The Zotmeister

solving the puzzle of life one entry at a time

May. 2nd, 2012

04:27 pm - Puzzles 61-7: Seeking Syren^WScotchy

See Puzzle 14 for instructions; you can ignore the little gray letters. That will get you through the first six, anyhow; Puzzle 67 is "some assembly required". Permit me to explain.

For all of my puzzle followers that are not familiar with the MIT Mystery Hunt, here's a brief rundown for the both of you: Every year since 1981, during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend (which coincides with their Independent Activity Period), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been the home of a puzzle competition, which over the years has grown into the largest gathering of its kind. Dozens of teams with dozens of members stay up all night solving puzzles and metapuzzles in their quest for "the coin", with the prize being the honor - and heavy responsibility - of running the Hunt (and making all the puzzles for it) the following year.

Although I'd known about the Hunt for some time, it wasn't until 2009 that I actually got around to attending. As a member of the very appropriately named team Beginner's Luck, I found myself up at 3 AM Monday - after having trudged through snow and corridors for hours - when we located the Covertly Operational Inversion Node (or C.O.I.N.) and won. I created two "puzzles" for the 2010 Hunt; the seven grids below all constitute just one "puzzle" in Hunt terms. (I also created one "subpuzzle" for another's "puzzle". I'll stop putting that word in quotes now.) The graphics for the puzzles are the exact same ones originally used for the Hunt.

All Hunt puzzles reduce to a single solution phrase - often a single word - to be determined by following some manner of uncovered logic. I say "uncovered" as instructions are usually intentionally lacking, typically only alluded to by titles or flavortext, leaving solvers to try to find some internal consistency or pattern to follow in order to "extract" the final answer. You've probably noticed if you've peeked below that the first six grids all have peculiar titles; the seventh has a title as well, but you'll have to solve it first to learn it. That is the solution phrase for the entire puzzle, the one word all this reduces to. (Incidentally, this puzzle was made around - and inspired by - that answer word; in creating a Hunt metapuzzle, certain phrases are called for to be answers to puzzles, and this particular word is one of great significance to Zotanna, which is why I jumped at the chance to make its puzzle.)

Now I know what you purists are thinking: "I'm here for true DEDUCTIVE LOGIC, and I can't have that if I can't have RULES! I don't even know you anymore!!". You can relax: despite my apparent redefining of 'puzzle' in that last paragraph, I'm not changing the style of my journal puzzles one bit. This is still seven puzzles to me, which is why I've numbered them as such and am presenting them the way I am. I've felt for some time that these are fantastic little grids that deserve to be considered independently, and so here they are. However, I also find a certain beauty in the reveal of putting it all together to make that last grid, so I compromised with myself: I'll post the puzzles all at once as a heptaptych, and leave the final puzzle disassembled at first, letting those who are interested try to piece it together. Over the next few days, I'll add hints in the comments for those who want to put it together but are struggling; within the week a full set of instructions will be given, and lastly a week from today I'll put up the fully assembled Puzzle 67 without the answer-extraction bits so that both camps can appreciate the puzzles for what they are. I will likely only be doing this sort of thing again if my team wins the Hunt again.

So let's get to it, shall we? The rules are unchanged, but for thematic purposes (and for the final puzzle) I need to point out that instead of seeking Syren in these first six, you're seeking spirits - that is, bottles of alcohol (I'll explain later) - and the given title of each of these grids is the name of the spirit hiding within.

Puzzle 61

I made this first one with the fact that it'd be the very first Seeking Syren most of its solvers will have done in mind as I was making it; I kept it very simple and tried to make it as interesting an introduction as possible by squeezing in as many nodes as possible.

Puzzle 62

This one is actually my favorite of the bunch. I felt it important to show off a key nuance of the rules early on, while the grids were still on the easier side; this is probably the greatest "S-reveal" that can possibly be made. You'll see what I mean.

Puzzle 63

It was around here that I decided I'd try to make each of the six lead-in puzzles two-color, using each of the possible combinations once. I also figured this was the right place to put the requisite "backwards" puzzle, especially given the nature of the preceding one. There needed to be at least one of these to drive home the importance of actually solving these completely rather than just finding the spirit and moving on.

Puzzle 64

Things start to get technical around here. The constraints I had to adhere to forced some things about the nature of the later grids, which naturally led to harder puzzles as I needed to use more tricky techniques to get them to work. Figuring out the logic of the "islands" starts to become a greater driving factor here.

Puzzle 65

If I recall correctly, this one was actually the last of these initial six I made, but I felt it was the easier of the two, so I presented it first. This is probably the most Nurikabe-like puzzle here.

Puzzle 66

It had to get truly difficult sometime.

Puzzle 67

And so we arrive at the final grid...

...which obviously has seen better days. What happened to the node count? For that matter, what happened to the givens?! And not only is the 'S' showing, but it's freaking PURPLE! Well, when you're an alcoholic starship engineer that gets drunk, passes out, and then needs to appear in a Mystery Hunt puzzle, this is apparently the result. Who knew.

