What Solved This Anagram?

04:10 Thu 24 May 2007
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Yesterday I decided to attempt the Tuesday Guardian’s “Countdown” nine-letter anagram, which was CUPTIEMAN. I spent maybe thirty minutes on it in total during the day, getting more or less nowhere, trying a bunch of likely-two letter combinations to begin the word that didn’t help me.

I had a bunch of things like the following:
and so on, eventually coming up with UNEMPATIC as the nearest thing to a real word that I could find. The method of taking likely two-letter beginnings and then trying to solve the remaining seven-letter anagrams by staring at them didn’t help either.

So when I was about to go to sleep, having not touched it for a few hours, I decided that the best shot I had was to sleep on it, to hand off the problem to my subconscious for the evening. I’ve heard that that works for people, although I can’t recall too many instances where I’ve woken up knowing the solution to a problem I couldn’t solve the night before.

I fixed UNEMPATIC in my mind, since that was how I remembered the anagram. I was trying to fix it in my mind so that whatever background process would handle it while I was sleeping would be able to get a good handle on it, and also I think just to try to be able to remember it the next morning. As I did this, the answer came to me. Just like that, without any real “aha” moment, and certainly without any intermediate “I think I’ve got it” thought, or any intervening steps like “what happens if I put this letter over here?”—no, I was simply presented with the solved anagram.

I was rather surprised by this, since I hadn’t been “trying” to solve it, and had in any case been skeptical about the chances for success if I slept on it.

The experience left me with a feeling of not having solved it myself. If I’d gone through all the two-letter combinations that could start the word and then seen it, or written down thousands of re-ordered variants, or worked through some conscious process of elimination, then I would feel that I’d solved it. If I’d seen it immediately, as I can with much shorter anagrams, then I wouldn’t have felt a sense of “solving”, I would just have considered it an easy problem. This, however, was a very difficult problem (at least for me).

I feel as if I somehow solved it by “luck”, which makes no sense either.

Clearly, I need to learn how to harness whatever part of the mind helped me with this problem.

(I’m not providing the solution here in case the anagram-lovers among you want to solve it. If you can’t, and really want the answer, there should be plenty of anagram services online that’ll do it.)

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