I'm not a die-hard Spelling Bee solver. My main goal is just to find the pangram -- or pangrams. For this purpose I devised a program that spits out only one thing: how MANY pangrams it can find. It uses a private dictionary that is somewhat smaller than the one the NYT uses. So sometimes it prints out "0" (zero), which tells me the pangram is at least somewhat obscure. But if it prints out more than one, I know to keep looking for some other pangrams after I find one. If someone made a public program that gave this with the "real" dictionary, I should think others might find it helpful without really being any sort of serious spoiler.
The last time I didn't get ANY pangram was "bellyache", and the most recent time before that was "ethnicity" in November. I often have gotten only one pangram when there are several.
I've also written programs that do reveal the answer list but don't use them any more. One fun program was to find a set of letters for which the ONLY answer was the pangram. I did find a few based on my dictionary (I think "jukebox" was one, with center letter "x"). I should think they might do one of those for April Fool's...
Part 1: https://www.reddit.com/mysteryhunt/comments/aptpgp/huge_2018_writeup_part_1_with_spoilers/
Post-hunt solving for us didn't start in earnest until the Thursday after the hunt. This is obviously in many ways a very different experience from solving during Hunt weekend, with the biggest difference being that our team size shrinks from about 50 to somewhere between 3 and 4; myself, Spain, Eshan, and occasionally my wife. We've done sort of thing before, so we already have a good set of ground rules:
-The most important rule: Do not get spoiled! Don't look at wrapup, don't look at commentary online, don't look at solution pages, don't do Google searches that might get you to solution pages, do not accept even the slightest "hint" offered from someone who has seen a solution page. Breaching this makes the entire exercise empty, so I adhere to it as absolutely as I can.
-If HQ is required for something, our teammate Spain will cease to be a solver and function as HQ for that puzzle.
-If, during Hunt, a resource of some kind is given out at regular intervals, we are allowed to simulate having that resource, albeit at a substatially slowed rate, so long as the resource does not involve getting "free answers". For 2013 and 2015, this took the form of "oracle" yes/no questions. For 2019, this was solvent. Since toward the end we got about 10 solvent per hour, post-hunt we reduced this to .5 solvent per hour. That was a pretty good rate.
-A correct instruction submission is a solve if there is no more puzzle content afterward. This is how the online 2015 hunt worked. If there is
puzzle content, Spain-as-HQ gives that content to us if possible, or the answer otherwise.
We had 117 solves during Hunt, leaving 63 for the post-hunt. Most of the 63 had significant work done by the team during hunt which was built on in post-hunt solving. iPod Submarine
After spending some time trying to write down all the possible "problems", I got to 50 or 60 before realizing that this was way too many. Then, I started trying to figure out the guessing mechanics of the 5 players, figuring this was important. After succeeding at this but not knowing what to do with the information, I then turned to trying to figure out how the "Musk" answers were generated. Figuring out the alphabetical list, I was really excited when it was spelling a message! But then the message was just ELON MUSK repeated forever. Utterly flummoxed, I then came up with a theory that you could win the game by forcing every player
guess which answer was Musk's, using their mechanics and Musk's, which seemed to fit the flavor of the "players" winning if "they" figure out who Musk is. This was actually very difficult and used all the information I had found, so I was feeling good about the idea. After finally succeeding at this, though, nothing happened! Argh. However, this exercise was not ultimately fruitless: it caused me to realize that even though there were tons of possible questions, only a few different ones ever showed up immediately after the "practice" questions. From there I discovered the 'first words' messages and everything went smoothly from there, since I already knew the required mechanics. Loved the questions, by the way. Place Settings
During hunt we had gotten irrevocably stuck on this, as it turns out due to a number that was completely missed (leading to an underconstrained sudoku). We had also not even tried to backsolve the ABE answer, since it didn't seem like enough to go on. Thinking about the missing TH/PR answers later, SHINZO ABE basically just popped into my head, and reading the flavor text here and seeing the length of 9 made me convinced it was probably right. Have You Seen Me?
