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Kominers’s Conundrums: This Puzzle Honors a Game-Show Legend

Scott Duke Kominers
·6 min read

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Last weekend, the puzzle and game community lost one of its shining stars: Alex Trebek, legendary host of the game show “Jeopardy!”

“Jeopardy!” brings together contestants from all over — and gathers families and friends at home — for a nightly celebration of knowledge. The show’s questions have served as a cultural gateway for everything from hip-hop to Pokémon and Jeff Bridges.(1) And for decades,(2)Trebek was the unimpeachable source of right and wrong, a buoy of calm in a sea of fun facts.

This week’s Conundrum is a tribute to Trebek. We’re giving you seven clues in the style of “Jeopardy!” — with point values, hinty category names, and all. But something’s slightly amiss: Each clue has one word that’s not quite what it should be.

Your first goal is to solve as many of the clues as you can. After that, you need to return to the clues to identify each misfit word, and replace it with the correct one.Believe it or not, those new words are all related, hinting at a different TV program that, alongside “Jeopardy!”, is one of the most important game shows in history. The name of that show is this week’s answer.(3)

Once you figure it out, you might want to keep staring at the puzzle for a minute or two longer. In “Jeopardy!”, there’s always a “Double Jeopardy!” round.

FAMOUS FOOTWEAR for 100: These sparkly red pumps will take you from &pizza to Kansas. PLACES for 500: Home of the Nationals, the Manatees, and the “Caps,” as well as a football team. AESTHETIC ARITHMETIC for 100: 28 and 496 are examples of this rare type of integer; it’s a major open question whether any such numbers are hexagonal. “SOLO” ACTS for 200: When told, “There’s some chance you shot first,” he might answer, “Never tell me the facts!” PLAYTIME for 100: This brick-builders’ amusement park is a flagship property of Nestlé Entertainments. QUESTIONABLE ANSWERS for 300: This British rock band is known for hits like “Baba O’Riley” and “Pinball Atkins” — as well as for destroying equipment on stage. GAME GEAR for 700: This device keeps track of which monsters you’ve seen, and provides useful information such as “Moltres evolves into Gloom.”

We know it’s hard to gather together in person these days — but still, this pseudo-“Jeopardy!” puzzle promises to be fun to solve with others. Zoom or phone friends and family and give it a go!

If your “Jeopardy!” hot streak continues to the very end of this puzzle — or if you even make partial progress — please buzz in at skpuzzles@bloomberg.net before midnight New York time on Thursday, November 19. Bonus points if you remember to submit your answer in the form of a question.

If you get stuck, there’ll be 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 22.

Previously in Kominers’s Conundrums …

We presented five Wheel of Fortune puzzles, starting with the letters “R,” “S,” “T,” “L,” “N,” “E,” “G,” “K,” “X,” and “I” filled in. The first goal was to figure out what each one said.

Solving these sorts of puzzles can look daunting at first because of all the empty blanks — but they’re more approachable than you might think. The trick is to remember that in Wheel of Fortune all instances of a given letter are filled in at once, so if there’s a blank then it can’t be filled in with some letter that’s already visible.

So, for example, the single-letter word in the first clue, “_ _ R _ / _ _ _ / _ / L I T T L E / L _ _ _,” can’t be “I.” That means it’s probably “A” — and “A LITTLE” might sound (ahem) a little bit familiar. With some trial and error you can then figure out “MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB.”

Fully solved, the clues were as follows:

_ _ R _ / _ _ _ / _ / L I T T L E / L _ _ _ = MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB _ I _ E / _ R _ N G E , / T _ / S _ E R L _ _ K = FIVE ORANGE, TO SHERLOCK _ E _ R E _ / G R _ I N / _ E _ S _ R E = HEBREW GRAIN MEASURE _ L _ _ K _ _ _ K / _ E _ L S = BLACKJACK DEALS _ I _ / S N E _ K E R S , / _ _ _ / _ I G _ T / S _ _ = HIP SNEAKERS, YOU MIGHT SAY

But that wasn’t the end of the Conundrum. Next you had to figure out ways that each one could be describing something we count. (And as we mentioned, the clues didn’t necessarily reference those objects in the quite same form that we count them in.)

That gave “SHEEP,” “PIPS,” “OMER,” “CARDS,” and “KICKS.” Reading the first letters of those answers off in order gave the solution to the full Conundrum: “SPOCK.”

Spock is of course a “logical person to count on,” as we promised in the Conundrum text. It turns out that he is also “somewhat problematic to have on Wheel of Fortune:” Spock was the subject of Vanna White’s one mistake in decades of turning letters on the show, as she told Time Magazine in 2014:

“The puzzle was either Doctor Spock or Mister Spock. Whenever they called it, I just turned the — we’ll say D — I turned it and it was an M. I was mortified. They had to throw the puzzle out.”

Lazar Ilic solved first, followed by Noam Elkies, John Owens, Michael Shum, and Michael Thaler. The other solvers were Stevie Bujold, Paul Kominers, & Daniel Zaharopol, Joshua Chan, Swathi Sekar, Nancy Stern, Skylar Sukapornchai, Susan Wildstrom, and Zoz.

Elkies and Wildstrom both noticed that the fourth puzzle, “_ L _ _ K _ _ _ K / _ E _ L S” could also be filled in as “CLOCKWORK PEALS,”(4)indicating “CHIMES,” which by some miracle fits into Spock’s name just as well. Owens submitted a “live long and prosper” emoji.

The Bonus Round

Pretty patterns in polar plots of primes (hat tip: Paul Milgrom); a “Pint” of Scooby-Doo puzzles. (And RIP Scooby-Doo creator Ken Spears; hat tip Ellen Dickstein Kominers.) Surf the web with a PlayStation 5; rescue your old save files on a PlayStation 1; or just visit Four Seasons Total Landscaping in VR. Byzantine fault-tolerance in airplanes; summer on a lobster boat; inside the mysterious Bourbaki math society. And inquiring minds want to know: How do octopi taste things?

(1) Not to mention some bizarre movie math.

(2) Except on April Fools' Day 1997, when he and Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak traded places.

(3) It’s not Wheel of Fortune – that was last week!

(4) That’s not quite a valid Wheel of Fortune solution because one of the blanks gets filled in with an “R.” But it's stunningly close.

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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