Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Solution

Wow.  Where to start.

Before I step through the solution, I'd like to say a few things about the 2013 version of the Ginter Code.  A lot of people have expressed a lot of -- hmmm, I guess "emotions" is an ambiguous enough word -- about the 2013 Code.  I find myself in somewhat of a delicate position, because I have been one of the most vocal public critics of this particular program.  (Check my tweets ... I admittedly said some pretty awful things.)  Even now, just a few hours removed from "winning", I am still tempted to talk about all the things that I didn't like about the code.  It's difficult for me to enjoy the victory when I don't feel like we truly earned it.  That is largely due to the nature of the submission method of the solution, which allowed for crowd-sourcing on steroids at the end.  Maybe they'll put an asterisk next to our names in the Ginter Code Hall of Fame.  But I digress.  :)

The fact that my team won this year's code almost entirely came down to timing.  And speaking of that -- I can't go further without acknowledging the team.  Jim Melichar is one of the smartest guys I know.  He somewhat randomly asked me to work with him on the 2012 Ginter Code, and over the last two years we've come to be good friends.  Matthew Cantrell was a late addition to our team, just a little over two weeks ago in fact.  Matt turned out to be even more insane than Jim and I, which (as most of you can imagine) ended up being critical on our path to the solution.  (Matt, you know I kid!)  He worked through sleepless nights with a newborn baby, and never gave up ... I cannot emphasize this enough.  And finally, Brian Duginske, a friend of Jim's, worked with us off and on over the last year.  I mention him last for a reason -- he alone conjured up the missing piece only a few minutes before we submitted the winning solution.  What a rush!

I feel it's best to go ahead and get all my criticisms out of the way, and in one place, so that everyone can enjoy reading through the solution.  And although it may seem petty to even be a critic, I voice these with a purpose -- to express the thoughts and hearts of all Codebreakers.  My hope is that the Codemaster will take these things to heart, and will consider them in the development of future Ginter Code programs.

  • There was a six-month period of complete Codemaster silence.  No tweets from September 2013 to March 2014.  While that may not seem like a big deal to many, the code actually was not solvable until July 2014.  This means that Codebreakers spent a year trying to dream up ideas for what the code might even be, much less a solution.  Jim, Brian and I came up with some very complex and ridiculous stuff.  In the end, all of it was full of sound and fury ... hundreds of collective hours that we will never get back.  Many of us thought (and still think) that the Codemaster may have had a different concept initially, then deviated late in the game due to lost time.  I'm not sure what happened there, but even a little communication to the effect of "this code is not solvable yet" would have put us all at ease.  Regardless, the CM seems to have already recognized this fault, as he has promised to tweet at least once a week during the 2014 Ginter Code.
  • The intent of the code seemed to change completely from September 2013 to July 2014.  I sincerely hope that the Codemaster will share some background information on this.  I know some may disagree with me, and I'll get deeper into it later -- but two of the earliest clues in the program seem to point not just to a different solution, but to an entirely different code.
  • The solution submission method allowed for reverse engineering of the solution.  To be perfectly honest -- I would not be writing this if it weren't for the open-source submission method.  We were able to glean things from each other, and reverse-engineer each others' thought processes, and this allowed my team to piece together the majority of the answer without fully thinking through the clues all by ourselves.  I know this is perhaps not what the Codemaster intended, but this is how it came to pass.  Jim was undoubtedly, and admittedly, the biggest Twitter critic of this solution path.  In his words ... the grand finale of the 2013 Code became a Twitter version of The Price Is Right's "One Away" game.  (Codemaster, do I have at least one card right??)
  • Codebreakers enjoy two things - COMPLEXITY and DISCOVERY.  I can't imagine trying to design a code program.  I know that I would fail miserably.  So here I stand, throwing stones at the Codemaster for something that is not only 'free', but that I have never tried to do myself.  My intent regardless, as I stated before, is to hopefully help better future codes.  I've learned a lot about the psychology of code contests over the last year.  Only now can I see what a challenge it must be to design a code system that is both nearly consistent and complete, in a Godel's-Incompleteness-Theorem-axiomatic sense.  The challenge as a designer, I suppose, is to create a system that is complete and consistent enough to work.  I'm rambling here, but my point is -- Codebreakers really love cracking complex problems, and they love discovering things!  The 99x99 star map from the 2011 program is a great example of this.  Read back through Guillaume's and Frank's solution blog for the 2011 solution, and you can see how excited they were to crack that code.  Even the 2012 code involved a significant amount of discovery, despite how abruptly that code was ended.  In my opinion, the 2013 code solution greatly deviated from previous programs.  Even now, it seems to me that complexity was replaced with quantity and vagueness.  Again, I feel like something may have happened behind the scenes with the design; I really hope we get some feedback on that.