Scotchy was but one crew member of the Brass Rat that successfully escaped from Zyzzlvaria during the events of the 2009 Hunt, and the 2010 Hunt paid homage to some past Hunts, that one included - which entailed giving each crew member another puzzle. Upon blacking out whilst celebrating the previous year's escape, Scotchy dreamt e found emself in a parody of my old Sanctum Puzzler contests (which I've mentioned before [Detritus - please excuse the broken image link in that entry, that's Cox's fault]). Es envisioned conversation with our classic protagonist went thusly:

     Lady Lyght apparently isn't here. Perhaps I should return to my Sanct- ...What in my father's name...

    Stupid transporter malfunction! Captain, are you okay? Look at all this mist everywhe- wait, you're not Captain Blastoid! Who are you, where are we, and where's the rest of my crew?

     Uh... you may call me Lady Terran, we are on an astral plane, and 'not here' is the best I can do for that last one.

    A plane? I don't see the controls anywhere...

     ...It's not the kind that flies. This is a magical dimension, not a physical location - and it would seem your presence has corrupted it. Has your spirit been traumatized recently?

    I just got BACK from being stranded - this is far too sobering for me... wait, where's my booze? I've lost it all! NOOOOOOOO!

     ...Ah! That explains it - it's your spirits that have gone astray! They must be on parallel planes interlaced with this one... Indeed! I can sense them. Six bottles, yes? Give me a moment and I'll recover them for you.

    Thank you! I'm not sure how I could repay you...

     Oh, no need. There is knowledge to be had from any journey, even errands such as this; that is sufficient reward for myself. I warn you, do not move from there until I've repaired the plane - trust me, you wouldn't want to wander into a deadly cloud of ambiguity. Once I'm done, I should be able to reveal the safe way across to me here, and in following it you will attain what you seek.

    Thank you very much - will do. But please hurry - I must be hallucinating from withdrawal, as I swear we're talking in colors...

Contained within that purposefully garish text lies all the information needed to reassemble Puzzle 67 - you just have to think about it the right way - and solving it will reveal its title. Fair warning: this sucker is TOUGH!

One last bit of business needed to be carried out: since I made a Sanctum Puzzler, I had to award a Puzzling Otato, traditionally given to the most curious response the puzzle generated. I was going to offer it to the first person that got the reference at the Hunt, but no one did, so I decided to give it to Mike Selinker, who sort of inspired me to make a latter-day Sanctum Puzzler in the first place (and to be fair wasn't at the Hunt that year, so wouldn't have had the chance otherwise). Long story short - ambiguity intended - e asked for it. The game of Sanctum may be gone now, and who knows if it will ever return, but the memories shall remain.... - ZM

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Current Music: the theme to G. I. Joe (go ahead, ask me why, I dare you)
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Jun. 15th, 2007

06:48 pm - Puzzle 48: Seeking Syren

See Puzzle 14 for instructions. The astute may have noticed that the file names for my previous two Seeking Syren puzzles seemed to skip a number. This is the one that was missing. It was constructed primarily to challenge my greatest critic - [ profile] ralphmerridew, who apparently finds my puzzles so easy that he tries to re-solve them with fewer rules. (Why neither e nor [ profile] glmathgrant participates in the USPC is beyond me.) The groundwork for the puzzle was primarily constructed during a series of lunch breaks at Burger King, a practice I no longer employ due to the incredible mess this puzzle originally turned out to be. I built it in an entirely wrong fashion, and had multiple solutions up the yin-yang. Eventually I tried to revisit it and get something solvable while still keeping the main theme going; I lack the inclination to test this puzzle missing a rule at this point, but I do really like how Syren is revealed in this one, so I feel it's a good puzzle regardless. As usual, email me your solutions, and while you're at it, tell me your favorite eighties video game. - ZM

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Current Music: "Talking Out Of Turn", The Moody Blues
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Jun. 14th, 2006

08:48 pm - Puzzle 34: Seeking Syren

See Puzzle 14 for instructions. With the USPC being this weekend, I wanted to offer up extra practice. This is my first four-color Seeking Syren; I intentionally built it that way. For an extra puzzle, try to determine whether it needed to be four-color or not. Feel free to email me your solution, but I can't promise I can grade it before the championship. - ZM

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Sep. 13th, 2005

05:37 pm - Puzzle 16: Seeking Syren

See Puzzle 14 for instructions. It seems this design is a hit! I've actually gotten requests for more, so here you are. I was wondering how difficult it would be to make one with only two colors. I was also wondering how difficult it would be to make one with symmetrical givens. I succeeded on both counts, but I reserve the right to use asymmetrical givens and as many colors as I bloody well please in future compositions.

Yes, I'm counting black as a color. Yes, I know and agree that it isn't a color but rather the lack of one, but it's really just a matter of semantics. It has a Crayola crayon, I can call it a color. Computer printers call it a color - it has its own ink. Black is typically abbreviated as 'K' to distinguish it from blue's 'B', so those of you who submit their answers in text know what to type.

