Nine Letters Puzzle

Find a nine-letter English word that remains a valid word as each of its letters is successively removed.

Claim:   The English language has at least one nine-letter word that remains a valid word as each of its letters is successively removed.


TRUE


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2006]


There is a common English word that is nine letters long. Each time you remove a letter from it, it still remains an English word — from nine letters right down to a single letter. What is the original word, and what are the words that it becomes after removing one letter at a time?

 

Origins:   The solutions to many of the linguistic puzzlers we receive involve “tricks,” such as knowledge of arcane words or correct interpretations of misleadingly literal instructions, and some of the more frustrating puzzlers don’t really have solutions at all, so it’s a pleasure for us to be able to provide a definite, straightforward answer to at least one such query.

The English language has at least one nine-letter word that remains a word as each of its letters is successively removed, right down to a single letter. That word is “startling”:




  • startling

  • remove the l, and the word becomes: starting

  • remove one t, and the word becomes: staring

  • remove the a, and the word becomes: string

  • remove the r, and the word becomes: sting

  • remove the other t, and the word becomes: sing

  • remove the g, and the word becomes: sin

  • remove the s, and the word becomes: in

  • remove the n, and the word becomes: I



Our readers have suggested many other possible solutions to this puzzler, some of which are equally valid, and some of which are disputed for various reasons.

Among the “equally valid” category, we have:




  • stringier

  • remove one r, and the word becomes: stingier

  • remove one i, and the word becomes: stinger

  • remove the t, and the word becomes: singer

  • remove the other r, and the word becomes: singe

  • remove the g, and the word becomes: sine

  • remove the e, and the word becomes: sin

  • remove the s, and the word becomes: in

  • remove the n, and the word becomes: I



Both scrapping and strapping also work as solutions with the use of the word ‘ping’:




  • strapping

  • remove the s, and the word becomes: trapping

  • remove the t, and the word becomes: rapping

  • remove one p, and the word becomes: raping

  • remove the r, and the word becomes: aping

  • remove the a, and the word becomes: ping

  • remove the g, and the word becomes: pin

  • remove the other p, and the word becomes: in

  • remove the n, and the word becomes: I



Several other nouns also qualify as viable solutions, but only if they are used in their plural forms (i.e., with the addition of a final ‘s’), solutions which some of our readers seemed to feel “cheat the spirit” of the puzzle:


  • cleansers

  • splatters

  • drownings

  • wrappings

  • starvings

  • trappings

The ten-letter word splittings also falls into this category, although its singular form (splitting) qualifies as a valid nine-letter solution.

The word discusses, while not a plural noun, sparked some controversy about whether present tense verb forms made by appending -s or -es to infinitive verb forms should count. Similarly disputed (although much less so) were past tense verb forms made by appending -ed to infinitive verb forms, such as replanted and restarted.

Last updated:   19 August 2012

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