I did a lot of working in the book itself (although it did take a while to get over my internal taboo of writing in a book), so this time we’ll go through my submissions to BLL.
back ten mins: Why not start at the cover? I had to guess whether it was type on the given keyboard and see what would happen on the normal one, or the other way around; and of course I guessed wrong at first.
very loud annoying bohemian: BLL do love their acrostics.
Alice in Wonderland: Kudos to the writers here; when I first read that very first page, it hung together as a single excerpt. I didn’t recognize any of the first sentences, although the “misgiving” line did tickle a very faint memory. Only when looking up that paragraph and realizing the sentences came from two different works did the basic idea click into place. I didn’t actually look most of them up–the first five gave me “Alice”, I counted that there were the right number of lines to get “in Wonderland” and ran with it. (Only much later did I find yet another acrostic in the short story titles sending me here.)
Balto: I got here by combining two clues I (apparently) wasn’t supposed to combine and quite frankly in retrospect I’m not sure why I combined them: the pangrammatic lipogram clue (I knew what “pangrammatic” went, but not how it combined with “lipogram”; I knew of Avoid and the idea but not the name) and the one-page story “clue”, both from the author bio. In any event, I went to that story, recognized that it was written in nearly-pangrammatic paragraphs, and obtained “Balto”. I didn’t recognize the name, but Wikipedia did, and so I submitted. I got the first “rejection letter” for my troubles, which is when I wrote “BASTARDS” in my solving notes (those of you following along on Twitter may remember that). I recognized it as a parody of a rejection letter, and had at this point already noticed the URL under the UPC code, and assumed (I don’t know why) that I was being pointed to that. I had no idea how to relate a ship to Balto, though, so I put it aside.
Montgomery Burns: Worked out LEPTON WARP first, then GLOW of DEATH. That was enough to figure out who we were talking about there.
hint alpha: Eventually I succumbed to temptation. Oh, you crazy people and your library cards.
Harry Shearer: An attempt (a bit meta) to apply the “whodunit” clue to Montgomery Burns. At least they were ready for it.
More than pulp fiction It invades your cranium And can’t be un-read: I went back (just for fun) to the Amazon page for the book, and noticed the haiku. I had not noticed it previously (not sure whether it was added later, or I’m just inattentive) so I thought I’d try it out anyway. I got a rejection letter for it. (I went back to Amazon again just now; someone has created a store “Overpriced Used Books Inc” and is offering a copy for sale at only $1499.99 instead of the list price of $1700. Also, I was hoping that the review comments would become a bit more like a sign-in in geocaching or whatever; but only a few of us left a comment. Shame.)
Matt Groening: Still a bit meta, but at least I recognized that the name was anagrammed on the page.
Maggie Simpson: Now we’ve got it.
BALTO error: Somewhere around this time, the BLL people noticed the BASTARDS tweet and sent me a message as to what was up with that, and I explained the reasoning behind the submission. At this point, they decided that that was actually an answer to a puzzle after all, so I got a replacement message that BALTO was on track for where.
binary->hexadecimal: My attempt to circumvent the “only two words” restriction on method submissions. It appears to have worked, as I got the “interesting” email.
Red Olson Trail Monument: A very bizarre answer, it looks like. I had successfully converted the true/false in the author bio to binary, then to ASCII, and gotten … DOG. I currently had a dog answer (see “Balto”, above) that was supposed to lead to where, and so this happened.
Royal Observatory: This was a combination of looking up the postcode given for Greenwich Press, plus the idea of GMT (clued by the title).
HINT one came at this point.
very loud annoying bohemian dog: I was completely, utterly, and totally flabbergasted to earn points for this answer. I was still stuck on what to do with “dog”, and since the other puzzle on that page had also given an incomplete-looking answer I stuck them together. I didn’t really know of any bohemian breeds off the top of my head, but whatever.
solfege: An attempt to do something involving notes. I had noticed a few solfege notes in the titles, and one of the review hints had mentioned notes, so I tried this. It failed.
Indian Q Hunter: I had finally worked out more of the “enumerations” — the only ones I knew off the top of my head where prime, abundant, and deficient (I knew of Ulam but not that he had numbers). I found some references for more of the numbers and got the pangrammatic business sorted out. However, one of them I failed at–I missed the Q in a paragraph and got the answer above instead of the desired answer. They didn’t recognize it at the other end.
Cleopatra’s Needle: I had looked up my answers from the pangrams and found the common location, but initially misread what I was looking at.
Central Park: I quickly figured out what I actually had though, and corrected myself.
Alice in Wonderland statue: And now we combine with one of the much earlier answers to earn some points.
Braille double bar: I had looked at the tic-tac-toe grids, and noticed that most of them would be valid Braille characters. So I looked them up and got SHARPSHARPSHARP. One of them, however, was oversize; looking it up (and especially looking up musical symbols, since we’re dealing with “notes” + “sharp” + #) I found it was the symbol used to represent a double bar in Braille. This submission got a rejection letter.
