By now, almost everyone has seen the video of a Wheel of Fortune contestant guessing the final puzzle in one try, based on only two letters. If you haven’t already, watch it now:
We were curious to see just how crazy and unlikely the contestant’s guess was.
Here’s what we know before the insane guess:
- There is a three letter word that starts with “Ne,” followed by a four letter word, followed by a five letter word.
- None of the words contain any other copies of the letters R, S, T, L, N, E, H, M, D, or O.
- Given this, it’s pretty safe to say that the first word is “new.” No other remotely common English words fit here — those like “net” or “ned” or even “neo” won’t work, since those letters have already been used up.
With these constraints in mind, we can try to see what phrases the solution could actually be. We started with a list of about 70,000 English words found on the website of linguist John Lawler.
Next, we found all the four- and five-letter words. The list included 3,082 four-letter words, and 5,196 five-letter words.
But, we also know that the words don’t include any of the ten clue letters, so we removed all the words that contain at least one of those letters. This dramatically reduced our list to just 79 four-letter words and 52 five-letter words.
So, this gives us a total of 79 × 52 = 4,108 three word phrases that could conceivably fit into the puzzle. Here they are in a Google Drive spreadsheet:
Most of these are nonsensical, like “new fica guava,” or “new yuck affix.” Some of them make no sense, but sound really cool, like “new fuzz abuzz,” or “new jazz pizza.”
One very special four-letter F-word actually satisfies our criteria, leading to some interesting phrases that are almost certainly never going to be used on Wheel of Fortune or any other prime-time network television show.
In addition to the correct answer of “new baby buggy,” there are a few other plausible answers on our list. “New Cuba byway” at least makes grammatical sense. “New aqua kayak” might be a recent extreme sports purchase. “New baby puppy” is totally reasonable, and close to the real answer.
However many possible solutions to the puzzle exist (and few plausible solutions make our list), getting the answer right almost instantly and on the first try is uncanny and awesome.
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