Glossary of Puzzle Hunt Terms

Acrostic[edit | edit source]

A word puzzle typically consisting of a long sequence of numbered blanks, representing a quotation or other text, and a series of clues and numbered blanks representing the letters of the answer to said clue. The clued blanks’ numbers correspond one-to-one with the blanks in the long sequence, and blanks with the same number have the same letter; the goal is to fill out all the blanks. The first letters of correct answers may also spell out a message.

American crossword[edit | edit source]

Typically, a type of crossword featuring “straight” (non-cryptic) clues and a blocked grid (one using black squares) in which every square is checked; or such a crossword grid. Contrasts with: British crossword, Barred crossword.

Australian-style[edit | edit source]

Loosely describes a set of puzzle hunt operating conventions in which puzzles and pre-written hints are released at fixed times each day over several days. Named after the triad of Australian puzzle hunts MUMS, SUMS, and CiSRA, which ran with peak reliability around 2010–2013.

Anagram[edit | edit source]

To rearrange the letters in a word, phrase, or sequence of letters; or a word/phrase produced by doing so.

Outside puzzlehunts, this term is mainly used for two words/phrases that have some punny or humorous relation to each other, e.g.: “DORMITORY is an anagram of DIRTY ROOM.”

Answerphrase[edit | edit source]

A phrase of the form, “THE ANSWER IS (answer)”. A degenerate form of the cluephrase.

Arepo[edit | edit source]

One inelegant component of a construction that allows the whole thing to work. Named after the Sator Square, the 5×5 square of letters which forms a meaningful phrase in Latin when read horizontally, vertically, or backwards, but only if you accept “AREPO” as the name of some person.

S A T O R
A R E P O
T E N E T
O P E R A
R O T A S

Backsolve[edit | edit source]

To solve a puzzle by guessing the answer using constraints on it from the metapuzzle.

There is a spectrum of backsolving. In extreme cases you might ignore the puzzle entirely and guess the answer simply based on how it fits into the metapuzzle. In milder cases, you might have a constraint like you know a few letters or a theme from the puzzle and also a constraint from the metapuzzle, and combine the two to find the answer.

Puzzle and meta authors will sometimes try to design metapuzzles to prevent backsolving or make it harder, since if you backsolve a puzzle you manage to circumvent the entire puzzle itself, which somebody probably worked really hard on.

Contrast with: forward-solve, McFly, sidesolve.

Barred crossword[edit | edit source]

A type of crossword grid in which there are no black squares, but there are thick borders separating entries. The presence of unchecked squares varies. Contrast with: Blocked crossword. See also: American crossword, British crossword.

Bigram[edit | edit source]

A pair of letters, generally adjacent, usually used to describe wordplay modifications or relationships between words. You can insert a bigram into SCALES to get SCYTALES, but not SCALPELS.

Contrast with: Trigram

Black box[edit | edit source]

A broad category of puzzle in which the goal is to determine the inner workings of something by only interacting with it.

Blocked crossword[edit | edit source]

A type of crossword grid that uses black squares and blanks. Contrast with: Barred crossword. See also: British crossword and American crossword.

British crossword[edit | edit source]

A type of blocked crossword grid using black squares in which entries typically lie on every other row and column and every other blank in each entry is checked; or a crossword using such a grid. Often (but not always) uses cryptic clues.

Contrast with: American crossword.

Caesar cipher[edit | edit source]

Main article: Caesar Cipher

(Also: shift cipher.) A cipher in which each letter is replaced with the letter N positions after it in the alphabet, wrapping around the ends (A comes after Z), for some fixed number N. Rot-13 is the special case where N = 13, and is notable because it is its own inverse.

Capstone puzzle[edit | edit source]

A puzzle with particular significance in terms of hunt progression or unlocking, like a metapuzzle, but that doesn’t directly use the answers of any feeder puzzles.

Cluephrase[edit | edit source]

A phrase that suggests the final answer, or more generally just the next step in a puzzle, usually extracted from earlier information in the puzzle.

Cheater[edit | edit source]

A black square in a crossword that, if removed, would not cause the word count to decrease.

