Friday, June 15, 2007

Puzzling Atheists

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I love puzzles and puns. That’s why my favorite challenges are British-style cryptic crosswords, which require solvers to manipulate words to find each answer. Part of every seemingly nonsensical clue is the definition of the word being sought, while the other part features some kind of devious wordplay. To make matters even more maddening, punctuation is often used deceptively. But clue-setters aren’t completely sadistic; they tell you, in parentheses following the clue, how many letters the solution contains. For instance:

Example 1: A backwards dog? I have no faith in him. (3)
Answer: god.
Definition: “I have no faith in him.”
Wordplay: “a backwards d-o-g,” which yields “g-o-d.”

Example 2: The believer arises from disassembled tin chairs. (9)
Answer: Christian.
Definition: The believer.
Wordplay: “tin chairs” anagrammed, or disassembled.

Example 3: Give pay to a kind of a magician or a religious nut. (14)
Answer: Fundamentalist
Definition: a religious nut.
Wordplay: “Give pay to” = fund + a +“kind of a magician” = mentalist.

Example 4: Glare from the sun nicely hides a potential fanatic. (5)
Answer: Sunni
Definition: a potential fanatic.
Wordplay: “Glare from the sun nicely" hides.

(If you'd like more help with cryptic clues, you might want to take a look at this short guide to solving them.)

I can't get enough of this kind of brainteaser. The sad fact, though, is that I’ve never found a set of cryptic clues all written specifically for atheists. That's why I’ve tried to rectify this lack with the following, each of which will lead to the name of a well-known freethinker. The clues below are roughly in the order of difficulty, with the easiest first.

  1. This atheist gives a funny-sad wink. (7)
  2. Any darn mixed-up godless person. (3,4)
  3. An atheist’s true worth is in depression. (7)
  4. This nonbeliever is the result of an irresistible urge in chickens. (8)
  5. A crooked arrow, looked at only partially, might point to this devil’s advocate. (6)
  6. Sweet honey, but heartless atheist. (7)
  7. Backward mothers a pronounced bother for such a faithless man. (3,6)
  8. A strange Kmart leads to shower for Elmer Fudd, that blasphemer. (4,5)
  9. A loud noise amidst the turbulence of war? Just the opposite for this original ex-Christian. (6)
  10. Meek CNN ridiculously goes after hell. But without the Spanish atheist. (1,1,7)
A symbolic prize will be awarded to the first person to correctly solve, with an appropriate explanation, each of the items.

ADDENDUM (7:16 p.m. EDT): The contest is now closed. Winners will be notified of their symbolic prizes in my next post. I'm proud to have some of the most mentally agile readers in the entire blogosphere, and I thank you all for participating; fortunately, I had no work to do today so I could have fun watching your comments pour in. SPOILER ALERT: If you've just arrived for the first time at this puzzle, and want to test your own skill in solving it, don't look at the comments.


rmacapobre said...

im ignorant. i wish i knew more of famous atheists

Hemant said...

2) Ayn Rand ("any darn" unscrambled)

6) Sam Harris (Mothers = Mas. Backward mothers = Sam. Bother = harass. A pronounced bother = Harris)

And now, I must tape my brain back together.

Fun puzzle :)

The Exterminator said...

Nice going, Hemant, and your explanations are succinct and clear. I know you enjoy puzzles, so I thought you might try your godless hand at this toughie.

Anonymous said...

5. Clarence Darrow - crooked arrow - he was the attorney in the Scopes Monkey trial, arguably on the devil's side.

I'm not good at puzzles, but I know my lawyers.

nullifidian said...

1. Dawkins (sad wink rearranged/"funny")
5. Darrow (part of "a crooked arrow") of the Scopes "monkey" trial fame, where he was advocate for Scopes.

I usually prefer sudoku to crosswords, but this one is interesting.

nullifidian said...

4. Hitchens (itch "an irresistible urge") in "hens" = h+itch+ens

nullifidian said...

9. Darwin => loud noise = din + war, jumbled

nullifidian said...