The comment box is open as usual, and emailing me your solution may get you more curious puzzles to solve, especially if you're first. - ZM

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Aug. 11th, 2005

02:44 pm - Puzzle 14: Seeking Syren

First, a quick note: I'm being far too generous posting this one now, given how I still haven't received a solution for my previous puzzle yet, I know that one's easy, and it's been about three-and-a-half weeks! I suppose this puzzle may well have a greater reward than that last one, though, so you may want to concentrate on this one first. I gave away an A. T. Cross pen and pencil set to the first to solve my first Smullyanic Dynasty; I wonder what I could give away to the first to solve this...

There's a certain sameness of design to a lot of the sort of puzzles I like to solve and construct; under the hood, their mechanics are the same as or similar to each other. Most of them are binary determination puzzles - that is, every cell of a grid is either one thing or another. Water or land, knight or knave, pillar or open... you get the idea. I decided that I'd like to try to up the ante by introducing third options, at least.

But then I realized that I had another issue - I have a pair of lovely magicians I'm not entertaining, one of which is awaiting her debut. I had the basic idea of what sort of puzzle I wanted to make in their honor, an original idea as far as I know - a maze where the exit is unmarked. The title was a gimme, but some of the bits and pieces of the rules needed to be ironed out. I decided to combine the two concepts and see if they work together. My first attempts at a ternary determination puzzle proved quite unfeasible, but then I thought of a way to make it all work without becoming counterintuitive: color! Testing the resulting design revealed it to be quite robust, fascinating, and unique... and so it is that Zotanna Terran and her partner Syren Lyght now have something to occupy themselves with until I get around to writing an actual story involving them.

I hope you enjoy this original design as much as they do.

What, three grids? Don't worry, I'm just providing an additional visual aid. The left grid is an unsolved Seeking Syren puzzle; the center grid is the solution to that same puzzle. The right grid clearly shows "Zotanna's path", which I'll explain.

The Z-cell is always given; the S-cell is never given. Each remaining cell of the grid is either a "node" or an "island cell"; numbered cells must be the latter. All island cells belong to exactly one "island": an n-omino containing exactly one numbered cell, and that number is n; islands whose numbers are matching colors may not be orthogonally adjacent. Nodes may not be adjacent to each other (orthogonally or diagonally), and must comprise a linear and unambiguous path of chess knight's moves connecting the Z-cell to the S-cell that must pass through all nodes. The puzzle is solved when the Z-to-S path and all islands are defined.

...Wow, now that is concise. I don't blame you for using this list to figure out what in the name of sanity you're supposed to do here:

1) See the 'Z' in the grid? That's Zotanna Terran, our protagonist. See the 'S' in the grid? Of course not - that's why the puzzle is called Seeking Syren. You have to find her, and show Zotanna how to get to her. Think of it as a logic-puzzle version of hide-and-seek on an astral plane that was never meant to fly.
2) Zotanna moves as a knight does in chess, "hopping" (for lack of a better term) from cell to cell to Syren, along a path you have to discover. This path can't use any numbered cells. Every cell used in the path between them is a "node". Any cell not part of the path is not a node. The cells Zotanna and Syren are in are not nodes, either. I recommend placing a circle in cells you've determined to be nodes, and an 'S' in the cell Syren is hiding in when you find it. Incidentally, that number under the grid is the total number of nodes in the solution. It's nothing you couldn't figure out yourself with a little arithmetic, but I figured I may as well save you the time.
3) The 'S' and the nodes must be placed so that there is only a single route Zotanna can use to get to Syren; that route must use each node exactly once. This means, among other things, that there can never be a loop in the node path.
4) Nodes cannot be adjacent to each other, at all, not even diagonally (they may not share sides OR corners).
5) Any cell not part of the path is part of an "island". Islands are polyominoes that each include exactly one of the numbers you see in the grid. That number is how many cells are in that polyomino. This makes them just like the islands in Islands in the Stream, and I gave them the same name for that reason, but there is one difference - these islands are colored. I suggest coloring in each cell of an island to match the color of its number, or writing in the initial of the color ('R', 'G', or 'B') if you prefer that. [I have "dented" the corner of each numbered cell based on their color - each color has a different corner dented - so that the colorblind will have an easier time telling them apart.]
6) Unlike Islands in the Stream, islands may touch each other along cell sides, but only if they are different colors. Islands of matching colors may touch at corners, but not along their edges.
7) If you fill in all the cells that start blank - marking the 'S' and all the nodes, and coloring the rest - without breaking the above rules, you've solved the puzzle! [The path from node to node will be obvious, and by the rules it will be unique, so drawing it in is not required.]

...Yikes. It's not as bad as it seems at first glance, but it definitely may take some getting used to, so feel free to read this:

How to solve the sample puzzle )

If you still don't get it, well, try one of my several other puzzles [scroll down] instead. Islands in the Stream in particular should be a good warmup for this. Incidentally, when I get emailed an incorrect "solution", my standard procedure is to point out what makes it incorrect, so if you're just a little uncertain, go ahead and try, and if one of us made a mistake, I'll point it out. That goes for any of my puzzles, not just this one.

I'm rather amazed at this first offering - it's fairly tricky. Feel free to comment here on the design as well as this particular construction, and of course, I try to pull out the best rewards for my original puzzle designs, so email me what solution you come up with; my email address and privacy policy are on my user info page. - ZM

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