Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Great American History Puzzle: Puzzles 6 and 7

Catch up with Puzzles 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Puzzle 6

Another day, another surprisingly straightforward puzzle. Puzzle 6 was a lovely origami-themed puzzle, the second in a row where we actually has a set of instructions to follow and a clear path to a solution. (Maybe it was Puzzle 4 backlash.) The template was even marked with lines where folds would eventually be required, and it was covered in letters that would eventually spell out a solution, once the folding was complete.

Eight-year-old me had a pretty pronounced origami phase, and though I hadn't seen the term "valley fold" in years, it all came back to me quickly enough. The folds required in this puzzle were extremely simple for a puzzler who had any experience in origami, though it likely would have been significantly more difficult for someone who had never folded before.

There wasn't much strategy to this one, just a series of twenty-six instructions that eventually produced an elephant-shaped figure. One side read "TURNOVER," or actually "T, sideways C, R, sideways Z, O, V, E, R." The other side spelled out "MAMMOTH," the puzzle's solution, rendered as "M, upside-down V, M, upside-down W, O, T, sideways I." The position and orientation of the letters was easily the most clever part of this puzzle--once you'd folded it correctly, there was no ambiguity as to what the answer was. But it would have been exactly impossible to brute-force the solution by looking at the letters beforehand, because what you read in one direction as an I was actually an H in the solution.

What I learned about American history: that we had mammoths in America at all... although, to be fair, the mammoth in question (and in the Smithsonian's collection) was originally from Canada.

Puzzle 7

I was thrilled to see a good old logic puzzle show up, the second puzzle in a row that hearkened back to things I used to geek out over in elementary school. It wasn't exactly the "three adjacent grids of checks and X's" format I used to love, but it used a lot of the same techniques to solve.

The first step in solving it was to decide which four of the six photos we were interested in, and that answer lay in rules 2, 6, and 7. Probably the most clever part of this puzzle was rule 2: since the four photos were taken from the professor's observatory, the photo of Earth was immediately ruled out. (That one actually took a few reads of rule 2 to understand its significance.) Rule 7 then mandated that the photo of the crescent moon was one of the four we did want, and rule 6 ruled out the other photo of the Moon. That left the crescent moon, Mars, Jupiter, and Neptune as the four photos.

Next, the photos had to be ordered. There are 4! = 24 ways to order 4 objects, but fortunately rule 8 eliminated most of them. Because the two gas giants had to be in the middle, the number of possible orders was reduced to four:
  • Moon, Jupiter, Neptune, Mars
  • Moon, Neptune, Jupiter, Mars
  • Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, Moon
  • Mars, Neptune, Jupiter, Moon
Rule 6 says that the Moon was labeled with a kappa, and rule 4 says that the first two pictures had consecutive Greek letters. But (the seemingly irrelevant) rule 9 says there was no lambda label, meaning the Moon couldn't be first. And rule 5 specified that the body with a gamma was immediately to the right of Jupiter, so the Moon couldn't be immediately to the right of Jupiter, and therefore Jupiter couldn't be the third body. Therefore, the correct order of the objects was Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, Moon.

The next step was to assign letters. Some of them were already determined: kappa for Moon, and gamma for Neptune (as the body to the right of Jupiter). Rule 3 specified that exactly one body was labeled with a capital Greek letter that looked like the English letter that started the body's name. There's no Greek letter that looks like English capital J, but mu for Mars's M works just fine. Going back to rule 4, the body to the right of Mars had to receive the next Greek letter. That meant the order of letters was mu, nu, gamma, kappa.

Finally, there was one more piece of information: the side of the celestial object where the Greek letter was located. Rule 6 said that the Moon's kappa was to its right, and Rule 1 said that the letters alternated position, so the final reconstruction was
  • mu, Mars, Jupiter, nu, gamma, Neptune, crescent moon, kappa
The solution to the puzzle required a puzzle 6-style leap, recognizing that the shape and appearance of objects sometimes matched the shape of letters. Taking all the celestial bodies and Greek letters to look like English letters--and not caring about what the Greek equivalents translated to--gave "MOONrOCK" (where Greek capital gamma looks like an English lowercase r), the solution to this puzzle.

What I learned about American history: nothing! If it seems like the puzzles were getting light on America lessons by this point, I thought so too... and then Puzzle 8 came.