Alice and Bob live in London, UK. On a Friday, as per usual, Bob leaves for work before Alice. At lunchtime he receives a WhatsApp message from his friend Charles:

Sorry to cancel on you last week (hope you weren’t too BORED without us!). Rest assured, Denise and I are on for tonight, so we’ll be round at eight as usual. See you then.

This news puts a spring in Bob’s step for the rest of the day, and when he gets home in the evening to find a pad of paper on the kitchen worktop with a note from Alice pointing out some housework that needs doing before their guests arrive, Bob doesn’t complain. As requested, Bob empties the dishwasher and puts the hoover round. Then he spots a shopping list that had been lying next to the pad. At first glance something strikes him as oddly familiar, but he can’t put his finger on it. Shaking it off, in his current helpful mood Bob pops out to the shops and promptly picks up all the items on the list.

When Bob gets home he finds Alice in the kitchen and holds his bags of shopping aloft with pride. She looks up at him with a quizzical expression.

“I’ve done the shopping!” Bob states proudly. “I found your list and thought I’d pop out and get it all for you.”

Alice looks completely bemused. “My list? I never wrote a list – just that note about those chores for you. Then I went straight back out to the supermarket to get what we need for the weekend, just working off the mental list I keep in my head.” Alice gestures to some other shopping bags she was already in the middle of unpacking when Bob arrived.

“Oh,” says Bob, confused. “Well, er... I found a list on the worktop... I wasn’t entirely sure about it, truth be told – there was a lot of alcohol on it for one thing, but I assumed it must all be ingredients for a dish you were going to make or something...”

Alice still seems bewildered, but then something strikes her and she laughs suddenly.

“Oh Bob! Show me the list…” Bob hands it to her. Alice laughs and laughs and laughs. Wiping tears from her eyes, she puts a hand on her husband’s shoulder. “This is most definitely not a shopping list – and I don’t know how you’ve forgotten what it actually is, especially seeing how you've been crowing about it all week!”

What does this list (pictured below) represent? What has Bob been ‘crowing about all week’? A complete solution requires a fully correct diagram to be drawn, explaining how this list came to be...

Shopping list


NB I believe that – symmetry aside – there is a unique solution to this puzzle. However, I am happy to be corrected and will consider alternative solutions if they can demonstrably be proved to work! I advise against posting partial solutions without the diagram – answering the initial questions may be relatively simple for some puzzlers, but constructing the diagram is potentially the most difficult and labour-intensive part of the puzzle.

Post-script: As Deusovi demonstrated in his excellent (and very well explained) solution, there is an alternative valid diagram to the one I initially intended. The overarching solution to the puzzle is unaffected (phew!), but I am happy to concede (re the assertion of uniqueness in the paragraph above) that I stand corrected!

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I expect somebody will solve this puzzle in much less time than it took to create! This has definitely been a labour of love (occupying many hours of my life this week), and - even if the green checkmark goes within a matter of hours - for the record I feel incredibly happy with how this has turned out... Here's hoping nobody finds any errors! Happy puzzling... $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Jul 13 '19 at 9:44
  • $\begingroup$ does the visual element of the list matter? if not, would you mind providing a text version? thanks! $\endgroup$ Jul 13 '19 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ @OmegaKrypton The visuals do matter for certain aspects of making the story believable, but if I can create something electronically that does the same job then I will! $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Jul 13 '19 at 10:16
  • $\begingroup$ is my text version good enough? $\endgroup$ Jul 13 '19 at 10:16
  • $\begingroup$ @OmegaKrypton Afraid your text version removed a useful clue so I've rolled back! :) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Jul 13 '19 at 10:19

The hints to what the list actually represents are:

the word "BORED" in all-caps, the four people getting together in the evening, and the formatting strangeness (the occasional lowercase letter in the list, plus the circled THX at the bottom).

These all give the secret real reason for the list:

this is a transcript of a Scrabble game! The two columns are the played words, with multi-word entries being written one after the other. The lowercase letters are the blank tiles, and the circled letters are the leftovers.


So, how to begin constructing the diagram?

To start, I counted up all the letters used. The excesses were: A×4, C×2, E×6, F, G, H, I×3, K, L×2, M, O×2, P, R, S×2, T×2, V, Y, and m. These must be the intersections of words in both directions in the completed grid. (Well, for the most part: turns out that isn't quite true.)
There is one K tile: it must be the intersection of the first two plays. GUAVA must cross either the V or the A in VODKA:
enter image description here
(In all of these diagrams, dark orange tiles will be letters that could still potentially be an intersection.)

