A word game for our time

On the 29th of March 1879, Lewis Carroll introduced a “new” type of puzzle in the magazine Vanity Fair. He wrote:

“The rules of the Puzzle are simple enough. Two words are proposed, of equal length: and the Puzzle consists of linking these together by interposing other words, each of which shall differ from the next word in one letter only… The letters must not be interchanged among themselves, but each must keep to its own place… I call the two given words ‘a Doublet’, the interposed words ‘Links’, and the entire series ‘a Chain’… It is, perhaps, needless to state that it is de rigueur that the links should be English words, such as might be used in good society.”

This exposition is illustrated by the Doublet HEAD – TAIL, which Lewis Carroll solved by a Chain of four Links:

HEAD – heal – teal – tell – tall – TAIL

Over the following years a wealth of Doublet challenges appeared, many of them complicated. In each case the objective was to create the Chain with the fewest Links. The game remains popular today.

But some Doublet challenges that at first sight seem simple can prove impossible to solve, or virtually so. Here, I offer two examples that strike me as topical, and I invite my readers to offer solutions – with the fewest possible number of Links. I confess that both these challenges (which I found very easy and tempting to propose) have defeated all my attempts at solution.

Here is the first of these Doublet challenges:

Convert TRUMP to TRUTH.

Surely this must be straightforward? Of the five letters, three are identical in the two words constituting the Doublet. Yet try as I might I cannot find a sequence of links that will effect the conversion. I am forced to conclude that it is impossible to convert TRUMP to TRUTH, but perhaps one or more readers will be able to refute this conclusion by finding a solution, albeit requiring a very long and convoluted Chain.

Here now is the second of my Doublet challenges:


This is surely more difficult than the first challenge, since none of the component letters remains constant; and having found the first impossible to solve, I aver that the second is doubly so. If anyone can discover how to make SANITY out of BREXIT then I invite them to write to the Prime Minister at 10, Downing Street, London, and offer their unique skill in the service of the United Kingdom. They stand to make a fortune.



Leave a Comment

Logged in as - Log out