Puzzles in Plain Sight: Spinning Yellow Circles edition

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About six months ago, I shared the story of a secret code lurking in plain sight, sitting atop the Capitol Records Building in Los Angeles. It’s not the only time that buildings have made their way into the blog; in previous posts, we’ve discussed the giant crossword adorning the side of an apartment building in Lvov, Ukraine, as well as the optical illusion awaiting art lovers in a Roman palace.

But it was the only time we’ve discussed a secret code being shared on the side of a building.

Until today, that is.

Yes, my friends and fellow puzzlers, there’s another building out there broadcasting secret messages for all to see. It’s also in California. And this one is more devious than the blinking light on the Capitol Records Building.

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Say hello to Almaden Tower, the San Jose headquarters of Adobe, the software company behind Acrobat, Illustrator, and numerous other editing programs.

As you can see, there are four bright yellow circles beside the Adobe logo. These 10-foot-high digital lights all rotate. And if you pay enough attention, you might discover the secret message being broadcast.

The messages began transmitting in 2006. The code was cracked for the first time in 2007, and it wasn’t a brief message either. The lights were secretly transmitting the entire text of the Thomas Pynchon novel The Crying of Lot 49.

You see, the rotating circles allow for a form of semaphore alphabet, a way of secretly forming letters or symbols based on the position of each of the circles. They can be horizontal, vertical, a left-leaning diagonal, or a right-leaning diagonal. The various combinations of these positions create a semaphore alphabet of 256 possible characters.

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But this was only the first part of the encryption. Even if you uncovered and charted this pattern, you still had to decode the secret messages detailing specific key words that would help you break the Vigenere encryption of the actual text.

It took MONTHS for two tech workers to figure out the semaphore language, decipher the code, and uncover the final message.

So naturally, just like the hidden alien language in the animated sci-fi comedy Futurama, it was replaced with a second, more complex code to be unraveled.

That code, which started transmitting in 2012, wasn’t broken until 2017 when a math professor started streaming footage of the Adobe building and charting the various positions of the circles.

But his examination led him to believe that it wasn’t just text being broadcast this time… it was an audio message. After discovering a chain of symbols that he believed was a space or bit of silence in an audio broadcast, he graphed the results, which resembled an audio wave.

It turns out, his suspicions were correct, and further analysis resulted in the true audio being uncovered: Neil Armstrong’s famous message from the moon landing.

Apparently, a new code and message are currently being brainstormed for Adobe’s devious puzzle monument. Who knows what Ben Rubin, the designer, has in store for solvers this time?


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Solutions to Last Week’s Detective Riddles!

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Last week, we delved into a curious cousin of brain teaser family — detective riddles. These crime-fueled and investigation-filled little logic problems often cast you as the detective, the accused, or simply someone putting on their deerstalker hat and endeavoring to suss out the actual truth.

And we couldn’t resist putting your puzzle skills to the test with a few detective riddles. Did you unravel them easily or find yourself stumped?

Let’s find out, shall we?


#1

A Japanese ship was leaving the port and on its way to open sea. The captain went to oil some parts of the ship and took his ring off so it wouldn’t get damaged. He left it on the table next to his bunk. When he returned, it was missing. He suspected three crew members could be guilty and asked them what they had been doing for the ten minutes that he had been gone.

The cook said, “I was in the kitchen preparing tonight’s dinner.”

The engineer said, “I was working in the engine room making sure everything was running smoothly.”

The seaman said, “I was on the mast correcting the flag because someone had attached it upside down by mistake.”

The captain immediately knew who it was. How?

Answer: The seaman was to blame.

The key to this one is paying attention to the ship and the flag. A Japanese ship would be flying the Japanese flag, and it’s hard to believe a white field with a red circle in the center could be hung “upside down.”

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#2

A chemist was murdered in his own lab. The only evidence was a piece of paper that had the names of chemical substances written on it. The substances were nickel, carbon, oxygen, lanthanum, and sulfur. The chemist only had four people come by his lab on the day of the murder: fellow scientist Claire, his nephew Nicolas, his wife, and his friend Marc.

The police arrested the murderer right away. How did they know who it was?

Answer: Nephew Nicolas was to blame.

