You are trapped in a prison cell, and the evil guards have set a challenge.  They have written one letter of the alphabet on each of nine pieces of card, and placed the cards in the following order on the floor of your cell:

S  P  A  R  K  L  I  N  G

You have to take away one of the pieces of card, ensuring that the remaining pieces spell a word (and you are not allowed to change the order of the remaining pieces of cardboard), and post it under the door of the cell.  And then you have to repeat the process again and again until there is just one letter left.  In what order should you remove the letters?

As ever, please do NOT post your answers, but feel free to say if you have solved it and how long it took.  Solution on Monday.








  1. First go, much to my surprise. This sort of puzzle is often hard, but I got this in under a minute. I did need to look up a couple of the words to verify that they were real, though.

    1. Thanks for sharing. Your contribution is much appreciated, and we all respect you a great deal more for it.

  2. That was quite easy. it took as long as it takes to write the word down 9 times and maybe think for ten seconds on each one

    1. I think I have the same solution. One of the others is a mathematical concept — still a word, I hope…

  3. Did it in a couple of minutes. Yes, there are dead ends and no, there are no slang or weird words required. There’s only one (4 letter word) that I would say isn’t greatly used these days.

  4. Started at one letter and worked up. Took 30s. Came up with one solution using fairly common words. I suspect close reading of Official Scrabble Words may generate others, but that’s not in the spirit of things. Surely. Bonus Question for Anoraks:
    #1 Which is the longest word where the second half of the word is an anagram of the first half?
    #2 What is the longest word you can type using only the top letters of a QWERTY keyboard?

  5. Hoorah! An easy one for a change. You don’t say if you’re then released from prison or if the guards are just amusing themselves.

  6. Maybe a minute? Went down a blind alley, but recovered by thinking how to work through the -ING and fitting the rest around that.

  7. I don’t have the answer yet, but what I would like to know is what it is I keep doing that results in me being thrown into a prison cell guarded by evil puzzle addicts.

  8. Got it, but it took me about 15 minutes … I had to use a dictionary. As an excuse I may say, thet I’m not a native speaker and I don’t have too much training in english 😉

  9. Wow, I got this one almost as soon as I looked at the sequence of letters (and knew what I had to do with them). This must be what it feels like when all those maths nerds post their “Easy! Got it in 0.0253 seconds!” and I’m still staring at the thing three hours later and wondering if I should use addition or division.
    But then… I did give up my job and go do a degree in linguistics just because I love words and language so much so I suppose I’m somewhat inclined to think in wordy ways. Ha! Take that, maths nerds!
    For once.
    Probably only once.

  10. three minutes, but the six letter word is one that i can’t look up in a dictionary. i tried a different tack (one minute) but the six letter word is still the same.
    Maybe it’s just because i’m not a native english speaker ?

  11. It doesn’t say that you don’t have a PC with python and the sowpods wordlist in your cell, so I didn’t cheat 😉

    With that I found 144 solutions in 2.5 seconds! (plus about 3 minutes to write the program)

  12. took me less than a minute but I m not sure it s 100%correct…we ll see on Monday…like Niels I m not a native english speaker so I think I m fairly good 🙂

    1. Ooh, thanks! Got it in about 10 seconds, but still a good challenge because there are a few wrong turns you could take at the beginning to take you into dead-ends. The challenge for me was to think ahead as quickly as possible and see if I was leading myself into one of them, and finding the alternative if so.

    2. Nice. I actually discovered a more systematic way to solve it when trying this one. Maybe five minutes, and I got two solutions (ending in two different one-letter words).

  13. Great a puzzle without number (well okay one of the answers is a number but you know what I mean).

    Took me about 5 mins with a couple of dead end. All straightforward words, 1 probably not in common usage but still not recognisible to most.

  14. Resolvido. 10 minutos. Usei um dicionário electrónico para verificar as entradas uma vez que o meu Inglês não chegava a tanto em duas das palavras.

  15. Easy as 3.14
    Well not really actually, as a non-native speaker I didn’t recognize some of the words in my solution, so I ended up bruteforcing the dictionary each step of the way..

    I do hope there’s a more elegant solution available than mine.

  16. Gosh, it took me something like 20 minutes… Was again and again stuck between the 6 and 5 letter words.

    I did learn a new 5 letter word to be able to solve it! English used to be my second language, but after 10 years living between France and The Netherlands, it has become a bit rusty.

    Had to use MS Word spellchecker… shame on me 🙂

  17. Yay, a non arithmetic one! I’ll admit it took me about 10 minutes but in my defense I did it before breakfast. I only found one solution, am looking forward to seeing LordManley’s three.

  18. I started by just brainstorming all the words I could think of using the letters given, without trying to connect them. Once my brain was warmed up (~2 minutes) I ended up writing down a solution in one fell swoop in under 20 seconds, using only common words. Very satisfying!

  19. Might have helped if the phone hadn’t gone and I wrote down Twinkling without checking back-any one able to do it-answer appreciated if doesn’t give too much away?

  20. I found a solution ending in one of the vowels as a word. Is there a separate solution for both vowels since both vowels are words in themselves?

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