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A Guide to Word Games - Word Ladders

Today we’re taking a closer look at one of the types of word games featuring in The Ultimate Word Games Quiz Book – Word Ladders.

Word Ladders, or Doublets, are a word game or puzzle invented by Lewis Carroll involving a pair of, usually related, words. Lewis Carroll suggested the words should be “English words, such as might be used in good society”. What words you include depends on how prescriptive you want to be – but typically they are words you’d find in a good dictionary, or at least the “Official Scrabble Words” dictionary which has a lot more in it! The great thing about Word Ladders is that there’s usually many different ways to get to a solution. All the ones in our quiz book are possible with words in every day usage (which should please Lewis Carroll!) though shorter solutions may be possible with more obscure words.

If you are making up your own own word ladders then you can choose the rules – if it is a tricky one you might want to include the names of places or famous people. Anyway, the aim is to start with one word, then change one letter at a time to eventually get to the paired word. An easy example is CAT and DOG, which can be completed as follows:





Obviously both paired words need to have the same number of letters. Three letter word ladders are usually quite easy (though some present more of a challenge - try APE to MAN). Four letter words are a bit harder, have a go at EAST to WEST, see how you do. When you’ve tried that, have a go at a five letter word ladder: NORTH to SOUTH.

Six letter word ladders are extremely different, and most word pairings will not be possible, hence why five letter word ladders are the most popular. If you like a real challenge you could try to find some six letter ladders, but they are rare, and getting a linked pair of words into a word ladder is even harder, and usually share one or two common letters to make it easier (FASTER to SLOWER for instance).

In The Ultimate Word Games Quiz Book, we’ve got a few different Word Ladders for you, mostly five letter word ones, but there’s an easier four letter one too.

A slight variant on word ladders it to specify how many steps there are and to provide a clue to each rung on the ladder. The following is a four-letter example:

  1. Another word for wealthy

  2. A large stack of hay or straw

  3. A large stone

  4. A small item of clothing

  5. An open air marketplace in certain countries

  6. How lemon juice tastes

  7. Decant from a jug

  8. Somewhat impoverished

You can even play word ladders as a game with several players. Choose a word pairing (or sequence of several links like Wheat > Flour > Bread for example). For a single pairing, count up the letters in both words, and that is the maximum score for that round, so for a simple five letter word ladder, the maximum score would be ten points. If rather than a pair of words there are three words, the maximum score is 20 points (which at first seems strange but is actually logical - Wheat > Flour is 10 points, Flour to Bread is another 10 points). The person(s) with the lowest number of words in their chain scores the maximum points, the other players get 1 point deducted for each additional word in their chain.

There’s a lot of fun potential in playing word ladders, and it will be by turns delightful and infuriating. When you’ve tried the examples in this article, think up some of your own. Be aware that while all the examples I’ve given are possible with standard dictionary words, you will often come across word pairings (multiple word links) which are impossible. Don’t be disheartened, just move on to another one. A computer scientist with too much time on his hands came up with a list of 671 impossible words that weren’t connected to any other and called them ‘aloof’ words because aloof was one such example! Of course if you use names or other non-proper words, some of these may be possible!

If you liked this article and fancy doing some Word Ladders, you can go right ahead and try some on your own, but if you want some more definitely solvable ones, with suggested solutions, then check out our Word Games Quiz Book. Along with Word Ladders there’s lots of other great word games to enjoy including Word Squares, Cryptograms, Word Wheels, Vocabulary Quizzes and a few Wordle style rounds. Plus lots more!

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Here’s some suggested solutions to the puzzles in this article.


EAST-LAST-LEST-WEST (Quite an easy one)


Clue Puzzle:



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