Kominers’s Conundrums: The Grinch Isn’t Sure What to Steal
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The Grinch headed to Whoville to stop Christmas at dawn.
But upon his arrival, he found Christmas was gone!
“This isn’t great,” grumbled the Grinch with no glee,
“if anyone gets to steal Christmas, it’s me!”
He resolved to save Christmas instead — that’s the news —
and immediately set out in search of some clues.
What the Grinch saw left him befuddled and puzzled —
even mixed-up and mystified, muddled and fuzzled.
The Whos had the holiday spirit, it’s true —
but which holiday? The Whos were confused.
In five different groups they had gathered around
and each group was making some puzzling sounds.
First were a few Whos clustered near a big ball
at the top of a pole, looking ready to fall.
“Happy New Year,” they shouted and the ball gave a lurch —
it bumped up and down, then returned to its perch.
- The ball fell 8 places, then down further 2 more; then up 1 — then suddenly ratcheted up another 4. Next 5 down, then 9 up, and 1 down at last. (Some Whos missed the message — it happened so fast!)
Meanwhile some Whos shouted ‘bout Presidents’ Day!
But which presidents? The Whos couldn’t quite say.
For these Whos, you see, seemed extra mixed-up —
the Grinch wanted to help them, but felt a bit stuck.
- TANRMU (1)
- NLLNOCI (5)
- DLEOCOIG (3)
- LOKP (4)
Next a series of Whos had writ’ Valentines.
But whom were they for? The Grinch had to divine!
- Roses are red and pleasing to eyes; / this runway icon taught the world how to “smise.”
- Roses are red, you know it’s the case: / this pop star found love (in a hopeless place).
- Roses are red, it’s hard to break habits; / he’s out there again, hunting wascally wabbits.
- Roses are red, this donkey is blue / and often hangs out with Winnie the Pooh.
- Roses are red, he sure could score ‘em / and a funny thing happened on the way to the forum.
Others assembled with cute hats and cake
to celebrate birthdays — another mistake!
“It’s none of their birthdays,” said the Grinch to himself.
“The real question here, is how old is Alf?”
- Elvo shares a birthdate with Jack Kennedy.
- On a flipped calculator, Char’s age is “EE.”
- Dan’s half as old as Elvo — or well, that plus 3.
- Meanwhile Bill’s age is prime-numbered, you see.
- Alf is the youngest, that’s certain, yet still: his integer age is the average of Dan and Char’s — over Bill’s.
And then at a table some Whos all gave thanks…
- “met dank!”
…but as they were speaking, the Grinch just drew blanks.
“Perhaps it’s not English,” he mused while they ate,
“it’s a good thing these days Google helps us Translate!”
The Grinch was bewildered. Whence this Who-folly-day?
What had happened to Christmas, the true holiday?
But he’s not alone — dear reader, there’s you!
Can you solve these five puzzles? That’s what you should do.
The answer to each is one word; they combine
to explain what disrupted Christmas and why.
That’s the answer to this week’s Conundrum, you see;
extra points for inferring the thief’s identity.
And without that, Whoville’s in trouble, I fear —
for after all, Christmas comes but once a year.
(This whimsical puzzle is co-authored with Conundrums Thing Two Paul Kominers.)
Programming note: Conundrums is off for the next couple of weeks — see you in the New Year! But in the meantime please make sure to follow Bloomberg Opinion’s Instagram feed for a bonus puzzle as part of the “Advent calendar” series.
Our Previous Conundrum: There’s Still Time to Solve!
And as to our agent’s identity: spotting unusual crags and craters can be difficult, but if you compare our moon map to an unmarked one, you might be able to get a feel for where new features have popped up.
(We’ve also extended the solving deadline for this Conundrum to January 6, 2022.)
Previously in Kominers’s Conundrums…
A puzzle by escape room extraordinaires Logan Giannini, Cassandra Many, and Victor van Doorn of Sherlocked took us on a trip into the metaverse — seeking a backdoor into the subconscious of Marvin, a crafty but grumpy artificial intelligence who’s the villain of their Marvin’s Island and Marvin’s Moonbase adventure games.
The first challenge was to make sense of a cryptic captcha, which was looking for nine characters — but showed many more than that in the box.
That seemed to fit nicely with the display screen image, which was full of binary numbers. But decoding them in binary directly revealed what appeared to be a dead end — a message from Marvin saying “just a red herring foolish human!”
Closer inspection of the screen revealed that some of the digits were lighter than others. But if you just try to put those together and read them as binary letters, you get gobbledygook. We had hinted that “you might need to study the problem from top to bottom — this is, after all, a puzzle column” (emphasis added); and indeed, you needed to read the lighter digits left to right and top to bottom within column. That yielded the digits 01110011 01110111 01101111 01110010 01100100 01100110 01101001 01110011 01101000, which decoded to the password “swordfish.”
But where to enter the password? A post-it note on the screen said “The password won’t help if you don’t click on the hyperlink.” We had indicated there might be “bonus clues outside the main puzzle text” — and the first item in the “Bonus Round” section looked suspiciously relevant:
The history of the hyperlink.
Clicking on “the hyperlink” transported you to Marvin’s server, and the password “swordfish” granted entry.
And that really did lead into the metaverse, by way of a platform called Mibo:
Marvin wasn’t happy to see solvers exploring his subconscious — he greeted them with the following message:
The Marvin/metaverse platform is still open for a couple of weeks, so please check it out here. (Again, the password is “swordfish” — in all lower-case.) There’s plenty to play with there — you can interact with nearly every object in the space. And if you are excited about outsmarting Marvin, it’s definitely worth checking out Marvin’s Moonbase and its predecessor game, Marvin’s Island!
Ross Rheingans-Yoo solved first for the third time in a row, followed by Lazar Ilic, Alastair Aitchison, Tynan Seltzer, Andrew Garber, Zarin Pathan, Zoz, Dave Matuskey, Sanandan Swaminathan, Lauren Bello, TCH, Daniel Dantas, Ross Berger, Lyna Kim, Parker Jou, and Michael Thaler. And thanks especially to the Sherlocked team and Paul Kominers for test-solving!
The Bonus Round
“Star Rats:” the 2022 MIT Mystery Hunt prologue (trailer video here); “NO-EL,” the holiday puzzle game; and a speed puzzle challenge for iPhone. A two-word math paper; a sweater vest fiasco; and Anthony Bourdain’s lost Reddit diary (hat tip: Ted Gioia). Zelda patents; a metaverse creature art show (hat tip: Gradis); plus a “modernist Gingerbread Dreamhouse” and “Wacky, Whimsical Cake” (both hat tip: Ellen Dickstein Kominers). And inquiring minds want to know: can you 3-D print grass?
A surprisingly large number of solvers figured out that they were supposed to use alphanumeric substitution but nevertheless fell for the captcha, misreading “2 I” as “21,” which maps to the letter “U” – leading to the incorrect instruction “use unary.”
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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