I recently found this diagram taped over an image in my English textbook. We got it second-hand, so I assume that it must have been a little puzzle from the previous owner. enter image description here

It came with two questions written under it on a separate piece of paper:

  1. What word should replace the question mark?
  2. Can you make a similar diagram with the words direction, quench, bench and bristle? (among other words)

Can you help me decode the diagram?


2 Answers 2


I think we should

replace the diagram with this one:

    /  ! \
    \  | /
    /  | \
post opts PTOs


PTOs might mean "personal-time-offs" (absences from work) or "please-turn-overs" (indications that the thing you're looking for is absent from this page but present overleaf), probably the former, and is starred because it's an abbreviation rather than a word.

So the question mark

might be replaced with any synonym for "pots". "pans" (cooking vessels), "sinks" (sends a snooker/pool ball into a pocket), "weeds" (marijuana, though the pluralization is a bit iffy), etc.

The colours

indicate what permutation of letters is being done. Blue means reversal, red means moving a letter from one end to the other, green means swapping two letters.

For the second part, we have

direction EAST, quench SATE, bench SEAT, bristle SETA. We could add TEAS, EATS, ETAS, and TASE. Something like this, if I haven't missed any adjacencies in the graph:
enter image description here

If we don't mind a bit of obscurity we could add

ATES to make a nice 3x3 grid. It would be better to rearrange the top row a little, but this will do:
enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ (SteveV's answer was posted while I was writing mine. Of course I didn't look at it before posting. Having done so, I see that mine's a bit more complete so I'm leaving it here despite coming in second.) $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Commented Mar 14, 2021 at 3:27
  • $\begingroup$ as you should :) i came back to add rot13(xrggyr) for the question mark but i think i'll leave mine as is $\endgroup$
    – SteveV
    Commented Mar 14, 2021 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ Wow, seems this puzzle took people a bit less time than expected. This is the correct answer for the first part, but for the second question you need a complete diagram (naq gurer ner zber nantenzf guna lbh unir abgrq urer) $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14, 2021 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ OK, I'll add a diagram for the second one. I thought the principle was obvious at this point and filling in all the details was unnecessary, but apparently not :-). $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Commented Mar 14, 2021 at 3:41
  • $\begingroup$ Diagram added (with some more words, of course). $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Commented Mar 14, 2021 at 4:06

I note that

the words are synonyms of anagrams of each other

So that you get

spot stop
post opts ???

I don't know

what absenses* means yet nor if the colors are significant

For the second part, direction, quench, bench and bristle

have synonyms
east, sate, seat, seta which are anagrams of each other


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.