Fun, Games

Wonderful Word Games: A Lewis Carroll and Wordle Connection

While this might seem like a continuation of my Wordle post yesterday, in fact, it is not. I started off with Lewis Carroll, considering that January 27th happens to be his birthday. However, between the memories of the wordle post and reading about Carroll, I realized I can continue talking about word games. After all, Carroll is the creator of so many games and puzzles, and of course, made-up words as well! So yes, Lewis Carroll and wordle do have a connection: via wonderful word games!!

Macmillan later put all the puzzles together in a compilation and published them in a slim volume titled simply as Doublets.

Lewis Carroll’s Wonderful Word Games


Many of you might have played this game as kids, often even. I know I did, and filled up pages after pages with various options for any specific combination of doublets. Lewis Carroll invented this game on Christmas Day1877 to relieve two young ladies of their boredom. He later formulated a set of rules, renamed it Doublets, and sent it across to the Vanity Fair journal in March of 1879 as a series for publication. Other names for this include word ladder, laddergrams, and paragrams.

Rules of the game

(paraphrased from Carroll’s rules)

  1. Pick two words of the same length.
  2. Now link the two words by interposing other words in between, each of which differs from the previous word by one letter only.
  3. That is, in each step, change one of the letters in the current word, starting with the first word in the pair, to finally arrive at the second word in the doublet.
  4. You cannot rearrange the letters in anyway.
  5. Of course, you cannot use made-up words or proper words.


As an example, you can change the word “head” into “tail” by interposing the words “heal, teal, tell, tall.” Carroll called the two given words “a Doublet,” the interposed words “Links,” and the entire series “a Chain.” His example was as below:


Classic Doublets from Carroll

Here are some of his doublets that appeared in Vanity Fair

  • Drive PIG into STY
  • Raise FOUR to FIVE
  • Make WHEAT into BREAD
  • Dip PEN into INK
  • Cover EYE with LID
  • Turn POOR into RICH
  • Change TEARS into SMILE

I love how he worded each doublet as well, don’t you?!

Variations of the game

Carroll created another variation of this puzzle, where the first word in the doublet changes to the second word by introducing a new letter or by rearranging the letters of the word at any step. You may not do both in the same step.

For example, changing IRON to LEAD as below:

icon (changing a letter)
coin (rearranging a pair of letters)
corn (changing a letter)
cord (changing a letter)
lord (changing a letter))
load (changing a letter)
LEAD (changing a letter)

Other fun variations to try can be:

  • Additive Doublet: Adding a letter each time to change a smaller word to a bigger one. Like AN to PANTS, or AN to PAINTS
  • Subtractive Doublet: Removing a letter each time to change a bigger word to a smaller one. Reverse the above pairs. Also, try BEAST to BE
  • Combinations of the above. You can try to come up with more puzzles with a combination of adding, subtracting, changing, and/or rearranging letters within the word. In fact, Carroll created another word game (included below), which kind of does that.


In 1879, Carroll noted in his diary that he had created a new type of word puzzle he called “syzygies.” The objective was to turn one word into another by changing letters according to logical rules.

A “syzygy” is the common set of two or more consecutive letters between two words. The puzzle itself consists of connecting two given words by a chain of words, called links, where each consecutive pair of words is connected by a syzygy. This can be played with any number of players. Each player scores based on the length of the “syzygies” as well as the length of the chain. The longer each syzygy, the higher the score.

For example, ‘en’ is the syzygy between ‘friend’ and ‘enemy,’ while ‘ting’ is the syzygy between ‘meeting‘ and ‘tinge.’

Now, a chain of links between COOK and DINNER, with syzygies in parentheses, is given below

COOK (coo) –> scooping (pin) –> pinned (inne) –> DINNER

The Basic Rules of the game

  1. A syzygy can be anywhere in the word (beginning, middle, or end) but it may not begin both words, or end both words. So some is not allowed as a syzygy between handsome and troublesome, but it is allowed between handsome and somewhere.
  2. No proper nouns or hyphenated words are allowed.
  3. Pick a pair of words, and form a chain of links linked by syzygies! Have fun..

Here are a few pairs for you to play with (from Carroll’s initial set of puzzles)

  • Turn DOOR into WINDOW
  • Get VERDICT from JURY
  • Make BULLETS of LEAD


  • Carroll did have some weird exceptions when he set the rules. For example, the letters ‘y’ and ‘i’, when sounding the same, can be regarded the same, as in: usi would be an allowed syzygy between busy and using.
  • Carroll used a complex scoring system. So if you chose to score the game to decide a winner, feel free to check out the complete set of rules including the scoring system as well as more examples and details in the book Rediscovered Lewis Carroll Puzzles. It is available on Amazon or you can read it online at the Internet Archive.
  • You can also check a scoring system with examples here at The Lady website. (Carroll submitted the initial rules and later a series of puzzles, along with answers to readers who participated in competitions based on the puzzle and sent in their solutions to this magazine in 1891 and 1892. This magazine is still published today!)

Related Reads on Wonderful Word Games and More

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And Now, the End of this Post

Dear reader, have you played word ladder (or the doublets word game)? Or any other word games? Do share those wonderful word games with me here. I would love to hear more. And of course, feel free to share the solutions to any of the doublet or syzygy puzzles listed in this post.

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