# Puzzly Techniques Help Reveal Secrets From the Dead Sea Scrolls!

[Image courtesy of WikiHow.]

Have you ever solved a cryptogram? (Or another coded puzzle where each letter is replaced with a different letter, digit, or symbol?)

While the solve can vary in difficulty, the solving experience is fairly simple: you look for and identify patterns in the encrypted message, then use that information to figure out which letter/number/symbol represents each letter.

Maybe you see QYR’P and XHR’P, and deduce that R and P are actually N and T because of the apostrophe. Maybe you see the letter pattern BRV at the end of several words and realize it’s -ING.

By finding these patterns, you can turn a pile of gibberish into a message, essentially creating your own Rosetta Stone for this particular puzzle.

[Image courtesy of The Guardian.]

It’s not just the repetition of characters and pattern recognition that reveal everything that can be learned from text, even text in a foreign language.

After all, plenty of crime stories rely on recognizing the handwriting from a random note or a threatening letter and matching it to a writing sample from another character in the story.

Taking this concept a step further, purveyors of handwriting analysis sometimes claim to be able to tell you about the writer (whether they’re male or female, how educated they are, and more). Beyond that, some assert they can infer details about the writer’s emotional state WHILE writing a given message, based on angles of pen strokes, closeness of letters, and so on.

[Image courtesy of PBL Forensic Investigations.]

While handwriting analysis is more a mix of pattern recognition, assumptions, and interpretation than a straightforward science, it’s still amazing what can be gleaned from the written records people leave behind.

And as it turns out, when you add computers to the mix, you can do the same on a more massive scale to uncover some pretty impressive insights.

Yes, we’re not just learning about languages and the contents of messages written long ago. As we implied above, we’re also starting to find clues about the authors themselves.

Take, for instance, this story about a recent computer analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

[Image courtesy of Artnet.]

Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of ancient Jewish and Hebrew religious manuscripts discovered in the Qumran Caves, near the Dead Sea. They consist of some of the oldest known surviving manuscripts of works later found in the Hebrew Bible and other important texts. In fact, they include fragments from every book in the Old Testament (except for the Book of Esther).

Mladen Popovic, professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen, teamed up with a colleague who has been working on software and hardware that would allow computers to “read” handwriting, particular handwriting from historical materials. Lambert Schomaker, professor of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence, focused on one particular scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls, known as the Great Isaiah Scroll.

This scroll was chosen because, although the writing appears to be uniform, some scholars believed there were two scribes involved in writing it, suggesting that after column 27, a second scribe had taken over duties on the scroll.

From the article:

‘This scroll contains the letter aleph, or “a,” at least five thousand times. It is impossible to compare them all just by eye.’ Computers are well suited to analyse large datasets, like 5,000 handwritten a’s. Digital imaging makes all sorts of computer calculations possible, at the microlevel of characters, such as measuring curvature (called textural), as well as whole characters (called allographic).

[Image courtesy of FDE-Sperry.]

And what did this study reveal?

His analysis of textural and allographic features showed that the 54 columns of text in the Great Isaiah Scroll fell into two different groups that were not distributed randomly through the scroll, but were clustered, with a transition around the halfway mark.

Popovic expanded on this discovery, stating that “we can confirm this with a quantitative analysis of the handwriting as well as with robust statistical analyses. Instead of basing judgment on more-or-less impressionistic evidence, with the intelligent assistance of the computer, we can demonstrate that the separation is statistically significant.”

Yes, there were two scribes involved in writing the Great Isaiah Scroll. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of what we could learn about the many scrolls discovered in the Qumran Caves.

By taking these puzzly observational techniques and using the incredible computing power and analysis capabilities available to modern researchers, we’re slowly unraveling more mysteries from the past.

Who knows what we’ll unearth next?

Have you checked out our special summer deals yet? You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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# Our Annual TableTop Tournament Starts Next Week!

With International TableTop Day fast approaching, we are once again teaming up with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles to put together an in-house TableTop Tournament to celebrate the upcoming holiday (Saturday, April 27).

It’s a 12-person two-week tournament with different games to play every week, and round 1 kicks off next Tuesday. (This is actually the fourth year of the tournament, with all three previous champions competing again this year.)

One of the things I like about the layout of the tournament is that there are no one-on-one match-ups until the final. Instead of a single-elimination tournament, competitors are slotted into groups of three. Each group of three will play two games, and the two winners (one from each game) from each trio and move on to the next round.

So to survive round 1, I’ll need to win either Timeline or On the Dot.

Timeline is a card game where every card depicts a different moment in history, and the players are trying to place cards from their hand into a historically correct timeline. Players take turns adding cards to the timeline, placing them before or after previously played cards. You don’t have to know the exact year the event on a given card took place; you simply have to figure out when it happened in relation to the other events that have already been played.

You play your card, and then flip it over to reveal the actual year the event occurred. If you’re correct, the card stays, and you have one fewer card in your hand. If you’re wrong, the card is removed from the timeline and you draw a new card. The first player to place every card in their hand wins.

On the Dot is a pattern-matching game. Each player has four clear cards with randomly placed colored dots on them, and it’s up to the player to arrange all four cards so that the colored dots showing match a given pattern. The first player to match three patterns moves on to the next round.

