Well, really a live “blog” anyway, as I have (almost) all the notes I took as I solved the puzzle here next to me as I write this. (The first page I kept online, and then it got eaten in a surprise reboot, but I have recreated most of it.) Inspiration, tenacity, or sheer stubbornness? Read on. (Note: this took a week in real time, and I haven’t really distinguished things like days changing much.)
We definitely have four postcards. First one has a “Bland Jury” on the front; writing on the back. Thank heavens we’re not using that same disastrous handwriting font from before! Fake address, I suspect (or at least no postal code); numbers and lines along the bottom. Maybe an acrostic? ”Skipoverallspaces”. Definitely an acrostic. Should recognize the actor in the stamp, but don’t. There’s a smudge on the D in “Movie Postcard” that I can’t get rid of — won’t scratch off. Annoying.
Next was Vorgaukeln Torten. Torten I know — Vorgaukeln at least looks adjectival from what I know of German, but I don’t recognize it. Flipping it over; I’ve never actually been in Boston but I feel pretty confident that “7 Carpetbag 35E” wouldn’t fly. When seems slightly bolded. ”Ignorepunctuation”. Legit German in the middle — “The Dresden Zwinger stands with its front side on the outside Festungsmauer”. Or something like that. We have what seems to be a hopscotch board on the bottom. The stamp says it’s Pershing, but gives the wrong nickname — “Tenacious” when he was known as “Black Jack”. Also it’s a 21 cent (well, pfennig) stamp, so BLACK JACK gets submitted as an answer, which comes back as “on track”.
Next is London double-decker buses, with some words on the outside. Those ads on the buses don’t look real. On the back, a Rose Bowl postmark, a stamp with numbers on it. The acrostic “Youcancountfromus”. For whatever reason one side has Stéf while the other side has Stèf.
The last one is art, apparently, with a line on it. The back claims it is Matisse; checking up shows that there is a missing building (and submitting NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL confirms). ”Valueourcharacter”. Maps on the stamp, and why are there all these hearts? You know, one of the other postcards said something about canceling candy hearts, and maybe that goes with this?
Now Is The Time We Work
The numbers seem like an excellent place to start. The left side says “2nd Letter”; the right corner says “Mosaic by Mendeleev”, which means we must be on the periodic table. The fact that the “2″ and the “:L” are really big compared to the rest to me suggests that we should be taking the second letter of the chemical abbreviation, which idea holds up until we get to #92 Uranium, which is just “U”. I switch to thinking that maybe it’s the second letter of the name after all; the names give SIHRO / UERNI / RARLI / RROET / CINLE (assuming we’re using the “new” name of element 114). Just for completeness I also write down the second letter of the abbreviations, but ignore it since it can’t be right (it has a space in it!). It is TIMRO / BB UI / RNSTI / MROBB / CINLS.
As I basically come to a crashing halt on this puzzle, I look over a bit and notice the Rose Bowl postmark next to it, with a Jan 1 postmark date (which is the date of the Rose Bowl). That leads me to, well, the Rose Bowl. I go online and write down the teams and scores of the Rose Bowl for each of the six years given. There were some repeated teams, but not enough to see a pattern. I then look at the other postmarks; I see New Orleans, know that the Sugar Bowl is played there, submit SUGAR BOWL, and get an “on track” response for my troubles (as well as the additional fact that that belongs to the WHO puzzle). This one gets a little sticky to me, as the date given is “Dec 31″, but the Sugar Bowl is played in the New Year — do we use the game from the year listed, or from the season listed? (i.e. for Dec 31 1998, do we use the game in Jan 98, between Florida State and Ohio State, or from Jan 99 (the season of Dec 98) between Ohio State and Texas A&M?) I realize that until I decide what to do with the numbers it’s not going to matter much and put it away for a while.
