Kominers’s Conundrums: The Most Cryptic Piece of Art in Years

Have you heard about non-fungible tokens? They’re a new way to buy and sell art that exists exclusively in digital form. Last week, someone spent $6.6 million for a Beeple. For that price, you get a piece of video art with a cryptographic tracker that serves as incontrovertible proof that you own the genuine article, not a counterfeit copy. 

The Conundrums Auction House is eager to join the craze, but needs some help hunting down seven works by one of the crypto art world’s shining stars. The art itself is being stored in the open. Where exactly? That’s a bit unclear at the moment. We encrypted the pieces’ addresses for maximum safety, and then like so many crypto-asset owners, we forgot how to unlock them. Can you help figure it out?

The addresses are here:

l 05 o 55 c 10.29 A, +07 t 24 25.3 e;
05 T 14 32.27 h, E −08 a 12 R 05.9 t;
05 25 i 07.87, +06 20 N 59.0 s;
T 05 a 32 R 00.40 r, −00 y 17 N 56.7 i;
G 05 h 36 T 12.81 U, s −01 I 12 N 06.9 g;
05 R 40 45.52, A −01 56 D 33.3 E;
C 05 C 47 o 45.39, o −09 r 40 d 10.6 s.

Those look like Greek to us, to say the least. But they’re not as intimidating as they may seem at first glance! Solving this Conundrum is a bit like a treasure hunt: Once you figure out how to make use of one type of information in the addresses, that will give you a hint as to what you should do next.

After you crack the code and figure out the locations of the seven pieces, you’ll discover something really cool: They can be combined together to form a greater whole. The name of that larger work is this week’s answer.

And once you’ve identified the complete work, there’s an extra puzzle you can try to solve: In token-based art, the artist can make money while still remaining completely anonymous, kind of like an internet Banksy. But this piece actually contains a hidden signature. Can you figure out our crypto-artist’s name? (We had a mnemonic for remembering how to read the signature, but we kind of forgot that too. Maybe something about Norse roads, or horses and toads? It sounded something like that, anyhow.)

That’s the long and the short of it — now give it a try!

If you manage to tap your galaxy brain to hunt down the artwork — or if you even make partial progress — please let us know at skpuzzles@bloomberg.net before midnight New York time on Thursday, March 11.

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.

Programming note: Conundrums is off next week; the next edition will run on March 14.

Previously in Kominers’s Conundrums…

We heard from a chorus of Martians who were excited about NASA’s Perseverance rover but didn’t quite find the right words. The Conundrum presented 14 lines of Martian messaging transcribed by Jiafeng Chen, Suproteem Sarkar and Franklyn Wang; solvers sought to sort out what the Martians were saying.

Using Google (or personal knowledge) to translate each line into English led to a series of random-looking words, drawn from a number of different languages. But there was something the words in each line had in common: They all started with the same letter in English. For example, “billet, roosterbrood, ugandaganda, Zeit, tietulli, buis, dzisiaj” translated to "ticket (French), toast (Afrikaans), tractor (Zulu), time (German), toll (Finnish), tube (Dutch), today (Polish)."

This meant that each line could be treated as standing for a single letter; putting those letters together in order spelled out the Martians’ punny message, “THAT WAS FAR OUT!”

billet, roosterbrood, ugandaganda, Zeit, tietulli, buis, dzisiaj = ticket (French), toast (Afrikaans), tractor (Zulu), time (German), toll (Finnish), tube (Dutch), today (Polish) = T;

sombrero, lykkelig, passatempo, hjerte, remény, randonnée, tanaga, saluton = hat (Spanish), happy (Norwegian), hobby (Portuguese), heart (Danish), hope (Hungarian), hiking (French), haiku (Filipino), hello (Esperanto) = H;

atak, Eichel, pomme, abrikoos, oltár, tutti, manteli, astronaŭtoj = attack (Polish), acorn (German), apple (French), apricot (Dutch), altar (Hungarian), all (Italian), almond (Finnish), astronauts (Esperanto) = A;

herbata, lämpötila, lanzar, smag, singkamas, könny, tartaruga = tea (Polish), temperature (Finnish), throw (Spanish), taste (Danish), turnip (Filipino), tear (Hungarian), turtle (Portuguese) = T;

wieloryb, pastèque, hjul, szárny, aceno, lobo, fluitjie = whale (Polish), watermelon (French), wheel (Danish), wing (Hungarian), wave (Portuguese), wolf (Spanish), whistle (Afrikaans) = W;

boosheid, huhtikuu, dyr, après, és, himpapawid, sztuka = anger (Dutch), april (Finnish), animal (Norwegian), after (French), and (Hungarian), air (Filipino), art (Polish) = A;

