Kominers’s Conundrums: Choose Your Pyramid Words Wisely

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As anyone who has recently made eye contact with a dollar bill knows, Pyramids remain filled with mystery. We’ve tapped some of it for this week’s puzzle, a pyramid you’ll construct from words.

In recent days, we journeyed deep into the Conundrums quarry, returning only after we found words that made the best building blocks. Your mission: Assemble the most unique pyramid possible by figuring out which word in each group is the “odd one out.” Those are the words that you want to put together.

A few tips: The words can be special for many different reasons. They might stand out because of what they mean, or for wordplay reasons or because of how their letters are arranged.

For example, for the top of the pyramid, you want to use one of the following three words.


There are lots of different ways these words might relate to each other (or not), but we have a specific one in mind. And here’s a hint: We went back and forth repeatedly trying to figure out which word to use.

What could that mean? Maybe think about it for a minute before reading on.

The truth is that the “back and forth” clue is an invitation to  read the words both forwards and backwards. It turns out that both “BAG” and “GEL” also spell words if you read them in reverse (“GAB” and “LEG”); “SEW” does not have this property. That means “SEW” is the odd one out, and will go to the top of our pyramid.

Ready? From here on out, each pyramid level will offer an italicized clue, and you’ll have to which word to use. As the words get longer, we’ve dug up more of them, which should help make the patterns more apparent.

For the second layer from the top, we found fearsome-sounding four-letter words. You’re looking for one that’s a bit more out of the ordinary than the others.


(Did you figure out that this time the clue seems to be pointing to the words’ meanings, rather than their letters? If not, now you know!)

The next layer in the pyramid should be a word with five-letters — namely, one of the following, even though none of them looks particularly Egyptian.


We’ve been staring these six-letter words for a while. Can you help us figure out which one we want, so we don’t have to keep our eyes open any longer?


Most of these seven-letter words were so monstrous we couldn’t fit them in our pockets. Is there one that doesn’t really “go” with the others?


And finally, it’s hard to figure out what to make of these eight-letter words. We could barely find a pattern in any one of them.


Once you’ve found your six pyramid pieces, you’ll want to enter them into the following grid:

Kominers’s Conundrums: Choose Your Pyramid Words Wisely

If you build the pyramid correctly, you should be able to scale it somehow to uncover a treasure hidden within. (Just don’t forget to come back to the ground after you make it to the top!) The treasure is something that’s even more valuable than gold — and that is this week’s answer.

If you’re finding this puzzle tricky, it might be worth checking out last summer’s pyramid puzzle (solution here), which had a similar format and style. Or alternatively you can always reach out for hints on Twitter.

These types of puzzles can also be fun to solve with family or friends, so you might want to get a group together. Figuring out the answer to this puzzle, in particular, might benefit from a bit of parental insight.

If you manage to construct our Tower of Babel and figure out its secret — or if you even make partial progress — please let us know at skpuzzles@bloomberg.net before midnight New York time on Thursday, April 22.

If you get stuck, there’ll be hints announced on Twitter and in Bloomberg Opinion Today. To be counted in the solver list, please include your name with your answer. And don't forget to sign up for our Conundrums email list.

Programming note: The next Conundrums will run on April 25.

Previously in Kominers’s Conundrums…

In our first-ever escape room puzzle, solvers were on the hunt for three keys hidden throughout the column. Each key was two words, and putting them all together would identify a secret escape path.

The first key came with a hint: a series of green, red and purple letters.

Kominers’s Conundrums: Choose Your Pyramid Words Wisely

That seemed cryptic at first glance. But like in many escape rooms, looking around a bit would reveal an important clue. The column’s header image featured the same three colors, but in a different order: green, purple, red.

Kominers’s Conundrums: Choose Your Pyramid Words Wisely

Putting the letters in that order — that is, reading the green ones first, then the purple ones, then red — spelled out “FIRST KEY IS CLICK LINK.”

The second key was dispersed across the column: underlined letters throughout the text spelled out “SECOND KEY IS SAYING OPINION.”

Kominers’s Conundrums: Choose Your Pyramid Words Wisely

The third key was a bit more mysterious. To locate it, you had to read all the way to the end of the column and look at the “Bonus Round” section at the bottom.

Kominers’s Conundrums: Choose Your Pyramid Words Wisely

This section with “bonus” fun for puzzle fans appears in every edition of Conundrums, but last week’s looked a little bit unusual. Each item started off with a capital letter, violating at least a couple grammatical conventions; moreover, the last item explicitly referenced the “final key.”

Clicking through the “where is the final key hidden?” link led to a video about first letters in animal names. That was a hint that you should be thinking about starting letters — and indeed, if you returned to the bonus round and looked at those letters, capitalized for ease of identification, you could spell out “THIRD KEY IS LETTER P.” (The punctuation in the bonus round section also delineated the brakes between the words.)