Now that I'm done whining and grumbling -- on to the solution!!!


Right up front -- here was the final solution as submitted.


The premise of this contest, at 30,000 feet -- Colin, a Topps A&G set developer, was transported back in time to the year 1887.  Colin is having a hard time communicating directly with us, because someone or something is trying to prevent him from coming back.  He is forced to speak to Codebreakers using a series of clues, which Codebreakers must decrypt in order to bring Colin back to 2013.

It would take me an entire day to write up every detail of this code.  Instead, I'll try to hit the high points and give as much detail as time permits.


The first 'mini code' began with these tweets, although we wouldn't know that until much, much later:

This method would come to be known as "Mini-Code 1".  The second of those three tweets contains the 'message'.  The first and third tweets give you a hint, although an impossibly vague one, at what to do.  If you want the full details of how this one was figured out, review the CM's hint tweets that begin with a '1', from July 7th.  Matt came up with the solution method for this mini-code, and he and Jim worked together to decrypt it a couple of months before Matt officially joined our team.  Must have been fate.  ;)

The words in the second tweet, which we came to know as the "soap tweet", are all found on the backs of cards across the full 2013 A&G set.  Many of them are found multiple times, as you could imagine (e.g. "was", "than", etc.).  What we eventually found is that we were searching for 17 cards (17 words in the tweet) where each word appeared as the Nth word on the back of the card only once, where N = 1, 2, ..., 17.  For example, if the word "minister" was the 5th word on the back of a card, then no other word in the tweet could be the 5th word on the back of its respective card.  That's difficult to explain, but don't lose focus ... we're looking for 17 cards with those words on the backs in certain, unique places.  Once we have those cards, what we care about is (1) the order we put them in, and (2) the 'moniker' that's on the front.  So, we put them in order according to the placement of the word on the back of each card.  Whichever card contains one of our words as the first word on the back of the card goes first; second word on the back goes second ... and so on, through card 17.  Once we have the order, we take the first letter off the name on the front of the first card, the second letter off the name on the front of the second card ... and so on, through card 17.  In the event that we don't have enough letters on the front of a card, we wrap around and start over ("Three can be twelve when nine is the end").

Ultimately, the "soap tweet" becomes the 17-character message:  RECREATE MY LAST DAY

Later on, the CM posted another such tweet:

Which, using the same decoding technique, became:  PICTURE OF THE MACHINE


The next mini-code was a collection of trivia questions, of which the answers were all cards in the 2013 A&G base set (1-300).  An example of one such trivia question:

The answer to this trivia question is obviously Bill Mazeroski, card #287.  This was one such trivia question in a burst of tweets.  Each of these trivia questions needed to be answered, the card number identified, and then the tweets themselves needed to be sorted in order of ascending card number.  The reason for this is that the number of words in the tweet represents a letter, just like the secret decoder ring in the "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine" sense from the movie A Christmas Story.  The Mazeroski tweet above has 19 total words, so it would give us S = 19.

