Kominers’s Conundrums: A Top Secret Search for Galactic Gourds

First, the U.S. government admitted it had been tracking UFOs for years. Then just weeks later, The New York Times posted a story indicating that watermelons have been found on Mars. The newspaper pulled it down soon afterwards, saying it was a “mock article.” But at Conundrums, we wanted to believe.

We knew the truth had to be out there, so we had some of our top agents reach out to their contacts at the highest levels of government. A lunch at an undisclosed location, a few encrypted phone calls, and a skeleton key later, our team was inside a top-secret facility and looking at the evidence: Watermelons have been found on Mars. Not only that, but a number of other foods, animals, and everyday Earth-objects have been seen there as well.

The team brought everything back to Conundrums HQ — or so they thought. Our extraterrestrial evidence expert Lara Williams quickly realized they had forgotten to extract the most important record of all: the crucial watermelon report. At great risk, they made it back to the office where they had found everything initially. But the confirmation of space watermelons was nowhere to be found.

Was it just misplaced? Or was something more sinister going on? These days, it seems, you can trust no one.

Can you help us figure out where the watermelon evidence is? You’re looking for a 14-letter phrase, which is this week’s answer.

Each of the files below shows something that was spotted on Mars, although unfortunately the images seem to have been blanked out for extra security. It appears the government also recorded the dates of each sighting, and marked the spots where the telescopes that found the objects were located.

Once you’ve figured out what we’re looking at, you’ll need to determine how to put all the evidence in order. You’ll probably also have to combine the different types of image information somehow. But what could there be in common across these Earth locations and their associated Martian matter?

Kominers’s Conundrums: A Top Secret Search for Galactic Gourds
Kominers’s Conundrums: A Top Secret Search for Galactic Gourds
Kominers’s Conundrums: A Top Secret Search for Galactic Gourds
Kominers’s Conundrums: A Top Secret Search for Galactic Gourds
Kominers’s Conundrums: A Top Secret Search for Galactic Gourds
Kominers’s Conundrums: A Top Secret Search for Galactic Gourds
Kominers’s Conundrums: A Top Secret Search for Galactic Gourds
Kominers’s Conundrums: A Top Secret Search for Galactic Gourds
Kominers’s Conundrums: A Top Secret Search for Galactic Gourds
Kominers’s Conundrums: A Top Secret Search for Galactic Gourds
Kominers’s Conundrums: A Top Secret Search for Galactic Gourds
Kominers’s Conundrums: A Top Secret Search for Galactic Gourds
Kominers’s Conundrums: A Top Secret Search for Galactic Gourds
Kominers’s Conundrums: A Top Secret Search for Galactic Gourds

If you have trouble making sense of some of the photographs, maybe get a head start on the ordering and extraction steps — figuring out how they work might help you narrow down what the images could represent, or even enable you to determine the full answer while still missing some information.

And once you know what happened to the watermelons, there’s another puzzle you can solve: Conundrums intelligence understands that there’s some sort of hidden message or instruction you can find after opening these files. Reducing this problem to something you can interpret might involve a leap or two — but Conundrums is off for the next few weeks, which means there’s a number of days to figure it out. We know we can count on you!

Plus we hear there’s one additional Easter egg to hunt for, although that one is so subtle that spotting it might take years — or at least until Conundrums’s next season.

If you work out the watermelon writeup’s whereabouts — or if you even make partial progress — please let us know at skpuzzles@bloomberg.net before midnight New York time on Thursday, July 15.

If you get stuck, there’ll be hints announced on Twitter and in Bloomberg Opinion Today. To be counted in the solver list, please include your name with your answer. And don’t forget to sign up for our Conundrums email list!

Programming note: We’re off for two weeks for summer vacation; the next Conundrums will run on July 18.

Previously in Kominers’s Conundrums…

For our Father’s Day Conundrum, we presented a slew of dad-style humor, assembled with the help of Noam D. Elkies. However, something in each joke was amiss: specifically, a word was off by one letter in a way that made the punchlines rather puzzling.

Solvers had to correct each joke:

  • What did the Australian chefs [CHESS] player say to the waiter after finishing his meal? Check, mate!
  • Where does a shlep [SHEEP] go on holiday? To the Baaaahamas.
  • I brought a spoof [SPOON] to the debates. It caused quite a stir.
  • What type of snake is best at arithmetic? An aider [ADDER].
  • Why was the zombie in such a rush to get to his book signing? He had headlines [DEADLINES] to meet.
  • Those who don’t study history are doomed to repent [REPEAT] it. It it it it it it it it it it it it it....
  • Why don’t mountains get cola [COLD]? They have snow caps.
  • How did I get the ear [JAR] to stop talking? I put a lid on it.
  • Some friends of mine and I got stuck in the silt [SILO]. But at least we were all in the same oat!
  • My autocorrect just replaced the word “killed” with “lilt [KILT].” Well plaid, autocorrect... well plaid.
  • Last week I confessed to my friend that I don’t bunch [BENCH] anymore when working out. It felt really good to get that weight off my chest!
  • If you want to pass your calculus exam, you shouldn’t sit between identical twine [TWINS]. It’s very hard to differentiate between them.

