I'm working through the logic-grid puzzles in the book called "Montague Island Mysteries" by R. Wayne Schmittberger. The particular puzzle I'm on is Puzzle 5.3 where breakfast guests choose food items from each of five food categories (juice -- orange juice, grapefruit juice, prune juice, tomato juice; omelet -- green chili, jalapeno, mushroom, seafood; pancake -- blueberry, pecan, etc.).

My question is about the wording convention used in the clues. For instance, in some clues, the puzzle states "The three guests who had orange juice...". So I know, clearly, that there are only three guests who chose orange juice. In other clues, the puzzle states "The one guest who had the jalapeno omelet...". So only one guest had the jalapeno omelet; no problem.

But here is the question: some clues also say "The guest who drank prune juice" or "the guest with boysenberry jam..." without saying "the one guest who..."

Is there any convention in the way these puzzles are written to know that "the guest who..." means "the one guest who..."? Is it safe to assume that if there were more than one guest with boysenberry jam, the clue would read "a guest" instead of "the guest"?

I'm a bit stuck right now but may be able to break through if it's safe to assume that a clue identifying "the guest" with a certain food item means that there is only one guest with that food item.


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    $\begingroup$ Hi @RyanS, welcome to Puzzling SE! Have you tried solving the puzzle using each interpretation and seeing if either one gives a logically consistent result? Also, regarding the "three guests" clue, it seems kinda strange for one attribute to apply to multiple things in a logic grid puzzle, but that could just be the author experimenting with the format. (Great first question btw, I see it's properly attributed and is well-formatted!) $\endgroup$ – HTM Feb 24 at 5:28
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    $\begingroup$ I think just from an English language standpoint, "the guest" implies it's the specific, (and therefore) singular case. Whereas "a guest" is indefinite by definition. I suppose in a puzzle context you could argue otherwise, but I'd start there and only change my assumption if I hit a contradiction. $\endgroup$ – Alconja Feb 24 at 6:21

The commenters on your question have it right.

In English, saying "the guest who ..." suggests just one. If there is more than one guest who drank prune juice, and you want to say something about just one of them, you would instead say "a guest who drank prune juice" (or "one of the guests who drank prune juice"). Assuming the puzzle is written by somebody with perfect fluent English (which seems to be the case here), this should be what is meant.

It's true that there is an inconsistency, if they sometimes say "the one guest who ..." and sometimes just "the guest who ..." But this is just a stylistic inconsistency rather than an actual language error. The latter is much more unlikely than the former.

If you really want to be sure, you could try to solve the puzzle under the assumption that "the guest who ..." might mean there's more than one. But that might be either very difficult (you'd need to find more than one distinct solution consistent with the clues, to show conclusively that this interpretation is not what's meant) or inconclusive (if there's a unique solution, that doesn't necessarily imply that "the guest who ..." always means "the one guest who ..."). So this would be a waste of effort IMO.

If, on the other hand, you find a contradiction and no possible solution under the assumption that "the guest who ..." must mean there's only one, then you know that the other interpretation is meant. But this is very unlikely to be the case, due to grammatical considerations.

So, go with the assumption that "the guest who ..." = "the one guest who ...".

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