Step 1:

The primary word in ICE CREAM must be CREAM; ICE must be formed by putting the C between an I and an E. Where can this happen?
For CREAM to be placed, the final configuration will have to look something like this:
enter image description here
So the E has to be from PIE: otherwise, there would be a word formed vertically with the R in CREAM.
The I cannot be the I in MUESLI; there's no way to get an E two spaces under it, in either of the two starting configurations. So it must be the second I in KIWI. PIE must be placed two spaces under that, and then we can work backwards to determine the placements of all the words in between. RICE and RISOTTO can then be placed as well. (Also, if you're following along, make sure to remove an extra I, C, and E from the "extra letter" count.)
enter image description here

Step 2:

HAM, SAVELOY, TIN, and CHAMPAGNE can be uniquely placed, with HAM using the A of PIZZA, SAVELOY needing to use the open V, TIN taking the T of BERGAMOT, and CHAMPAGNE built off of HAM. (Notice that the M in HAM is lowercase! Also, just like before, make sure to remove the repeated H and A from the "extra letter" count.)

enter image description here

Step 3:

TOFFEE will need to use the F from FOIL. The only way to leave the F open is to place FOIL off the L in SAVELOY.

JELLY will need to intersect the Y of SAVELOY. This doesn't disambiguate the placement of TOFFEE yet, so it needs to be left ambiguous for now:
enter image description here

Step 4:

SEEDS and RED both need to use an open E. The only two of those are BERGAMOT and CREAM, and only one placement there works.
Because of grid height (remember, KIWI needs to start on the central row!), ORANGE cannot intersect CHAMPAGNE. So it must go downwards from RISOTTO. Then, WINE must go in the bottom right (though its positioning is also ambiguous).
enter image description here

Step 5:

We're still missing an L crossing and an O crossing. LIQUOR must be the L, coming off of one of the Ls of JELLY; DONUT must therefore be the O crossing, but the only open O for it is that of LIQUOR. RISOTTO restricts the placement of DONUT (and also marks off a T crossing).
enter image description here

Step 6:

Finally, YEAST and BEAN can be placed in the top left and bottom middle, disambiguating TOFFEE (but unfortunately, not WINE).
enter image description here

So, what has Bob been "crowing about all week"? Well,

if we count up the scores, it seems that it was a very close match!
enter image description here
The second player -- presumably, Bob -- just barely eked out a win at the last second, with the bonuses and penalties from the unplayed tiles giving him the last boost he needed to beat Alice. Sounds like there'll be a rematch tonight, with Charles and Denise joining in!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well, I have to congratulate you. It all checks out :) And (wouldn't you know) but this is not quite the same as my intended solution! Thereby demonstrating there is indeed more than one way to complete the grid. However, rot13(sbeghangryl gur svany erfhyg vf hanssrpgrq - va snpg bar grnz'f fpber erznvaf vqragvpny npebff obgu bs bhe fbyhgvbaf!) If there is one absolutely minute 'issue' with your conclusion, it is simply that rot13(tvira gur nppbzcnalvat grkg lbh unira'g gbgnyyl cvacbvagrq gur vqragvgvrf bs gur cynlref bs ynfg Sevqnl'f tnzr) - but I'm really picking nits here. Superb solve! $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Jul 13 '19 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ Also, (in the UK at least) rot13(gur raq-tnzr nyfb vaibyirf fhogenpgvat gur inyhrf bs gur hahfrq gvyrf sebz fpberf bs gur cynlref ubyqvat gurz, va nqqvgvba gb gur jvaavat cynlre tnvavat gurz - gur qbhoyr-cranygl fvghngvba...) - again, a minor quibble but if you want to ensure your solution is totally factually correct I'll give you that one for free! +1 and a green checkmark incoming... Well done! $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Jul 13 '19 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Stiv Whoops, you're right about both of those - apparently I managed to misread both the official rules and the text message! Fixed both - thanks for pointing them out! $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi
    Jul 13 '19 at 18:35
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ No probs :) Congrats on finding the solution on day one of publish! Your deductive explanation is exactly what I was hoping to see and makes all the effort seem worthwhile! Finally I can sleep through the night again without waking up shouting "LIQUOR!" $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Jul 13 '19 at 18:38

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