Back to the map stamp. I can recognize Virginia easily, and maps confirm Southern Australia, Jordan, and Honduras, although I am somehow completely unable to match up the top-left map. I realize that the FR in the corner means I should be looking for two-letter abbreviations, so I have VA, SA, JO, and HN. That’s definitely a John, and a Sava. I figure it should probably be “John Savage”, so I start looking for things that have a GE abbreviation and still don’t come up with anything. I submit JOHN SAVAGE anyway, and it is correct — well, it is an actor, one of four. I quickly realize that maybe my BLACK JACK should be JACK BLACK and submit that too and now I have two actors.
I make another fruitless search for the guy on that stamp.
I go back to the Mendeleev stamp and try some more things — sorting? I try a stab at doing something with the colors, but the colors match the usual way periodic tables are colored (or at least, each group that should be the same color is), so nothing happens there.
I Need a Hint
At this point I get “Hint Zero”, the starting hint, from the BLG people. Not much seems useful right away, other than if the ads on the buses are photoshopped it doesn’t mean anything anyway (hence they probably aren’t) — the main thing that stuck out was that the WHO was four things, all encoded the same way. I knew the stamps were giving me WHO, and the postmarks also gave me WHO (according to the responses). Ergo the other stamps, and the other postmarks, would also matter. I had to look up what bowl game was played in Memphis (Liberty Bowl) and El Paso (Sun Bowl).
I realize I hadn’t looked at the crostic yet. Given that I’m supposed to skip all punctuation and spaces, I figure I’m getting one letter out of each line. I try to do the seventeenth letter out of each line, but that gives nonsense. ”Value our character” to me suggests ASCII, but there’s not nearly enough characters on a line for that. I write a program that gives me all the “columns” but none of them read much. I also check the diagonals visually, but don’t find anything there either.
My roving eye takes me to the hopscotch grid; those colors are the same colors as on the outside of the London postcard. This gives me several letters for each box, but I don’t have a way to put them in the boxes so that goes nowhere yet.
I go back to the postmarks. I confirm that the FOOTBALL SCORES are important.I start looking for ways to use the scores with the names. At this point I have one “set” — Sun Bowl scores and Jack Black and try to combine them. Some of the years are parenthesized. I want to use the winners’ score for the regular ones, and the losers’ score for the parenthesized versions, but that’s only seven numbers and I’ve got a nine-letter name. There are two other numbers I can use, specifically the date, so that gives me the nine I need. I try to use the numbers by moving forwards, backwards; nothing. I realize that I might want the margin of victory instead (parentheses often mean negative after all), and try that. Also nothing.
I look at the postmark again … “Sunny Days and Starry Nights”. Well I’ve got seven letters, Starry Night is by Van Gogh, let’s try that. That get’s me not only a “No” response, but the additional “And what are you trying to accomplish” response. The back-and-forth elicits the info that the “motto” around the Rose Bowl postmark is supposed to be meaningful.
At this point I go back to look at my grid from the Mendeleev stamp and OMG it’s Tim Robbins! There are some extra letters in there, plus that dratted space, but there he is. Twice. The live blog notes save the day!
Technically it’s the same day, since I had been working past midnight, but let’s just say “after a night of sleep” I decide it’s time to deal with the names and addresses. Clearly the names are just as bogus as the addresses; I fire up the anagrammer, and decide to start with “Co-Prof. I. LeSurage” as that is the most unbelievable of the lot. I type in “coprofilesurage” from the postcard, look at the screen, and say “That’s Profiles in Courage!” (Yes I can speak in italics, it’s the secret of quiz bowl moderating.) Looking at the other postcards, we have … well, we almost have Frankenstein, we have Three Men in a Boat, we have … we have The Alien In Time?!? I try to get fancy and submit JEROME K JEROME, but that is “too far”. I confirm Three Men in a Boat, and then confirm The Alien in Time because I have no idea what that book is.
Now I know the real titles, I start with the addresses. The places listed are all the settings-ish of the book, I think, so I ignore that and look at the E/W. I try counting from the beginning or ending of the book title, but I just get AENH. I am definitely confused by this last book; a Google search shows nothing for it; Amazon does pull up a book by that title, and lo and behold there’s a review from Lis Pendens herself, which makes it clear that we need to be looking in the actual books. Doing that gives me UNDER BEARDED MEMORIAL MONUMENT, which is good enough for … well, no it isn’t. It is the location answer for WHEN but I won’t get the points until I can say which monument it is, which will require knowing the city. So, almost points.
