A husband’s puzzly tribute takes a century to solve!

Some people immortalize their loved ones in poetry or song. Doctor Samuel Bean chose a different path, immortalizing his wives with a 15×15 puzzle grid on a marble tombstone dedicated to them both.

For nearly forty years, Bean refused to explain his tribute to his lost wives. In fact, he took the secret to his grave when he drowned during a vacation to Cuba in 1904.

The headstone remained in place, unsolved for decades to follow. Many puzzlers attempted to crack the puzzle, but the only person who claimed to solve it was the groundskeeper of the cemetery in 1942. (Naturally, he didn’t share his solution, leaving his claim unverified.)

Decades more followed with no solution in sight.

Finally, in the 1970s, a woman in her 90s who lived in a nearby retirement home shared her solution for the headstone puzzle, solving a mystery that had lasted over a century.

If you want a shot at cracking it yourself, you’re welcome to scroll up and look at the headstone again.

Go ahead. I’ll be right here when you get back.

Welcome back. Did you solve it? No? That’s okay. I can give you a hint, if you like.

There you go. I’ve highlighted the names of both wives in the grid. “Susanna” reads out like a standard word search entry, but “Henrietta” makes you work a little harder, zigzagging across part of the grid.

Okay, give it another shot. Good luck!

Hey there, welcome back! Whether you solved it or not, this is your warning that I’ll be discussing the solution below. So if you want to remain unspoiled, STOP READING HERE.

Last warning before spoilers!

Okay, hi there!

The zigzagging pattern revealed by “Henrietta” in the grid is really the key to unraveling this grid. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, the message starts seven places in and seven places down. (Perhaps because the number rhymes with heaven? Maybe that’s what “reader meet us in heaven” means.)

Five straight lines in an expanding spiral spell out the words “In memoriam,” and then the zigzagging pattern takes over for the word “Henrietta,” continuing the spiral.

But the zigzagging pattern grows a little more complex at each corner of the spiral, jumping from one letter to another in an L shape (like a knight’s move in chess).

The zigzag spiral continues outward for four more stretches, before reverting to the straight lines that started the spiral. Those straight lines take over for five stretches of the spiral, and then the zigzag pattern returns (plus those knight-style corners) until the grid is completely filled in.

And what was Dr. Bean’s message?

In memoriam: Henrietta, Ist wife of S. Bean, M.D., who died 27th Sep. 1865, aged 23 years, 2 months and 17 days, and Susanna, his 2nd wife, who died 27th April, 1867, aged 26 years, 10 months and 15 days. 2 better wives 1 man never had, they were gifts from God but are now in Heaven. May God help me, S.B., to meet them there.

A lovely message that Bean clearly wanted strangers to work for. Nicely played, doctor.

[You can get more details on the lives of Samuel, Susanna, and Henrietta in this article (but be aware that they have a mistake in their recording of Bean’s message).]


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