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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A Visual Puzzle Awaits You in a Roman Palace!

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Rome is home to many architectural wonders, and one could easily spend days wandering the city and still miss many of the artistic delights and design flourishes that make it a tourist destination and virtual gallery of creative energy.

But did you know there’s a puzzly secret lurking in one of the palaces along Piazza di Capo Ferro?

Indeed, Palazzo Spada is not only home to the Galleria Spada — a large art collection that includes works by Titian, Rubens, Caravaggio, and others — but it also hosts a gorgeous optical illusion that doubles as an architectural marvel.

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This corridor is the work of Francesco Borromini, an Italian architect who helped bring the Roman Baroque architectural style to prominence. He was hired by Cardinal Bernardino, who had purchased the palace and immediately began redecorating and redesigning it with the help of Borromini.

In the courtyard of the Palazzo, you will find this corridor, leading to a statue of Mars in a skylit garden area. The corridor appears to be more than 60 feet long.

But in reality, much of the corridor is an optical illusion. It’s less than half that size, measuring just 24 feet long.

Oh, and that marvelous statue awaiting you in daylight at the end of your journey, the kind you see in art galleries where you’re often left staring up at them in awe?

It’s only 2 feet tall.

A combination of careful column placement, a rising floor, and a descending ceiling create the illusion of a much larger space. And yet, even when you know the illusion is there, it’s startling to see someone towering over that statue.

It’s amazing what a mastery of puzzly elements like perspective and space can create, isn’t it?


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The Zebra Crossing Illusion!

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There’s nothing quite like an optical illusion to spark the imagination… or a debate online.

In previous years, we have engaged in fierce debates regarding viral illusions that read like the back catalog of a Nancy Drew-inspired puzzle mystery series: The Colorful Conundrum of That Dress, The Jacket That Baffled The Internet, The Mystery of How Many Girls?, and The Curious Case of the Shiny Legs.

And now, there’s a zebra photograph that’s playing tricks on viewers.

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This photo, taken in Kenya at the Maasai Mara national game reserve by wildlife photographer Sarosh Lodhi, was shared on Twitter, and he asked a supposedly simple question:

Which zebra is the one facing the camera?

And yes, those with good memories may recall that this isn’t the first zebra-related optical illusion we’ve posted on the blog, but I do think it’s the most challenging.

Some solvers focused on the folds in the left one’s neck, or the position of its ears, to determine which was the zebra in question.

Others found ample evidence to believe it’s the zebra on the right.

A few even posited that they thought it was a trick, and there was a third one in the middle facing the camera.

So, which do you think it is, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers?

Here’s the photo again, with some space to think, before we share the answer:

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..

….

…..

Ready?

……

…….

……..

………

……….

Are you sure?

……….

………

……..

…….

……

Last chance to turn back!

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….

..

.

Okay, here we go! Did you guess left or right?

The correct answer, according to the photographer himself…

Is the zebra on the left.

How did you do? Did you get it right? Or are you still convinced there’s trickery afoot? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Overwhelmed by Optical Illusions Underfoot

A good optical illusion is a puzzle for the eyes, a visual treat that tricks you into seeing things that aren’t there. The most convincing optical illusions can even affect your sense of balance and make you question every footstep you take.

For instance, imagine walking into a room and seeing this:

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This is a rug called “Black Hole,” designed by Daniel Malik, and it’ll make you doubt the ground beneath your feet.

Don’t believe me? Check this out:

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And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to optical illusions that can leave you dizzy and spinning.

Austrian artist Peter Kogler specializes in making empty spaces look larger, more twisted, and vertigo-inducingly unsettled.

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Employing the walls, the floor, and the ceiling (along with any structural beams or other objects in the area), Kogler challenges your spacial awareness with lines and imagery that offset your natural depth perception.

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Astonishingly, the few recognizable items in this works — like a hanging lightbulb or even a fellow spectator — enhance the effect, making everything around those steady, relatable objects into an eye in the storm of chaotic imagery.

You no longer trust your ability to gauge height, distance, or even the angle of the room itself, even though you know in your heart that you’re walking on a flat surface.

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We’ve featured some clever floor designs in the past — including one in a school that was designed to keep kids from running in the halls — but nothing on the scale of Kogler’s work.

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It almost makes you nostalgic for the simple trickery of a circular area rug that looks like a tunnel to the center of the Earth, doesn’t it?


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Your One-Stop Optical Illusion Coffee Shop

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Optical illusions are puzzles for the eye, inspired bits of visual trickery that can fool you into thinking near is far, big is small, or two dimensions are really three.

We’ve explored various optical illusions in the past, but never something quite as curious, or as immersive, as this.

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Welcome to Cafe Yeonnam-dong 239-20, a coffee shop in Seoul, South Korea, that is like a drawing come to life.

