What’s the Takeaway?


Really Difficult Puzzles


Every month, the Daily features a puzzle by Dylan Hicks. The first list of correct answers wins a year’s subscription to The Paris Review. (In the event that no one can get every answer, the list with the most correct responses will win.) Send an e-mail with your answers to [email protected]The deadline is Thursday, September 1, when we’ll post the answers. Good luck!  

This month’s puzzle is composed of twenty three-part questions whose one-word answers get shorter by subtraction. A riddle by Roget provides a model for our answers, though not our questions:

What is that which is under you?
Take one letter from it and it is over you?
Take two letters from it and it is round you?

The answers are chair, hair, and air. Our answers rarely rhyme, but the form is pretty much in line with Roget’s. Letters are taken away—from any part of the word, not just the beginning—but never jumbled; left-to-right order is diminished but maintained. Croton could become croon but not Orton. As those examples illustrate, we’ve imposed no Scrabbly prohibitions on proper nouns. Abbreviations are welcome, too. Note also that letters, as they travel from word to word, might take on diacritical marks, be capitalized, or otherwise undergo modest transformation. Très, for example, might follow trees. In most cases, the answer words shrink by ones (bread leads to bead before heading to bed) but in some cases they decrease by twos (bonobo to Bono to no) threes, or fours. Tailgate wags discovered this classic of quadrimedial reduction (above). 

Exceptions to the minus-one rule are always parenthetically indicated; the clues for that bonobo series would be preceded by “(drop two letters).”

Our puzzles, alas, aren’t elegantly symmetrical riddles like Roget’s. Each word is simply given a clue. A fairly easy three-part clue for the series starting with bread might go as follows:

Wonder costs less of it than artisanal; often hanging by a thread; a four-poster, for instance

Clues are separated by semicolons and may include internal punctuation, such as the comma before “for instance.” For each question, the whole series must be answered correctly to earn contest credit, so while there are sixty total words to guess, the maximum score is twenty.

  1. Yesterday’s Hanes; dapper Cowboy wrangler; Beach Boy’s headshrinker
  2. Bolsa Chica, for instance; contrapuntal meister; Scroogely exclamation
  3. Used by a driver stuck on a university or motorcycle; the medium of Trump’s alleged art; the trafficker’s adversary
  4. (Drop two letters) What teamsters have truck with; practice of Kilkenny’s feline population; great for postlapsarian aprons
  5. Into pieces; holy minimalist; the aesthete’s religion
  6. (Drop two letters) Half; French vintner; and
  7. The Dead did a lot of it; an abstract machinist; a city on the Po
  8. (Drop four letters) An airman who contemplates rather than aviates; poorly understood by us dimmer bulbs; I object
  9. Keyboard Attraction; glacial topping; the Silver State in a hurry
  10. Seen in social and mountainous settings; contortionists are extremely so; you’ll need one in Margaritaville
  11. (Drop two letters) Easygoing, like certain seventies parents; spoke in Red Square; donned on Hawaiian tarmacs
  12. Unfashionable shorts; told the story of Moses; one way to get there
  13. Regulates flow; mostly retired soda line; traded among grade-schoolers
  14. (Drop two letters) Paleo couple; Victoria is one; how Julie Andrews pleads the sixth
  15. A shapely adjective and that’s no yolk; oh, it’s nothing; might be introduced by Martha Quinn
  16. Has skin in its game; created by agitated Doves; when to do the chores
  17. Makes the point in Berlin; Johnny Rotten; intended, actually
  18. Might trigger rain; on display at Guitar Center; OBP and SLG
  19. (Drop three letters) Not often played by the under-eighty set; more than a smidgen; a transcendental number
  20. Fashionable; only conquered by love; such as a cloche

Dylan Hicks is a writer and musician. His second novel, Amateurs, is out now from Coffee House Press. He contributes a monthly puzzle to the Daily.