The “Puzzle of the day” was always a hit with the students I worked with. The most consistently successful type of puzzle in my class was the Word Ladder or Doublet, invented by Lewis Carroll in 1877 (allegedly on Christmas Day!).
In a Word Ladder:
- Players get a starting word and an ending word
- Starting and ending words must be the same length (PIG and HOG, or CAT and DOG)
- Players change one letter at a time, attempting to move from the starting word to the ending word
- Each intermediate step must be a valid word, and no proper nouns allowed!
Here are a few samples. Note that each step is a word and changes only one letter from the previous word.
FLY to CRY
Get from FLY to CRY in one step.
- FRY (l → r)
- CRY (f → c)
CAT to DOG
Turn a CAT into a DOG in two steps.
- COT (a → o)
- DOT (c → d)
- DOG (t → g)
MAN to APE
Naturally, they can get increasingly complex. Carroll’s MAN to APE is a famous example that takes four intermediate steps despite how short the words are.
- MAT (n → t)
- OAT (m → o)
- OPT (a → p)
- APT (o → a)
- APE (t → e)
I created a list of 101 Word Ladders as part of the the Byrdseed Advanced Vocabulary Guide. They’re of varying difficulty levels, but are all school-appropriate. I also pruned away ladders that depended on archaic or unusual words that might seem unfair to students.
They range from one step, such as “AS → IF”, all the way up to six steps, such as “MEAN → NICE.” Most of the ladders are two, three, or four step ladders.