A ton of work was put into this during Hunt. They had figured out that Playfair was being used and had actually figured out all the Playfair keys by trying to "decrypt the grid", even finding SPARE GLYPHS from the last clue phrase. However, they had done all this without finding many of the characters, like GANDALF or anything else that wasn't left to right. After staring at this for a while, I finally hit upon the idea of it being a word search where you find the encrypted characters, rather than an encrypted grid; this got us to the end. Turn On a Dime
All of the coins had been identified during hunt, but nobody knew what to do with the backs. My wife actually got the breakthrough here; watching me work on it, she said "those things look very British", and I realized she was completely right. From there we quickly found the british A-Z coins and everything fell into place nicely. I was later surprised to learn this was only solved by 4 teams during Hunt, but I guess we didn't get it back then either. Travelogue
The team had identified all of the excerpts and found all of the airports; I fairly quickly got the time zones insight, and then got utterly bogged down on the extraction, spending hours chasing down the original texts to try to find some superficial puzzle-mechanic-ish difference to extract with. The correct extraction hit me the next morning as I was eating breakfast, and I finished this off as soon as I got home. A Bunch of Ripoffs
This was one of the few puzzles where hardly anything had been done during Hunt, except for the all-important transcription (non-trivial for this puzzle!). I loved this one; I'm a sucker for whodunits and actually figured out that we were looking for "whodunit" each time without the cluephrase giving that instruction. Spain had helped find the books and gave me the answer after the correct instruction was checked, since he couldn't easily reproduce the torn paper that was supposed to be given. Getting Digits
At first I was scared of this puzzle, but I got the insight within twenty minutes of opening the doc (almost all the trivia answers had been found during hunt). Very cute puzzle. I'm also very happy, by the way, that the phone number still worked a solid week after the Hunt. One issue here: the archive's answer checker is broken on this puzzle and says MINI USB is wrong. Luckily, this puzzle leaves so little doubt about its final answer that I correctly deduced this fact and wasn't tripped up by that, quickly asking Spain to check the checker. Split Seven Ways
So, these had all been printed out and assembled during Hunt, and all the chapters had been identified, and Eshan had even said in the chat that the sentence number should be used, but according to Spain people were scared off by the fact that they couldn't actually get the original translated texts, and the sentences in one case didn't line up perfectly with the English version's sentences. So they gave up...and never transcribed the sentences or their translations. Oh well. I wound up having to redo the entire jigsaw myself, which was fun, but duplicating work is never a great feeling, especially when the team had been so insanely close to solving the whole thing. Most of the sentences wound up corresponding perfectly; of the ones I did only the Swedish didn't, and that could be resolved by treating semicolons as periods. Delightful
After the 2014 hunt, I thought I had learned the lesson of "don't be scared off by video puzzles". But then during this hunt I unlearned the lesson and clicked away from this before watching more than ten seconds. That was foolish, because this puzzle was awesome. Someone had transcribed all the made-up moves and all the English move names; after spending a bit of time learning a small fraction of the massive amount of info that exists about yoga, I hit upon Sanskrit names for moves and got the UNEARTHLY HIERONYMUS ASANAS instruction. The rest went smoothly, and this solve opened the floodgates that, believe it or not, led directly to... April Fool's Day Town
In the last two hours of Hunt, we put in a Herculean effort to solve this, and just barely fell short. We had (so we thought) 7/10 answers, and at about 5pm Sunday I found the clocks, and I really thought we would get it. Sadly, we didn't, for two reasons: one was that we had wrongly placed DARK LANTERNS as the Halloween prank (my fault...dark Jack-O-Lanterns seemed to make sense, and we didn't have the vastly superior SMASHING PUMPKINS), and the second was that we had entirely missed that MANDATORY SENTENCING was a perfect prank for Bloomsday Town. So what did solving Delightful have to do with this meta? Well, by this point I had already figured out that ABL wanted pangrams around its rings, and VA/AR was solved during hunt. The STATIONS OF THE CROSS answer is what made me realize that the API answers each strongly clued a number...but then what to do with MANDATORY SENTENCING? Doesn't have a tree, utterly implausible as part of a pangram, doesn't clue a number...it must be a prank!? Then it hit me like a brick and I rushed over to our doc for this meta, realizing that maybe our prank assignments were imperfect. This allowed me to correct my initial misplacement of DARK LANTERNS, and suddenly the extraction method we had tried onsite was spelling something! Love the meta structure that produces moments like this, and this meta was really awesome. ...FISH Puzzles
