Happy Mothers Day! Here at Conundrums, were celebrating in our customary way: A puzzle honoring moms everywhere, including yours and mine.

The clues below describe common words  many of them mother or spring themed. Your goal is to figure out what they are. To help you check your answers, weve made sure that each clued word would also make sense if put together with some of the words at the end of the clue text.

So for example, This gem is one you might say an oyster is the mother of (5) could be cluing PEARL, which fits with mother of to make the phrase

mother of PEARL.

The first number in parentheses following each clue indicates the number of letters in the answer.

But thats not all. Weve also given two other numbers for each clue, separated by a comma. Those indicate two letters that you should pull out of each answer word.


What do you do with those letters? Using half of them  one from each answer  you should be able to spell out this weeks answer, which is a trait shared by our favorite mothers around the world.

But which letters should you choose from each pair? That youll have to puzzle out for yourself!

  • What it takes to stand up for what your compass tells you is solidly moral (7 | 3,5)
  • A place where you shouldnt leave toys, lest people crossing from room to room trip on the mess (4 | 3,4)
  • Place in New York where theatrical performers put their shows on (8 | 4,6)
  • Stem tuber, or a kid who spends too much time on the couch (6 | 3,4)
  • Type of board that serves a company in a role thats almost parental (8 | 4,8)
  • Some aspire for their children to be this kind of artist, whom you might hear at a Billy Joel concert  (7 | 1,6)
  • Revolutionary 1950s-60s Court, or burrow for a rabbit (6 | 3,4)
  • Sendaks Kithen, or a time when you might ask your parents to read one more story if they give you an opening (5 | 1,2)
  • Waterfowl Bostonians might have to make way for (9 | 3,8)
  • Our planet, which we sometimes call mother (5 | 2,5)
  • What mothers know  every day, and especially this Sunday (4 | 3,4)

As you work through the clues, dont forget to be on the lookout for patterns and possible meanings among the indicated letters  you might be able to figure out the answer to the full Conundrum without solving every individual clue. 

(And what to make of those letters you dont use in the overall answer? You might want to hang onto them for use in the future.)

If you manage to make sense of this Mothers Day mystery  or if you even make partial progress please let us know at [email protected] before midnight New York time on Thursday, May 13.

If you get stuck, therell 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 dont forget to sign up for our Conundrums email list!

Programming note: The next Conundrums will run on May 16.

Previously in Kominerss Conundrums

For Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you!), we had to figure out the secret weak point of the

Empires new Death Star. Rebel agent Zigzag managed to get ahold of the information, but unfortunately it was encrypted  as were most of the decryption instructions.

The first instruction was SHIFT ALL LETTERS BACK ONE SPACE, and as we indicated in the Conundrum itself, applying that transformation to the second instruction gave DROP LETTERS IN NAME OF BOUNTY HUNTER WHO CAPTURED HAN SOLO. THEN DECRYPT WITH MORSE CODE; X MARKS THE DOT.

That suggested how to decrypt the third instruction: first, you had to identify the relevant bounty Hunter (

Boba Fett, arguably the

coolest character in all of Star Wars); dropping all of the letters in his name from the encrypted form of the instruction took us from this message …


to a much shorter one:


Reading that in Morse code with X interpreted as dot and Y as dash spelled out:



This instruction, of course, is classic Star Wars lore  Yodas admonition to

Do or do not, there is no try.

But looking at the fourth instruction, you could see it was quite far from having no try  indeed, the word TRY seems to be everywhere:


But you could fix that  dropping each instance of TRY led to the much more readable message:


These four instructions could then be successively applied to the main ciphertext. Applying the first three in exactly the same way as before yielded this very long string of letters (which we couldnt fit on the page without the help of a few hyphens):


But what to do from there? If you just read every fourth letter, you got gobbledygook. First, you had to use the force equation from physics, which is

F = MA. The text was full of MAs; replacing each one with F led to a slightly shorter string:


Reading every fourth letter there spelled out the weak point: EXHAUST ACCESS SHAFT ALPHA. While the Empire has apparently finally learned you have to cover the

exhaust port, they forgot about the access shaft!


(ALPHA was a bit of wordplay on the fact that this was a letter/decryption puzzle, and fit with the confirmatory clue that you were looking for the Death Stars Achilless heel.)

There was a bonus puzzle, too, which was to figure out agent Zigzags secret identity.


Looking carefully at the BL00M-Bg terminal readout that transmitting the secret plans revealed a bit of information that had not been used in the main puzzle  the FROM line, which said:


It was natural to guess that this somehow encoded Zigzags name  but how?

The phrase CODENAME ENCRYPTION was suggestive, but SOPLRNYE didnt have the same number of letters as Zigzag (and besides, if we already knew the codename, what would be the use of encrypting it?).

But it wasnt that we had encrypted the codename; rather, the codename itself described the encryption scheme. A few solvers recalled or discovered the existence of a

Zigzag Cipher, in which words are written in rows or levels in a zigzag pattern. Using the appropriate decryption method with three levels gave:


Reading starting from the top left spelled out Zigzags identity: SPYLO REN, which of course was a pun on the name

Kylo Ren.

And believe it or not, there was one more Easter egg hidden in this Conundrum: if you read every second letter in the decrypted ciphertext rather than every fourth, you would find the message MIKE IS EVEN COOLER THAN GMT, a shout-out to

my editor, who is indeed even cooler than Grand Moff Tarkin (who is definitely the coolest character in all of Star Wars).

Zoz* solved first, for the fifth week in the row; up next were Noam D. Elkies, Lazar Ilic, Adam Slomoi, Matthew Stein, Franklyn Wang & Cindy Yang, Zarin Pathan*, Ruth Hofrichter & Matthew Smith*,andMichael Thaler. The other 16 solvers were Hernando Cortina*, Elizabeth Grove, Luke Harney*, Namitha Jagadeesh, Maya Kaczorowski*, Rachel Kaufman, Paul Kominers, Michael Perusse, Fernando Raffan-Montoya, Ross Rheingans-Yoo, Maggie Schreiter*, Spaceman Spiff, Sanandan Swaminathan*,Nathaniel Ver Steeg, Michaela Wilson,and Rostyslav Zatserkovnyi. (Asterisks indicate solvers who also figured out Zigzags identity.) Schreiter pointed out that Zigzags name also anagrams to LONER SPY; Zatserkovnyi reminded us of this third Death Star. To our knowledge, Wang & Yang were the only ones who noticed the Grand Moff Tarkin Easter egg. And thanks especially to Adam Rosenfield* for test-solving!

The Bonus Round

Grazing goat math. Star Wars droids, ranked by functionality and then getting stuck on the beach. Also: feathers

in a fossil; and X-wings on display (hat tip: Ellen Dickstein Kominers). Briefly taking over the

Google domain name; the math behind the game Dobble; failing at football; and a teeny tiny fire truck. Plus inquiring minds want to know: When are chess games most interesting on average?

  1. You should pull these letters from the answer word itself, not the phrase you can make with the word!
  2. Did we intentionally choose letters corresponding to two of the most classic rebel fighters the X-wing and Y-wing? Of course we did!

  3. That sound you hear off in the distance is a Sith Lord facepalming.
  4. Not to be confused with this Agent Zigzag.

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

To contact the author of this story:

Scott Duke Kominers at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:

Mike Nizza at [email protected]

Before it’s here, it’s on the Bloomberg Terminal.