marinheiro, magdaya, autoscatto, sneeuwscooter, nyereg, Seife, jakkara, alsendota = sailor (Portuguese), skunk (Filipino), selfie (Italian), snowmobile (Dutch), saddle (Hungarian), soap (German), stool (Finnish), send (Esperanto)  = S;

feu, dwingen, nadama, gyümölcs, dedo, piede, tehdas = fire (French), force (Dutch), felt (Filipino), fruit (Hungarian), finger (Spanish), foot (Italian), factory (Finnish) = F;

wildsbokke, hangyász, aloès, asteroide, Voliere, ukwatapheya, jezen = antelope (Afrikaans), anteater (Hungarian), aloe (French), asteroid (Spanish), aviary (German), avocado (Zulu), angry (Slovenian) = A;

rozijn, pesukarhu, conejo, plutôt, Seil, vagtplan, verkeersirkel, ruĝa = raisin (Dutch), raccoon (Finnish), rabbit (Spanish), rather (French), rope (German), roster (Danish), Roundabout (Afrikaans), red (Esperanto) = R;

kruszec, avata, rendelés, vecchio, olie, altetende, chêne = ore (Polish), open (Finnish), order (Hungarian), old (Italian), oil (Dutch), omnivorous (Norwegian), oak (French) = O;

Urano, einzigartig, yksisarvinen, sansinukob, parapluie, begrijpen, podzemlje = uranus (Spanish), unique (German), unicorn (Finnish), universe (Filipino), umbrella (French), understand (Dutch), underground (Slovenian) = U;

verskriklike, Geschmack, tafel, tradicion, szalag, brisača, ubuchwepheshe, Tesloj = terrible (Afrikaans), taste (German), table (Dutch), tradition (Spanish), tape (Hungarian), towel (Slovenian), technology (Zulu), Tesla (Esperanto) = T!

We also hinted that there was a second puzzle hidden alongside the first: The words of a Martian that “had a better sense of how to create interplanetary understanding than the others,” and who “sometimes chimed in just after everyone else and seemed to have something more specific on his mind.”

Careful inspection revealed that while most of the rows had seven words, a few of them had eight — and each row with eight ended with a word in Esperanto, a language constructed with the express purpose of encouraging international understanding. Translating those words into English and putting them together revealed the bonus message, “Hello, astronauts — send red Tesla!” That was a reference to Elon Musk’s Mars dreams — and of course red is always in style on the Red Planet.

Zoz* solved first — continuing his first-solver streak for the third week running — followed by Lazar Ilic*, Michael Thaler, Zarin Pathan, Noam D. Elkies*, and Nathaniel Ver Steeg*. The other solvers were Scott Beveridge, Madeline Birch, Bryce DeFigueiredo*, Darren Fink & Dina Teodoro*, Maya Kaczorowski*, Paul Kominers*, Dan Rubin & Jennifer Walsh*Spaceman Spiff*, SummerBee*, Mirac Suzgun*, Eleanor TylerScott Wu*, Ryan Yu*, and Dylan Zabell* (Asterisks indicate solvers who also figured out the Tesla message.) Thanks also to Adam Rosenfield* for test solving!

And it turns out we weren’t the only ones who thought the Perseverance rover was a good topic for a puzzle. As Kaczorowski and several others pointed out, NASA itself hid a puzzle in the rover’s parachute (and secretly teased it on the rover’s Twitter feed). You can read about the puzzle and its solution here and here; the New York Times also did a profile on the team of collaborators that solved it first.

Kaczorowski also sent in a spectacular space Tesla image.

The Bonus Round

Sierpinski hamantaschen (hat tip: Yannai Gonczarowski); a fun homophone puzzle. Support the Museum of Science, and get your own stuffed Pi. Visit the iconic Windows wallpaper Hill; or just wait a really long time for ketchup. Numbers in motion; so long, Daft Punk! (Hello, Daft Duck?) The puzzle Grand Prix (hat tip: Scott Wu); and “The TikTok Feta Effect” (hat tip: Zoe DeStories). And inquiring minds want to know: Who is still buying VHS tapes (hat tip: Ellen Dickstein Kominers)?

Once you had noticed the pattern, you didn't actually have to translate every word in the puzzle – you could just translate one or two per line and check what the starting letters were.

Apologies to anyone who was confused by the use of a future passive participle –this was one of the only conjugations we could find that would translate back consistently.

Esperanto was also clued by the reference to the "community of speakers" and the fact that the Martian was "hoping" for something. ("Esperanto" means "one who hopes" in Esperanto.)

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.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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