by Jennifer Berk, Marisa Debowsky, Berit Johnson, Dan Katz, and Julia Tenney
Problem:

This puzzle consists of three sets of items. The first set is a collection of 5x5 arrays of cards resembling those from the game Codenames. The third is a collection of grids resembling spymaster keys from the same game. And the second is a list of descriptions of “targets” that a series of “threats” are targeting.

In Codenames, the spymaster’s task is to clue words (multiple words at once if possible) in the array with a single clue word. In this puzzle, each array can be paired with one of the grids in such a way that the words in blue positions can all be associated with a single word, as can the words in red positions. In every case, these words (blue then red) can be combined to form a compound word or two-word phrase.

Array 1, Grid 3:

• Blue: BOY (ALTAR, BUS, COW, LAD, MALE, PLAY, SON, WONDER, YOUTH)
• Red: SCOUT (BADGE, CUB, EAGLE, FINCH, JAMBOREE, RECON, SURVEY, TALENT)

Array 2, Grid 6:

• Blue: SAND (BAR, BEACH, CASTLE, DESERT, GLASS, PAIL, PAPER, PIPER, SMOOTH)
• Red: BOX (CHECK, CRATE, ICE, KICK, KITE, MAIL, PILL, SPAR)

Array 3, Grid 1:

• Blue: BIG (BANG, BEN, CHEESE, GIANT, LEAGUE, MASSIVE, SIZE, TALL)
• Red: APPLE (COMPUTER, CORE, CRAB, CRISP, DELICIOUS, FRUIT, ORANGE, PEEL, PIE)

Array 4, Grid 5:

• Blue: BLUE (BABY, BLOOD, BONNET, DEPRESSED, JACKET, NAVY, OCEAN, RISQUE, SKY)
• Red: BIRD (DUCK, EGG, FLOCK, FLY, HAWK, NEST, SWIFT, WING)

Array 5, Grid 8:

• Blue: SPARK (ACTIVATE, APACHE, GLINT, IGNITE, INSPIRE, KINDLE, SUDDEN, TRIGGER)
• Red: PLUG (ADVERTISE, CORK, DRAIN, HYDRANT, PROMOTE, RECHARGE, SOCKET, STOP, TOBACCO)

Array 6, Grid 2:

• Blue: FOX (FRIENDS, GLOVE, HUNT, KIT, NETWORK, RED, SLY, VIXEN)
• Red: TAIL (BEHIND, COAT, COTTON, GATE, PIG, PONY, PURSUE, TRACK, WAG)

Array 7, Grid 7:

• Blue: FLASH (CAMERA, EXPOSE, GLIMPSE, INSTANT, MOMENT, POINT, SPEED, SUPERHERO)
• Red: LIGHT (AIRY, DAYTIME, GENTLE, HOUSE, MOON, PALE, RAY, SABER, WEIGHT)

Array 8, Grid 4:

• Blue: MEAT (CHOP, DELI, ESSENCE, FISH, FLESH, LOAF, PITH, POULTRY, STEAK)
• Red: BALL (BASE, BASKET, DEBUTANTE, FOOT, GALA, SPHERE, THROW, VOLLEY)

Each of these combinations forms a Secret Service codename from a work of fiction; the arrays are sorted alphabetically by the name of the work from which they come. (We would have loved to sort by last name of the character, except the President in Shooter is apparently never referenced by name!)

In Codenames, one card, corresponding to the black X on the spymaster key, represents an assassin, and given the Secret Service theme, it can be inferred that these assassins are the “threats” referred to in the descriptions. The target descriptions can be matched up to the fictional characters and the two digits in the threat’s identifying number (always given in ascending order) can be used to extract two letters in those positions from the assassin word from the corresponding array. Ordering these pairs of letters by grid (the only order otherwise unexplained) and reading all the first letters and then all the second letters gives the clue phrase BOOKBAG FIRST NAME. Bookbag is the Secret Service codename of Zoey Bartlet on The West Wing, so the answer to this puzzle is ZOEY.

CodenameCharacterSourceArrayGridAssassinThreat No.Letters
BIG APPLEElizabeth KeaneHomeland31BRAIN14BI
FOXTAILMellie GrantScandal62ORIGIN12OR
BOY SCOUTJames Marshall Air Force One13FROST34OS
MEATBALLSkip Gilchrist160084SKIRT25KT
SANDBOXKatie RyanExecutive Orders26PALACE24AA
FLASHLIGHTThe PresidentShooter77GAME13GM
SPARKPLUGConnor AsherOlympus Has Fallen58FLUTE15FE

Explanations of descriptions:

• Threat 12’s potential target may be vulnerable during victory speeches, given circumstances leading to target’s current position: Mellie Grant was elected president because the president-elect was assassinated during a victory speech.
• Threat 13’s potential target may be vulnerable while meeting with an African archbishop: The President in Shooter is almost killed during such a meeting with an archbishop from Ethiopia.
• Threat 14’s potential target may be vulnerable due to lack of information after having many intelligence officials arrested: Elizabeth Keane has most of the CIA and Department of Defense arrested out of paranoia.
• Threat 15’s potential target may be vulnerable if North Korean intruder discovers target’s hiding place: Connor Asher hides in the walls of the White House during an invasion.
• Threat 24’s potential target may be vulnerable while attending preschool: Katie Ryan is a preschool student who is the victim of a kidnapping attempt.
• Threat 25’s potential target may be vulnerable after dropping out of college to live with target’s parents: Skip Gilchrist drops out of college and moves into the White House.
• Threat 34’s potential target may be vulnerable during a flight home after dining in Moscow: James Marshall’s trip home from Moscow is interrupted when Air Force One is hijacked.
• Threat 35’s potential target may be vulnerable during transatlantic flights, given the suspicious nature of target’s predecessor’s death: Elizabeth McCord replaced a previous Secretary of State who died in a mysterious plane crash.