I tried pretty hard to get this one onsite, being a huge fan of the School of Fish meta, but couldn't figure it out. Post-hunt, I managed to get the two fish answers we were missing, but that's as far as I got. Eshan wound up getting this one, so hats off to him. Clued Connections
Lots had been done on this during Hunt, with most of the minipuzzles solved and USE FIFTH FOR VIGENERE KEY found. I'm not actually sure the team ever clicked on the words; they certainly didn't find any sets. I solve three of the five unsolved minipuzzles within an hour or two, and showed my wife the puzzle. She started clicking on things that to her intuitively seemed similar, which did not seem like a winning strategy to me, but while I so very slowly made progress on the BLACK PEARL minipuzzle, she shouted out that she'd gotten one! Sure enough, she had, without even really knowing why; her strategy had paid off! With four squares removed, getting another set by randomly clicking was much easier, and she got another set. After finally getting the BLACK PEARL minipuzzle (which by itself took me longer than many
full puzzles, by the way), we got a third set, and I figured out what the real rules behind the sets were. Totally stuck on the trigrams minipuzzle, I tried to see if I could somehow get the answer with partial information, and discovered that ARGO fit the three sets we had perfectly. So that was clearly the vigenere key. Putting what we already had in a decoder gave FAULT as the last five letters, and it was a matter of time and playing around with the positions of the last four letters before the rest of the final answer revealed itself. Sage Advice
Spain and I have some in-jokes when it comes to puzzles; one is that a puzzle that takes more than 24 hours to solo (or duo) due to having many steps or being simply massive in size is a "Sages" puzzle, in reference to the 2013 hunt that had many such puzzles. Ironically, this puzzle--at least for us--is a perfect example, and we thought it might even be an intentional reference (apparently not). We are not fast at crosswords and I was filling everything out in MS Paint images, which probably did slow things down. Still, crosswords are fun even if I'm not fast at them, and this was a blast. Protection Plan
Our team loves Codenames. Last year, about 15 people jumped on the Codenames puzzle the moment it unlocked and it was solved within 10 minutes. This year...that is not what happened. Instead, people looked at it, didn't know what to do, and went off to do something else. Eventually on Sunday me and a friend of mine who is also a big Codenames fan found the compound words and matched the Spymaster cards, but we could not figure out how to match those all-important indices in the descriptions to the grids. My sleep-deprived brain stared at this for hours and was defeated. Later, without sleep problems, I finally mustered up the courage to look at this again and in minutes
thought of Secret Service codenames, which I reeeeeally should have gotten, having been the one to solve last year's "Jeopardy!". This was really awesome, perfectly capturing the Codenames flavor to make a challenging but fair puzzle. ABL
Thanks to the large amount of solvent we had thrown at AR to solve VA/AR during hunt, we had two solvent-confirmed AR answers here; CITIZEN and MICROWAVE. Combined with the 26-circle wheels, this led me to the insight that a pangram would go around each wheel. Actually putting these together required most of the answers, with 9/12 forward solves eventually being needed. Eshan was way better at putting these together than me; he then discovered Chaocipher, and we thought we could finish this off with the full AR wheel done and 4/6 in BL, Eshan having found a promising setup for the four answers. But it spelled garbage. Finally, after researching Chaocipher online, I became convinced that the correct way to enter the AR wheel into the online decoder was counterclockwise, not clockwise as we had been doing. This gave almost the entire answer...but I didn't see the pun and thought something was wrong, so I removed BELIEVING and wrote "P?YC??? ??M?R" in chat. This was fortunate, because Eshan saw the correct answer from that and realized his original 4/6 placement was correct. Fame is Fleeting
This had only barely been started during hunt, with a few of the sailors ID'd. Before too long, I figured out that we wanted ships. Informing Spain of my progress, I stared at the ships for a while looking for patterns when he started saying something about matching letter transformations to the ships. This confused me; then I scrolled down on the puzzle page. Heh. This was quite fun; after the two of us struggling with the transformations for a while, Spain figured out that there was a foreign "destination ship" for each US ship and everything fell into place after that. Gone Guys
