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In designing this puzzle involving wordsearches, I struggled to identify the correct collective noun for them. Asking around, nobody knew - a herd? A gang? A parliament?! After much prolonged (perhaps unnecessary) thought I have settled on 'pack' - feel free to disagree!

Anyway, without further ado, here is a pack of wordsearches for you to solve - there are 4 wordsearches in total, each with 10 items to find, and each of them has a clearly definable theme:

S   A   L   S   E   C   N   E   W   L   L   I   K
A   N   M   A   R   D   R   E   R   R   B   E   P
L   A   A   T   I   F   S   T   E   P   H   E   N
B   E   S   F   E   V   A   H   H   U   O   R   A
E   J   E   L   I   T   E   N   T   K   O   F   I
A   E   C   A   U   O   N   S   U   M   O   P   R
U   I   E   P   A   R   R   E   L   K   P   I   O
E   L   O   R   A   C   N   O   N   W   O   N   T
T   L   S   L   G   I   R   I   I   I   T   N   C
Y   I   N   T   U   W   E   S   T   O   N   K   G
R   B   N   G   I   H   O   L   R   S   O   N   I
E   P   N   I   C   Z   S   X   A   F   M   O   V
H   E   I   B   H   I   A   B   M   E   M   I   D
P   A   N   B   S   O   T   E   L   E   E   N   R
T   R   F   S   T   H   R   C   E   A   T   U   A
O   L   I   A   I   V   E   E   A   R   L   H   G
M   Y   C   R   A   C   K   A   R   T   H   U   R

Um... Ah, there seems to be some kind of problem here, and I'm not sure what. I definitely did create four themed wordsearches - what on earth can have happened to them?!

TASK: Identify the themes of the four wordsearches (as well as the wordsearches themselves!) and demonstrate their solutions. Finally, briefly explain the overarching connection between the four wordsearches.

Note: In 3 of the 4 wordsearches, all words to be found are at least 4 letters long. Standard wordsearch rules apply - vertical, horizontal and diagonal only.

Hint:

Focus on one theme at a time. If you can find 9 related items in the wordsearch you will be able to deduce (to some degree) the position of the 10th - if you can spot this puzzle's mechanism...

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  • $\begingroup$ Do the columns need to be so widely spaced? $\endgroup$ – Daniel Mathias May 17 at 23:13
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielMathias Nope - that's purely how it formatted itself when I pasted an Excel table as text :) I liked how it looked so I just left it as is... $\endgroup$ – Stiv May 17 at 23:14
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    $\begingroup$ Well, two spaces instead of three would make the grid more square, with diagonals closer to 45 degrees. More to the point, if it was narrower, it would fit on my phone's screen without scrolling. I have already removed the excess spaces for myself, so the narrower grid is readily available. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Mathias May 17 at 23:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Jens Standard wordsearch rules apply - vertical, horizontal and diagonal only :) $\endgroup$ – Stiv May 18 at 5:36
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    $\begingroup$ @BeastlyGerbil Ideally I'd like to see all 4 wordsearches recreated and the positions of the words within them indicated :) If you find all 10 of the words in the first theme, you should (hopefully) then be able to spot what to do next. I guarantee you once you spot that the rest of the puzzle will quickly fall into place for you. Hope you can crack it - I'm genuinely excited for somebody to crack this one! $\endgroup$ – Stiv May 18 at 16:26
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As tradition requires, here's the finished product first. Progress pictures at the end of the answer.

Theme 1:

Kings
enter image description here
1. Wenceslas
2. Billie Jean
3. Martin Luther
4. Stephen
5. Kong
6. Carole
7. Penguin
8. Pearly
9. Lear
10. Arthur

Then, we remove the words from the grid, tighten everything up, and repeat for

Theme 2:

Queens
enter image description here
1. Drama
2. Killer
3. Latifah
4. Prom
5. Beauty
6. Victoria
7. Mississippi
8. Elizabeth
9. Mother
10. Drag

Lather, rinse, repeat. Theme 3:

Jacks
enter image description here
1. Flap
2. Boot
3. Knife
4. Kerouac
5. Sparrow
6. Rabbit
7. Lemmon
8. Union
9. Nicholson
10. Cracker

And finally, Theme 4:

The rest of the "pack"
enter image description here


Everything below this point is only preserved to show solution progress.

Well. This seems a bit unusual, but let's give it a shot. (Warning: got stuck halfway and had to run, so this is going to be a partial answer only. EDITED: made some more progress, still some work to do.)

Let's start by looking at some of the more obvious words in the grid:

enter image description here

As you can see, some words have breaks in them, but the theme seems strong enough to suspect that this is intentional. We definitely have

Kings, Queens and Jacks.

I wonder if they're all their own themes, or if they are all one. Let's see if we can't find more:

(EDITED: New pic with the kings straightened up)
New pic with straight kings

Looks like they're all their own theme. Here are the words found so far: (there maybe mistakes and/or red herrings here)

Theme 1:

 Kings (redone until only straight words remain, errors still possible):
 - Wenceslas
 - Martin Luther
 - Carole
 - Billie Jean
 - Stephen
 - Kong
 - Arthur
 - Lear
 - Penguin
 - Cato (this seems particularly dodgy)
 

Theme 2:

 Queens: (redone until the words dodge only kings or other queens, errors still possible)
 - Latifa
 - Killer
 - Drag
 - Mother
 - Drama
 - Beauty
 - Victoria
 - Pearly
 - Elizabeth
 - Prom
 - Sissi (oops, these go to 11.)
 

Theme 3:

 Jacks: (needs more work)
 - Lemmon
 - Cracker
 - Union
 - Weston
 - Sparrow
 - Gibbs 
 - Flap
 - Nicholson (instead of King Nicholas)
 - Tactic (maybe? didn't highlight yet.)
 - ? (there are the letters for "knife" in the second column from the right, but a lot of stuff is between them. Also, apparently a "Jack Pearl" exists, that would take care of the extra queen too.)
 

Theme 4:

Rest of the playing cards. (possibly.)

Some are easy to find, others are scattered, and couple are as of yet completely unfound, but this would tie in with the clue about this being a "deck" of word searches.

Have to run now; please feel free to use this as a basis for your own answer if you want to.

In the comments, @jafe (and @sarsaparilla) presented the idea that

we should remove the words after a theme is complete.

This makes a lot of sense, and seems to work at least at first glance. We'll need to switch genders on the "pearly" though, since this means that themes cannot share letters. This way we also get rid of the dodgy Cato.

I'll see where this takes us, and update soon(ish).

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    $\begingroup$ Wait, I saw rot13("crathva" qvntbanyyl) in there as well.. dunno if that was intentional :0 $\endgroup$ – oAlt May 20 at 10:24
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    $\begingroup$ @oAlt That certainly fits the first group! $\endgroup$ – jafe May 20 at 10:35
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe rot13(gur yrggref hfrq va rnpu cunfr ner erzbirq, erfhygvat va fgenvtug jbeqf va n fznyyre tevq sbe gur arkg cunfr)? That would explain some of the bends and gaps. $\endgroup$ – jafe May 20 at 13:21
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    $\begingroup$ @jafe I think you're right, I was just about to comment the same :) $\endgroup$ – sarsaparilla May 20 at 13:24
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    $\begingroup$ That makes a lot of sense. I'll have to provide sustenance for the offspring, I'll try that right after $\endgroup$ – Bass May 20 at 14:00

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