Melbourne University Mathematics and Statistics Society

Solution for 3.3 Middleman (Answer = MUSA)

The 22 words provided below can be paired up by some group. Furthermore, each group also allows some sort of word association which transforms the words to another pair of words or phrases whose initials differ by two letters.

For example, MANAGUA and WARSAW are the capitals of Nicaragua and Poland respectively. This means we can pick a middleman by taking the capital of a country beginning with O. Conveniently in this case (and all eleven cases in the puzzle), the unique country beginning with O is Oman, whose capital is MUSCAT. We thus obtain the following table:

Left wordMiddle wordRight wordWord associationLeft wordMiddle wordRight word
QLDACTNTAustralian capital citiesBrisbaneCanberraDarwin
MENZIESBRUCEABBOTTAustralian prime ministersRobertStanleyTony
MITCHAMDAREBINGLENROYOne station towards the cityHeatherdaleIvanhoeJacana
KOVASLAPKRITISSPALISLithuanian monthsMarchNovemberOctober
CROWLIONBLUEAFL teamsAdelaideBrisbaneCarlton
GALEKOVICMCKAYMONTGOMERYA-League captainsAdelaide UnitedBrisbane RoarCentral Coast Mariners
FLIKMERIDAMCQUEENPixar moviesA Bug's LifeBraveCars
CAROMURDOCHTATEUniversity of Melbourne buildingsDavidElisabethFrank
MANAGUAMUSCATWARSAWCountry capitalsNicaraguaOmanPoland
MINCCINOSKITTYEXEGGCUTEPokemon who evolve using stonesCinccinoDelcattyExeggcutor
UNUNTRIUMVANADIUMTUNGSTENChemical symbolUutVW

By noticing that the rows in the grid all have different lengths, we can actually uniquely fit the answers of the form MANAGUAMUSCATWARSAW from before:

GALEKOVICMCKAYMONTGOMERY
QLDACTNT
CROWLIONBLUE
UNUNTRIUMVANADIUMTUNGSTEN
MANAGUAMUSCATWARSAW
KOVASLAPKRITISSPALIS
FLIKMERIDAMCQUEEN
MENZIESBRUCEABBOTT
MITCHAMDAREBINGLENROY
CAROMURDOCHTATE
MINCCINOSKITTYEXEGGCUTE

This spells out the clue MALUS PRUNUS in the central column, and a bit of research tells us that these are the genera of the apple and the cherry respectively.
The answer is thus the genus of the banana, or MUSA.

Note that this gives us a thematic reference to the prophet Musa, who was a middleman of sorts, as compared to using other fruits like blueberry or blackberry which would technically also be valid answers.

Author's Notes:
This is one of two puzzles dedicated to my my 2-year-old son Musa (the other being 5.4 Dream Team), who had stayed very patient with me throughout the last couple of months when I was busy writing and testing puzzles and ignoring him. This was one of the first puzzles I wrote for this hunt, and I had decided to use the answer MUSA as soon as we decided to have a semi-flexible meta allowing for nearly-freeform answers.