Doublets - A Word Puzzle - By Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll devised a game called ‘Word-Links’ around Christmas 1877 as a form of entertainment for two child friends. Whether such a game or puzzle had been invented by anyone previously is unknown, but Carroll later described it as "new at least to me".

Having tested the game out on family and friends, he turned it into a form of puzzle, the rules for which he submitted to the journal Vanity Fair, where they were published in March 1879.

Lewis Carroll gave the following rules:

Two words are proposed, of the same length; and the Puzzle consists in linking these together by interposing other words, each of which shall differ from the next word in one letter only. That is to say, one letter may be changed in one of the given words, then one letter in the word so obtained, and so on, till we arrive at the other given word. The letters must not be interchanged among themselves, but each must keep to its own place.

As an example, the word "head" may be changed into "tail" by interposing the words "heal, teal, tell, tall." I call the two given words "a Doublet," the interposed words "Links," and the entire series "a Chain," of which I here append an example:—


It is, perhaps, needless to state that it is de rigueur that the links should be English words, such as might be used in good society.

In subsequent issues of the journal, Carroll provided regular examples of doublets to be solved, giving his own solutions and, from time to time, comments on the rules.

Carroll later produced his own glossary of words which were allowed in the puzzles, however, anyone attempting his puzzles today may wish to make their own rules regarding validity of words. The utilities on this website ('Solver', 'Helper') are based on Carroll’s own glossary. Although not stated explicitly in Carroll's rules, the start and end "words" do not need to be accepted English words and may be chosen at will.

Some of the words in Carroll's glossary and in his solutions may appear arcane today and may make some of the puzzles difficult to solve. We have attempted to highlight the puzzles which may proved challenging in the current age.

We emphasise Carroll's rule that words should be "such as might be used in good society" and confirm that this facility can be regarded as family friendly.