Once all the trivia are solved, sorted, and converted, we get the message:  FIND THE PHOTOS

Later on, the CM posted another set of trivia, which gave us the message:  WITH THREE HASHTAGS


In late March, the CM posted the following tweets:

We toyed with the whole awkward "letter/words/sentence" in the first tweet for a while, but it took us a couple of weeks before Jim figured out that the digit string is a reader for Colin's letter at  (Credit must go to Karen Ford for nudging Jim in this direction back in April.)  Using the digits in the string, you can extract one letter at a time from Colin's letter to form a message, ignoring the greeting "Most Noble Codemaster" ("No time for salutations").  For example the 1st letter of the 10th word of the 16th sentence is an "I".  You have to continue through the string in trial-and-error fashion.

Once the trial-and-error fun is over, we get the message:  IN ORDER THEY TELL MY STORY

Later on, the CM posted another digit string, which gave us the message:  THREE HASHTAGS


In early May, the CM posted the following tweets:

You can quickly figure out that this is a basic word-for-word Caesar shift.  It helps to realize that the first tweet tells you to look at the end of the digit string from the late-March tweet and work backwards through that string.  Even without that information, you can play with the shifting until you get it.

Once you shift the words correctly, you get the following message:  THE WORLD MUST HEAR MY STORY IN ORDER TO BRING ME BACK.  TELL THEM.

Later on, the CM posted another Caesar shift, which gave us the message: THEGINTERCODE CRACKED WELCOMEBACKCOLIN

After the CM published all the clock/machine tweets in early July, he published another series of mini-codes, all which gave the message:  TWEET IT AT ME

So, with all the mini-codes solved in order, we have the following information:


Just from that list, you can probably point out the inconsistencies.  "RECREATE MY LAST DAY" could very easily lend itself to the creation of the machine as is.  But "FIND THE PHOTOS" ... this was the biggest distraction for many of us that were close.  Even up until a few days ago, I was insistent that the "machine" was going to somehow generate a message pointing us to a URL with actual photos of an actual machine.  I'm sure others had similar ideas.  Maybe this was supposed to be a pointer to find pictures of the flux capacitor?  At any rate, this is the primary reason we felt like the CM deviated from his original plan, as this was one of the earliest clues back in September 2013.  We also never found any use for the tweets containing "MY STORY" in them.  I suppose the machine tells the story of how Colin went back in time, but ... it's still fairly inconsistent.


From this point on, I'm going to assume a prior level of knowledge, i.e. you know the crux of the code, that construction of a "machine" was required to bring Colin back.

The machine tweets began and ended with these two tweets:

Our team went a hundred different directions with everything that fell between those two tweets.  I'll save most of our insanity for a different blog post ... but there are a few things worth mentioning before I move forward.
  • We were certain since July 1st that ATY cards would be involved.  This may seem trivial, but many people seemed to overlook the machine tweet about the circles, and that "across the years will be fetched" from whatever the circles are drawn around.  Again, we went many different directions with this other than what was actually involved.
  • We were certain that tweeting a picture at the Codemaster would NOT be the final solution.  Aaaaaaand we were wrong.  We assumed that construction of this "machine" would be a stepping stone along the way to the path.  Credit must go to Wheels, Karen Ford, and SWLVguy for having the guts to tweet the initial pictures.  They set in motion a feedback loop between the CM and all participants, which provided confirmation that indeed a picture of 9 cards was what he was looking for.  Matt was also very persistent that this would be the final solution.

The next four tweets, from "In rows and columns of three" to "11 and 7 are missing", tell us that we need to arrange a 3 x 3 matrix of cards, some face-up ("heads") and some face-down ("tails"), in the following "clock-like" fashion:

H  H  H
T  H  T
H  H  T

10 12 2
9   ~   3
8   6   4

He then mentions a calendar, with a reference to the base set ("short two weeks and a day").

