I thought (believe) I have described the problem exactly.
Oh, I do not question that. What is in question is my own ability to comprehend. :-) Thanks for clarifying. I have a better idea now.
This problem oozes recursion and backtracking (which is what most of the regex solutions are trying to accomplish). As much as I like punctuation by the kilo, I might try a more explicit recursive sub solution as a first cut, if for no other reason than to sprinkle some debug and trace the algorithm and data rep. Come up with some firm test cases based on that, then optimize.
Edit: Aha, it looks like Mr. Conway hit it on the head!
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