Puzzles in Plain Sight: Secret Message in Hollywood Edition!

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[Image courtesy of MathTutorDVD.]

I am fascinated by codebreaking, secret codes, and that whole subgenre of puzzle solving. Probably because I’m pretty bad at it.

Don’t get me wrong, I can crack your bog-standard cryptogram or alphanumeric message. I’m fairly good at identifying patterns and deciphering codes when it comes to simple three-, four-, and five-digit answers in most escape room scenarios.

But when you start getting into encryptions where a letter’s meaning can shift as the coded message evolves — like the one employed by a devious 10-year-old kid in a puzzly letter to Santa years ago — and I quickly find myself stymied.

It leaves me all the more impressed when I read about codebreaking efforts as ambitious as ENIGMA and as silly (and, yet, still quite impressive) as Futurama fans cracking the multiple alien codes in the show just from random snippets.

But codebreaking isn’t just about cleverness, pattern-recognition, and determination.

Sometimes, it’s about knowing where to look.

For instance, in Los Angeles, there have been secret messages being transmitted in plain sight for decades.

Just cast your eyes to the light atop the Capitol Records building in Los Angeles.

The building was designed to look like a stack of records on a turntable, complete with the spindle pointing skyward. It opened in 1956, and the president of Capitol Records at the time, Alan Livingston, wanted the light to send out a message in Morse code. On opening day, Leila Morse — the granddaughter of Samuel Morse, inventor of Morse code — turned the light on.

The secret message being broadcast? “Hollywood.”

The message blinked away for decades. But it wasn’t the only message the light atop Capitol Records would send over the years.

In 1992, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Capitol Records, the code was changed to “Capitol 50” for the entire year. Then it went back to the traditional “Hollywood” code.

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A decade later, it was changed again. What was the message? A secret announcement that would excite millions of pop music fans…

“Katy Perry. Prism. October 22, 2013.”

But as far as anyone can tell, nobody noticed. This teaser announcement never made the local or national news.

And so far, there hasn’t been a secret message since. At least, not that anyone has noticed.

Still, best keep your eyes on that light. You never know if your favorite artist might send you a secret signal. And it sure beats looking for backwards messages in heavy metal songs.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Cartoons and Crosswords edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’m posting the results of our #PennyDellPuzzleCartoons hashtag game!

You may be familiar with the board game Schmovie, hashtag games on Twitter, or@midnight’s Hashtag Wars segment on Comedy Central.

For the last few months, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzleCartoons, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles and anything and everything having to do with stand-up comics, film and television comedians, funny movies, funny shows, funny plays…even one-liners or jokes!

Examples include Letter Powerpuff Girls, SpongeBob Four SquarePants, and Betty Blips.

So, without further ado, check out what the puzzlers at PuzzleNation and Penny Dell Puzzles came up with!


Slide-o-Futurama (and therefore Around the Bender)

Aaahh!!! Real Mon-Star Words

The Anagram Magic Square Bus

Who Fiddler’s Framed Roger Rabbit? / Who Frameworked Roger Rabbit?

He-Man and the Masterwords of the Universe

“By the power of GraySkill-O-Grams! I have the power!”

“That’s All Fours, folks!”

“Wonder Twins Flower Power, activate!”

“There’s no need to fear, Underdog is Here & There!”

“I hate meeces to Bits and Pieces!”

“Ups and Downs and at ‘em, Atom Ant!”

“Exit! Stage Right of Way!”

“Zip It Dee-Doo-Dah!”

“Heroes in a Halftime, Turtle Power!”

Teenage Multiplier Ninja Turnabouts

Beavis and Butt-Headings / Beavis and Buttheads and Tails

Crypto-Family Guy

Porky Piggybacks

The Jungle Bookworms

Dr. Joshua Sweet Stuff

Flower (from Bambi) Power

Lotsa Buck Cluck

Looney Rooney Tunes

Dancing Bo-Peep Feet

Top to Bottom Cat

Quick Draw the Line McGraw

Courage the Coming and Going Dog

DartBoard Duck / Bartboard

Dartwing Duck

(Home R)uns Simpson

101 Dial-a-Grams

Blackout-man and Robin

Successorgram-man

Johnny Word Quest

Dudley Do-Right of Way

Scooby Two by Two, Where are you?

Mystery Word Machine

Alvin and the Chips-munks

Patchwork Patrol

“Friendly Neighborhood Spider’s Web”

Wonder Twin Crosswords

“Lolly, Lolly, Lolly Get Your Add Ones Here” / “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly Get Your Codewords Here”

“Three From Nine Is the Anagram Magic Number”

“In A Word Planet Janet”

“Syllability, Syll-a-bility”

“I’m Just a Blips, Yes I’m Only a Blips”

“Connections Junction, What’s Your Function”

AnagraManiacs Magic Squares, with Yakk-odewords, Wakk-o Words and Dot Matrix.

Stepping Flintstones

Miss Piggybacks


A fellow puzzler even cooked up a version of the Steven Universe theme song all about Crypto puzzles!

We are the Crypto-Gems
We’ll always save the day
And if you don’t believe us
We’ll always find a way
That’s why the people of this earth
Believe in
Geo, Zoo, and Verse…
And Steven!


Have you come up with any Penny Dell Puzzle Cartoons entries of your own? Let us know! We’d love to see them!

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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

Puzzles in Pop Culture: Futurama

Not so long ago, I wrote a post about cryptography in the real world, highlighting moments where codebreaking made a difference in crime solving and espionage, and sometimes changed the course of history.

And while the encryptions featured in today’s entry aren’t quite as world-changing, they just as interesting.

I’m talking about the alien languages that were featured in the background of the animated television show Futurama.

At least two ciphers have been employed by the writers and animators of the show — a third is rumored to have appeared in the fourth season of the show, but there hasn’t been confirmation of that — and they’ve proven to be an engaging Easter egg for puzzle fans.

The first is called Alien Language One, or Alienese, and it appeared in the background of the show from the pilot episode onward. It’s a simple one-to-one code, with symbols for all 26 letters and 10 digits in standard English. (Supposedly it was solved by some enterprising puzzlers within a half-hour of the show’s premiere.)

A second, far more complex encryption started appearing during the show’s second season, and it’s called Alien Language Two, or Alienese II, and it’s based on an autokey cipher.

Autokey ciphers are more involved than a standard encryption, because there’s no one-to-one organizational structure. Instead, the symbol for a given letter or number can change based on the symbol that precedes it.

I’ll let the folks at the Futurama Wiki explain:

Each symbol has a numerical value. To decode a message, the first symbol’s value is translated directly into a character (0=’A’, 1=’B’, and so on). For the remaining letters, you subtract the previous symbol’s numerical value. If the result is less than zero, you add 26. Then that number is converted into a character as before.

This is some high-level puzzling, considering it’s a background joke-delivery system on an animated show. (But, considering the show does jokes about Schrodinger and throwaway gags based on mathematical principles like taxicab numbers, I’m not at all surprised.)

Of course, those puzzle-lovers at The Simpsons couldn’t help but get in on the fun, using Alienese as a background gag in a reference to the show Lost.

The masterminds at Futurama are definitely puzzlers at heart, and more than worthy of recognition in the Puzzles in Pop Culture library.