Cryptic Puzzle

Not Just Any Old Word’ll Do

Not Just Any Old Word’ll Do

By Tom Toce

This puzzle consists of five word chains. Each entry in the chain differs by one letter from the preceding one. The letters may be in a different order, however. The first entry has none of the letters contained in the last entry. The second will have one, the third two, and so on. A yellow square indicates that a letter also appears in the final word, though in a different position, while a green square indicates a letter that matches its position in the final word.

The five final words form a pertinent message.

To make things a little more challenging, the clues aren’t in order. The box below provides hints for those who don’t want the challenge.

There are two proper nouns—well, two and a half, as there is one that’s part of a double definition clue (one definition is a proper noun and one isn’t). Everything else is playable in Scrabble. Ignore punctuation, which is intended to deceive.

Thanks to Bob Fink, Eric Klis, and Jerry Miccolis for test-solving and editorial suggestions.

First Chain

  • Joint overwhelmed by thin gents
  • Drove with no resistance—or underpants
  • Curt, Thor’s maniacal
  • Barb, north’s not how you usually find it
  • Gizmo for less than a quarter of a penny
  • Being mercurial for Saturnalia

Second Chain

  • Obtuse triangles have interior coordinates knowable at the outset
  • Little parasites getting seconds
  • Pans with red handles
  • Accounts of sword dancing
  • Like a dog and pony show for an IPO
  • Baby carrier worn by store clerk

Third Chain

  • Truly eerily quiet
  • Pans with yellow and violet
  • Makes one subtracting error with ounces and pints
  • Sit tight if Mary finally leaves in shame
  • Resort in European country
  • Stops to question frivolous suit

Fourth Chain

  • It can be augmented with art I’d lined up
  • Hearty deputy loses heart getting held up
  • Accordingly, paltry servings in a stew
  • Green is one for parity, I expressed
  • Rod is dressing up for Singer Day
  • Send a message to god—god of the Romans

Fifth Chain

  • His poems are epic and cover all the bases
  • Doug vies to sample every other comforter
  • Marginal makeover for Shaker affiliate
  • Drove aimlessly!
  • Change arising from humor phobia
  • Granted, Ted goes after a certain kind of brandy


__________ __________ __________ __________ __________

TOM TOCE is an FCAS and once again a senior manager at EY. He is a member of the Jeopardy Hall of Fame.

Solutions may be emailed to

In order to make the solver list, you should send him your solutions by April 1, 2022.

Previous Issue’s Puzzle—Do the Math


 5.          FACTORIAL— (a fact Lori) anagram

 7.          TIGER—districT I GERrymandered

 9.          REIGN—REI (G) N

10.          BLESSINGS—B + LES + SINGS

11.          SQUARED—SQUA [oREn] D (o,n) deleted

12.          SADDENS—SA [DDE] NS

13.          CUBED—CU + BED

19.          ANDIRON—[ANDIe] + RON  (e) deleted

21.          DOUBLED—[DOUg] + BLED  (g) deleted

23.          MINUSCULE—(clue sin mu) anagram

25.          WATER—WA (TE) R   (r [ET] aw) full reversal

26.          CHINA—CHI + NA

27.          EIGHTFOLD—EIGHT + FOLD   “ate” homonym


 1.          FOUNDRY—FOUND + R + Y

 2.          RIBBED—Double Definition

 3.          ALOE—docudramA pupiL tO writeE

 4.          AGONIES—A + [GoONIES]  (o) deleted

 5.          FIRES—FIR + (E + S)

 6.          CLIQUE—“click” homonym

 7.          TASED—T(e)ASED   (e) deleted

 8.          RESIST—(sister) anagram

12.          SEE—Double Definition

14.          URN—“earn” homonym

15.          TARMAC—TAR + MAC

16.          ADENOID—ADEN + OID

17.          OUTWITS—(O + U) + TWITS

18.          BLOTTO—B + LOTTO

20.          RASTA—“Rostah” homonym (“roster” in Boston dialect)

21.          DREDGE—DR + EDGE

22.          DARED—DA + RED

24.          USER—US + ER

5! – 112 + 133 + 21×2 – 27×8

= 120 – 121 + 2,197 + 42 – 216

= 2022



Steve Alpert, Anthony Amodeo, Dean Apps, Bob Campbell, Lois Cappellano, Laura Cremerius, Jared Dashoff, Todd Dashoff, Christopher Dickens, Mick Diede, Deb Edwards, Phil Gollance, Pete Hepokoski, Catherine Hornby, Max Jackson, Ruth Johnson, Eric Klis, Paul Kolell, Ken Kudrak, Ben Lynch, Michael Manos, Dave McGarry, Jon Michelson, Jim Muza, Joshua Parker, David and Corinne Promislow, Jay Ripps, Al Sanders, Bill Scott, Andrew Shewan, Karen Skoglund, Sally Smith, Zig Swistunowicz, T. O. C. E. (Josh DenHartog and Sean Donohoe), Betsy and James Uzzell

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