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This puzzle is part of the Monthly Topic Challenge #14: Think inside the (very small) box!.


The smallest maze possible in a grid of squares would occupy a 2x2 grid (a 1x1 cell isn't a maze - it's a room...). Below is a contender for such a maze...

The maze consists of 4 interconnected cells, or 'rooms'. Within each room is a set of 9 emojis. To navigate the maze successfully, you must move from 'IN' into the top-left room, then make a series of orthogonal moves, each time into an immediately adjacent room. On each move (including your entrance into the maze) you must 'collect' an emoji, and you may only exit the maze (via 'OUT') once you have collected all 36 emojis.

The 'collecting' process works as a word ladder, from IN to OUT. Each emoji represents a short word or a 2-character country code (in the case of the flags - these are the placeholder letters you usually see when a flag emoji is used in an unsupported environment). Each subsequent rung of the ladder is generated from the previous one in one of three possible ways:

  • By adding or inserting a single letter somewhere in the previous word;
  • By removing a single letter from somewhere in the previous word;
  • By changing a single letter somewhere in the previous word.

TASK: Navigate your way through the word-ladder emoji maze, starting with the word 'IN' and ending with the word 'OUT'. On each turn you must move to one of the two adjacent rooms (you cannot stay in the same room before collecting the next emoji) and then 'collect' one of the emojis from in that new room. A complete solution should at least identify all 36 emojis and list all 38 words in the word-ladder in order.

Emoji word-ladder maze

Accessibility note: The maze is only presented visually, as part of the challenge is to identify the required words from the emojis. It has been presented as a single image in order to preserve the emojis as intended, due to cross-browser compatibility issues when merely inserted into the body of a post in their raw form. There are no 'tricks' in my choices of emojis, and the common words they represent can be found in the emoji name or description on emojipedia (I recommend using Mozilla's Firefox browser for best results), with one exception where the intended synonym should still be obvious.

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2 Answers 2

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Let's number the rooms 1-4, starting from the top left and going clockwise. Completed word chain:

IN
1 UN (United Nations)
2 SUN
3 RUN
4 RU (Russia)
3 RO (Romania)
4 ROW
1 BOW
2 COW
1 COP
2 CAP
3 CAT
4 COAT
1 BOAT
2 BAT
1 BAG
2 BUG
1 HUG
4 HUT
3 HOT
4 POT
3 PT (Portugal)
2 PR (Puerto Rico)
3 FR (France)
4 FO (Faroe Islands)
1 FOG
2 FOX
1 OX
4 SX (Sint Maarten)
3 SIX
2 SI (Slovenia)
1 SKI
4 SK (Slovakia)
3 SE (Sweden)
4 NE (Niger)
3 NET
2 NUT
OUT

Solve path:

Wrote out all the emojis and started forming one chain from IN onwards and another backwards from OUT, keeping track of some possibilities for (potentially reversible) intermediate chains. Eventually everything met at the middle.

Sneaky pitfall to avoid:

The flag of Sint Maarten looks a lot like that of the Philippines, and Niger looks a lot like India. It wasn't until those were the only ones left that I realised I had picked the wrong flags!

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  • $\begingroup$ Exactly right, well done :) I had to spend a LOOONG time following the various dead ends during planning this to make sure there weren't any alternative solutions... You can go quite far wrong by going straight from rot13(EB gb SB) so I hope you didn't end up spending too long in dead ends! $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Sep 20, 2023 at 13:00
  • $\begingroup$ rot13(V fcrag zber gvzr gelvat gb svther bhg jurer gq (Punq) jbhyq svg va gur frdhrapr orsber ernyvfvat vg jnf npghnyyl gur synt bs Ebznavn) $\endgroup$ Sep 20, 2023 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ @SquareFinder Ha, another pitfall I luckily didn't consider $\endgroup$
    – Jafe
    Sep 20, 2023 at 14:26
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The full word ladder is

in, un, sun, run, ru, ro, row, bow, cow, cop, cap, cat, coat, boat, bat, bag, bug, hug, hut, hot, pot, pt, pr, fr, fo, fog, fox, ox, sx, six, si, ski, sk, se, ne, net, nut, out

The emojis in the maze represent the words:

 +-----     -----+---------------+
 | bag  boat bow | bat  bug  cap |
 | cop  fog  hug   cow  fox  nut
 | ox   ski  un  | pr   si   sun |
 +-----     -----+-----     -----+
 | coat fo   hut | cat  fr   hot |
 | ne   pot  row   net  pt   ro  |
 | ru   sk   sx  | run  se   six |
 +---------------+---------------+

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  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I only just realised I spent way too long editing my answer and now I'm 45 mins late :) $\endgroup$ Sep 20, 2023 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ Hey, it happens :) The grid explaining which emoji is which is new though (that's not in Jafe's answer) so people may still find this answer useful for that reason... $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Sep 20, 2023 at 13:57
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    $\begingroup$ @SquareFinder would it be okay if I added the actual emojis to your table as well? $\endgroup$
    – JGibbers
    Sep 20, 2023 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ @JGibbers Sure, I don't mind as long as it doesn't mess up the formatting too much, you could probably add spaces if the gap between words is too small $\endgroup$ Sep 20, 2023 at 14:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Eh, I couldn't find a good way to make it look good. never mind! $\endgroup$
    – JGibbers
    Sep 20, 2023 at 17:42

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