Back to the acrostic. The phrase “value our character” is still there. Maybe instead of ASCII it’s just straightforward 1-26? We tweak the program to index by the first letter (do we count the first letter itself, or start afterward? I don’t know, so we have the program do both). Out comes “dark prints in lies” (I was doing one postcard at a time). That was confirmed as “on track”, so we do all the postcards and assemble the signature and finally get some points.
The text around the bold keywords in the postcards seem to be hints — there was sugar bowl in there, hidden a bit; there’s all that stuff about candy hearts that seems to refer to the other address. The WHAT (London) postcard has the lines “Remove you from every damn snapshot! Then once that’s handled Oh, I’ll dump your letters.” I know that Notre Dame is missing from the front of the Paris postcard. The text on the back of the London postcard is all wrong for the photo, so I start trying to remove NOTRE DAME from there. That doesn’t quite get anywhere. I look up the Dresdner Zwinger and … there’s something missing from that photograph too. I try to place the London postcard, eventually come up with Piccadilly Circus, and find something missing there as well. (I assume that means that somebody is missing off the “Bland Jury” postcard, but I don’t recognize any of those people or the setting so whatever.) The London postcard is confirmed as SHAFTESBURY MEMORIAL and a little bit of fishing gives me the official answer of KRONENTOR. What to do with Notre Dame? Closer examination shows that there is some writing down there: “Cet Mal Vend Mord”. My French is basically non-existent, but something about bad and death. (I always want to think “Vend” means “vend”, but I think it’s actually something like “go”.) It doesn’t really matter what it means, though: I just have to remove the letters of NOTRE DAME from it. It leaves MDCLV, which I am told should actually be MCDLV / 1455. I then try to remove KRONENTOR from Vorgaukeln Torten and I get VGALTEN. I try to read it as a cryptic clue (Love Triangle? Strange Love?) but nothing. I move on to London; removing those letters leaves LOVBEPYMATE, which again I try to read for a little bit before anagramming to MOVABLE TYPE. The year is awfully early, so after a bit of research to confirm I submit GUTENBERG BIBLE for what. (They helpfully tell me the other two answers: VULGATE, because I had misread an u for an n, and b42, which must come from the other postcard.) I spend a little bit of time trying to untangle the missing letters off the other postcard, but the name doesn’t come.
The hints tell me that the where is also on the front of the postcard. There is that line on the Paris postcard. I notice a matching line in the lower left of Dresden. Looking carefully (especially on the Bland Jury postcard) I see the rest of an X. X must mark the spot, then. I have London in the upper left, Paris in the lower left, Dresden in the upper right, so the last postcard must refer to something south-ish of Dresden. So, not Hollywood then.
I bring the postcards in to work. I ask an old film buff colleague to identify the stamp, and he immediately says “Burt Lancaster” (and is naturally astonished that I would not know such a person as Burt Lancaster). I then try to match Burt Lancaster up with the postmarks, the bowl games, something like that. He was in The Rose Tattoo, but that sort of match doesn’t work with the rest of the actors.
Finish It Off
The Rose Tattoo submission had again prompted me to read the circular motto around the Rose Bowl postmark “Clear plots with great actors lead to good movies with memorable characters”, as well as giving a sign-off with some key words in it: “coordinate” and “make your mark”. The phrase “Clear plot” along with the other postmark “Starry Nights” suggest perhaps constellations (ie clear weather). Constellations gets a “maybe” from BLG. I try plotting the scores, turning the parenthesized years into negative numbers, and comparing to constellations (despite being a farm boy, I don’t actually know my constellations, so I am using several online sources here). I’m tempted to use the back of the postcards (they have numbers on the edges you know) but I need numbers that go up to 45 and the postcard only goes up to 20, so I use Excel instead. The Sun Bowl gives me something that looks like the Big Dipper (but right-to-left); submitting that gives not just a NO response but a STOP GUESSING response.
