A ‘Hungry Caterpillar’ Puzzle You Can Resolve With Your Youngsters


This week’s puzzle honors Eric Carle, the beloved children’s book illustrator and author who sadly passed away this week. His work explored the natural world through a bright and whimsical illustration style using a layered paper collage. Each of its sides has a friendly warmth.

One of Carle’s earliest and most famous works is The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which follows the adventures of a caterpillar that starts out small and then gradually eats its way through a variety of foods, growing in size. Following the story, young readers will learn to recognize different types of food and practice counting – on the first day the caterpillar will eat an apple; on the second day he eats two pears; and so on. And in many prints the caterpillar is shown to have literally eaten through every object, leaving a hole in the page.

Here we have reinterpreted the story in the form of a puzzle – with the help of the Conundrums illustrator Lara Williams. Our hungry caterpillar has worked its way through all of the delicious looking foods below, taking out a few bites at a time.

Can you find out what he turned that massive Smorgasbord into? As in the original, you have to practice your food recognition – and count a little too. But once you do that you should be able to identify a couple of nine letter words that together make up this week’s answer.

This puzzle may look a bit confusing at first because it has very few instructions on how to solve it – it is mostly just a series of illustrations. But like many children’s books, this can improve accessibility. In fact, the solving mechanism is intuitive enough to provide a good introduction to first-time puzzlers. Maybe try solving this problem with the whole family!

If you get stuck, notices will be announced on Twitter and Bloomberg Opinion Today. To be added to the solver list, please include your name in your answer. And don’t forget to sign up for our Conundrums email list!

Program note: The next puzzles will be carried out on June 6th.

Previously in Kominers’ riddles …

We introduced a game called “word stoichiometry” where words like chemicals can “react” together to produce new ones. The solvers had to work out the underlying mechanisms for seven sample reactions and then use those mechanisms to solve seven new word equations.

The mechanisms were as follows:

With these mechanisms sorted out, you can move on to the new equations and solve them as follows:

Putting these solutions together resulted in the sentence “BARIUM PLUS TWICE SODIUM IN A BALANCED BREAKFAST”. That was the clue to the complete enigma we pointed out: “A particular brain food, in part known for its chemical composition.”

But what kind of brain food could that be? You sure don’t want to have barium for breakfast!

In fact, this was the final round of chemical puns: in the periodic table, barium has the symbol “Ba” and sodium is “Na”. So barium plus two times sodium is “Ba + Na + Na” or “BaNaNa” – which leads to a balanced equation that can certainly be part of a balanced breakfast. That was of course the answer.

There was also a little bonus: an Easter egg to commemorate the 52nd edition of Conundrums. That was hidden in the original word equations – reading the first few letters of each resulting word that read “ONE YEAR”. (Thank you for reading and solving our last 52 weeks of puzzles! We look forward to many more.)

Zoz * found out the word stoichiometry first, followed by Noam D. Elkies *;; Michael Thaler;; Nathaniel Ver Steeg;; Daniel Kramarsky;; Tsarina Pathan *;; Filbert Crab;; Lazar Ilic *;; Franklyn Wang, Cindy Yang & Sha-Mayn tea;; and Luke Harney *. The other 17 were solvers Tamara Brenner, Alexander Haberman, Maya Kaczorowski, Ellen & William Kominers, Vikrant Kulkarni, Eric Mannes, Dave Matuskey, Tamar Oostrom & Kathryn Nutting, Ross Rheingans-Yoo, Melissa Shirley, Adam Slomoi, Spaceman Spiff, Nancy & Murray Stern, Sanandan Swaminathan, Michaela Wilson, Dylan Zabell, and Rostyslav Zatserkovnyi. (Asterisks indicate solvers who have also found the Easter egg “ONE YEAR”.) Many solvers have submitted emoji solutions or photos of the henchmen of “Despicable Me”. And Kramarsky sent in this A + joke: “What is Beethoven’s favorite fruit? Ba-na-na NAAAAA. Ba-na-na NAAAAA. “Meanwhile, Rheingans-Yoo referred us to this short story in which some form of word stoichiometry plays a central role. Plus thanks especially to my brother, Paul Kominers, for solving tests!

This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or of Bloomberg LP or its owners.

Scott Duke Kominers is the 1960 MBA Professor Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and a faculty member in the Harvard Department of Economics. Previously, he was a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and a founding researcher at the Becker Friedman Institute for Economic Research at the University of Chicago.