
Please submit puzzles on one side of the paper only, with solutions on the back so that the editor can test-solve. (Don’t put solutions on a separate page; they may get lost.) Type or print your puzzles legibly, in the same form they have in The Enigma. Give your nom, city, and state after each puzzle (or just once on a full page of anagrams). Always keep copies of your work. There may be editorial queries; you may want to compare it with the printed version; and - most important - you’ll have it in case the work doesn’t reach the editor.
You may put more than one puzzle on a sheet of paper, as long as the solution to each puzzle appears on the back.
Include rubric readings. Give acrostical enigma part-words with the word or phrase in the verse that’s used to clue each part. Add any other explanations or comments that you think will help the editor, even if they may seem obvious to you. (What is obvious to one may not be to another, especially when deadlines approach.)
Include all the source and tagging information you can. Are the answer words in the main body of 11C? Is your usage of the word confirmed in the dictionary given by the tag? Is your word slang, obsolete, foreign, or other + usage? Capitalized? (Give this information even if it doesn’t affect the tag - for example, if the word is coyly hiding in the geographical section of 11C or under the line in NI2, let the editor know; it will help her check your puzzle quickly.) If you haven’t been able to check all the relevant references - for example, if you know a word is in NI2 but don’t know if it’s in NI3 too - tell the editor what sources you did check.
Not everyone is a master poet, and even master poets aren’t infallible. Part of the editor’s job is to fix rhyme and meter when necessary. If you want no changes made without consultation, just let the editor know in advance.
Send topical material as early as possible, to give the editor the best chance of fitting it into the appropriate issue.
See the Enigma masthead for the names and addresses of the editors/checkers of these types. They will check and comment on them before passing them on to the editor. Include complete solutions to all forms, crypts (not just alphabets), and crosswords (both explanations of individual words and the filled-in grid). Send cryptic solutions in a separate e-mail message.
Forms: please give a source for every word that isn’t in 11C. Except for non-MW sources, this information won’t appear in The Enigma, but it will save time for the editor and form checker. Submit cryptograms as they appear in The Enigma, written in block letters or typed in capitals, with spaces between letters and with lines double-spaced. Always double-check that the cryptogram is correctly encoded and that it follows the Rules for Cryptograms as given in this Guide.
Many of our members enjoy sending in their solution lists to be scored, with the results published. You may also send in a kudos list of your favorites (puzzles, whether or not you solved them; articles; or anything else in the issue). Of course you’re not obliged to send either. The deadline for solution lists is printed in each issue at the start of the Penetralia section, as is the name and address of the solution editor.
Be sure to mail your list early enough to reach the solution editor by the deadline; after that it won’t be scored, although any favorite votes will be recorded eventually. The results for each issue are published three issues later (in the issue following the one giving the solutions themselves). The solution editor reports how many puzzles each member solved and which ones that person chose as favorites, which alternate solutions were accepted and which rejected, how many reporting members solved each puzzle, and how many picked each as a favorite.
Puzzles in The Enigma are divided into four broad categories: flats, forms, crypts, and extras. Your score in each of these categories is figured separately. For example, if you solved 55 flats, 3 forms, no crypts, and 5 extras, your score would appear as 55-3-0-5. If you get a complete in any category, by solving all of those puzzles, an asterisk replaces that number in your score. For example, if you got a “flat complete” and a “form complete” but solved no crypts and only one of three extras, your score would appear as *-*-0-1.
Those diligent and talented solvers who achieve a complete for the entire issue do not appear in the list of scores with other solvers. Instead, their noms are given a place of honor in the first paragraph of that month’s solvers report.
Give solutions in numerical order, each on a separate line. Type or print clearly. Give forms in their right shape, not as a string of words. Give cryptogram solutions in full, not just the first few words (as is the practice in some other organizations). You won’t receive credit for partial solutions. Likewise, spell out all parts of phonetic flats. For a phonetic word-deletion, for instance, don’t send just chrysanthemum; write out “chrysanthemum; anthem, chrism.”
If you’d like to give kudos to your favorites of the issue, add your list at the end of your solutions. You may single out one puzzle as your top favorite of the issue by adding a ! (a bang in League jargon) after its number in your kudos list.
This page was last updated on Friday, June 10, 2016. /webmaster
©1883 — 2016 National Puzzlers' League.
Last modified Friday, June 10, 2016