(At that point, I wrote “Whatever.” in my notes.)
Looking at the postcards again, I am drawn to the hopscotch board. Somehow, my brain finally makes the connection between those symbols and Candy Land, and we’re off again. I don’t have a board, so I make a note and go back to the X. I decide, based on the word “Jury” and the sort of grim appearance of the card, that the postcard represents Nuremberg. I get out Google Maps, get a map of Europe, screen-shot it and get it into Paint, and then draw an X on it. It appears to go through Frankfurt, so I submit that. I am told I am in the neighborhood, and that other answers on the card may give a clue as to the exact location. At this point I have the Gutenberg bible, so after a brief side trip to Heidelberg (I might have been thinking Luther? Not sure) I end up in Mainz, which earns points. I can then turn the monument above into the Gutenberg Monument for more points.
Back to Candy Land. I find an image of a board online that’s got enough detail on it that I can see what’s going on and play the game. Some of the newer ones don’t have the same sort of Neapolitan ice cream so I find one that does. I try counting squares to turn into letters again, but I get something like EKAACD and that’s not very helpful. A really wrong submission to BLG yields the info “Did you use the 1949 board?” which I hadn’t. Once I found a 1949 board, and noticed it had gray squares instead of the pink, the connection to the front of the London postcard clicks. Making sure I figure out where the traps are and the goodies are in relation, I play the game given on the squares around the edge, and they spell out PASSOVER. I figure the thing underneath has to be the year. I’m tempted to send in 2009 just because that’s what it says, but I stick with it until I actually figure out the letters too: two thousand, zero hundred, zero ten, nine ones, common era.
All that’s left is the shouting — and by that I mean WHO. I decide to confirm everything: use scores as coordinates (check), use parentheses as negative (no), use parentheses to swap scores (check), the date itself is plotted (no). When the e-mail person suggests using the postcards, I realize that maybe I could stick the four postcards together, instead of just plotting each set of numbers on its own postcard. I think about getting acetate or something on top, but decide “I can do this” and therefore try to eyeball it. First things first is to figure out how they go — one of the postcards has ORIGIN in the corner, which is a big hint, and the only way to get the lines to match up is to put the beige ones on top and the white ones on the bottom. I start with the Rose Bowl, try to find (45,14) … and there’s a dot already there. That’s the dot in the D! At this point I didn’t know whether to cry, laugh, or scream — fortunately I couldn’t do any of them since I was sitting watching my class fail their statistics finals. This makes the eyeballing much easier; the letters come out DURHAM. I submit that, get a “Nice plotting!” response, and then remember that Tim Robbins was in Bull Durham. I look up his character name, submit that, and earn ten points. The rest follow: Kong, Deer, and Local to give the other characters. Whew!
Hey, What About….
The movie postcard? Eventually I went back to the Bland Jury postcard, stared at the letters for a long while, and eventually came up with Judy Garland. The movie was Judgement at Nuremberg after all.
The constellations? I had been bothered by the fact that there were “blanks” in the spelling-out part at the end. I realized only when writing this that the missing word in the film might refer to a constellation; Bull is definitely Taurus and Hunter is definitely Orion. King? Hero? Not sure. Can you get Taurus out of the dots? Not that I can see (either by constellation or by astrological sign) using the six from the Rose Bowl. Perhaps if you look at just the dots that end up on an individual postcard? Maybe, but I haven’t tried it.
The candy hearts? No idea. The clue is supposed to get you to Candy Land (that’s where the when puzzle is anyway), and I guess the candy hearts we’re just placed on that other postcard to get some letters in the right place.
That other country in the map? Didn’t even bother to try to find it.
The extra letters in Tim Robbins’ name? Didn’t find any meaning in them.
Program note: The next one won’t be a “live” blog, as the notes are in the artifact and not in solving order, so to speak. Maybe the next one will just be story time.