# Connections

For the past few weeks, my family has been playing a new (it’s in “beta”) New York Times game called Connections. Our daughter found it—she has an NYT games subscription—and got the rest of the family hooked on it.

The gist of the game is this: You’re shown sixteen clues in a 4×4 grid and your job is to split them into four groups of four. You’re allowed four mistakes. Here’s yesterday’s game.

The groups are typically categorized according to their definitions, but there are more insidious meta-word categories. For example, couple of weeks ago there was a set of words that were all made from the letters IVXLCDM, and the category was words made from Roman numerals. More recently, the words that fit together were CHIN, CUB, MALT, and TONG; the category was countries missing their final A.

Those of you who watch British TV game shows will recognize this as essentially the Connections Wall segment of Only Connect, the show hosted by the delightful Victoria Coren Mitchell. Apart from certain scoring details (the TV game is obviously timed and the newspaper one isn’t), the games are identical, a fact I found curiously missing from this NYT explainer article. Anyway, if you know Only Connect and are afraid that Connections will be as difficult, rest assured—Connections is generally much simpler. So much simpler that our family goal is to solve it with no mistakes, a goal we all usually achieve.

Yesterday’s game was unusual in that I understood all of the clues and knew all of the categories but was still unsure of the solution until I took a guess. A typical feature of Connections (and Only Connect) is the red herring. You’ll usually find one or more clues that are strongly associated with one category but turn out to fit better in another. Yesterday’s game was filled with red herrings, because each category had five possible entries:

Trees: ASH, CEDAR, ELM, MAPLE, PINE
Bagels: EVERYTHING, ONION, PLAIN, POPPY, SESAME
Movie/TV Streets: ELM, FEAR, HILL, JUMP, SESAME
Geographic Features: HILL, MOUNTAIN, PLAIN, PLATEAU, VALLEY

The Trees category was easy because ASH, CEDAR, MAPLE, and PINE didn’t fit in any of the other categories. And the other three categories had three clear members each:

Bagels: EVERYTHING, ONION, POPPY
Movie/TV Streets: ELM, FEAR, JUMP
Geographic Features: MOUNTAIN, PLATEAU, VALLEY

But at this point I was stuck. If HILL is a Street, then SESAME is a Bagel and PLAIN is a Geographic Feature. On the other hand, if HILL is a Geographic Feature, then SESAME is a Street and PLAIN is a Bagel. Both of these are valid solutions, something I’d never seen before. I guessed that knowing Hill Street Blues was meant to throw off older players like me, so I put HILL with the other Geographic Features and was rewarded:

This was pure luck, but you can bet I lorded my perfect game over my wife and kids.