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Tuesday August 7, 2007 // By Sandy

Mystery of the Poisoned Picnic, part 3

(continued from part 2)

First, the solution to Puzzle #2, the math puzzle. If you factor out 225 into its prime factors, you get 3, 3, 5 and 5. The clue specifies that are three kids, and two are twins. That would seem to indicate that their ages are either 5, 5 ad 9, or 3, 3 and the relatively elderly 25. The final clue, which should break the ambiguity, mentions that there is a “youngest child.” Neither of those combination fits. (Or rather, fits conclusively. You could claim that a twin can still count as a youngest, but as it doesn’t yield an unarbitrary answer, it’s a moot point.) This is when you realize that a list of prime factors doesn’t ever list 1, which is a perfectly acceptable age. Thus: 15, 15 and 1. I’m guessing he was an accident.

Puzzle #3: Letterless signs

I didn’t actually crib this puzzle from GAMES magazine, but I could have. It’s just the sort of thing you’d find in there. The inspiration came from wanting a puzzle that was very location-dependent, that would force teams to walk around and closely observe the neighborhood.

The pages in the booklet featured nine photos of signs on Lawrence Avenue, except with one or more words Photoshopped out of each one. Under each photo were exactly as many blanks as were in the missing words, with one or two of the letter highlighted in yellow. Once filled in, the highlighted letters (thirteen in all) were to be rearranged into a three-word phrase — a clue for the master puzzle.

Post-game analysis: I was a little worried that asking people to rearrange thirteen letters would be too difficult, but no one complained. Everyone seemed to key into the fact that one of the words had to be one of the characters/foods from the puzzle (“sage”), and the rest fell in from there (”… came third”). From what I heard, people also enjoyed the chance to see the neighborhood. All in all, a good puzzle.
Grade: A

Puzzle #4: Truth/Lie

This one came directly from a book by Raymond Smullyan, mathematician and philosopher of some reknown. The booklet showed a poem:

Roses are red / Violets are blue
One’s all false / And one’s all true
One’s both / Which has the clue?

When they got to the destination, teams found three pieces of foam core tied to a fence, each emblazoned with two enigmatic sentences. They were:

Green board:

  • The real clue is not on this board
  • The real clue is on the orange board

Orange board:

  • The real clue is not on the green board
  • The real clue is on the purple board

Purple board:

  • The real clue is not on this board
  • The real clue is on the green board

Understanding, from the notebook, that one board had two truths, one two lies, and one one of each, you’re a few steps of deduction away from realizing the real clue is on the purple board. Flipping it over would reveal the master clue: “Eloise didn’t use rosemary, which was in the dish that came 4th”. Flipping over the other two boards revealed fake clues.

As a special, devious bonus, I actually made the fake clues true. This way, teams couldn’t compare the information they already had with the supposed fake clues, thus finding the answer through trial and error. Furthermore, if they mis-solved this puzzle, and took away the wrong master clue, they wouldn’t be fed improper info.

Post-game analysis: I actually thought this puzzle wasn’t sexy enough. Sarah fought for it, though, so we kept it. I think most teams enjoyed it, except for one, who found the boards all flipped over (the wind was whipping them around), and didn’t understand the real puzzle was on the backside.
Grade: B

Puzzle #5: Park Hunt

We based the master puzzle on a pre-constructed grid, with pre-written clues, and one of them was written in this form: “The five guests, in no particular order, were…” and then went on to list a particular attribute (name, dish, ingredient or place) of each guest. Sarah realized this was a perfect set-up for a puzzle that required teams to solve five mini-puzzles, which we ended up setting up in a block-long, sparsely populated park nearby. The notebook read as follows:

Past the water treatment plant
you’ll find a compass rose
Along the path to the northwest is
where this puzzle goes.
Spread throughout the park to
your great glee
You’ll find five items, each
exclusive mutually.
Some you’ll find hard, and some
more easy
But don’t move or change them —
that would be sleazy.

The key here are the words “exclusive mutually.” Some teams started collecting clues, thinking the all were related to the same guest, not different guests. When talking with Jeremy about this, he admitted he saw the words in the poem, but thought they were just part of a tortured rhyme. I’ll admit to be a tortured poet, but I’m not lazy with my hints.

The five clues, as all teams eventually discovered, were:

  1. A silver medal, representing second place.
  2. A chalk image of a clock, representing thyme.
  3. A bag filled with a lot of keys, representing latkes.
  4. A tupperware filled with stinky kimchee, representing kimchee.
  5. A strip of paper with a bunch of seemingly random letters on it. The paper was in a box attached to a slat-backed bench. Putting the paper behind the bench, and lining it up with the spaces between slats, revealed the letters S Q U I D F A C E, representing Cthulhu.

Post-game analysis: Really good puzzle for this kind of game, allowing teams to divide and conquer. There were varying levels of difficulty to getting the mini-puzzles. And having that (unintentionally) sneaky notebook clue gave it an extra layer of crypticness (actually a word). Second-favorite story arising from this puzzle: someone on my mom’s team saw the clock, and said out loud, “He doesn’t mean thyme? Sandy wouldn’t pull that.” And my mom replied, “Oh YES he would!” One minor bug: we forgot to put a boundary on how far teams should walk, causing, in one case, the death of one errant puzzler at the hands of a hobo.
Grade: A-


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