Solution: Piles of Letters

Written by Max Chang

This puzzle consists of two similarly themed, but independent subpuzzles. Both subpuzzles combine an often overlooked word game with a logic component. As hinted by the flavor text, the two word games are Boggle and Upwords.

In the first subpuzzle, Ashe and Hilda are playing Boggle. Each clue has two answers, both of which must be present in the Boggle grid. To help with the clue fill and to disambiguate in cases where Ashe's and Hilda's enumerations were the same, Ashe's answers are presented in alphabetical order and Hilda's answers always follow Ashe's alphabetically. The answers to the clues are below.

ClueAshe AnswerHilda Answer
Structure type of a famous Parisian monumentARCHTOWER
What you wear on your headCAPHAT
Jaguar, for exampleCARCAT
An LA-based NFL playerCHARGERRAM
Type of quarkCHARMTOP
Part of a tennis competitionGAMEMATCH
Common food that comes from a pigHAMPORK
Greek vowelIOTAOMEGA
Quantity of alcoholKEGTOT
Prefix of "man" found in 80s video gamesMEGAPAC
Winged household pest/insectMOTHROACH
An agreement made by bloodOATHPACT
What Christoph Waltz might call one of Johannes's parentsOMAOPA
Physical quantity that makes a word when prefixed with firePOWERWORK
Modern US Military fighter plane nameRAPTORTOMCAT

The logic part of the puzzle is filling in the Boggle board. The key is looking at letter adjacencies. If you have most of the clues answers, you can figure out that letter 'O' must be adjacent to 8 other letters ('A', 'I', 'M', 'P', 'R', 'T', 'T', and 'W'). This means that the 'O' must go above the 'W'.

Next, the 'E' is not adjacent to 'O' but must be adjacent to 'W' (from POWER and TOWER) so it must go in the bottom row. Looking at its adjacencies ('G', 'K', 'M', 'R', and 'W'), you can figure out that the 'E' goes below the 'W'.

Next, you can use the word KEG and the adjacencies of 'K' and 'G' to fill in the rest of the bottom row. The word PORK and the 'E' adjacencies from before let you place one of the two 'R's and the 'M'.

You can use the word ARCH to fill in the rest of the right column with 'R', 'C', and 'H'. The remaining four letters ('I', 'P', and both 'T's) can be placed using the answers IRE, OATH, and PAC, among many choices. The final grid is filled out below.


The solution to this part of the puzzle is the weapon found "crossing" the grid. If you read the two diagonals of the finished grid, they spell the answer TOMAHAWK.

In the second subpuzzle, Byleth and Hilda are playing Upwords. Each clue comes with the additional letters that are played to make the clue answer. Other words are often formed in addition to the clued word. The answers to all of the clues are below.

BylethTurn #Hilda
BattleWAR1Tool for fishingROD
Sculling instrumentOAR2ChildKID
PouchSAC3Type of milkSKIM
Alternative to coffeeTEA4Equipment for snookerCUE
It's worn around the neckTIE5Bathroom featureTUB
Opposite of inOUT6Noah built oneARK
Pirate's preferred spiritRUM7A type of trialMOCK
Sable relativeMINK8What a zoomer might call a millennialOLD
CorridorHALL9An articleTHE
Limerick, e.g.POEM10Not smartDIM
A place for which you might need a membershipGYM11Opposite of fictionFACT
It might be found under a deskGUM12Slinky, e.g.TOY
SharpKEEN13It is often yellowBUS
TrailsLAGS14Hindu title of respectSRI
What you might see on a street signSTOP15RuckusFUSS
Gesture of the headNOD16DestiniesFATES
Flat-topped hillMESA17ViewedSEEN
ZoomedSPED18Having multiple colorsPIED

The solution to the Skyscraper puzzle lines up with the final state of the Upwords game. The black cells line up with where there are no letters played and the remaining cells match the heights of the letter stacks, except in five cells in the fourth column. This is where Waluigi spots a final move for Hilda. The only legal play that uses all five cells and is the name of a weapon is to form HAMMER in the fourth column.


Author’s Notes

Early on in the puzzle writing process, I claimed this puzzle answer and planned to write a duck conundrum in which the same set of instructions could be ordered in two different ways and each ordering led to one of the two weapons. After many, many failed attempts at getting that idea to work out nicely, I scrapped it and decided to write something else.

We have seen many Scrabble puzzles in the past, but other letter tile/block games don't get as much play in puzzle hunts. I wanted to try to incorporate two well-known, but lesser used games (Boggle and Upwords) into a puzzle with logic-y components. I ended up keeping the idea of clueing the two words separately and reworking the "same instructions, but two options" concept from the original idea into the Boggle puzzle.

Both of these puzzles required a lot of tinkering and tweaking to get a unique and solveable grid fill. For the first playtest of the Boggle puzzle, I didn't provide any pre-filled letters. While I had verified using some code that the fill was unique given the clue answers, I didn't verify that it was actually solveable by hand (Sorry Ryan and Alison). Although my excellent teammates were able to reason their way through it, we decided that it was much too hard, especially in relation to the other puzzles in the hunt. Fortunately, the solution had some thematic letters that we could give as a starting point.

For the Upwords puzzle, I started with the idea that extraction was going to use the diagonals, just like the Boggle part. After I tried making a few grids, I realized this idea was terrible and went back to the figurative drawing board to come up with another extraction method. When I settled on the final extraction, I started with the Skyscraper part and a rough idea of where I wanted the words to be. When I got a Skyscraper puzzle that seemed reasonable, I had to check if I could force the word HAMMER to be the last word played. In the final puzzle, the word HEMMER is also a legal last move, but I hope the weapon flavor text does enough to rule that out as a possible answer.

After finding a way to (almost) force HAMMER as the last move, reverse-engineering the rest of the game wasn't too bad. Trying to keep all of the tile counts within the limits of Upwords was a bit challenging, but in the end, the grid fill worked out much better than I had expected.

When I was doing my research for this puzzle, I used what turned out to be an older version of the Upwords rules which has 100 letter tiles. During the hunt, a few teams' hint requests led me to discover that the newer version of Upwords has only 64 letter tiles and a notably different letter distribution. Hopefully this didn't cause problems for too many teams.