Check[edit | edit source]

In a crossword, for a blank cell to be part of more than one entry, which is a run of blank cells in which an answer should be written in. A cell that is only part of one entry is unchecked. In typical American crosswords, all squares must be checked; in typical British crosswords, around half of the squares in each entry are checked. Cells that are somehow part of three entries may be called triple-checked, and so on.

Cryptic clue[edit | edit source]

Main article: Cryptic Clue

A specific genre of clue for words or phrases that consists of a definition and a wordplay-based description, or a crossword using such clues. There are many styles and conventions surrounding cryptic crosswords. Wikipedia: Cryptic crossword

Diagramless[edit | edit source]

A crossword where you’re only given the clues (typically with numbers), but not the grid. The grid is still usually numbered in the standard way and is also likely rotationally symmetric, which can be used to restore it.

Diagonalization[edit | edit source]

Main article: Diagonalization

Taking the Nth letter of the Nth item in a sequence: the first letter of the first, the second letter of the second, and so on. A moderately common extraction technique, more so when all items have the same number of letters.

Ditloid[edit | edit source]

A type of word puzzle in which a phrase has had most of its words abbreviated, typically with common words like prepositions and articles preserved and with numbers preserved but written out as digits instead. Solvers must deduce the original phrase. For example, “24 H in a D” solves to “24 Hours in a Day”.

Dropquote[edit | edit source]

Main article: Dropquote

A type of word puzzle where a phrase, quotation, or other series of words has been concealed in a crossword-like grid reading left to right, top to bottom, and then the letters in each column have been removed and provided in sorted order at the top.

Eigenletter[edit | edit source]

An extraction method where the (usually unique) letter that appears at the same index in two words/phrases is taken. More common if both words/phrases have the same number of letters.

Enumeration[edit | edit source]

A number or sequence of numbers describing how many letters there are in an answer or each word thereof, often written in parentheses and occasionally with additional annotations. The enumeration for “EXAMPLE” might be (7). In multi-word phrases and other answers with spaces in them, the spaces may be noted with commas (typical in cryptics) or left as spaces; for example, the enumeration for “ORANGE JUICE” might be (6,5) or (6 5). Other punctuation is typically left verbatim; the enumeration for “JACK-O’-LANTERN” might be (4-1’-7).

NPL flats have more specific rules for enumerations; asterisks are prepended to enumerations for words that are “inherently” capitalized, while carets are prepended to enumerations for words that are capitalized due to their context, such as being part of a multi-word name, among other annotations. THE DRAGON OF WANTLEY might be enumerated (^3 ^6 2 *7). These are not particularly common.

Some puzzles also feature “word enumerations” such as “(2 wds.)” that tell you how many words are in an answer, but not the number of letters; when they exist, they are usually only added to answers with more than one word. These may be used in American crosswords, where enumerations are not usually provided, as an additional hint; they may also be used in cryptics with gimmicks where some entries require modifications before entry into the grid, and providing the exact enumerations would give too much away about which entries are being modified.

Extraction[edit | edit source]

A step in a puzzle solution that condenses its information; often, but not necessarily, the final step. Typical example involves extracting one letter from each clue answer or subpuzzle and having the letters spell out the answer or a cluephrase.

Feeder[edit | edit source]

A puzzle whose answer is used in a metapuzzle (or the answer itself).

In most hunts, every feeder is used by exactly one metapuzzle. Sometimes, this matchup is clearly indicated (for example, the puzzles may be grouped into a “round” which has only one metapuzzle); sometimes, deducing the matchup is part of the puzzle hunt. In rare cases, a feeder may be used by multiple metas.

It is possible for a metapuzzle to be itself a feeder to a higher-level metapuzzle (sometimes called a metametapuzzle).

Forward-solve[edit | edit source]

To solve a puzzle “normally”, without using information from a metapuzzle.

Contrast with: backsolve, sidesolve, McFly.

Flat[edit | edit source]

A genre of word puzzle that clues wordplay-related words through context, usually in a verse. Most well known for appearing in the National Puzzlers’ League’s publication, The ENIGMA.

