It’s time for another Pittsburgh Puzzle Parry-in-a-Pen Match. That means no instructions. No guidance, just a series of clues and your own wits to decipher them.

If you want, you can write and ask for a hint. If you submit a hint-aided answer, however, we ask that you indicate it as such. The winner of a McSweeney’s book will be chosen from all answers decoded without the hint. If no one solves the puzzle that way, a winner will be chosen from all correct answers.

Good luck.

1. Sulfur, Molybdenum, Hydrogen, Rhenium, Ruthenium
2. Nickel, Sulfur, Tungsten, Lanthanum, Oxygen, Nitrogen
3. Uranium, Aluminum, Rhenium, Germanium, Sulfur, Nickel
4. Calcium, Oxygen, Yttrium, Niobium, Bismuth
5. Titanium, Neptunium, Sulfur2, Tungsten, Gold, Oxygen, Erbium
6. Iodine, Hydrogen, Tin, Tungsten2, Oxygen, Tellurium
7. Argon, Erbium, Oxygen, Bromine, Thorium, Beryllium
8. Cerium, Tungsten, Aluminum, Neodymium2, Indium, Iodine, Lanthanum, Erbium, Oxygen
9. Neodymium, Thorium, Einsteinium, Carbon, Oxygen2, Silicon, Fermium, Uranium2
10. Vanadium, Indium, Carbon2, Oxygen2, Potassium, Hydrogen, Erbium, Iodine, Bromine

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More than two-dozen readers were up to the challenge, correctly recognizing that the element’s symbols could be rearranged to form movie titles.

1) S H Re Mo Ru: RuSHMoRe

2) Ni S W La O N: SONiNLaW

3) U Al Re Ge S Ni: ReAl GeNiUS

4) Ca O Y Nb Bi: CaBiNbOY

5) Ti Np S S W Au O Er: AuSTiNpOWErS

6) I H Sn W W O Te: SnOW WHITe

7) Ar Er O Br Th Be: BrOThEr Bear

8) Ce W Al Nd Nd In I La Er O: AlICeInWONdErLaNd

9) Nd Th Es C O O Si Fm U U: ThEsOUNdOFmUSiC

10) V In C C O O K H Er I Br: ErInBrOCKOVICH

The winner of a McSweeney’s book, chosen at random from all correct entries, is Amy Goldberg.

Some people struggled with this one (we received as many requests for hints as we did correct entries). Others solved the puzzle but went looking for a connection between the films. For example:

Dear Brain Exploder Director of Operations:

I’m not a scientist, so I thank goodness for the Internet. It makes research easy for any layperson. (I’m not sure about number six, but I think the rest are correct).


1. Unusual baby names for celebrities
2. Characters from a lost Lord of the Rings book
3. Rejected Jelly-Belly flavors
4. Ingredients of a “Super Science for Kids” kit purchased at the 99 cent store
5. Star Trek villains
6. Legal tender in another galaxy
7. (In addition to a broken lawnmower, one walkie-talkie, a goldfish bowl, one gold lame slipper) Things I’ll need to build my robot.
8. Top nine answers to Family Feud category: Name a planet in our solar system
9. Things you can’t store in Tupperware containers
10. Birds of North America (in the year 3021)


Rebecca Sonnenshine

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Question: What do all of these films have in common?
Answer: Each is conspicuously lacking a Harvey Keitel nude scene.

Mike Laussade

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Now, here’s one for you. It involves Brain Exploder crush Amy Jo Johnson, of course.

Sulfur, Argon, Boron, Uranium, Chlorine, Lithium

Megan Peterson and Sarah Garb

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For me, the hardest one by far was #10. Hoover Brick Inc.? (A desperate Animal House sequel, perhaps?) Brock: Vice Rhino? (“He’s one tough cop—he’s…” No.) Chic Vino Broker? (Finally getting closer: A Julia Roberts romantic comedy set in Paris and Rome!)

Jon Meyers

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Of course, I knew immediately that you must be referring to the 1988 live-action version of Snow White and the 1999 made-for-TV Alice in Wonderland, owing to the clear influence of Amy Jo Johnson (and my equally clear abuse of the IMDb and the University of Virginia CS department’s wonderful website):

1. Bill Murray → Nothing Lasts Forever → Zach Galligan → Infested
2. Pauly Shore → Class Act → Greg Collins → Turbo
3. Val Kilmer → Tombstone → Kurt Russell → Interstate 60
4. Chris Elliott → Osmosis Jones → Richard Hovitz → Turbo
5. Mike Myers → Shrek → Richard Hovitz (again!) → Turbo
6. Billy Barty → Radioland Murders → Christopher Lloyd → Interstate 60
7. Joaquin Phoenix → Inventing the Abbotts → Billy Crudup → Without Limits
8. Martin Short → Get Over It → Jonathon Whittaker → Interstate 60
9. Angela Cartwright → Lost in Space → Gary Oldman → Interstate 60
10. Julia Roberts → Mystic Pizza → Annabeth Gish → Pursuit of Happiness

Jacques Frechet
(Note: the chart links actors in the puzzle’s films to movies featuring AJJ. —cd)

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If there are any connections between the movies, I can’t find them. At first I thought maybe they were all based on a previous book or tale, but I don’t recall ever hearing about Pauly Shore’s talents being employed to bring to life a tale of a lazy surfer falling in love with a farm girl. Then I thought perhaps each film involves a strange pairing, such the rich young man and a slew of swarthy sailors in Cabin Boy. Erin Brockovich scuttled that ship before it left port, as all I could come up with was a weak crack about Julia Roberts’ breasts (Get it? Pairings?). I also thought that maybe each film’s writer appeared in the film. Alas, as we all know, Dopey had not yet discovered his talent for animation when he appeared in Snow White. Maybe I spent too much time on this.

Jason Halpin

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[Answer to ] #10: Chinook River, BC (probably not a movie title per se, but, given the Canadian tax laws that are designed to attract film production investment, it could very well be the place that the above movies were made. Or not.)

Steve Krodman

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As children, my brother and I once tried to find the longest word that could be spelled exclusively with chemical symbols. We didn’t allow for rearrangement. The winner was, “Helicopters”: Helium Lithium Cobalt Platinum Erbium Sulfur. We were so proud of ourselves. To celebrate, we built two fully armed toy helicopters out of Lego, and spent that cold wintry Sunday indoors battling each other in fierce air-to-air combat. Sound effects, etc. Years later, the hated Internet crushed our efforts and our very souls: It turns out that the longest word spelled with chemical symbols (I’ll spare you the chemical names) is Hypothalamicohypophyseals, which means, “Relating to the pituitary and adjacent regions of the brain.” My brother and I have since sworn off the Internet forever and officially hate it. We still play Legos.

Robert Plass