I was really surprised to find this puzzle in the state it was in. Our team usually jumps on logic puzzles to the point where I don't even bother trying to solve them during hunt because someone else will; but in this puzzle the hard "aha" of G-one had been gotten, yet the logic puzzles had been abandoned! They were very enjoyable, and due to the relative obscurity of the final answer I wound up doing every single one. Nice puzzle. BL/PI
Answer assignments were a tricky business here, as our on-site solvent had never been used on BL or PI. Lengths were helpful, and figuring out that ABL was pangrams helped force answers into this one. Eventually we had enough that Eshan saw CIRCLE being spelled twice down the middle column, and he also discovered the "squaring the circle" theme and the 121 blocks. I built the grid, but with only something like 6/13 answers at the time plus the wrongly placed GUNNAR ESIASON, solving it was not happening. INCLINED FAULT made us doubt the entire process by being a second
13-letter answer with a center E. But then KING COBRA continued the CIRCLE spelling theme, and I finally trusted it enough to try removing
either INCLINED FAULT or GUNNAR ESIASON from the square. At the same time, I considered an issue of "answer usefulness fairness"; how could the extraction ensure that answers like ACE actually did something? One way, I reasoned, would be is if the extraction ran down a column near the left and a column near the right. These insights, combined with the excellent and intuitive pun, allowed me to see the final answer with only 8/13 puzzles solved, which I'm proud of. Connect Four
Our remote solvers did basically all of this and were stuck on final extraction. This is the sort of thing I often try to help with, but during the hunt I completely failed. After the hunt, I got it with little trouble. Sleep is useful. Circulatory System
The most painful non-solve of all, we had called in MOBILE, then got distracted by the incorrect idea that each loop was in the shape of a hospital building. That would have been cool, but actually all we had to do was put the letters MOBILE in the same order that had produced ASCII N. Whoooooops. Battle of the Network Stars
During hunt, the team had identified all of the networks and helpfully shaded them in, but was hung up on the fact that three of the regions appeared to spell "MIT". Having solved Reaching for the Stars from 2016 in the past year, I quickly knew what was really going on, and extracted ACTOR KEIRA and WILDEBEEST soon after solving the Star Battle. Then I was completely stuck with what to do with that. On the train ride home I got it...groan. A Lemon Tree
During hunt, Spain had tagged this puzzle as "Sherlock" and said in chat that this was because someone said "A lemon tree" in the flavor text. This flew completely over my head until I looked at it later in a desperate attempt to find more API answers. From there, I noticed that 118 was the highest number used--prior puzzling experience and the "elementary" pun got the aha for me, and this went very smoothly from there. Loved the final extraction especially. Would Not Make Again
I really don't much like cooking so I ignored this for a while, then remembered that this was a bad reason to ignore a puzzle and tried it. A good thing, too, because this is one of my absolute favorite puzzles from this year, and in terms of pure humor value, it may well be the funniest Hunt puzzle ever. "Upsetting! Extinct ingredient???" and the paleo guy had me clutching my sides. The puzzle was awesome, too; the wordplay makes the reviews even funnier in hindsight! So good. Chris Chros
The team had identified all the movies and almost all the Chrises, though I went through to make sure they'd gotten them all and they'd missed a couple. It was Spain who got the breakthrough here, noting that words like "IN" or "OF" would fit nicely in the 2-letter spaces. A Good Walk Spoiled
After a few bad experiences from prior years, puzzles involving anything remotely Unix-looking terrify the pants off me. Luckily, Eshan figured out that all of this was just cryptograms. That's much friendlier, and after some quality time with QuipQuip, I largely figured out what to do and even got a few of the links by hand-simulating them before Eshan came back and actually, like, used Vim to get the rest and finish the extraction. Thumbs up for an clean and accessible puzzle about a Unix thing. Art Tours
Our team is probably one of the least "MIT" teams that participates annually, probably not surprising given our Providence roots. As such, we often wind up largely ignoring puzzles with heavy MIT flavor like this one. That this puzzle looked like one of those is probably the only reason it went unsolved by our team during hunt; someone had ID'd just under half the art before quitting and that's all that was done. A very reasonable and good puzzle that really didn't require much MIT familiarity anyway. This was the very first time all Hunt that I wound up solving a feeder for an already-solved meta; I consoled myself with the fact that I had been very effectively "pranked" by the NO KNIFE answer. Diplomatic Cables