Flavor text[edit | edit source]

Text in a puzzle that’s typically displayed right after the title and distinguished from the rest of the puzzle (usually by being italicized). Flavor text usually does not contain clues or puzzle components that are mechanically necessary for solving the puzzle (no letters will be extracted from them, for example), but may obliquely hint at a puzzle mechanism or be used as a component of the meta. Flavor text may also simply be irrelevant text that integrates the puzzle into a story or theme (to provide “flavor”). (This is unlike the usage in, say, tabletop games, where typical flavor text is entirely mechanically irrelevant.) Not all puzzles have flavor text.

Gimmick[edit | edit source]

A novel puzzle mechanic applied to a familiar concept. Most commonly used when referring to crosswords in which some words must be entered in a non-standard way. Examples include crosswords in which: some squares accept a bigraph or multiple letters; some squares accept different letters for the across or down clue; some words are not in a straight line; etc.

Green paint[edit | edit source]

Typically in crosswords, a phrase that’s grammatically and semantically sensible, but consists of components that aren’t more meaningful or notable together than they are apart. Self-describing: green paint certainly exists, but nothing is especially notable about paint that’s green in particular instead of any other color (or green paint in particular instead of any other green object).

An example of a phrase that isn’t green paint is “red tape”. Although tape can indeed be red or any other color, the phrase “red tape” has a specific metaphorical meaning that isn’t shared by other colors of tape or other red objects.

Identify, Sort, Index, Solve (ISIS)[edit | edit source]

A loosely defined, common puzzle type consisting of those four steps in order: identifying some puzzle-provided objects or clues, sorting them in some order based on the identification, indexing by a provided number to produce a cluephrase, and using the cluephrase to solve the puzzle.

Coined by Foggy Brume in 2010.

Index[edit | edit source]

To take the Nth letter from a word or phrase, or more rarely the Nth word from a sentence or just any Nth term from a sequence, for some given N. When indexing to extract letters, spaces and punctuation are typically skipped in the count. A common step in extraction.

Konundrum[edit | edit source]

(Also: Duck Konundrum.) A puzzle consisting of a sequence of detailed instructions that the solver must faithfully follow or simulate to solve the puzzle. The instructions are often unrealistic but easy to simulate, e.g. involving animals or fictional beings making complex decisions. The genre-defining example is The Duck Konundrum from MIT Mystery Hunt.

Logic puzzle[edit | edit source]

A puzzle relying primarily on logical deduction. Subgenres include Nikoli-style grid logic puzzles like Sudoku, which take place on a grid with clues and involve filling out the grid according to some abstract rules, and Einstein’s riddle—like logic puzzles, which typically consist of several lists of equally-sized things and a list of statements about how they are matched up.

Mangled clues[edit | edit source]

(there isn’t a consensus term; other phrases include “cluetations”, “word transformers”, “tortured clues”) A puzzle type in which clues are typically given without spaces and where each word has been modified according to some orthographic rule, things like “change all As to Bs”, “insert a Q after the second letter”, “Caesar shift the last letter forward by four”, or combinations thereof. Typically, the answer to the clue will then be modified by the same rule or its reverse.

Metapuzzle[edit | edit source]

See also : Metapuzzle

(often shortened to “meta”) A puzzle that uses answers from other puzzles. Typically unlocked after regular puzzles. Usually important for progressing through a hunt; the answer to a metapuzzle may have plot significance in that regard and is also often humorous or punny. The opposite may be called a “regular puzzle” or, when the relationship to a metapuzzle is being emphasized, a “feeder”.

When the correspondence of metapuzzles to feeders is not provided and must be determined by solvers, the process is usually called “meta(puzzle) matching”.

McFly[edit | edit source]

(v.) To forward-solve a puzzle you previously backsolved, usually after the hunt for fun.

Namystic[edit | edit source]

A kind of puzzle in which the letters of the alphabet are arranged around a central shape (typically a triangle or circle) and then a path is drawn connecting adjacent letters in a word, phrase, or name. The path may then be filled in to obscure some of its segments. The goal is to determine the original word, phrase, or name. From Games Magazine maybe?

Natick[edit | edit source]

When two unguessable answers, typically obscure names, cross in a crossword, such that the square at which they cross cannot be determined by the solver; or the square in which they cross. From Rex Parker commentary.

