"In het verleden behaalde resultaten bieden geen garanties voor de toekomst"

These are the ramblings of Matthijs Kooijman, concerning the software he hacks on, hobbies he has and occasionally his personal life.

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Day 1: Confuzzlement and luck

After a whole year of waiting, it finally has come again: This week is Pandora time!. Unfortunately, this week is also the first week of the rather heavy electrical engineering course that I need to invest quite some time in. Might be interesting how that turns out combined with Pandora. Anyway...

# Opening

This year's theme is "Pandaprijs", a TV show aired by "Pandora TV". Teams were gathered in the Inter-Actief room last night for the opening of the TV show. Due to problems with his helicopter transport, the show host Dirk was unable to present the program and rules to us, but Jorne was happy to stand in. We did catch a glimpse of the mysterious Dirk on a specially prepared video message.

Interesting, though, was that not all teams were present. It seems that participating teams were split, the other teams had their briefing in a different location. Whether this was just to split the load and because not all teams would fit in the same location, or there is something more sneaky going on, I don't know. Though I'd put my money on the latter, for this is Pandora...

# Puzzles!

The first priority in Pandora, at least for our team, is solving the puzzles. The first clue we received, was an audio CD with the song "Boten Anna". Interestingly, Bas his powerbook showed the CD to be "Haven't you heard" of "The Indigo". This is probably based on the track length, since my Linux box returned no results on a freedb query.

A lot of speculations were made on both theme and lyrics of Boten Anna. Our best bet was checkpoint charlie, which is the closest thing the campus has to a channel bot ("always watches everyone here", "She cleans up in our channel"). Still a far fetch, but as good as any. It was wrong, obviously.

## Random encounter #1

After a while we accidentally stumbled upon the next clue, a puzzle with squares and crosses (see below). Rather nasty not solving the first puzzle, but we really had nowhere to go from Boten Anna. Eventually, we discovered the solution from other people: There were tiny letters scratched into the bottom of the CD: "T-MP".

Whether that second letter was supposed to be an "E" or really a "-" to make it another very small puzzle we don't know, but the next clue was on the "Temp" building. Too bad that the "Boten Anna" song on the CD had no relevance at all to the solution ("Other side" of the Red Hot Chili Peppers would have been far more appropriate, for example) and there was no hint whatsoever that the bottom of the disc was important. After some time, a bonus hint was released, "Sometimes the best stuff is on the B-side" which was a decent hint in the right direction. The hint that could be requested was rumored to be "Bleek Loog" (Bleach and ?), but we couldn't position that anywhere else than the swimming pool (where those words appear to be written on a door). But, since we had the next puzzle already, we didn't really think about it any further.

## Everything is relevant! Or is it?

On a side note, it took us a while to realize that the #QUSAHS9A on the CD cover was not a clue, but the puzzle code (used to request a hint and identify puzzles). In our defense, nobody had ever said there were puzzle codes (not explicitly anyway) and how they looked like. Lemme suffice to say that we were not the only ones that joined to #QUSAHS9A on IRCNet, though we were (by far) the first ones. Putting "Too late, guys" was fun :-)

So, that next puzzle. We found 12 symbols neatly assembled in a horizontal row. Except for one, every symbol was framed in a square, which contained either one or two diagonals.

Our initial thought was these symbols are some kind of bitcoding. There are three elements (two diagonals and the square) that can be either present or not present, so there can be 8 different symbols. Note that only half of them are present in this particular row. The problem here is to interpret these symbols as bitcoded, you would need to know which element represents which bit. In general, if you want to assign some numbering to the symbols, you will need to choose which number belongs to which symbol. A naive numbering would be in order of appearance, which would make the sequence say 1 2 1 1 3 1 2 1 3 4 2 3.

There are a lot of other options here, possibly interpreting these as three or four base numbers, changing the base, stuff like that. The biggest problem is that there is no real indication of what sort of interpretation should be used. An interesting thought is to put the square-less "X" apart from the rest and interpret it as a separator or perhaps a "times" operator instead of just another character. Even so, there does not seem to be an obvious decoding for this.

The bonus hint for this puzzle was "Soccer is not played with 3, or 16", which was supposed to help in the first part of the puzzle. The requestable hint for this puzzle was a picture of a witch. In dutch the word for witch ("Heks") comes awfully close to the word hex, hinting towards hexadecimal or hexagons. The soccer hint might suggest interpreting something in base-3 and/or base-16, or perhaps only "11" is the relevant part of that hint. "11" might suggest that only the 11 symbols with a square translate to information, while the square-less "X" is only meta information.