Very proud of this solve. The team had transcribed, to the best of their ability, the result of the knit pattern onto a doc. From this they had gotten morse code and from that had gotten calling codes, but couldn't figure out how they paired together. I realized that the morass in the center was pairing the morse at the top with the morse at the bottom, and that it was utterly impossible to figure out exactly how they matched using only the vague transcription. Perhaps the intent was to force solvers to actually knit the thing...which none of us post-hunt solvers were gonna do in a million years. Undeterred, I reasoned that the most likely extraction would be top calling code minus bottom calling code read in top morse order, and found a set of letters each of the eight could be. These constraints and correct assumptions were enough to produce the answer using Nutrimatic. Knitting successfully skipped! Travel Planning
This is a backsolve; see below for details. We were not remotely close to getting this one forwards. HO/PI
This was the first meta where our post-hunt solvent system really helped. With three solvent-checked HO answers I had the idea of categories, but was too distracted by the fact that GUNNAR ESIASON and NONAGENARIANS were near-anagrams and kept trying to do something there. Finally after solvent on BEHIND THE SCENES I remembered a small piece of information I had learned from 2018's Zelma and Frank: that Trivial Pursuit (which I have never played in my life) involves a pie of colored wedges. That broke me in here. At first, I misunderstood the color table on Wikipedia and wrongly assigned a color; this led to quite a few wrong backsolve attempts before I finally realized the mistake and successfully backsolved the one missing HO answer. From there, it took a couple hours of thinking before I tried changing the categories, giving INTERROB??NG. Those were not the best two letters to be missing! After trying INTERROBLING and finding everything else implausible, I nearly gave up before finally reading the Wikipedia article on Holi and discovering that bhang was a thing. By the time I got back to the doc, Eshan had already submitted the answer. NY/HO
Ah, the Roscolux meta. This one was pretty surreal. First, I found the chromaticity diagram, and the extraction seemed clear; first word clues a specific color, index the chart's number into the second word. But the colors were wrong and the first words didn't seem to give good colors every time. Eshan then found a very random-looking list of colors whose names all had the first words, but it seemed too random and obscure to be right; why would a metapuzzle use this Rosco company's particular list of colors? Then, later, when searching for "tungsten lighting", I independently
came across a pdf with "Rosco" on it, and was suddenly much more interested in this company. More digging led to a datasheet with the chromaticity diagram on it. Still in mild disbelief that this was somehow right, I started getting letters that appeared to spell something ETOMACHS when read top to down in the grid. STOMACHS seemed very promising as an answer to what happens when people "overindulge", so I tried very hard to make it work, but it didn't. After ages of trying to make this into something sensible and failing, I wondered if all of this was somehow a wild goose chase (Roscolux color names, really?
), right as Eshan came by and tried ordering the letters by Rosco color number, spelling CHMATOSE which was quickly filled in for a clear and great pun final answer. Chicago Loop
Eshan declared NY/HO unbacksolvable and moved on; I wasn't so sure. That's beacuse the letters we were missing had to come from between Rosco R40 and R98. Still, 59 colors is a lot...except all the ones that don't contain a word absent from all other Roscolux color names
cannot possibly be right. This removed the majority of possibilities. More were removed by checking what the grid would give for a particular answer; anything that didn't clearly hit a number was out. This left about ten possible first words for answers, most of which didn't really make any good puzzle answers, and some of which seemed pretty unlikely because they would have too directly clued a color name mechanic (LILAC and MAUVE). ZEPHYR TEACHOUT seemed like by far the best candidate answer, and was correct for the first puzzle I tried it on. We made very little progress forward solving this and what little we'd done misidentified almost everything, so it was good to get this with a backsolve. Something in Common
