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Can you solve it? Irresistibly small and intolerably cute

Alex Bellos
·4-min read

Today’s puzzles are bijoux. Petite. Bite-sized. They are the canapés of the conundrum world, and so deliciously moreish you will devour them all. They come in two types, and I have included six of one, and half a dozen of the other.

First up: ‘equatum’ puzzles, devised by Justin Roughley. These are beautifully elegant number puzzles in which a single word must be transcribed into an equation. Clever stuff, literally.

Replace each letter in the word CLEVER with one of the symbols: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 + - x ÷ =, so that the word becomes a balanced equation. Within the word, the same letter must represent the same symbol. Different letters must represent different symbols (i.e. you cannot have two different letters representing the same symbol). Once you have solved that one, do the same with each of these other words:

  • LOLLIPOP

  • SEASHELL

  • DELETED

  • ESCAPEES

  • REFERRAL

The second puzzle type is the mini crossword, devised by Thane Plambeck. The grid is always the 3x3 one here. Two across clues. Two down clues. What elevates this puzzle to a thing of beauty, however, is that there is a fifth word to be discovered, using the 8 letters of the final grid, which is spelled out using a knight’s tour. (The knight’s tour is a journey around the grid in which every move is a knight’s move, i.e. two squares along and one across each time. You cannot land on the same square twice.)

Puzzle 1

Across 1. Write. 3. _____ off (fall asleep).

Down 1. “I was struggling to understand how lightning works, and then it hit me,” for example. 2. Homer Simpson’s neighbour, Mr Flanders.

Knight’s Tour Sealed.

Puzzle 2

Across 1. Wager. 3. Workout location now closed due to COVID-19.

Down 1. Request earnestly. 2. A wool knit cap in Scotland.

Knight’s Tour Computer storage unit.

Puzzle 3

Across 1. God of the wild, shepherds and flocks. 3. Martini essential.

Down 1. Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web, for example. 2. Software complaint when a programmer attempts to divide by zero.

Knight’s Tour Composer whose compositions were judged so difficult to play that he was suspected of being “in league with the devil.”

Puzzle 4

Across 1. Humanoid monster brought into modern usage by J. R. R. Tolkien. 3. Along with “a” and “and,” one of the three most frequently used words in English, and one that even has the audacity to appear in this clue.

Down 1. A widely cultivated cereal grass. 2. An actor might wait for it.

Knight’s Tour The activity of providing services to people who otherwise might not have access to them.

Puzzle 5

Across 1. Go bad. 3. Saturn V launch point.

Down 1. Salesperson. 2. A famous Kennedy who died 25 August 2009.

Knight’s Tour What the surgeon had done while the patient was out.

Puzzle 6

Across 1. Distress call. 3. Possible content of a call to the police.

Down 1. Word preceding UPON, BACK, FOOT, IN, or SAIL. 2. Dip in liquid.

Knight’s Tour Protium and tritium, for example.

For readers still confused about what a knight’s tour is, here are how all the squares are connected using the knight’s move.

I’ll be back with the solutions at 5pm UK today. PLEASE NO SPOILERS. Please instead discuss and share your favourite micro puzzles.

If any readers are inclined to invent their own equatum puzzles, or mini crosswords, please send them in to me and I will use the best ones in this column either today or at a later date. Equatum puzzles need to have a unique solution, and mini crosswords need to have a knight’s tour. I’ll send a copy of The Language Lover’s Puzzle Book to the author of my favourite submission.

Thanks to Justin Roughley and Thane Plambeck for todays puzzles.

Justin is a mathematician in Bristol and last year produced a book of similar equatum puzzles. You can find out more on his website here.

Thane lives in Palo Alto and works at Counterwave.

I set a puzzle here every two weeks on a Monday. I’m always on the look-out for great puzzles. If you would like to suggest one, email me.

I’m the author of several books of puzzles, most recently the Language Lover’s Puzzle Book.