Below are nine groups of common three-letter words ("common" semi-arbitrarily meaning "appearing within the 10,000 most common words in both Google's Trillion Word Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English"). What does this collection of words represent?

Group 1
cat met but
bat bat rob
man rim lap
mac mac mac
tin air ago
Group 2
ill mar mar
win win win
tar pit ran
Group 3
mud mar per
ago one ago
pin bra fly
ago she men
Group 4
tar via rap
Group 5
ill her and
gen old lit
got got got
van van van
lit pen and
Group 6
Group 7
let art due
pop ion mar
Group 8
key key lab
bug dot bee
ten hat hat
Group 9
ink ink ink
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Yes, Group 6 is intentionally left empty. $\endgroup$
    – samm82
    Sep 18 at 13:43

1 Answer 1


Aha! This collection of words is linked to...

Pokémon! Specifically, we are looking at the 9 different 'generations' of Pokémon (i.e. the 9 different batches of new Pokémon that have been released since the game's debut). Then within those generations we are looking for the Pokémon that have three evolutionary stages (hence the title) - this means sets of 3 Pokémon where the first evolves into the second, which then evolves into the third. Specifically, we are looking for such three-stage evolutionary lines where the names of the three Pokémon each contain as a substring a 'common' word, and these words are presented in a single row of the table.

For example, the top row of Group 1 is 'cat / met / but' - and these are...

...substrings found within the names of Caterpie, Metapod, and Butterfree, where Caterpie evolves into Metapod (at Level 7), and then evolves into Butterfree (at Level 10).

Caterpie, Metapod and Butterfree

A few notes about the rules behind the OP's choices:

1. Note that these strings do not necessarily need to appear at the beginnings of these names - the second row (bat / bat / rob) represents Zubat, Golbat and Crobat, where the substrings of interest appear at the end or somewhere in the middle of the words.

2. This same example shows that in cases where two or more 'common words' appear as substrings in a name, the one that is 'more common' is presented. For 'Crobat', 'bat' is the 1676th most common word in Google's Trillion Word Corpus but 'rob' is the 1053rd and so is selected as being more common.

3. Note that this is not a list of all three-stage evolutionary lines in Pokémon - only those where every Pokémon in the chain has a three-letter 'common word' as a substring in its name (e.g. so not Charmander, Charmeleon and Charizard, even though 'Charmander' contains 'man' and 'Charmeleon' contains 'arm' - 'Charizard' contains no common three-letter word).

4. Where the later evolutions of a Pokémon were not released until a later generation, these Pokémon lines are still eligible for inclusion, and listed in the table corresponding to the earliest generation in which one of them appeared - for instance, 'man / rim / lap' represents Mankey, Primeape and Annihilape and is listed in Group 1 even though Annihilape was only introduced to the game in Generation IX (the most recent one).

This all being explained, here is a complete list of these tables' intended contents:

Group 1:
Caterpie / Metapod / Butterfree
Zubat / Golbat / Crobat
Mankey / Primeape / Annihilape
Machop / Machoke / Machamp
Dratini / Dragonair / Dragonite

Group 2:
Azurill / Marill / Azumarill
Swinub / Piloswine / Mamoswine
Larvitar / Pupitar / Tyranitar

Group 3:
Mudkip / Marshtomp / Swampert
Zigzagoon / Linoone / Obstagoon
Trapinch / Vibrava / Flygon
Bagon / Shelgon / Salamence

Group 4:
Starly / Staravia / Staraptor

Group 5:
Lillipup / Herdier / Stoutland
Roggenrola / Boldore / Gigalith
Gothita / Gothorita / Gothitelle
Vanillite / Vanillish / Vanilluxe
Litwick / Lampent / Chandelure

Group 6: No eligible trios

Group 7:
Rowlet / Dartrix / Decidueye
Popplio / Brionne / Primarina

Group 8:
Grookey / Thwackey / Rillaboom
Blipbug / Dottler / Orbeetle
Hatenna / Hattrem / Hatterene

Group 9:
Tinkatink / Tinkatuff / Tinkaton

My breakthrough?

I considered that these might all be substrings of specific sets of words at quite an early stage. I tried to think of things that came in 9 discrete sets but nothing immediately came to mind - groups of 9 aren't all that common - and I eventually realised that many of these featured in the names of countries and capitals. While this eventually turned out to be a false conclusion, the reasoning involved proved helpful in finding the true solution path...

One word that cropped up several times was 'ago'. I had this pegged as a substring of 'Trinidad and Tobago' - but this country is a small island nation, with little reputation in the worlds of geography, sports, or science (three common areas of pub quiz knowledge), so it was unlikely for this nation to feature in a puzzle quite as often as it does here. I cast about to thinking what else 'ago' was a substring of, and the word 'dragon' came to mind. Looking at the bottom row of Group 1 (tin / air / ago), something just clicked for me that all three of these appeared in the names of the related Pokémon Dratini, Dragonair and Dragonite (possibly aided by having replayed the game while off sick this week with Covid!), and upon noting the presence of Machop, Machoke and Machamp in the row just above, I realised I was on to something!

It was then just a case of working my way through the various lists...

  • $\begingroup$ Very thorough answer! It was hard for me to know what the solve path of this would look like, but I'm glad you found two potential break-ins I thought of! Some others: rot13(Gur snpg gurer ner avar tebhcf, "png", "zrg", naq "ohg" nyy orvat fhofgevatf ng gur ortvaavat bs na rneyl, eryngviryl zber pbzzba gevb (juvpu lbh nyyhqrq gb!), gur ercrgvgvba bs "ong" (nyfb arne gur ortvaavat), "vyy" naq "zne" cerfrag va gur ebj vapyhqvat "Znevyy", naq gur ebj jvgu "gne" naq "ivn" nyzbfg fcryyvat "Fgnenivn") Hope you're feeling better! $\endgroup$
    – samm82
    Sep 25 at 12:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @samm82 Yes, once I'd cracked a couple the others started to shine out of the screen in a way that made me wonder how I hadn't spotted any of this sooner! I'd literally just that day tackled the Strange House in Black 2 as well, which meant that 'got / got / got' suddenly jumped out for me as well! (A bit better, thanks, but it's taking its time!) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Sep 25 at 12:59

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