Wrongly believing that the last NY/HO was in HO due to thinking HO/PA had 9 answers, I gave up on that backsolve and turned my attention to backsolving in a different meta...the April Fools' meta. With only 2 letters known and tons of puzzles remaining, it was too hard to try to backsolve the HO prank, but at this point there were only four left and it seemed more doable. One common strategy I use is to try answer lengths that fit the number of "things" in the puzzle, like 9 for Ridin' Delhi (which we were stuck on the final extraction of) or 16 for Riding the Tube (which we'd made no progress on). 16 produced SMASHING PUMPKINS very high on the list, and I realized such an answer was more likely to be correct for the music puzzle than the London Tube puzzle, resulting in a clean backsolve. This puzzle seemed very cool, but I didn't know enough of the melodies already and was never quite stuck enough with puzzles in general to feel the need to learn them in order to ID the ones our team hadn't. Starbucks Lover
At this point forward-solving any of the remaining feeders to unsolved metas seemed daunting, as did the metas themselves. Wanting a breather from the tough-as-nails puzzles, I turned my attention to low-priority puzzles known to be from from solved metas. This one was almost entirely done by my team during the hunt, with the only remaining insight being to index using the pH difference. Send Yourself Swanlumps
Hoo boy. So this one really killed us during the hunt. To make a long story a little shorter, it was a struggle for us to even figure out what the "split decision" clue meant, and when we finally did and got a great cluephrase from it, it...didn't work. We just could not figure out what to do with those pages where Jack was mentioned. The actual problem? We collectively managed to MISS a page where Jack was mentioned. This lead to there only being four pages, and when ALOT was confirmed as wrong we really didn't know what to do. We also couldn't figure out the split decision clue that gave the TI in TIMES, so we spent a long time talking about what else it might be other than TIMES (it was TIMES). Eventually we gave up on this after HA/VA was solved and never looked back until I gave it a peek a week two weeks later. Immediately after finding Jack on the second page I groaned and called in the answer, which was obvious from the meta information. Despite our troubles, this puzzle was really great and I actually spent a lot of my childhood reading Give Yourself Goosebumps books, so it was awesome to see them being used in a puzzle like this.
There's more but it doesn't fit in a single Reddit post, so I guess I'll have to do a part 3...
(Hard): Substitution Cryptanalysis
A substitution cipher
is one where each letter in the alphabet is substituted for another letter. It's like a Caesar shift cipher, but where every letter is ciphered independently. For example, look at the two rows below.
To encode something, find the letter on the top row, and swap it with the letter on the bottom row - and vice versa. For example, the plaintext:
Now, how would you go about decrypting something like this? Let's take another example, with a different key.
IAL FTNHPL PDDI DR RDNP WF IUD
You're also given the following hints: A is ciphered to H and O is ciphered to D. You know the text was in English, so you could plausibly use a word list to rule out impossible decrypted texts - for example, in the third words PDDI, there is a double-O in the middle, so the first letter rules out P being the letter Q, as Q is always followed by a U.
Your challenge is to decrypt a cipher-text into a list of possible original texts using a few letters of the substitution key, and whichever means you have at your disposal.
Formal Inputs and Outputs
On the first line of input you will be given the ciphertext. Then, you're given a number N
. Finally, on the next N
lines, you're given pairs of letters, which are pieces of the key. For example, to represent our situation above:
IAL FTNHPL PDDI DR RDNP WF IUD 2 aH oD
Nothing is case-sensitive. You may assume all plain-texts are in English. Punctuation is preserved, including spaces.
Output a list of possible plain-texts. Sometimes this may only be one, if your input is specific enough. In this case:
the square root of four is two
You don't need to output the entire substitution key. In fact, it may not even be possible to do so, if the original text isn't a pangram.
Sample Inputs and Outputs
LBH'ER ABG PBBXVAT CBEX PUBC FNAQJVPURF 2 rE wJ
you're not cooking pork chop sandwiches you're nob cooking pork chop sandwiches
Obviously we can guess which output is valid.
This case will check your word list validator.
ABCDEF 2 aC zF
WRKZ DG ZRDG D AOX'Z VQVX 2 wW sG
what is this i don't even whet is this i can't ulun
(what's a ulun? I need a better word list!)
JNOH MALAJJGJ SLNOGQ JSOGX 1 sX
long parallel ironed lines
There's a handy word-list here
or you could check out this thread
talking about word lists.
You could also in
validate words, rather than just validating them - check out this list of impossible two-letter combinations
. If you're using multiple systems, perhaps you could use a weighted scoring system to find the correct decrypted text.
There's an example solver
for this type of challenge, which will try to solve it, but it has a really weird word-list and ignores punctuation so it may not be awfully useful.
Got any cool challenge ideas? Post them to /DailyProgrammer_Ideas