Below you will find lists of words from a third-grade spelling test. The letters are scrambled, but not in the usual way. In each group, the letters are scrambled vertically, with each letter in the correct position, but not necessarily in the correct word. In other words, the second letters can be moved to any other word but must remain in the second position. Same for the third, fourth, and fifth letters, etc. The first letters are static and a word beginning with that letter has only as many letters as the original scrambled word. Each letter will only be used once and all letters will be used.
For example, take the list:
The first word can be formed from the letters in caps to make “center.”
The second word, “circle,” can be found the following way:
And finally, the third word, “ocean” can be uncovered thusly (note that the five letters in “ointe” correspond to the five letters in “ocean”):
Remember, these are three separate puzzles; you cannot move letters between groups. The winner of a McSweeney’s book will be chosen at random from all entrants with the most groups unscrambled. Answers should be sent by noon on Friday, November 7.
Group One (Elementary)
Group Two (Bonus)
Group Three (Extra Credit)
The correct answers are:
We received over 300 correct entries, and this week’s winner of a McSweeney’s book is Steve Krodman of Marietta, Georgia.
There were two traps that foiled a significant number of entries, both of which traps were triggered by readers who ignored the last sentence of the instructions: “The first letters are static and a word beginning with that letter has only as many letters as the original scrambled word.” About 3 percent of entries contained the list “pencil, orange, circus, jetty, cells, sin, sometimes” and more than 4 percent offered, “circus, jelly, sit, orange, pencil, cents, sometimes.” Almost all who guessed the latter wondered why the word “jelly” appeared twice and probably wasted an afternoon or more looking for some Smuckers-related theme. We apologize for any inconvenience. As Penny Citrola put it:
I suspect that I might be incorrect because I used the word jelly twice in two different puzzles… leading me to believe that maybe I have jelly on the brain and I’m just seeing jelly where there really isn’t any… but then again, you used jam in the second puzzle, so maybe it’s not me with spreadable food products on the brain, you see what I’m driving at, Carlton? All I want you to know is that you’re not alone, there are others like you out there, and help is available… but Carlton, you have to ask. I can’t do that for you. Stay strong, man.
An up-and-coming young writer named Chris Prendergast also thought he found a hidden agenda in the puzzle:
The final word, “sometimes,” happens to be the title of the My Bloody Valentine song recommended by McSweeney’s under the appropriately titled “McSweeney’s Recommends” section of the site. If this is part of some larger conspiracy, I’m too dumb to know it. If it’s just a happy little coincidence, in addition to putting me in the drawing for the book, could you include my name in your answers section as “an up-and-coming young writer”? Thanks, you’re the greatest! Fan of free self-promotion, Chris Prendergast
Megan Peterson, an expert on the subject, had this to say:
I must admit an unfair advantage on this one, as I actually am a third-grade teacher. Here’s my question for you: why the word “alert,” which does not fit the list’s spelling pattern? All of the other words have consonant /j/ or /s/ sounds. Here’s what I surmise… you used a Scott Foresman reading manual and saw that one of the vocabulary words for the story that accompanies this spelling pattern is “alert,” so you decided to throw it in. (That story is “Danger! Icebergs,” by the way.) Am I right? If so, surely I deserve extra credit… Megan Peterson
Because of the relative swiftness with which they were able to complete this week’s puzzle, several readers felt compelled to put the words into sentences, with varying degrees of success:
I suppose you could reorder them to make fun sentences or phrases, like “large jelly jeans” (which I own), or “Juggle jam! Alert Page!” (in which scenario Page is the last in a group of street performers, perhaps in a parade, throwing knives or burning batons into the air), but to pencil silly orange circus jet sometimes just doesn’t make cents.
The bottle of Melch’s Grape Jelly exploded, and now there is a large patch of sugary adhesive on my jeans.
It was my friend Amy Jo’s fault. She was trying to prove she could juggle five jam and jelly containers all at once, when we both know she can only do four. If only she hadn’t been looking at that page about doing the over-under move in the Schlemiel’s Guide to Juggling while she juggled, she might have been more alert and noticed the icicles quivering dangerously above the overinflated rubber ball on which she was delicately swaying.
So much for her silly dreams about joining the circus. Now she’ll have to give back the orange jet skis with “Reduced: Ninety-five cents” written on the bottom in pencil. Sometimes she makes me so mad, I could bark.
Eric Silver came up with a clever variation of the game in which you must first unscramble each word the old-fashioned way to make a set of four actual words, then unscramble the letters vertically to make four different words. Here’s the starter list.
The answer is at the bottom of this page:
Finally, six people this week earned our gratitude as well as Amy Jo Johnson bonus points for mentioning the Brain Exploder’s favorite actress and current crush. They are: Eric Johnson, Miriam Attia, Mark Solan, Matthew Prins, Donald Hall, and Chris Craft, who offered this tribute.
But what’s the secret answer? It appears the words come from Test Nine for the third grade at Davis Elementary in Grinnell, Iowa, as listed at http://www.grinnell.k12.ia.us/des/MC/3list9.html. But “ocean” is only on the challenging portion of the list, and “alert” isn’t even on there. While the test’s theme—that of “Danger, Iceberg!”—is plenty alerting on its own, another quick search uncovers the truth… When googling “Amy Jo Johnson” with “alert,” one is inevitably led to http://www.circling.org/features/vicki_6.html, where people know far too much about Felicity:
“The stupidity of Felicity is easy to see. First, last season, Julie briefly dated a boy named Zack. They went up to her room together. When next we see Julie, she’s crying and burning her sheets. The show might as well have flashed a warning: ‘The next part of this episode will contain a Heartfelt Message. Please be alert.’ The problem was that Julie is played by Amy Jo Johnson, formerly known as the Pink Ranger, while Zack, the dirty rapist, was played by Devon Gummersall, formerly known as Brian, the next-door geek of My So-Called Life who couldn’t convince Claire Danes’s Angela to look at him twice. It doesn’t take a Time-Life Books reader to know that the Pink Ranger could kick Brian’s little white-boy butt all the way back to 1994.”
A thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters indeed. Actually, the Felicity analysis was refreshing when stacked against the baffling variety of porn sites that pop up when combining “Amy Jo Johnson” with “large jelly jeans” and the like. Anyway, I’m considering starting an Amy Jo Johnson Alert site to bring the people relevant updates.
ANSWER TO ERIC SILVER BONUS PUZZLE: