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Enjoy a biweekly test of verbal tomfoolery. WWW fame is at stake! Confused? Read all about Word Games in this brief introduction. Brought to you by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, the creators of The Atlantic Puzzler.


This contest is now closed. But enjoy!
(Click here to go directly to the winning entries.)

The idea for this contest was suggested by jens@west.net, who is hereby awarded with a choice of a free book from the Atlantic's online store OR an Atlantic T-shirt with a surfing Poseidon on the back.

Jens@west.net reminded us that Morphing in Hollywood is the special-effects transformation of one shape or creature into another. Something analagous can be done, Jens@west.net suggested, with wordplay.

By changing one letter at a time to form a new word at each stage, CAT can be morphed into DOG in three moves (CAT, COT, COG, DOG), and BULL can be morphed into BEAR in four moves, as the capitalized keywords in the following sentence illustrate:

"It's a lot of BULL," claimed the ballplayer Albert BELL, "to say that when I BELT a ball out of Wrigley Field and BEAT the Cubs, the Chicago fans can't BEAR it."

To give another example, HARD can be morphed into SOFT in seven moves, as the keywords in the following verse show:

Introduction to Word Games

Meet your hosts, Cox & Rathvon

Word Games rules

Enter the current Word Games contest .

Archive of past Word Games

Join in the message board fun

Suggest a contest for your fellow wordplay lovers. If we can use or adapt your idea, we'll bestow upon you any book from The Atlantic Store.

"It's HARD," said politician HART,
"To play a winning public PART
And get PAST papers like the POST
Who tell each reader on the coast
I've LOST my honor in a LOFT
With someone kittenishly SOFT."

Now, in this contest we're not looking for immortal prose or poetry. All we want you to do is: 1) "Morph" one word into another by changing one letter at each step, and 2) string these words together in a sentence, quip, poem, ad, blurb, maxim, comic opera, or whatever your Muse prefers. The words should occur in their proper morphing order from word X to word Y. (Word X and word Y don't have to be strict opposites like HARD and SOFT; but it helps if they have some inherent connection, like BREAD and JELLY or LARRY and CURLY.)

Mail your Morphing entry to puzzles@theatlantic.com. Multiple entries are welcome, but for our convenience pack your entries into one piece of e-mail whenever possible (and please don't use attached files). Senders of our three favorite entries will have their choice of prizes: a free book from the Atlantic's online store, or our T-shirt with the surfing Poseidon.

Morphing will remain open through Friday, May 30. Winners and full results will be posted on Friday, June 6.

 --Emily and Henry ("The Unmorphables")

Results of Morphing

At the end of our invitation to this game we called ourselves "The Unmorphables," but that was a mistake. To our surprise two correspondents found a way to get from EMILY to HENRY by changing one letter at each step. The first was StanKEsq@aol.com, who wrote:

"I believe that one valid counterexample is: SMILY, SMILE, SMITE, SMOTE, SHOTE, SHONE, PHONE, PHONY, PEONY, PENNY, HENNY. I do not, however, plan to compose a poem to fit."

Less than a day later we heard from Robert1919@aol.com, who found a similar trail and did write a poem, which we hereby blushingly reproduce. (If our puzzles really did have this effect on our solvers we'd be delighted.)

When Emily and HENRY come quietly calling
You lie wide awake all the night.
As from HENNY PENNY, whose sky kept on falling,
All reasonable thoughts will take flight.

Their strange cryptic clues will begin formulating;
A blossom in hope on your mind.
See PEONY there? (It's indeed devastating!)
If PHONY, their clue's redesigned.

The PHONE off the hook and a pen in your hand,
You've no care if the sun never SHONE,
For the SHINE from their clues lights the lamp on your stand
And you're lost in a world of your own.

As the answer appears, there's a chill in your SPINE
And in SPITE of your need for some food,
You're satisfied fully--their charms are so fine
When they SMITE you, you're verbally wooed.

You wonder how often they sit back and SMILE
Each time a good cryptic strikes deep.
I suppose they are SMILY sometimes quite a while.
To EMILY and Henry: "Give us sleep!"

While thanking Robert1919@aol.com for that ode, we must confess to another mistake in our contest invitation. As several correspondents pointed out, our example of BULL to BEAR included "ballplayer Albert BELL." Actually the baseball player spells his name BELLE, so we should have said "ballplayer Jay BELL." Apparently we need to read "The Sporting News" more assiduously.

Thanks to everyone who tackled this rather challenging assignment. We derived the biggest smiles from creations by cmatthews@sjmercury.com, cakes@echonyc.com., and djwixted@facstaff.wisc.edu. Each of these winners may choose a free book from our online store or a T-shirt with a surfing Poseidon on the back.

The Winners

For obvious reasons, ZEUS
Had no use
For a DEUS ex
Machina. Sex
Was a snap in the Olympian DENS
Of iniquity. Hence
A conquest put no DENT
In his powers: He SENT
From his SEAT of authority for
A costume, which he wore,
And faster than you could SWAT
A fly, became a SWAN, that's what.
He didn't even need a
Line like "Take me to your Leda."

*The Invention of Fire *
--Cro, I saw a SPARK!
--You're mad, Neander, STARK mad!
--I'm telling you, if we STACK these a little higher... just go back to the hut.
--For another STICK?
--No, SLICK, for a glass of milk and a SLICE of pie. Chop chop.
--Wait... so what you're saying is if you SLIDE those two together it'll happen?
--Just GLIDE on over there and get me a drier piece of wood.
--It's making a weird smell. Should I bring the GLADE, too?
--What, and just GLAZE over the problem? Why bother?
--Neander, if this catches on we'll go out in a BLAZE of glory!
--Hee hee... and if we, uh, get burned we'll have no one to BLAME but ourselves.
--Hee hee hee... ahhh, I love you Neander.
--I love you too, Cro.
--So the FLAME's still there.
--The what's still there?

(A clarification for the following: Here in Wisconsin, "brat" usually rhymes with "rot," not "rat," and refers to a bratwurst. When I first moved here from out east, all the "We Sell Brats" signs had me wondering about the level of commitment folks here made to parenting!--djwixted@facstaff.wisc.edu)

The grass SNAKE, ready to SLAKE its thirst at the SLATE-blue pond, noticed better fare through the SLATS of revelers' SEATS along the shore. After all, even snakes know that nothing BEATS BRATS and beer on a sunny July 4th, especially when backed by the sound of a BRASS band and the smell of newly mown GRASS.

And Our Other Top Favorites

*Dark Winding Roads Scare Me*
When I'm driving during the day,
Which, when it gets LATE,
I come to HATE.


*Shakespeare Learns to Type*
"Oh, Oberon," sighed Titania. "Forget the HUNT today, you cool HUNK. Don't leave me alone with that PUNK PUCK. He's nothing but a PECK of trouble."

I see the con man draw each JACK
From out of that well-shuffled PACK
Then PICK one card. Never turning PINK
He looks at me and gives a WINK.
All Jacks WIND up, in this little sting,
A different KIND of card--a KING.

A PIG in a WIG, with a Blue-Ribbon WIN,
Was given to breeding with hogs, but in SIN.
She paid for her deeds when the SON of that SOW
Had trans-species surgery; NOW he's a COW.

BLACK Beauty, his life on the BLOCK, looked at the CLOCK, and, jolted by a sudden CLICK, got a CRICK in his neck. At the CRACK of a whip, he lost TRACK of even a TRACE of hope. In a TRICE he was sold to Simon Legree. You think this story is TRITE? What would you WRITE about? Snow WHITE?


When the GENE is GONE the CONE
of complexity loses its CODE
and the only MODE left
can be nothing MORE
than a MERE



Although starting out COLD
in trying to unwind a CORD
of four letters in my WORD
I was able to enter a WARD
where the results are WARM.

Henry LUCE,
told he had LICE,
wailed, "Help me!
LIFE I'll sacrifice!"

Despair was RIFE;
Luce, gripped by RIME,
wailed louder yet,
"I'll throw in TIME!"

Each DIME he'd earned
for naught, but, hell,
DAME Fortune smiled;
FAME made him well.

When cooking SOUP, a dash of SOAP
will make my spirits SOAR.
I'll SEAR some frozen antelope
and sail the SEAS once more;
I'll play a dozen tennis SETS and
dance with Earl Butz;
And you will call the men with NETS
'cause this whole verse is NUTS.

His mood was BLACK and his mind was BLANK,
His eyes didn't BLINK as he stood on the BRINK,
And the waves of the BRINE beckoned far below.
His crazed despair burned BRITE in his mind,
As he faced the awful agony of what to WRITE:
"That devilish pair, Cox and Rathvon --
They never give a puzzle that's just black and WHITE!"

"Let's see...so far, I've got confirmations from Madam, Nan, Hannah, and LIL," mused GIL, reviewing the guest list for the Memorial Day Palindrome Clambake. (Though not invited himself, GIL always agreed to organize the GIG as it made him feel BIG. "And as for the food...well, everyone'll need a lobster BIB. But who'll bring them? Of course! I'll ask BOB to pick them up on his way back from his JOB. He's a good guy; I like the cut of his JIB, as they say-great sense of humor, can really ad-LIB. Hey...maybe I can set him up with LIL!"

Former President BUSH
Got an electoral PUSH
Back to Maine where it's POSH
No chance to POSE, my gosh!
With the Pope - he's a POLE
But then neither will Robert J. DOLE

You remember Robert J. DOLE
He, too is DONE as a pol
Dead, buried, and GONE
He went with a song
"Hoping in four
There will be no Al GORE"

When he awoke, a COLT named COLE was chilled to the CORE. A deranged vet, with terrible CARE, had made poor Cole a MARE.

I'm a poet, I make lots of DOUGH
Though my limericks make some people COUGH
I sit on my COUCH
I have the golden TOUCH
If you don't like my verses, well, TOUGH!

A BLANDER drink has never been poured from a BLENDER. Every time I go to that restaurant, the chef gets BLINDER, the waitress gets BLONDER, and my order is more of a BLUNDER.

Was the MOTHER of Cotton MATHER married to his FATHER?

*Lost Treasure?*
When the JADE's strength was beginning to FADE, it had to FACE the FACT that winning was FAST becoming a thing of the PAST. This would not be the LAST race it would have LOST in recent weeks but it could not just quit, LEST the heartless owner should put it to REST. In its quest to be the BEST, the horse had forgotten that BUST MUST follow boom. In its LUST for the LUSH life on the derby circuit, it had stoically borne the LASH, mastered the DASH, and brought in mountains of CASH. But the party was not going to last forever. As the evening sun CAST long shadows on the racetrack, the once-prized horse finished LAST; its long LIST of victories, its name (LOST Treasure) and its long tenure at the winning POST sank into the PAST, alas, too FAST.

As many of you know, I live in the *NORTH**WEST*. This is WORTH boasting about. I like to walk in the rainforest among the WORTS and ferns. We also have several old FORTS; good defense was the FORTE here. Leaving town, you can FORGE a trail to the GORGE (by George), but don't let the needles GOUGE you; they will leave a ROUGE WELT, and the ROUGH skin will be FELT for days. Maybe warmer climes would be better for that persistent COUGH. A fun FEST is perfect excuse for a FAST trip to feel a gentle SOUGH in the *SOUTH**EAST*. But for SOOTH, leave the SOOTY industrial land and make a SORTY into the VAST open lands of the prairies and high desert, stake a claim to your very own FORTY acres on the Pacific coast, and strut FORTH in your fancy VEST as you make your home in the great *NORTH**WEST*.

These are the *TIMES* that sold many TIRES. To place an ad, use WIRES and locate your WARES. We don't accept WARTS remedies, but promise short WAITS. WRITS are your responsibility. WRITE your TRITE copy and we'll have it published in a *TRICE*. We offer to TRACE your ad on-line, with no GRACE period. Helpful hints: don't GRATE on customers or PRATE excessively. PRATS by BRATS will sell a lot of BOATS, but BOUTS of fancy may only net POUTS. As the money POURS in, you can spend *HOURS* counting your income (as long as your heart never SOURS). Your spirit SOARS as you spend the lucre on safari, viewing BOARS and BEARS. *YEARS* later, as you shop at SEARS, show them your SCARS (but don't SCARE the clerk). Know the *SCORE*: a house on the SHORE facing where the sun last SHONE is only a PHONE call away. Beware those other PHONY funny papers. Don't try to sell your PEONY to mere PEONS; it'll take *AEONS*!

AMPS are best for current events,
While ALPS ensure rapid descents.
ALES at the bottom are sure to bring glee,
but if sausage is served stand ALEE
(or out of the chalet you'll FLEE
gasping for air that's aroma FREE).
Don't FRET if you're not fleet of FEET,
as long as you're not red as a BEET.
Just loosen your BELT
and if it's raindrops you felt,
watch out for the lightning BOLT-
Hey, that's a VOLT!

I made resolutions on NEW YEARS Day,
as I put my NEW SEARS catalogue away.
I'm going to do better (that's no surprise)
to keep myself healthy, and wealthy, and wise.
Then in the winter NEW SCARS appeared,
was this a NEW SCARE? It's so weird.
Do the NETS CARE? What's the NETS CASE?
How do I find what NET'S CAST in this place?
How much do NETS COST? As much as BETS COST?
And what was BEN'S COST for all that he lost?
I saw BEN'S COAT at the pawn shop in hock,
used to finance BEN'S BOAT at the dock.
A BENT BOAT it was; BENT, BEAT up and gray,
with a BENT SEAT and BENT SEAL to ward off the spray.
Under a BENT TEAL nautical railing
there he was, frantically bailing.
Did BEN STEAL this rickety dory,
or is that just another tall story?
Excuse me while I loosen my belt;
it's tight and beginning to raise a deep welt.
I had resolved never to sneak into the DEN, STEAL
a sandwich or two, a beer, or even a meal.
I have the day off, but am still in despair,
The only show on is "A Current Affair."
I heard the mistress DENOTE AL on NBC.
Would they DEMOTE AL, wait and see.
Next was a DEMO: REAL weight-loss pill,
(I think it is time to light up the grill).
The parade has just passed, led by a hearse,
and I must really quit rambling so, per verse.
MEMO: REAL people don't weigh
their resolve on MEMORIAL Day.

George BUSH said, "Far be it from me
To BASH our incumbent v.p.,
But I think that it's BASE and unfair
That my foibles were always laid BARE
By the press that now coddles that BORE
Of a tree-hugger called Albert GORE."

Early in our romance, my wife and I would WIND and WEND our way along the Fire Island shore, and she'd pause to SEND me messages in the SAND. From the first message that SAID "I love you," she has been the wind in my SAIL.

The BOOK written by Robert BORK brings the FORK between his and our Founding Fathers' Constitutional beliefs to the FORE. It seems he learned nothing from being under FIRE from the Senate Judiciary Committee, and we can only hope that this book ends up in the circular FILE rather than as fodder for a new Oliver Stone FILM.

God took from Adam a RIB so as to RID man of loneliness and give him AID AND comfort in its stead. Thus did He ADD woman to Eden. And woman it was who gave an ODD twist to this ODE, commanding Adam to fashion rings from the finest gold ORE ERE she, EVE, would consent to be his wife.

At the rest STOP, I wouldn't risk taking another STEP toward the picnic area. Would you, if you saw moisture SEEP from the ground where, without a PEEP of remorse from their masters, every dog that passes PEES to mark its presence? The "No PETS" signs, as well as the large flower POTS along the sidewalk, seemed to be the favorite targets.

*Diet Rap*
I'm loving all that FLAB
that jiggle jiggle SLAB 'cause
you're eating like a SLOB
you're starring in The BLOB and
you're tire's gonna BLOW
you move too SLOW
you'll never shovel SNOW and
you're gonna miss the SHOW 'cause
it's time to SHOP
you need a pork CHOP and a
pint of chocolate CHIP
gonna sink that SHIP
so kick me in the SHIN with
yo big ol' double CHIN
no you ain't too THIN
Hey, that ain't no sin!

Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.