Tortured Clues

Tortured Clues (also known as Mangled Clues) are a type of word puzzle wherein a clue has been transformed word-by-word using a specific function. The solver must undo the transformation to obtain the original clue; the solver then gets two pieces of information, those being the answers and the transformations.

Background[edit | edit source]

To do TO DO

Puzzle Application[edit | edit source]

The presence of Tortured Clues is generally known from the start of the puzzle, generally presenting itself as a set of long nonsensical strings, often without spaces. An example of such a string can be seen below:


Solving a Tortured Clue will result in two streams of data: the answer to the clue and the transformation affecting the clue. The most common application of these data streams applies the transformation to the answer to obtain a different puzzle-relevant string. Answers to unmangled clues are generally one word, so that there is no ambiguity as to how to apply the transformation.

Strategy[edit | edit source]

In general, the transformations won't change the words that much from the original forms—simply reading the Tortured Clue should give enough information to recover enough of the intended clue to figure out the transformation and answer. Longer words especially tend to give out a lot of information. Where this fails, noting a letter or pattern that shows up abnormally often can be an easy break-in to the clue.

Possible transformations include swapping letters within words, Caesar Shifts, string reversals, and every type of letter mutation under the sun. The possibilities are limitless, though the author will often have taken steps to ensure that each is reasonably solvable.

The example above, for instance, has some rather clear-cut words present within: DESIGNATION and REFERENCING both look promising, using strings DESIGAETIDN and REFERNECIDG. Next, the solver can examine the sequence of transformations that can accurately transform both: while the misplaced E in REFERENCING might have been the result of a letter swap, the E in DESIGNATION cannot, and so the E was likely inserted or changed from another letter. Whether the intended new letter is "E" or "the second letter" cannot be determined using only these two words. Likewise, each one is missing the sixth letter and had the tenth letter replaced with a D; however, both words are the same length, and thus the solver cannot distinguish between "tenth" and "second-last" or "sixth" and "middle" at this point. The string preceding DESIGNATION, however, clears up these doubts nicely: a compelling completion is FOREIGN, which satisfies the latter interpretation in both cases. Checking against the remaining words confirms this.

The example clue resolves to Click to revealFOREIGN DESIGNATION REFERENCING CHINESE NORTHEAST PROVINCES, or MANCHURIA, under the transformation "replace middle letter with E and swap with letter to its right; replace penultimate letter with D". Applying the transformation to the answer yields MANCUERDA, a method of torture.

Notable Examples[edit | edit source]

  • Overdone (Silph 2021) (web) - Click to revealWherein the transformation must be applied to the answer anywhere from 2 to 9 times to obtain a sensible phrase.
  • Everybody Must Get Rosetta Stoned (MITMH 2022) (web) - Tortured Clues meets Click to revealPhonetics—all transformations act upon the sounds rather than the spelling. Transforming the answers yields languages.

See Also[edit | edit source]