Problematics | Games of deduction before Wordle came

Jun 19, 2023 04:14 PM IST

As in Wordle, you use test words to deduce a secret word. What's the hidden word in the example below?

When Wordle first came out, the similarity with Jotto would have struck anyone who had ever played that older game. Jotto, described in The Penguin Book of Word Games by David Parlett, was invented in the United States by Morton M Rosenfeld in 1955. The game is played by two players: you think of a secret five-letter word, I think of another, and each of us tries to deduce the other’s word using “test words”.

Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock) PREMIUM
Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock)

Say, your secret word is LEGAL, and I call out CLEAN as my test word. You now respond with 3, which means 3 letters are common (L, E, A) between your secret word and my test word, in whichever positions. Note that you count only one of the two Ls in LEGAL, because CLEAN has only one L. If I call out GOLLY, however, you count both Ls and respond with 3 (G, L, L). And if I call out ELEGY, you respond with 3 again (E, L, G); the second E in ELEGY doesn’t count, because LEGAL has only one E.

Players call out test words alternately, until one of them deduces the other’s hidden word.

#Puzzle 43.1

#Puzzle 43.1
#Puzzle 43.1

What is your opponent's secret word if she responds 0, and what is it if she responds 1?

#Puzzle 43.2


#Puzzle 43.2
#Puzzle 43.2

Mailbox: Last week’s solvers

#Puzzle 42.1

Hi Kabir,

The persons with their dogs sitting from left to right are:

#Puzzle 42.1
#Puzzle 42.1

— Amardeep Singh, Meerut

#Puzzle 42.2

Hi Kabir,

I came up with the word EUOI, which is an exclamation.

— Biren Parmar, Bay Area, California

In the lists below, answers to #Puzzle 42.1 are acknowledged only if they have correctly accounted for all the variables. The lists do not acknowledge, for example, those who have not mentioned the seating positions even if they have got everything else right.

For #Puzzle 42.2, non-English words, abbreviations and acronyms do not count.

Solved both puzzles: Amardeep Singh (Meerut), Biren Parmar (Bay Area, California), Vineet Jain (Jalandhar), Mayobhav Pathak (Gurgaon), Alka Mehta (Noida), Sunita & Naresh Dhillon (Gurgaon), Ushma Vyas (Delhi), Dr G L Arora (Delhi), Yadvendra Somra (Sonipat), Rahul RB (Mumbai), Akshay Bakhai (Mumbai), Krunal Makwana (Surat), Jasleen Kaur (Delhi), Prof Anshul Kumar (Delhi), Anil Goyal (Delhi), Siddharth Oswal (Ludhiana), Atiksh Jain (Gurgaon), Shambhavi Rai (Ghaziabad), Sanjay Gupta (Delhi), Saurish Seksaria (Mumbai), Subrata Chakravorty (Gurgaon), Rohit Khanna (Noida), Prashant Shenava

Solved #Puzzle 42.1: Ruchir Kohli, Dr Priya Gupta, Nirosha Purohit, Bhavish Sethi, Sunita Gupta, Shawn Jacob, Mahesh Mundhra, Kshitij Kumar, Avni Nayak, Valli Natrajan, Aarika Goel, Maulik Jain, Vidhi Vijayvargiya, Shri Ram Aggarwal, Nathan Sequeira, Anvesha Mittal, Avanti Kashikar, Vivek Aggarwal, Dipali Gupta, Chinmay Garg, Dr Pragya Srivastava, Sandeep Bhateja, Geetansha Gera, Tanya Arora, Ramachandra Sai, Priyanka Sood, Manya Joshi, Anurag Rastogi, Mudit Singhal, Aruushi Nayak, Pritam De, Renu Singh, Varsha Sain, Sonia Jain, Meher Sandhu, Sandeep Asthana, Prashant Aggarwal, Shashi Bahadur, Anay Gupta

Solved #Puzzle 42.2: Savleen Kaur Arora, Avni Nayak, Rajesh Bansal, Anil Khanna, Shishir Gupta, Sarungbam Denny Singh, Soumyata Ghosh, Bhoomi Tyagi, Lokesh Mittal, Anadi Kumar, Y K Munjal

Problematics will be back next week. Please send in your replies by Friday noon to

Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription

Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics

    Puzzles Editor Kabir Firaque is the author of the weekly column Problematics. A journalist for three decades, he also writes about science and mathematics.

Story Saved
Live Score
Saved Articles
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Saturday, December 09, 2023
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now