If you know your elemental abbreviations, you probably noticed the correlation between what the chemist wrote down and one of the suspects. Ni + C + O + La + S spells the criminal’s name and points the finger at the criminal from beyond the grave.

#3

A man was found on the floor dead with a cassette recorder in one hand and a gun in the other. When the police arrived at the scene they pressed play on the recorder. It was the man’s voice. He said, “I have nothing else to live for. I can’t go on,” followed by the sound of a gunshot.

After listening, the police knew that this was a murder, not a suicide. How?

Answer: Dead men don’t rewind.

The cassette recorder was all prepped for someone to press play, which means someone stopped the tape and rewound it after the gunshot was recorded. If it had been a suicide, the tape recorder would have just kept running after the gunshot, since there wasn’t anyone alive to stop it.


How did you do, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Did you solve all three? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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A Puzzly Discovery Under the Sea!

We’ve talked quite a bit about the importance of Enigma machines in the past.

The quest to crack the unbreakable Nazi code machine spanned the Atlantic Ocean and resulted in never-before-seen collaborations between analysts, codebreakers, and puzzlers from all walks of life, dedicating hours upon hours every day to trying to unravel the secrets of German communications. Cracking the code would be the key to intercepting crucial information and outmaneuvering the Nazi war machine.

We’ve discussed those twin decryption locations — Arlington Hall in the US and Bletchley Park in the UK — as well as the efforts of codebreakers like Elizebeth Smith Friedman to dismantle the work of Nazi spymasters both during and after World War II.

The story of Alan Turing is inextricably linked with that of the Enigma device, even though there were three Polish mathematicians — Rejewski, Rózycki & Zygalski — who had already demonstrated that the Nazi code was breakable and even managed to reverse engineer an Enigma machine.

Strangely, we rarely talk about the Enigma machines themselves. They were dangerously efficient, as explained in this article from Atlas Obscura:

When the Nazis needed to send confidential messages, they entered the dispatches into the machine, which substituted every letter using a system of three or four rotors and a reflector, encrypting the message for a recipient Enigma machine to decode.

Getting Allied hands on one during the war was a top priority, so much so that the standing orders on German ships and U-boats was to throw them overboard and let the sea claim them, rather than risking the chance of the Allies getting ahold of one.

underwater enigma

But the sea doesn’t always keep secrets forever, and a recent dive by a marine biologist team discovered the remains of an Enigma machine in the Bay of Gelting:

He noticed a contraption tangled up in the fishing line the crew had headed down to collect. The device, which at first seemed like an old typewriter sitting under at least 30 feet of water, was a Nazi Enigma machine, likely one of hundreds abandoned and thrown overboard in the dying days of the German war effort.

And those devices still contain valuable information decades later.

Each Enigma machine has a serial number, and if this machine’s number is still legible after decades underwater, it could reveal which ship or Nazi unit the Enigma machine belonged to. This would allow researchers to track the use of the device and what impact its use or its absence had on the war effort overall.

Yes, it’s not just mussels and fish that call this device home, but a readily accessible history of the device itself, if we can only read it.

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And now, instead of being protected at all costs by German officers, this machine is now protected by archaeologists and researchers, sitting in a tank of demineralized water in order to flush out the salt and salt water that has so corroded the machine over time. It will spend almost a year in that tank before any restoration efforts can proceed.

Successful recoveries of these machines are understandably rare, and this is a chance to add to the historical record of codebreaking and puzzling during World War II. Here’s hoping we can stumble upon more of these lost treasures in the future.


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Monopoly Opens Up the Community Chest to the Community!

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Monopoly has been around for more than 80 years, and over the decades, they’ve made all sorts of attempts to modernize or update the product. They’ve ditched paper money for electronic banking and credit cards, they’ve utilized motion sensors, and even released Millennial, political, and cheaters’ editions in the hopes of freshening up the game.

This time around, they’re asking for the public’s help in changing the game. Specifically, they’re looking to update the Community Chest cards.

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According to the Hasbro press release:

Covering topics like beauty contests, holiday funds, and life insurance, there is no denying the Monopoly game’s Community Chest Cards are long overdue for a refresh. And, coming out of the tumultuous year of 2020, the term “community” has taken on a whole new meaning. Hasbro is counting on their fans to help reflect what community means in their real lives, into the Monopoly game, by voting for new cards like “Shop Local”, “Rescue A Puppy” or “Help Your Neighbors.”

