Today my 4th grader enrichment tutee showed me a new puzzle book that he got recently. The puzzles are in the same vein as a previous book he had, but these are Level 2. You’re given some rows of letters and information about how many of these letters are in the final word, and whether they’re in the right place and order–very much like Mastermind, except without having to construct guesses.
My tutee was really into these puzzles, but the new book was stumping him. When we had looked at the old book together, he was very much using verbal clues to help him solve the puzzles—eliminating candidate letters that were unlikely. After all, not too many “p” words have “k” as their second letter.
I worked on pushing him on this. I drew a diagram to illustrate my point: you’re giving yourself extra tools to work with if you take advantage of your verbal knowledge. This is totally fine, and if you enjoy solving puzzles this way, great! But the promise that the book’s author is (implicitly) making is that these puzzles could just as easily be written in terms of crazy symbols or patches of color—they’d remain identical from a logical standpoint.
He had a hard time reining himself in—and granted, some arguments we had to make were pretty subtle. I’m actually pretty sure that there wasn’t enough info to fully deduce all of the letters in one of the problems we worked on. (The remaining information was entirely symmetrical.) Still, I think we made some headway in distinguishing these two different facets of these puzzles.