Thursday, August 15, 2013

Day 2, Part 4: In Which we Fail to Escape from Mr. Death

Here's where I left off:
City Hall should really do something about their spider problem.
We knew we were at the right place, but somehow we expected that once we were there we'd know what the right thing to do was. But... there didn't seem to be anything to learn from the environment. Aside from the letters, there wasn't any obvious change to the graphics. There were no giant trails on the ceiling which we could use to trace out a message on the printed photograph.

The right insight came 20 minutes later -- we had totally been overthinking everything. The actual arrangement of letters on the ceiling was irrelevant. This was just a simple Rail Fence Cipher. Three of us all had the insight and the message at the same time: SEEK UPON HONEST ABE FOR ALL THREE YEARS. Just inside the arch (ah, here was the part which required us to actually be present!) we found the years 1809, 1865, 1939. We filled that into our form and headed back to the car.

One clue left, #3.
If you had to guess that one of these was called "Pigpen",
which one would you choose?.

The pigpen cipher translated to FIND BOBO AND THE FAMOUS DATE A MAN ONCE MADE A DEAL TO SWING FOR THE DISTANT FENCES FOR TWO FOR QUITE MANY KS PER YEAR. Unfortunately we didn't know where Bobo the Clown was, which made reassembling the jigsaw on the right difficult, especially since it almost certainly did not contain all the pieces. On the other hand, presumably once we assembled all the jigsaw pieces, the letters and numbers would form a message, so all we needed to do was to find a reasonable message from the letters AEEHINRSSTW022279. We also knew from the final readout mechanism that the answer would be a 6-digit number, and that when filled it, it would give us the three missing digits to a telephone number: 202-??9-9?89. Our anagram skills found that the letters anagrammed to "THE ANSWER IS 022279"  Or, more likely, some rearrangement of those digits that actually formed a date. This meant that we only had to try around 25 different phone numbers until we found one that answered, right?

Well, we were not too comfortable about doing that. So instead we drove around to the only other nearby area that we hadn't looked at today, the Cell Phone Disco. Lo and behold, what do we see just down the alley?
Mr Death says: "It's too hot to be wearing a long cloak when reaping souls.
I think I'll just put on a blue T-shirt instead,"

We park the car illegally, right next to this sign. Very quickly I determine that "9" is directly to the left of "7" but can't quite place the rest of the pieces. While I scrabble with technology to try to get a version of this picture I can draw on, Jonathan narrows the possibilities down to about three phone numbers and starts dialing them.

He hits the jackpot on the first time, and we put the phone call on our car's speakers. This is when I discover some facts about our team: (1) Dan is fastest at typing spoken words; (2) I am worst at identifying spoken words. After about 4 calls to the same phone number we get that it is this poem:

head up to monongahela
if you are so inclined 
where the severed head of washington 
feeds the second silver eye 
seek until you find someone 
very much like you 
staring with her green eyes 
to help you crack the clue 
last fourteen letters at the very end 
serve as your final key 
to crack your final cipher and set the cryptex free

The poem is recited twice on the voice mail with slight variations -- the second time the word "very" is missing and the last line changes to "to help your team to win". In a Bay Area Puzzle Hunt I'd immediately think that those changes were relevant. Here, I'm not so sure.

Anyway, we do some research and find a reasonable guess for the answer to this riddle. Just about a 15-minute drive east of Pittsburgh, in the town of Braddock, is the Battlefield History Center. This was a museum dedicated to the Battle of the Monongahela, a battle that George Washington was involved in. It seemed pretty likely that there'd be some bust of George Washington there, and Josh did warn us that we'd be driving a bit after the first wave of clues.

So, off we go. While on the way, I finish the jigsaw:
More aspiring artists should try to draw on an Android tablet
in a bumpy car at least once in their lives.
It definitely says "THE ANSWER IS 02 29 72". I do some research and determine that February 29th, 1972 was the date Hank Aaron was signed to a three year deal with the Atlanta Braves. I excitedly mention this to the car and the car's response is about the same as my response to James Brown -- indifferent skepticism.

We reach the History Center in Braddock, where we meet a very nice couple at the front desk...
"Nobody cares about history museums these days.
Lost puzzle hunters actually account for 68% of our revenues."
... who seem interested in our hunt but also seem completely surprised to see us. They tell is that there is absolutely nothing like a "severed head of Washington" in the museum, let alone anything with silver eyes or green eyes. But, they helpfully mention, there is an art studio called "Silver Eye" just south of Pittsburgh.

Dejected at our wild goose chase, we embark on the 15-minute drive back to downtown Pittsburgh. But this time, since our best theory is even more shaky, we text Josh to tell him what we've done and that we're going to the Silver Eye studio.
The studio was very recently a victim of a drive-by shooting.
As in, we drove by the studio and I shot this picture of it.
This is when we discover that following GPS directions at a city's maze of highway ramps is surprisingly difficult, and we spend another 10 minutes taking wrong ramps and learning first-hand why Pittsburgh is sometimes called "The City of Bridges".

In some sense, this is a mixed blessing, because Josh, probably very amused at us by now, tells us that we should be taking the Monongahela Incline. Yes, Monongahela does not refer to the river, or the battle, but the funicular. And it's on Mount Washington. And it has the word "incline" in the title. And it's only a 5-minute drive out of Pittsburgh instead of 15 minutes (25 minutes with GPS). Dan gives himself a hard time for thinking about the possibility but rejecting it without mentioning it.
The seriousicular was taken.
In any case, we approach the funicular, ride it up, and what do we find at the top?

You'll have to find out in the next post.


  1. I'm still not figuring out how to lay out my rail fence by looking at that ceiling photo. Someone on this team is a genius.

    1. (Ignore my previous comment -- now deleted -- it was wrong; that was the approach we tried for a long time but didn't work.)

      First, take rings of letters, clockwise starting with the "*1" letters: SOSOHAEP NETFRTRE REUHNAEA LEYSKOB(LE!). Concatenate all of that together into one big ciphertext string.

      Then apply a 4-rows-deep, 6-zigzags-wide rail fence cipher:

      S-----O-----S---... (SOSOHA)
      -E---P-N---E-T--... (EPNETFRTRER)
      --E-U---H-N---A-... (EUHNAEALEYS)
      ---K-----O-----B... (KOBLE!)
      (This will get mangled but hopefully you can make it out.)

      Reading out the zigzags gives you the message. It really is straight up rail-fence. As Wei-Hwa said, the important thing is to forget the presentation on the ceiling and just focus on a sequence of letters. (Of course some small guesswork is needed to extract the right sequence from the ceiling, but it comes out the first way most people think to try.)

    2. Thanks Larry for asking the same question I was thinking. I spent a while trying to read a straightforward rail fence off that photo.

      (Yes, I know I'm late reading this blog post.)

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