An entry in Fortnightly Topic Challenge #48: Unusual tag mix
(Somewhat in the spirit of the What is a Word™/Phrase™ series started by JLee, a special brand of Phrase™ and Word™ puzzles.)

If a word conforms to a special rule, I call it a Prebus Word™... or maybe if a word conforms to a slightly different special rule, I call that a Prebus Word™??

Noting that the and tags had never been paired, I wanted to create a 'What is a... Word?' puzzle based on rebuses. Each of the rebuses shown below represents a single word. Those in the left-hand column share a property, while those in the right-hand column share a different, related property. Your task is to identify all 12 words from the rebuses, use these examples to find the two rules, and comment on which of the two rules you think is the correct interpretation of a 'Prebus Word™' (and why).

(Please try to complete as much of the puzzle as possible before posting an answer - no partial answers explaining just a handful of the rebuses, thank you!)

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The puzzle satisfies the series' inbuilt assumption, that each word can be tested for whether it is a Prebus Word™ without relying on the other words. These are not the only examples of Prebus Words™; many more exist.


2 Answers 2


First Column

(DET<) + (-l)ECT(-ure) + (-f)IVE
HE(E->A)L + (-ear)TH
TICK + (-buck)ET


All words in this column can be followed by "inspector": building inspector, chief inspector, detective inspector, health inspector, tax inspector, and ticket inspector.

Second Column

GA + D(-o)G + ET
JAP(-an) + P
S + AND + S


All words in the second column can be preceded by "inspector": Inspector Gadget, inspector general, Inspector Japp, Inspector Morse, Inspector Sands, and Inspector Wexford.

Therefore, a Prebus Word™ is:

a word that can be preceded by "inspector." The "pre" in "prebus" signifies that it should come before, and putting "inspector" before "rebus" makes "Inspector Rebus".

Based on @GarethMcCaughan's answer, it's possible to argue that the other column is the rule for Prebus Words™ (the word precedes "inspector" vs. "inspector" precedes the word), but I don't think it fits as well. Since "Inspector Rebus" fits the rule of the second column and "Prebus" is a portmanteau of "pre" and "rebus" (ie. before rebus), it makes more sense for the second column.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ A very nicely put-together answer, well done :) The only other thing I had hoped to see was a slightly more on-the-fence 'conclusion' about which list should be considered the 'Prebus' - as Gareth's companion answer shows it is possible to justify the other list as well! Still, a great answer :) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ Am granting this the checkmark as all of the rebuses and connections are identified correctly, with pithy explanations and useful links. If you wish to remark on the content of my comment above, feel free to add a brief discussion point into the answer. But I'll leave my comments here anyway so people can see my ambiguous intentions :) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Feb 2, 2021 at 7:29

Slightly partial answer: I am missing 1-3 of the rebus answers (depending on a couple of guesses) and 2-3 of the rebus explanations (for one of my guesses, if it's right then I guess the bit I don't understand is just deliberately not saying anything) but I think I have everything else.

The term "prebus", aside from suggesting "rebus",

is a portmanteau of pre + Rebus, the latter not signifying the puzzle type but referring to the fictional Inspector Rebus.

The left column

contains types of inspector: building (bull[l->i]+Ding), chief (chi+fe<), detective (ted< + lecture-lure + (-f)ive), health (heel[e->a] + earth-ear), tax (tax(-i)). (I haven't solved the last one yet.) Each of these can go before the word "inspector".

The right column

contains things that can go after "Inspector". Most of them are names of fictional police inspectors. Gadget (ga+d(-o)g+ET), General (Gene+Ra+L), Japp (Jap(-an)+P), Morse (horse[h->m]); perhaps the last two are Shilling & Sixpence and Crawford, but if so I don't understand the "sixpence" nor the "craw". ("Craw" has letters in common with "Mars" and contains a W, both of which are promising, but I don't see quite what's going on.)

The column more deserving of the name is

the first, because the words there come before (pre) "inspector" rather than after it.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm really pleased you posted this partial as you made a case for the opposite list to samm82, and I had hoped that people might wrestle with the two options (as I certainly did for a long time when setting the puzzle!). In the end I included both lists rather than 'one correct one and an obvious decoy' like most 'What is a... Word' puzzles on the site, as I really loved the headscratching ambiguity about it all :) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 20:02

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