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Can You Find the Missing Words in These Puzzles? Less Than 60% of People Can.

Get ready to put your creative thinking skills to the test!

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The history of remote associations tests

Developed in 1959, the Remote Associations Test, or RAT, began as a way to test problem solving skills, creative thinking, and how different parts of the brain contribute to different thought processes. Here’s how the puzzles work: Participants are presented with three different, unrelated words. The challenge is to find a fourth word, or “solution word,” that makes sense when combined with each of the three words. The solution word can go before or after each word, as long as the combined phrase makes sense. In most cases, two of the three words will call to mind a very obvious meaning of the solution word, while the third word will require a less traditional or familiar usage of it.

Here’s an example:


If you guessed “cheese” as the solution word, you’re correct! “Cottage cheese,” “Swiss cheese,” and “cheesecake” all make sense. As this example shows, pairings that produce a single word (“cheesecake”) and ones that produce a two-word phrase (“cottage cheese”) are equally valid.

According to author Leonard Mlodinow, “Those who use insight [to find the solution] allow their minds to relax and wander until they find an answer, an idea that seems to appear suddenly, from nowhere.” This is why people who employ creative, non-straightforward thought processes tend to find more solutions. The following Remote Associations puzzles vary in difficulty, but each has only a single word as its solution. To learn more about the history of the RAT, check out the book Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Time of Change by Leonard Mlodinow. Happy associating! If your brain doesn’t feel ready to solve these tricky puzzles, try doing these brain games that boost brain power first.

fountain baking popNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#1: fountain/baking/pop


Here’s a fairly simple example of how different uses of the same word can come into play. “Soda fountain” and “soda pop” conjure up the most familiar association of the word “soda.” But in the case of “baking soda,” soda isn’t a bubbly liquid. Yet soda is still the word! After solving these, try out these printable crossword puzzles.

playing credit reportNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#2: playing/credit/report


Playing cards, credit cards, and report cards…if you think about it, they all involve a bit of a gamble at times. Nothing’s scarier than a credit report, but this hidden ghost puzzle comes close.

measure worm videoNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#3: measure/worm/video


The word “tape” has quite a few meanings, as “tape measure,” “tapeworm,” and “videotape” make clear. Here are some common words that actually mean nothing like what they look like.

pain serial whaleNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#4: pain/serial/whale


Painkillers, serial killers, and killer whales can each be dangerous, in very different ways.

man wheel highNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#5: man/wheel/high


You can sit in a high chair and a wheelchair, but sitting on a chairman is inadvisable. If your inner word nerd is loving these puzzles, check out our all-time favorite grammar jokes.

coin quick spoonNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#6: coin/quick/spoon


While not super easy to figure out, this one is pretty straightforward once you know it. Silver coins, quicksilver (also known as mercury), and silver spoons are all the same color.

man house sureNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#7: man/house/sure


Unlike “fireman” and “house fire,” “surefire” doesn’t conjure images of a blaze, but it’s still a very real phrase! For more creative thinking exercises, learn the 10 things all highly creative people do.

up book chargeNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#8: up/book/charge


“Cover-up,” “book cover,” and “cover charge” are the correct combinations for this one. Interested in more great word puzzles? We’ve got you covered. Don’t miss these tricky word games that are sure to puzzle you.

french car shoeNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#9: french/car/shoe


Make some noise with your French horn, or your car horn. We’ll have to “shoehorn” the explanation for the third pairing in here, too.

peach arm tarNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#10: peach/arm/tar


It’s pretty amazing that these three “pits”—peach pits, armpits, and tar pits—can be so vastly different. These word puzzles will leave you stumped.

sandwich house golfNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#11: sandwich/house/golf


If your mind wandered to “green” when you thought about golfing, you’re not alone—this is a tricky one! But while there’s no such thing as a “green sandwich” or “sandwich green,” you can enjoy a club sandwich in your clubhouse after swinging a golf club.

cross rain tieNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#12: cross/rain/tie


You can wear a bow tie, gaze at a rainbow, and wield a crossbow. Talk about lots of variety packed in a single word. See if you can solve any of the 25 hardest riddles ever written.

office mail hatNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#13: office/mail/hat


You might’ve had to think outside the box to remember that “box office” is as valid an entity as more literal boxes like mailboxes and hatboxes.

age mile sandNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#14: age/mile/sand


You might be stone-faced if you got this tricky puzzle wrong, but no worries—this was a challenging one. Especially since “Stone Age” and “sandstone” refer to literal stone, but a “milestone” is only metaphorical! Plus, you might be a literal genius if you can solve the secret word in this logic puzzle.

lift card maskNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#15: lift/card/mask


While a facelift and a face mask refer to your actual visage, you might’ve had to think a little harder to remember that a Jack, Queen, and King are “face cards.”

pine crab sauceNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#16: pine/crab/sauce


This type of crab isn’t creepy or crawly! The three combinations are “pineapple,” “crabapple,” and “applesauce.” We dare you to solve these 14 tricky crossword puzzle clues.

room blood saltsNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#17: room/blood/salts


“Bathroom,” “blood bath,” “bath salts.” Two of these combinations are totally normal and mundane; one, not so much.

foul ground mateNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#18: foul/ground/mate


If you’re the athletic type, your mind might’ve jumped to “ball” for this one. But the correct combinations are “foul play,” “playground,” and “playmate.” Two very fun types of play, and one less so. Check out these words we use all the time that double as both insults and compliments.

food forward breakNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#19: food/forward/break


“Fast” isn’t pronounced the same in “breakfast” as it is in “fast food” and “fast forward,” making this one pretty tricky!

cracker union rabbitNicole Fornabaio/, Shutterstock

#20: cracker/union/rabbit


Kudos to those of you who know your snack brands (“Cracker Jack”), your British slang (“Union Jack”), and your animals (“jackrabbit”)! If you solved all of these word associations without a problem, put your mind to the test with these 19 tricky brain teasers that will leave you stumped.


Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.