Putting the corrected letters together in order gave the instruction “SEND DAD JOKES.” And boy, did our solvers ever do that! We received so many great groaners that we couldn’t print all of them — but here are a few of our favorites:

  • Did you know that some spiders can jump higher than a two-story house? It’s because houses can’t jump. (Rostyslav Zatserkovnyi)

  • Which country’s capital is growing the fastest? Ireland, because every day it’s Dublin. (Sanandan Swaminathan)

  • I’m afraid for the calendar. Its days are numbered. (Franklyn Wang & Cindy Yang)

  • Are you cold? Then go stand in the corner — it’s 90 degrees! (Louis Golowich & Dylan Zhou)

  • What did the pirate say on his eightieth birthday? “Aye Matey!” (Ross Rheingans-Yoo)

  • My spouse was really mad that I have no sense of direction.  So I packed up my stuff and right. (Nancy & Murray Stern)

  • The inventor of the crossword puzzle lives near me.... He’s 3 streets across and 2 down. (Zoz)

  • Where does the general keep his armies?  In his sleevies! (independently submitted by both Iolanthe Stronger and Benjamin Roth)

  • How do you track Will Smith in the snow? Follow the fresh prints. (Luke Harney)

  • I’ve recently started a dating app for chickens. It’s not my normal day job — it’s just to make hens meet. (Michaela Wilson)

  • Dogs can’t operate an MRI machine. But catscan! (Zarin Pathan)

  • What do you call an economist who draws an “X” on luxury clothing? A mark-it designer. (Michael Thaler )

And the kicker — a meta-dad joke:

  • Son: “Can you help me on my crossword? The clue is ‘overworked postman.’”
    Mom: “Sure, how many letters?”
    Dad: “I’m guessing too many.” (Barb Ver Steeg)

There was also a bonus puzzle that spanned multiple weeks. Putting together the incorrect letters from the jokes (“F L F I H N A E T L U E”) with the leftover letters from our Mother’s Day Conundrum (“U L A T I P R N C A S”) gave a series of letters that could be “zipped together” — alternating between Father’s Day and Mother’s Day letters — to spell out the answer to a dad joke of our own:

What part of the Constitution says that you have to respect your parents’ wishes even once you move to another state?

The “FULL FAITH IN PARENT CLAUSE,” of course. (Get it? It’s a pun on the “Full Faith and Credit Clause,” which says that U.S. states have to respect the “public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.” We’re hilarious here at Conundrums.)

There was a three-way tie for the “first solver” title this week, with Lazar Ilic, Franklyn Wang & Cindy Yang*, and Zoz* all sending in solutions within seconds of each other. Up next were Michael Thaler, Zarin Pathan*, Iolanthe Stronger, Ellen Dickstein Kominers (bonus puzzle solved jointly with William Kominers)*, Luke Harney*, Michaela Wilson*, Benjamin Roth, W. Max Sabor, Nathaniel Ver Steeg*, Summit Ollivierre*, and Barb Ver Steeg*.

The other 18 solvers were Nicol Crous, Filbert Cua*, Louis Golowich & Dylan Zhou, Yannai Gonczarowski & Elee Shimshoni*, Meagan J, Dave Matuskey*, Patricia Miron, Alexandru Nichifor, Fernando Raffan-Montoya, Ross Rheingans-Yoo, Dan Rubin & Jennifer Walsh*, Suproteem Sarkar*, Adam Slomoi, Nancy & Murray Stern*, Sanandan Swaminathan*, Eric Wepsic, Scott Wu, and Rostyslav Zatserkovnyi*. (Asterisks denote those who also solved the bonus puzzle.) Sarkar submitted an emoji solution. And thanks especially to my brother, Paul Kominers*, for test-solving!

The Bonus Round

Summer stuff-spotting challenges; a rockin’ song about multiplication; and a mathematically spectacular card guessing game. “Sandstorm” on boomwhackers; locked room mysteries (hat tip: Ellen Dickstein Kominers); reaching Antarctica early (also hat tip: Ellen Dickstein Kominers); and woodturning a pencil lamp. CarlSaganTok takes on the fourth dimension (hat tip: Mike Nizza); re-examining 2014’s surprise Pachirisu sweep. “A Hat Trick of Hat Puzzles.” Plus inquiring minds want to know: Is it really possible to hack an ATM by waving your phone over it?

Edited slightly for grammar and similar.

Thaler, playing to his audience, sent in a truly spectacular multi-part joke about the fields of economics.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Scott Duke Kominers is the MBA Class of 1960 Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and a faculty affiliate of the Harvard Department of Economics. Previously, he was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and the inaugural research scholar at the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics at the University of Chicago.

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