Designed to look like it’s composed of flat line sketches — essentially, comic strip-style art that you can interact with — the illusion is thoroughly impressive. Everything from chairs and tables to wall art, mugs, and serving containers help bolster the illusion that you’ve transcended space in a very peculiar way.

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Like slipping into the black-and-white world from the famous “Take on Me” music video by A-Ha, a visit to Cafe Yeonnam-dong 239-20 is a mind-blowing experience.

And it’s a terrific place to snap some unforgettable pictures. When customers enter the scene, every photo feels like they’ve become part of the illusion, as if they’ve been Photoshopped into a drawing, rather than simply walking in or sitting down for coffee.

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The curiously named cafe — which takes its moniker from its street address — has become an international destination for people seeking a unique coffee-fueled tourist experience. This is particularly impressive, given that the cafe supposedly never advertised its opening! The owner claims it’s strictly a word-of-mouth success story.

Whether that’s true or not, you might just get a better chance of experiencing the pleasures of Cafe Yeonnam-dong 239-20 sooner than you think. You see, the owner hopes to franchise the business and open new shops across South Korea, and then expand outward into the world at large.

So, the next time you glance at a bit of trompe l’oeil art on the street, maybe give it a second glance. It might just turn out to be your new favorite coffee spot.

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[All images are courtesy of Cafe Yeonnam-dong 239-20.]


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PuzzleNation Blog Looks Back on 2018!

2018 is quickly coming to a close, and as I look back on an eventful year in the world of puzzles and games, I’m incredibly proud of the contributions both PuzzleNation Blog and PuzzleNation made to the puzzle community as a whole.

Over the last year, we explored board games and card games, strategy games and trivia games, dice games and tile games, do-it-yourself puzzlers and pen-and-paper classics. We met game designers, constructors, artists, YouTubers, and creative types of all kinds.

We unraveled math puzzles and diabolical brain teasers. We pondered optical illusions, Internet memes, and more, even questioning our place in the world of puzzles as AI and solving robots continued to rise in capability.

We delved into puzzle history with posts about ancient board games from centuries ago, Edgar Allan Poe’s secret codes, and the legacy of influential female codebreakers and spymasters previously lost to revisionist history like Elizebeth Smith Friedman and the Countess Alexandrine. We brought to light valuable examples of puzzles in art, comic strips, animation, music, television, film, and popular culture.

We spread the word about numerous worthwhile Kickstarters and Indiegogo campaigns, watching as the puzzle/game renaissance continued to amaze and surprise us with innovative new ways to play and solve. We shared worthy causes like Queer Crosswords and Women of Letters, as well as amazing projects like new escape rooms, puzzle experiences like The Enigmatist, online puzzle quests, and long-running unsolved treasure hunts.

We celebrated International TableTop Day, offered up puzzly suggestions for Valentine’s Day, attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and dove deep into an ever-expanding litany of puzzle events like the Indie 500, BosWords, and Lollapuzzoola.

We found puzzly ways to celebrate everything from Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas to Star Wars Day and the anniversary of the Crossword, and we were happy to share so many remarkable puzzly landmark moments with you.

It’s been both a pleasure and a privilege to explore the world of puzzles and games with you, my fellow puzzle lovers and PuzzleNationers. We marked six years of PuzzleNation Blog this year, I’m closing in on my 1000th blog post, and I’m more excited to write for you now than I was when I started.

And honestly, that’s just the blog. PuzzleNation’s good fortune, hard work, and accomplishments in 2018 went well beyond that.

Every month, we delivered quality content for both the Penny Dell Crosswords App and Daily POP Crosswords. Whether it was monthly deluxe sets and holiday bundles for PDCW or the world-class topical puzzles by some of the industry’s best constructors for Daily POP, hundreds of topnotch crosswords wended their way to our loyal and enthusiastic solvers.

And a little more than a week ago, we launched our newest puzzly endeavor — Wordventures: The Vampire Pirate — bringing you a unique, story-driven puzzling experience, complete with gorgeous visuals, atmospheric music, and an immersive mystery to keep you solving!

But whether we’re talking about crosswords, Sudoku, or Wordventures, I’m proud to say that every single puzzle represents our high standards of quality puzzle content crafted for solvers and PuzzleNationers.

And your response has been fantastic! Daily POP Crosswords is thriving, we’re very excited about the response to Wordventures, the blog has over 2300 followers, and with our audience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms continuing to grow, the enthusiasm of the PuzzleNation readership is both humbling and very encouraging.

2018 was our most ambitious, most exciting, and most creatively fulfilling year to date, and the coming year promises to be even brighter.

Thank you for your support, your interest, and your feedback, PuzzleNationers. The new year looms large, and we look forward to seeing you in 2019!


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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!