Timeline can be a bit of a crapshoot, depending on your knowledge of a given subject and whatever cards you draw. I suspect I’ll have a better chance of making the second round with On the Dot; I’m fairly quick with pattern recognition and manipulation, and actually won three games in a row last year to secure my spot in the next round. Hopefully I can repeat the same feat this year.

But you never know. With new competitors and returning champions in the tournament this year, there are sure to be some diabolical surprises.

Here’s hoping when it’s all said and done, I’ll be wearing the Game Geek crown and holding the scepter high…

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# PuzzleNation Product Review: Mary Engelbreit Loonacy

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that. And this concludes the disclaimer.]

If you’re looking for frenetic, quick-play card games, they don’t come much quicker or more chaotic than Loonacy.

In Loonacy, players compete to dump all of the cards in their hand by dropping them one-at-a-time into various piles. They do so by matching one of two symbols on their card with the symbol atop the discard piles. For instance, if you’ve got a card with an owl and a queen on it, you can drop that card onto a pile with an owl on top or a queen on top.

But since every player in the game is doing the same thing at the same time — there’s no taking turns here — it’s a race to drop a matching card from your hand before any of the other players can drop a card from theirs.

Looney Labs has published two previous editions of the game — Loonacy and Retro Loonacy — but neither is as eye-catching, as lovely, as charming, or as unexpected as the latest edition, Mary Engelbreit Loonacy.

Unlike the cartoony character-centric images of the original or the nostalgia-fueled artsy icons of the retro version, Mary Engelbreit Loonacy brings a peaceful, almost folksy sense of style and humor to the game.

The imagery is gorgeous and heartwarming, depicting uplifting images that would fit in with any kitchen or living room. Words of wisdom like “She who laughs, lasts” and “Sooner or later, we all quote our mothers” mix with scenes of familial bliss, childhood innocence, or simple pleasures.

In a game that’s all about observation, decision making, instantaneous pattern matching, and rapid reflexes, juxtaposing that sort of anxiety-inducing gameplay with these peaceful, fun images is a stroke of genius, one that forces you to pause, even for just a moment, in order to simply enjoy Engelbreit’s delightful art.

Mary Engelbreit Loonacy bridges the gap between the kid-oriented silly imagery of the original and the adult-oriented artsy feel of the sequel, making the best of both in one family-friendly package.

Mary Engelbreit Loonacy is available from Looney Labs and other participating retailers.

It’s also featured in our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, alongside all sorts of terrific puzzly gift ideas, including other Looney Labs products like Zendo, Get the MacGuffin, Star Trek Fluxx, and more!

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# A 5-Letter Word Related to Crossword Skills? Try “Music”

A few years ago, I wrote a post discussing the curious intersection of music and puzzles. It centered around several studies about the effects both listening to music and performing music can have on individuals taking tests or solving puzzles.

There were two intriguing takeaways from these studies:

• Both adults and children perform better on tests, puzzles, and problem-solving exercises when music is involved (ex.: if they listen to music before or during the test).
• Children who are given music lessons often achieve greater heights in other subjects, including math and sports.

But it didn’t occur to me until much later that the connection between music and crosswords in particular has been in evidence for quite some time.

There are two 7-time champions in the history of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament: Dan Feyer and Jon Delfin. Think about that. Fourteen out of forty-one ACPT tournaments have been won by one of these men. Practically one out of every three!

And both of them have a musical background as pianists and music directors.

But they’re not the only ones. Constructor Patrick Blindauer, puzzler and actress Whitney Avalon, Lollapuzzoola co-founder Brian Cimmet, and even our own Director of Digital Games Fred Galpern are all musicians.

So what’s the connection between music and crossword puzzles?

No one can say for sure, but there are theories.

In the crossword documentary Wordplay (and quoted from the article linked below), former New York Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent mentioned why he felt that musicians and mathematicians were good fits as crossword solvers:

Their ability to assimilate a lot of coded information instantly. In other words, a piano player like John Delfin, the greatest crossword player of our time, he sits down and he sees three staffs of music and he can instantly play it. He’s taken all those notes and absorbs what they mean, instantaneously. If you have that kind of mind, and you add it to it a wide range of information, and you can spell, you’d be a really great crossword puzzler.

Crossword constructor and psychology professor Arthur Schulman — known for a series of seminars entitled “The Mind of the Puzzler” at the University of Virginia — would agree with that statement. He posited a correlation between word puzzles, math, and music, in that they all involve a quick and intuitive understanding of symbols. It’s about “finding meaning in structure.”

In an interview with the New York Times, Dan Feyer built on this idea, stating that music, math, and puzzles all have pattern recognition in common, quickly recognizing combinations of blanks and spaces and mentally filling in possible answer words, even before reading the clues.

Now, clearly, musical skill and proficiency isn’t required to be a good crossword solver — I’d classify myself as a pretty good solver and I have an almost magical lack of musical talent — but it’s intriguing to ponder how puzzling could easily be wrapped up with a musical bow.

Do you know any other puzzlers with a musical background, or are you a lyrical solver yourself? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!

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