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Kominers’s Conundrums: It’s the Final Countdown

Scott Duke Kominers
·5 min read

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The wheel of fortune turned unfathomably slowly in the past week, but it was also somehow stunningly quick. Some candidates hit the jackpot, while others went home bankrupt. But one thing’s for sure: We’ve all gained quite an appreciation for counting.

For this week's Conundrum, we have five puzzles in the style of Wheel of Fortune: phrase patterns with some letters filled in and others left out; it’s up to you to identify the missing letters and figure out what the full phrases say.

As with the typical Wheel of Fortune bonus round, we’ve given you the letters “R,” “S,” “T,” “L,” “N,” and “E,” plus a couple other consonants and one more vowel.(1) Because we don’t have a fancy wall of screens here at Conundrums, we’ve used slashes to indicate separations between words.

You’re looking to solve as many as you can. But that’s not all! Each puzzle can be read as referencing or describing something we frequently count. Your actual goal is to identify those five objects. (And take note: they aren't all referenced in the quite same form that we count them in.)

If you do this correctly, reading off their first letters in order will reveal the name of someone who would be a logical person to count on, in general — although he would be somewhat problematic to have on Wheel of Fortune.

_ _ R _ / _ _ _ / _ / L I T T L E / L _ _ _ _ I _ E / _ R _ N G E , / T _ / S _ E R L _ _ K _ E _ R E _ / G R _ I N / _ E _ S _ R E _ L _ _ K _ _ _ K / _ E _ L S _ I _ / S N E _ K E R S , / _ _ _ / _ I G _ T / S _ _

If you manage to solve this final counting challenge after a record-breaking week of them — or if you even make partial progress — please let us know at skpuzzles@bloomberg.net before midnight New York time on Thursday, November 12.

If you get stuck, there’ll be extra letters and other hints announced on Twitter and in Bloomberg Opinion Today. To be counted in the solver list, please include your name with your answer.

Programming note: The next Conundrums will run on Sunday, November 15.

Previously in Kominers’s Conundrums …

Ten well-known characters took a trip to a private island. They were hoping to get a break from this abnormal year, but instead they just got stuck. Solvers had to identify use the clues to identify them:

Eponymous islander frequently seen with movie star, seafarer, and millionaire friends:

(Star of Gilligan’s Island.)

Lovelorn Prince forced to carry sticks and speak in iambic pentameter:

(He was forced to labor for Prospero in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”)

Manhattan teen whose friend Og tries to reinvent television cartoons:

(She was the lead character in the Cartoon Network series Mike, Lu, and Og.)

Lost anthropologist of questionable Dharma known for polar bear discovery:

(The PhD anthropologist character in the series Lost, who was born into the Dharma Initiative and — much later — found a polar bear skeleton.)

A real “nobody” with friends who were swine:

(His shipmates were turned into pigs by Circe, and he himself took on the name “nobody” when confronting the Cyclops Polyphemus.)

Classic Castaway who taught Friday religious lessons:

(He taught religion to his companion named Friday.)

Conch-toting elected leader of homegrown government:

(He was elected leader in “Lord of the Flies,” and used a conch to summon the other boys.)

Reporter-detective who evaded Red Sea sharks but nevertheless had trouble reaching Sydney:

(Hergé’s star character, who has another run-in with villains from “The Red Sea Sharks” after his flight to Sydney is diverted to an abandoned island in “Flight 714.”)

Hunter who can’t sleep well until after he finishes off dangerous game:

(He was the big game hunter at the center of Richard Connell’s thriller-story “The Most Dangerous Game.”)

Crooked governess who was second to none:

(She was in some sense the last to die in Agatha Christie’s mystery novel “And Then There Were None.”(2))

After identifying all the islanders, the next step was to pick out the numbered letters and plug them into the answer grid provided. This revealed “something we should do to help them out:”

It was of course election week. (Did you notice?) And as they say on Survivor, the tribe has spoken.

Zoz solved first, followed by Lazar Ilic, Michael Thaler, Paul Kominers, John Owens, Spaceman Spiff, and Ellen Dickstein Kominers. The other 11 solvers were Keith Claeys, Nicol Crous, Filbert Cua, Josh Goodman, Darren He, Libby Leffler Hoaglin, Russ Hurd, Ross Rheingans-Yoo, Kathy Ruan, Nancy Stern, and Sanandan Swaminathan.

The Bonus Round

Pokémon Go, suburban version; Eric Berlin’s escape room rundown; find the hidden cows. The 2021 Rube Goldberg Machine Contest (hat tip: Hevesh5); haunted house science; Vincent Van Gogh visits the Musée d’Orsay. Disorder in large graphs. And everyone wants to know: what comes next?

(1) Our imaginary contestant maybe didn't have the best strategy in picking those extra letters – he asked for “G,” “K,” “X,” and “I.”

(2) Also (spoilers!) in some other sense, she's actually the second to last to die.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Scott Duke Kominers is the MBA Class of 1960 Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and a faculty affiliate of the Harvard Department of Economics. Previously, he was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and the inaugural research scholar at the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics at the University of Chicago.

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