Partial[edit | edit source]

(Also: confirmation.) An intermediate phrase obtained from a puzzle that produces a special response when entered into the answer checker. The response may guide the solver to the next step, or may simply provide nothing more than confirmation that that phrase is correct, e.g. “Keep going!” Not all puzzle hunts provide partial confirmation.

Pure metapuzzle[edit | edit source]

A metapuzzle with no or minimal content (e.g. only flavor text) in and of itself; the metapuzzle consists of just the answers that feed into it. Contrast with: Shell metapuzzle.

Puzzle trail[edit | edit source]

(not common) A linear sequence of puzzles where each one leads to the next, often by changing a component of the URL to the answer. The ur-example is notpr0n.

Random anagram[edit | edit source]

(Also: randomgram or unclued anagram.) An anagramming step in a puzzle without a motivation, a provided order of the letters, or confirmation of the result.

Used pejoratively when describing the construction of a puzzle. It is generally considered good practice that every expected step in the puzzle should be clued or motivated in some way.

Occasionally used to describe a solver’s practice of skipping a step by unscrambling a word or phrase when the intended solve path was to obtain the ordering another way.

Red herring[edit | edit source]

Any false path in a puzzle, e.g. an unintended message that can be extracted from the puzzle data or a coincidental pattern that isn’t actually relevant to solving the puzzle. Some red herrings are surprising enough to become enshrined in puzzlehunt history, e.g. “BE NOISY” from the 2002 Mystery Hunt. Putting intentional red herrings in puzzles is frowned upon because they aren’t fun to be stuck in, and solvers are fully capable of unintentionally discovering their own.

Some puzzles may use the literal phrase “red herring” or synonyms (“scarlet swimmer”, etc.), or a picture of a red herring, in places where including some message or image is necessary to make the puzzle work, to explicitly indicate that there’s no further meaning to that choice.

Runaround[edit | edit source]

A puzzle that generally involves following instructions to move around a physical space (by running or otherwise), typically to gather information in a puzzly way.

Solve Path[edit | edit source]

A step-by-step description of how someone is expected to or actually does solve a particular puzzle. Generally touches on individual deductions that should lead solvers to each part of the puzzle.

Surface[edit | edit source]

Of cryptic clues: the literal meaning of the clue. Theoretically irrelevant for solving the clue, but valued for aesthetic purposes, and can also be more or less misleading. Most people would probably say that “Side-mounted component in dealer’s car (4)” has a better surface than “Part of Voldemort example (4)”, even though both clue the same word (DEMO) with the same wordplay (containment), because the arrangement and literal meaning of words in the first clue are more coherent and more grammatical.

Shell metapuzzle[edit | edit source]

A metapuzzle with content (the “shell”). For example, the metapuzzle might have a crossword grid that you are supposed to put the puzzle answers, or something related, into. Contrast with: Pure metapuzzle.

Sidesolve[edit | edit source]

A partial backsolve and partial forward-solve, in which information from both the puzzle and its meta is used.

The Error That Cannot Be Named[edit | edit source]

(Usually abbreviated TETCBN.) A mistake in which the answer to a puzzle or clue literally appears in the puzzle or clue. So called because naming the error as such and then fixing it would give away the answer to the puzzle or clue.

Transaddition[edit | edit source]

Adding a letter and then anagramming, or a word/phrase produced by such a process.

For example, MEGAPLEX is a transaddition of EXAMPLE because it can be formed by adding the letter G and rearranging them.

Transdeletion[edit | edit source]

Removing a letter and then anagramming, or a word/phrase produced by such a process.

For example, EXAMPLE is a transdeletion of MEGAPLEX because it can be formed by removing the letter G and rearranging the rest.

Trigram[edit | edit source]

A triplet of letters, generally adjacent, usually used to describe wordplay modifications or relationships between words.

Some puzzles consist of a list of trigrams, typically sorted, and possibly an enumeration, with the goal to rearrange the trigrams into a coherent phrase or sentence, fitting the enumeration if one exists. This puzzle type is sometimes jocularly called “trigram hell”.

Contrast with: Bigram

Wheel of Fortune[edit | edit source]

(Often abbreviated WoF.) To guess answers while knowing, or having guesses for, only some of the letters and their positions. Named after the American game show.