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This is puzzle #3, Quantum of Solitude, from the 2016 MIT Aquarium hunt. I've managed to solve the meta puzzle without finishing this particular puzzle. I haven't found any solutions for this hunt online, but there is an answer-checker on the website.

This is what I tried:

First, I noticed how each category had a word that stood out: The words in the first column are all synonyms of 'calmness' except commotion. The second column is 'the humanities', except chemistry. The third column is 'rivers', except Caribbean. The fourth is 'compound words', except compound. The last column is 'flightless birds', except chickadee. Then, I noticed that all these exceptions have something in common, except two, and that's having double letters. The two exceptions are 'chemistry' and 'compound'. In addition, the references to Dr. Seuss (J. J. HORTON, Seuss Dr., and Solla Sollew) led me to a chemical compound that Dr. Seuss made: oobleck (which I thought was the correct answer because it also had a double letter). However, it seems that my answer is not correct, after checking it with the simulator.

I know from the meta puzzle that it should be a word that fills the blank in

Is it a _______ word?

the puzzle:

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Out of the 5 words that you have found ie: Commotion, Chemistry, Caribbean, Compound, Chickadee

You are simply supposed to check for words that fit the statement: Is it a _______ word?

The only suitable word out of these 5 which fits the above statement is "Compound" and hence the answer (checked on the site, it is indeed the right answer)

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! Wow, looks like I was severely overthinking it... though I still don't quite understand, how do you isolate compound as the answer? I'm fairly sure that this puzzle is supposed to be independent of the meta puzzle, so it shouldn't depend on being able to fit into the phrase "Is it a _____ word?". $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 18 at 18:02
  • $\begingroup$ I myself wasn't sure about that. My only understanding of the puzzle is from what you have posted and checking the answer further proved it. It was the only word from the given 5 that suitably filled the blank. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 18 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ @spherical-wug-in-a-vacuum Surely this cannot be the answer for the reason you have stated. The letter says "I'm counting on these letters" so one possibility would be the fact that Compound is eight letters while all the rest are nine. $\endgroup$
    – user39583
    Commented Feb 18 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ That does seem like the reason. Should I edit my answer to include your idea. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 19 at 2:32

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