## Random encounter #2

As you might conclude from my rantings, we have not solved the puzzle yet. There are decent ideas, but none of them seem to give correct results. Fortunately, we managed to find the next puzzle, again sorta by accident. I was out at the Temp building to see if we might have missed something and on the way back had this (stupid) brainwave: The squares vaguely resemble signal flags (but not really, we already checked). Where would you go if you want to decode a signal? To the "Seinhuis" (signal house). Since I passed by anyway, I had a look and stumbled on the last nasty puzzle: A maze.

The first reaction to seeing a maze is solving it. This proved rather easy, but it is kind of hard to send in the solution to a maze through SMS ("LLRRLRLRLLLRLR..." is rather a lot). The second guess was doing a flood fill of the maze, ie color all areas that are reachable from the outside. This gives pretty pictures, but doesn't seem to go anywhere.

Interestingly, there seem to be hidden letters and numbers in the form of the maze. There seems to be a "3" to the lower left and a few "R"s to the right. Yet, since these symbols are vague at best, they were discarded as coincidental.

Another vital piece of information are the numbers below the maze. We presumed these numbers to be some way to translate the path through the maze into a text in some way. Alternatives were considered, like giving the numbers some positional relevancy (ie, assign a number to vertical lines in the maze or divide the maze into different areas). Yet the positioning of the numbers below the maze is a little too vague to support this. Also, interpreting the numbers as a description of a second route through the maze were considered, but all viable options contained internal contradictions. Incidentally, the sum of the numbers is 24, while the maze is 48 by 48 lines.

After a while, we realized that the path contains exactly 24 turns, where the sum of the numbers is also 24. This means that we can select 9 (there are 9 numbers) turns out of those 24 to be "special", by incrementally counting. Ie, the second turn is special, the fourth (2+2) is special, the seventh (2+2+3), etc. Taking the directions of the special turns gives "LLLLRRRLL", but this was not the correct answer. Connecting the special turns in order does not give usable results either (but it does give a pretty picture).

Another way of using the numbers is to group the turns instead of selecting some of them. There are 24 turns, of which the first two form the first group, the next two for the second group, then three in the third group, etc. This gives "LL RL LRL LRL R RLRR RR RRLL LRL". This seems like a usable string, that needs one final translation. We had tried using Morse code on some of our solutions before and this seems like a perfect string to interpret using Morse. This also matches the hint we requested: "Good luck participants STOP Today's answer is not too hard STOP". This telegram style message can be linked to Morse code (telegrams are traditionally sent encoded with Morse).

Interpreting the string of turns as Morse still leaves two options (L can be dash or L can be dot). When we choose L to be the dash, decoding this gives us "makkelijk" ("easy"). This is clearly the solution to the puzzle, which was confirmed when we sent in the solution. Yay!

## Competition

Unfortunately, we were beaten to the solution by two other teams. The "Hardcore Powerpuffs" submitted the correct solution after only 107 minutes, presumably they just ran into the final puzzle at the start. We submitted the correct solution after 349 minutes, beaten by TuinfeesT with only a minute... Ironically, one of our team members jokingly suggested the solution "makkelijk" as a response to the requested hint "Today's answer is not too hard", but we didn't want to submit random unsupported answers. It does feel a lot more rewarding having actually solved the puzzle anyway (at least part of it).

During the night, a number of us got shot by other teams. We had a particularly nice shootout rooting out the vermin of team H.E.N.K. that had been listening next to our kitchen window, trying to get clues and answers for the puzzles. I understand they actually had some success in spying on us, before we managed to chase them away.

So, we're still struggling on the squares-puzzle, but it does not seem to budge. If anyone has actually solved it and cares to explain it, please comment here!

Tonight the meeting will be at 2300 (provided no more helicopter problems occur...). Let's hope tonight's puzzles are not as nasty as yesterday's and we can get some decent sleep as well...

Jasper wrote at 2007-02-27 18:11

Mijn gok is dat de oplossing van de squares puzzel naar de Vrijhof leidt, aangezien daar ook een puzzel hing die jullie kennelijk helemaal hebben gemist. :)

Matthijs Kooijman wrote at 2007-02-27 18:30

Indeed. By now, we've learned that the squares represent the numbers 0, 1 and 2. The square-less cross is indeed a multiplication operator. When you (arbitrarily) assign 0, 1 and 2 to these, you get two numbers. Interpret them in 3-base, perform the multiplication and write the result in base 16. This will give "cafe", referring to the theater cafe.

There was another puzzle there, leading to the (new) buildings "sky" and "box". There was another (or two?) clues leading to the matrix, where a final clue was to be found pointing to the "seinhuis". Or so they say... :-)

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