Naturally, because of the Internet, this is already being reported in some outlets as a desperate attempt by the company to appear “woke” or more socially aware. And that seems a tad pessimistic in my view.

Sure, this could be a cynical corporate strategy, but it doesn’t mean updating the game is a bad idea. I mean, when’s the last time the bank actually made an error in your favor and you got $200?

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This isn’t even the first time they’ve crowdsourced an update to the game. A House Rules edition of the game was published with five house rules suggested by fans.

In 2017, Hasbro launched an Internet poll to determine a new lineup of tokens for editions of the game, which resulted in the boot, wheelbarrow, and thimble being removed from the game (and replaced with a rubber duck, a penguin, and a Tyrannosaurus rex).

So they’ve posted a poll where you can choose between two possible options for each of the 16 cards.

For instance, one pairing let me choose between “You go to the local school’s car wash fundraiser — but forget to close your windows! Pay $100” and “You held a neighborhood party — but you didn’t recycle your trash! Pay $100.”

Other cards mention bake sales, video chatting, running for charity, volunteering, community gardens, donating blood, and more.

community chest

So, this begs the question: what suggestions would you make?

Would you replace the beauty contest with second place in a hot wings-eating contest? Would you help a friend secure a small business loan? Would you contribute to an off-the-grid community?

Let us know your ideas for new and fresh Community Chest card ideas in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Be a Sleuth with Detective Riddles!

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Brain teasers come in many forms. Riddles, logic problems, math puzzles, and deduction games all fall under the umbrella of brain teasers.

One variety of brain teasers that has always appealed to me is the detective riddle. It’s probably because, deep down, who wouldn’t want to glance at a crime scene and deduce what happened, a la Sherlock Holmes?

While brain teasers can consist of all sorts of scenarios, detective riddles usually center around a crime committed or a police investigation to be completed.

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Here’s an example of a detective riddle:

A dead female body lies at the bottom of a multistory building. It looks as though she committed suicide by jumping from one of the floors.

When the detective arrives, he goes to the first floor of the building, opens the closed window, and flips a coin towards the floor. He goes to the second floor and does the exact same thing. He continues to do this until he gets to the top floor of the building.

When he comes back down, he states that it was a murder and not a suicide. How does he know that?

This is a good example of the detective riddle, because you’re given all of the information you need in the writeup. Some detective riddles involve making strange, unlikely assumptions, which are a sign of a poorly constructed brain teaser. This one is fair, but not ideal.

The solution, of course, is that the window was closed on every floor, meaning that someone shut the window after the person’s body went out the window. (We ARE told that the body fell from “one of the floors,” but doesn’t that necessarily preclude the roof? That little question mark keeps this riddle from being an ideal example of the form.)

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Now, here’s an example of a bad detective riddle:

Nicole went to the police to report that someone had stolen her vintage ring. When the police got to her house they notice that the window was broken, there was a total mess inside, and there were dirty footprints on the carpet. But, there were no other signs of a break-in.

The next day, the police arrested Nicole for fraud. Why?

The solution? Well, according to the source I found: As soon as the police got to the “crime scene,” they knew that Nicole has most likely staged the break-in. The glass from the broken window was all outside of the house, meaning that it had been broken from the inside.

But the riddle doesn’t mention any glass. In fact, it says there were “no other signs of a break-in,” which would include the glass on the OUTSIDE.

See? This one is full of holes.

Now that you have a sense of how detective riddles work, let’s test your puzzly skills with a few!


#1

A Japanese ship was leaving the port and on its way to open sea. The captain went to oil some parts of the ship and took his ring off so it wouldn’t get damaged. He left it on the table next to his bunk. When he returned, it was missing. He suspected three crew members could be guilty and asked them what they had been doing for the ten minutes that he had been gone.

The cook said, “I was in the kitchen preparing tonight’s dinner.”

The engineer said, “I was working in the engine room making sure everything was running smoothly.”

The seaman said, “I was on the mast correcting the flag because someone had attached it upside down by mistake.”

