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Divide these sixteen words into four groups based on something they have in common. You'll find that each of the four groups gives you a clue leading to something in particular. The words aren't in any particular order.

WELL, PACE, WITCH, WADE, CLOUD, PLANETS, TAR, FLUORINE, SCOPES, ANGER, EVIL, LIVES, HIP, HOOT, BROWN, RUGGED

Once you've figured out the groups and the thing the wall is cluing, answer me this: What is small and causes problems?

This puzzle is dedicated to @matt/@merrybot, with permission!

Hint #1:

The groups are cluing something to do with Matt's favorite media franchise.

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Deus has found the groups already (go check out his answer) but if we rearrange the order they're in we get:

D, S, 9, Trials.

which is a reference to

the Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode Trials and Tribble-ations.

What're small and cause problems?

Tribbles: alien furballs born pregnant; they reproduce very quickly.

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  • $\begingroup$ (Title was also a reference to the TOS episode that introduced Tribbles, "The Trouble with Tribbles." :D) $\endgroup$
    – Sciborg
    Jan 10 at 19:08
  • $\begingroup$ ohhhh I didn't even notice that lol $\endgroup$
    – matt
    Jan 10 at 19:08
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Group 1:

The words RUGGED, ANGER, EVIL, and WELL can all have the letter D prepended to them to form new words. (DRUGGED, DANGER, DEVIL, DWELL.)

Group 2:

The words PACE, TAR, HIP, and HOOT can all have the letter S put on both sides to make new words. (SPACES, STARS, SHIPS, SHOOTS.)

Group 3:

The words WADE, SCOPES, BROWN, and WITCH are all famous trial participants. (Roe v. Wade, Tennessee v. Scopes, Brown v. Board of Education, and the Salem witch trials.)

Group 4:

The words CLOUD, PLANETS, FLUORINE, and LIVES are all associated with the number 9. ("Cloud nine", there were considered to be 9 planets until 2006, Fluorine is the 9th element, and cats are said to have 9 lives.)

One possible thing that the wall could be cluing is

a HOLE? Both DHOLE and SHOLES are words (though neither is particularly common); golf courses have nine holes in each half; and there do seem to be many court cases involving someone with a name of Hole, though I can't find any notable ones. And of course, this answers the riddle - a small hole (in your clothing, for instance, or perhaps a submarine) can certainly cause problems!

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  • $\begingroup$ Not that it really changes anything, but rot13: jul qvq lbh nqq F gb obgu fvqrf sbe tebhc gjb? Jbhyqa'g whfg nqqvat na F gb gur ortvaavat nyfb jbex? $\endgroup$
    – samm82
    Jan 10 at 6:33
  • $\begingroup$ @samm82 Yes, it would! When I saw the more specific connection, I used it to rule out at least one other entry, so I figured it might be the intended one. $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi
    Jan 10 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ Oh I see - rot13: Ohg vs lbh ehyrq bhg jvgpu orpnhfr "fjvgpuf" vfa'g n jbeq, gung qbrfa'g rkcynva jryy/fjryyf sebz tebhc bar $\endgroup$
    – samm82
    Jan 10 at 6:38
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    $\begingroup$ @samm82 Yes, it's not a rule that each group only has four words that fit it -- just that all of the groups together should have exactly one way to satisfy them. It's very possible that the looser version was the intended one. My choice was a guess, not a deduction. $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi
    Jan 10 at 6:39
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    $\begingroup$ I think probably rot13(Gevnyf naq Gevooyr-ngvbaf). $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Jan 10 at 12:22

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