Taylor Swift’s new puzzle; History of magic; Iceland’s eruptions; Rather large sushi rolls; Delicate primes.
King of legal hypotheticals”; Everywhere the ship can get stuck; Young otters.
Interesting numbers; Squares the same size?
Lifting heavy objects with science; Engineering new woolly mammoths; Topology tricks; Tough tongue-twisters; Erdős’s coloring conjecture, now solved; Really useless machines.
Plus inquiring minds want to know: where is the final key hidden?

With the three keys in hand, the last step was to figure out how to combine them to find the escape path. This required some ingenuity — like in many physical escape rooms, there was a concealed door!

The first two keys suggested you should be looking to “CLICK” a “LINK” “SAYING OPINION” — and indeed there was such a link in the column: the sign-up link for Bloomberg Opinion Today, our daily newsletter. But if you just clicked it randomly, you probably got to the usual sign-up page.

The third key indicated that you needed to click the “LETTER P.” Unlike all the other letters, that one took you far outside the Bloomberg Opinion world. Indeed, you landed in a scene from the movie “Madagascar,” with one of the characters saying, “Welcome to Madagascar!”

This pathway was truly hidden because it’s impossible to see visually that the “P” is a different link from the others. You can try it out here — we’ve replicated the “Bloomberg Opinion Today” link exactly as it appeared in the escape room:

The destination “MADAGASCAR” was the answer to the full Conundrum.

Zoz solved first, followed by Lazar Ilic, Zach Wissner-Gross, Michael Thaler, Michaela Wilson, Sanandan Swaminathan, Dylan Zabell, Paul BaranayAshna & Zarin Pathan, Steven Zwanger, Spaceman Spiff, Christine, Andrew Garber, Noam D. Elkies, Andrea Spalding, CJ Quines, Will Finigan, Ross Berger, Matthew Stein, Bennett Amodio, SherlockedMaya Kaczorowski, Nikki Miller, Caz Buckland, and Brittany Baumli. We were thrilled to receive more than 350 solutions in total, including answers to a variant we produced for Twitter. Some of the other solvers were @samchester, Nima Akbarpour, Serena Antonetti, Sonia Balagopalan, Cathie Blanchard, Maddie C., Ryan Chisholm, Thomas Chu, Bena Clemens, Allie Cline, Phil Colvin, Content Cop, Jeff Croft, Harri Cruickshank, Silvia De Sousa, Nicole Dee, Anna Fitzpatrick, Amy Fraser, Elin G., Chris Garlington, Ben Gorman, Tamarra Holmes, Ebehi Iyoha, Jailyn, Dhanushka Jayagoda, Kate, Coral Kennedy, Paul Kominers, Davis L., Diana Mancuso, Anna Marie, Connor McDermott, Kate Meadows, Cat Miller, Katelyn Pate, Sarah M. Pennington, Aidan Pesta, Prox, Pearly Q., Heather Reid, Regina Reim, Dustin Reitzel, Daniel Rodriguez , Alex Rovalino, Dan Rubin & Jennifer Walsh, Marc Sarmiento, Matthew SarmientoTJ Smith, Daniel Solis, Lillian Straub, Jon T., Stefan Thomas, Lewis Thompson, Kyle Thurmond, Sarah Toussaint, Rachel Vanderpump, Tatjana Vejnovic, Ria W., Steven M. Weisberg, and Jaidyn Wu. We haven’t quite finished tabulating everyone yet (we do all of this by hand!), but the full list will be filled in here soon.

Nima Akbarpour noted an unexpected Easter egg: the “Madagascar” video we used implicitly referenced keys, with the line, “Wa-key, wa-key!”  My brother, Paul Kominers, pointed out that if you have been enjoying online escape rooms, you might also like old Flash-based escape games like “Crimson Room.” And thanks especially to Jay DeStories & Michele Mei and Tamar Oostrom for test-solving!

The Bonus Round

Fiction as an escape room (hat tip: Ellen Dickstein Kominers); a vocabulary test game; translating spider web structure into music; and the 196,883-dimensional monster. Remembering Mad’s “poet lauridiot” (hat tip: Ellen Dickstein Kominers); monkeydactyls; counting T. rexes; and the whitest paint ever (hat tip: Maya Kaczorowski). “Zelda Gif World”; plus “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?,” 30 Years Later (hat tip: Sean Altman). And inquiring minds want to know: Will lab-grown mushrooms one day replace Styrofoam?

Thanks to Sanandan Swaminathan who pointed out an unintentional red herring featuring a second "opinion" link, which we removed soon after the column was posted.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Scott Duke Kominers is the MBA Class of 1960 Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and a faculty affiliate of the Harvard Department of Economics. Previously, he was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and the inaugural research scholar at the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics at the University of Chicago.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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