The captain immediately knew who it was. How?


chemistryfluxx

#2

A chemist was murdered in his own lab. The only evidence was a piece of paper that had the names of chemical substances written on it. The substances were nickel, carbon, oxygen, lanthanum, and sulfur. The chemist only had four people come by his lab on the day of the murder: fellow scientist Claire, his nephew Nicolas, his wife, and his friend Marc.

The police arrested the murderer right away. How did they know who it was?


#3

A man was found on the floor dead with a cassette recorder in one hand and a gun in the other. When the police arrived at the scene they pressed play on the recorder. It was the man’s voice. He said, “I have nothing else to live for. I can’t go on,” followed by the sound of a gunshot.

After listening, the police knew that this was a murder, not a suicide. How?


Did you unravel these detective riddles? Let us know in the comment section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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The Man Who Found Forrest Fenn’s Treasure

One of the biggest stories in puzzles last year revolved around Forrest Fenn’s treasure hunt, which had left treasure hunters and puzzle fans baffled and searching for almost a decade.

The hopes of thousands of would-be rich treasure seekers were dashed when Fenn announced that his treasure had been found.

It was under a canopy of stars in the lush, forested vegetation of the Rocky Mountains and had not moved from the spot where I hid it more than 10 years ago. I do not know the person who found it, but the poem in my book led him to the precise spot.

I congratulate the thousands of people who participated in the search and hope they will continue to be drawn by the promise of other discoveries.

So the search is over. Look for more information and photos in the coming days.

But in the days and months that followed, controversy ensued. The identity of the hunter who found the treasure was kept secret, only referenced as someone “from back East.” Some treasure hunters demanded more proof, positing that Fenn had retrieved the treasure himself, or that he’d never hidden it at all.

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Lawsuits were filed, alleging that the mysterious treasure hunter had stolen his solution from someone else, or that Fenn had faked the entire decade-long endeavor.

In September, a few months after the announcement that the treasure had been found, Forrest Fenn passed away. Depending on what you believed, it was either oddly poignant or terribly convenient that his passing would follow the discovery of his long-hidden treasure.

Eventually, though, as these things go, the story grew quiet.

A reader of the blog recently asked me if there had been any updates on Fenn’s treasure. As it turns out, there had, but they’d flown relatively under the radar.

Back in December, a gentleman named Jack Stuef came forward as the finder of the Forrest Fenn treasure.

According to an article on NPR, Stuef claimed he pored over Fenn’s poem for two years, as well as interviews with Fenn, “teasing out clues from his words to understand what kind of person he was and where he might be inclined to hide his riches.”

As for why he remained anonymous, he further stated:

For the past six months, I have remained anonymous, not because I have anything to hide, but because Forrest and his family endured stalkers, death threats, home invasions, frivolous lawsuits, and a potential kidnapping — all at the hands of people with delusions related to his treasure. I don’t want those things to happen to me and my family.

The U.S. District Court for New Mexico has ruled that Forrest’s estate must provide some of my personal information to a woman I do not know and with whom I have never communicated who has brought a meritless lawsuit against me. This would make my name a matter of public record, so I chose to come forward today.

The entire piece is interesting, sharing his solo efforts to solve the mystery and find the treasure, as well as debunking a number of false reports, accusations, and various attempts at conspiracy theorizing.

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But he also refuses to disclose where he found the treasure or how he arrived at that solution, which will no doubt frustrate and confound some of the more obsessive folks that spent the last decade trying to find Fenn’s treasure. (As for people claiming he was working with Fenn or that the treasure being found is still a hoax, I doubt they will ever be satisfied with ANY answers, short of them finding the treasure themselves.)

Still, with the expectation that any and all lawsuits related to the Fenn treasure hunt will be thrown out, this brings one of the strangest and most interesting puzzle mysteries of the last decade to a close.

Jack Stuef apparently managed to do what thousands of armchair adventure seekers (and more than a few real-life wildlife trekkers and treasure hunters) failed to: unravel Fenn’s riddle.

As a closing thought, I do hope that Stuef or someone connected to Fenn’s estate place some sort of marker where the treasure was found, if only to offer something for future treasure hunters to find. It would be a nice way to keep the spirit of the mystery alive, hopefully without the rancor or nonsense involved.


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