Science and fiction Together will be the end We see what’s coming: Finally noticed that all the capitalization gave clues. The giveaway, of course, was “A FEMININE PRONOUNcement”. Took a while for me to look at that page, I guess.
missing punctuation: I had spent a lunch hour (which naturally is not a whole hour) circling missing/extra quotation marks and commas and the like, particularly in “The Happy Ending”. That was a lunch wasted. (Well, I did eat a sandwich.) As a note I wrote in afterwards, saying something resembling “you appear to have picked some stories that didn’t OCR well. That was a bother to work through.” The response was something resembling “Don’t blame us–that was what the Seventeen created; we spent a lot of time on it too.” I’m happy they’re staying in character, but I was rather annoyed by the response anyway.
ROYAL OBSERVATORY error: At this point, BLL decided that Royal Observatory wasn’t complete nonsense, so I was told that its location might be useful.
23:50: I had “back ten mins” still. I thought that zero GMT might well refer to midnight, and took ten minutes off it to get the answer. This is when I discovered that wrong time submissions got a different e-mail than general wrong answers.
prime meridian: Just to sort of confirm the GMT + Royal Observatory “response”, except it got a rejection e-mail.
04:30: I had a bright idea that “notes” might refer to currency notes, so I used the price on the back cover as a time. That got a slightly insulting e-mail back, but at least it was hand-done and not automated! (As a bonus, that e-mail had “SOrry” in it, which led me to go around again about solfege for a while.)
10:55: I don’t remember any more where that came from.
01:30: Finally realized to use the numbers on the keyboard being pointed to. (Of course the keyboard goes up to 12! Wait….) This still didn’t earn me any points until I submitted…
1:30 GMT: Because every other attempt to use GMT failed. (I have no idea whether 13:30 would have been accepted.)
forward ten: I finally noticed that the ISBN on the back didn’t match the ISBN listed for the book; I looked that up, then downloaded a barcode-reader app for my phone and read the barcode which was for another different book. This got an “are you sure you have that in the right order” response, so…
ten forward: I submitted this and got it right, so then I had to figure out what it meant. Apparently this is something in the Star Trek universe. This is right above the URL with a “ship” in it, so I replaced “ship” with “enterprise” and got a picture of …
pinky ball: Whatever that is.
THREE hints came and went with me not doing anything. (I know for a while I was in St. Louis.) So I didn’t actually have to solve the back cover puzzle since eventually the answer came in a hint. The rest of this is going to be a bit unfortunate, but here goes:
Musical staff: Eventually I had it beat into my head that each of the marginal notes represented a note, somehow. I was originally going to try to write it down on a staff, but: no.
Bass clef: I was trying to make the initial sharps line up on a key signature and I thought I had a way to do that on the bass clef. But: no. However, there was a hint to look on the copyright page. I finally sounded out the other author there the way I was supposed to and got
Piano keyboard: Which is where I was supposed to be.
Key signature: Still trying to interpret the sharps as a key signature. Hint: no.
cfabaggbd#fecccafcbccccebcd#cbbabeg#bbabef: Yes I really submitted that. I was a bit desperate. The Lab asked for clarification, which I gave, and “admired my tenacity”, and then for whatever reason tried to hint me back to “piano keyboard” (despite my having just told them in the clarification that I was using a piano keyboard). I think I still have somewhere on my computer (maybe I’ll link to it if I can find a way how) the sound file that I generated from this.
d#g#b: This submission elicited the information that the Lab would not respond to submissions of musical notes (apparently they learned from the last one). But also that lining up the book with a keyboard was a good idea.
Westminster chimes: This was seeing some sort of a pattern in the chord structure at the beginning. It isn’t all that close to the Westminster chime progression, but I was feeling the answer e-mail breathing down my neck….
August 16: I submitted this, based on number of symbols between # signs. Obviously it had nothing to do with the answer, but I wanted to at least submit something before I was told that the answer was…
November 22, 1943: which email went to my spam folder somehow despite my having set up a filter in Gmail. (The reason cfa etc wasn’t right? I was holding the book “upside down” and had the higher notes on the top instead of on the bottom. Or maybe it’s the other way around, I’ve forgotten. No I somehow did not recognize an “upside-down” version of Happy Birthday To You, even with the right rhythm.)
So: not a very “clean” experience, for me anyway; it got to the point where you couldn’t trust “no”–if it was just method-check I could live with that (since verifying a path still feels like a “bonus” to me), but somehow not knowing the answers to the puzzles left a funny taste in my mouth. I heard rumors that one of the automated e-mails gave an answer to another puzzle, but either it was edited before I got it, or I never submitted the answer, or something. I imagine that the BLL team is listening to criticism (or, in my case, whining), but by their own conceit (that they didn’t write the puzzles) aren’t allowed to acknowledge any of it, which also leaves a funny taste.