Each team receives a set of clues to a word ladder made up of five four-letter words. The clues are on cards: the first card has a clue for the ladder’s middle rung, the second card for the second rung, the third card for the fourth rung, and the fourth card for a compound word or phrase that is formed by combining the top and bottom rungs. Teams try to determine the top and bottom rungs of the word ladder and score points based on how many clues they need (the fewer the better) and how much time they use.
* * *
The first version of Corporate Ladders was presented at a Los Angeles minicon. Teams were made up of four players and in each round one team member was chosen to start alone with one clue, and then had the option of “hiring” more teammates/clues to complete the ladder. In the second version, presented at a few minicons and eventually at the 2015 NPL convention, the variable team-size gimmick was eliminated and players worked singly or as a team of two. Even though the new version wasn’t “corporate,” I kept the game name and described the players as “one-person corporations” in the business of solving word ladders. The first version used crossword-style clues with a couple of picture clue rounds, while the second version used a wide variety of clue styles including cryptic, analogy, dictionary definitions, movie posters, and Wikipedia articles. Players commented that the word ladder mechanism was a bit prosaic but the clue variety added entertainment value. Solving a word ladder with only the middle-rung answer was a difficult feat but several players/teams managed it. Players who solved ladders without using all the clues could try to predict the ones that they didn’t see, and in some cases this speculation led to concern. For example, one player solved the answer phrase HUCK FINN using only the middle-rung answer FUNK, and then asked me, “Uh, is the answer to the second-rung clue…?” I responded, “It’s HUNK. What else could it possibly be?”