10 H L Mencken => hell - (spanish) el = h l, meek + cnn (ridiculously) = mencken

I think that's all my brain can work out. :-)

Anonymous said...

Damn, Null, you're good.

nullifidian said...

I'm British, they feed us The Times for breakfast over here. ;-)

The Exterminator said...

John P.: I have no objection to your solution. Great work.

Null: Whew. You're amazing, with an astounding four and seven-eighths correct -- including two that I thought were really hard. (Your explanation for number 9 does not account for all the words used in the clue, so you lose a fraction of a point. But, hey, you found the answer anyway.) I assumed you had some experience with Brit-crypts, although I didn't know you were force-fed them every morning; do you normally eat them scrambled or hard-boiled. By the way, you and John solved "Darrow" at the exact same time. You didn't pray together for supernatural guidance on this, did you?

Just FYI:
A loud noise = "din;" the turbulence of "war" indicates an anagram for w-a-r. So the beginning of the clue seems to say that you'll find "din" amidst, or inside, an anagram for "war." But then the clue says "just the opposite," which means you're looking for an anagram for "war" inside "din." = Darwin

Status: Seven out of ten solved, three left (numbers 3, 6, and 8) to go. I'm thrilled to have readers who seem to enjoy this kind of brainy fun. Nobody's solving cryptic clues on an evangelical blog.

nullifidian said...

Bah! I'm of the draw-the-letters-in-a-circle school of crossword solving - blame my mother - so once I've extracted the necessary letters, the clues normally go by the wayside.

Ta for the FYI though, I never picked up on that bit.

The Times is usual served fried. Some people like to call it "kippers" and seem to think it's actually some variety fish, but little do they know... :-)

nullifidian said...

Two more, and that's it:

3. I'm taking a guess here that it's a word hidden in an anagram of "in depression", so perhaps "sinners" (true worth, perhaps from a theistic perspective).

6. "Sweeney", (removing the middle or "heart") from "swee(t ho)ney".

nullifidian said...

Ignore my 3. :-)

The Exterminator said...

Null: Nice solve on number 6.

Consider number 3 ignored, as you requested. Which is a good thing, because the only anagrams I can find quickly for "depression" are "spider nose" and "poised erns."

nullifidian said...

Damnit! You do realise that now I shall spend all evening in a vain attempt to answer the remaining 2, or reloading this page in the hope that somebody else has solved them, to satisfy my wordlust?

The Exterminator said...

Null: You can tell that I have nothing to do today except read comments, right?

If you go completely crazy, let me know and I'll privately email you the two remaining answers.

By the way, "depression" also anagrams to "penis so red," but that's not the answer to number 3 either.

Anonymous said...

perhaps a double post.. if so, sorry :S. but.. 8 is Mark Twain. (strange kmart = mark t "shower" = rain.. wain for elmer fudd))

nullifidian said...

This is another guess for 3. Thoreau. "a true worth" - rut (a depression) = aethrow => thor-awe which sounds like Thoreau. I know this is rather weak...

The first name that springs to mind for 3 is actually Russell, but I don't seem to be able to find any way to wrangle the clue to fit it.

The Exterminator said...

Well, do pay attention to that man (or woman) behind the curtain, because Anonymous is correct.

Null: Nope. Neither Russell nor Thoreau. You're gonna hate me, I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

I have a feeling the answer to number 3 is Daniel Dennett, but I can't get the clue to fit.

The Exterminator said...


Faith doesn't count here. You need evidence.

Anonymous said...

net (for net worth) inside dent (for depression) = Den (net) t

nullifidian said...

Hurrah! :-D

The Exterminator said...

Nowoo got it!

Explanation: The clue used a tricky apostrophe. "An atheist's" did not mean something belonging to an atheist; it meant "An atheist is ..."

Properly punctuated, and italicized for clarity, the clue would read:

An atheist [is]: "true worth is in depression." I suppose that last "is" made it even more sneaky, but I don't think I broke any rules.

nullifidian said...

Good clean atheistic fun and a brain workout to boot. Thanks! :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the challenge! I went ahead and made 10 of my own for you on my blog. Prizes for the winners!