The next tweet, "As with a clock ... counter you'll hop", refers to the fact that we will be moving 'around the clock', and that we will be moving counter-clockwise.  Whatever that means.  :)

The next four tweets, from "Three circles on this clock" to "Each circle connects", describe the circles and lines ("connections") that are drawn on the winning solution above.  (The first of those tweets say that the circles are drawn around things in the "Across the Years" (ATY) subset.  Very important.)  I kid you not, on July 2, the day after these tweets were published, Jim made a joke that the machine would be a flux capacitor.  I have hard evidence to prove this.  The circles and lines, as drawn, prove that he was right.  If you haven't noticed it yet -- the machine is a flux capacitor.  There are circles at 2, 6, and 10, lines drawn to the center and to other places.  And an 88 in the lower-left corner.  All Hail Jim!  :)

I'll pause for a second and highlight the next couple of tweets, because the meaning is clever:

This one doesn't have too much bearing on the final solution, but it does give a clue.  The "latter numbers together" are 3-4-9, or 349.  "XXI would slay XVIII" is a reference to the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition, the 18th Amendment.  The 21st Amendment became effective on December 15th, the 349th day of the year.  This officially connects our calendar to the numbers 1-350.

To the elements of the machine.

The next two tweets:

These clues are SUPPOSED to give us the card at the 8:00 position.  Other people figured this out; our team did not.  First example of reverse-engineering.  Adam Heeren posted an incorrect solution with the CAP-AZ (Aztecs) card, with 8's drawn on the ears, in the spirit of the flux capacitor.  The CM confirmed that this part was correct.  I believe that "work A-Z" was supposed to lead us to that card.

It was later confirmed that "at the top of the clock the clock" was not a mistake.  Late in the game, the CM posted a tweet containing an error of duplicated words ("with with").  Jim asked the CM if the "the clock the clock" was a similar mistake, and the CM responded directly that it was not.  (For the record, I believe this was the first time the CM has ever directly responded to a Codebreaker during a contest.)  We were able to discern (after further clues) that this meant that the 12:00 card was "Grand Central Terminal", card #267, which features a clock at the top of the card.  Again, after further clues, we figured out that "the great middle, the beginning, the end, the dock" was somehow supposed to point us to the "Earth" card, OLC-ERT.

The first of those tweets was absolutely critical to building the machine.  I believe Jim figured this part out.  Colin left 2013, and ended up in 1887.  He was "flung back, in even intervals ... dip, dip, dip".  This means that our movement around the clock consists of three hops.  We concurred that the three hops were 1971, 1929, and 1887, which are equal 42-year intervals between 2013 and 1887.

Now, to the real clues.

It took us 8 weeks, a ton of pushing, and more reverse-engineering to figure out the intent and 'method' of these clues.  We knew they were metaphors, but we didn't understand for what.  And even though the tweets have the numbers "10", "6", and "2" in them, and we knew there were some 'connections' to be made, it took us a lot longer than it should have to figure out exactly what everything was.  (A lot of that had to do with our delusions that the code would end up being bigger than this, but again -- topic for a future post.)  To spare you all the madness, what many people finally discerned was that the "heads" at 10, 6, and 2 were ATY cards, and the tails at 9, 4, and 3 were base cards.  The ATY cards, somehow, contained metaphors; the base cards were date references of those metaphors (from the 'calendar' tweet).

(In the midst of all the madness, the CM gave a hint:  The letter pairings "BR", "AJ", and "RC".)

Let's start from the bottom.  The last three tweets all point to the "head" card at 2:00, and the "tail" card at 3:00.  "A Study of Hope" is a reference to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes story, "A Study in Scarlet", which focuses on a character named Jefferson Hope.  Jim caught this reference well before anyone else.  The tweet after that, "where two friends shared home and hearth", is a reference to 221B Baker Street.  The part preceding that, "Together they'd surround it, one before and one after", points us to the number '21', which is surrounded by the '2' and the 'B'.  This meant we needed to look for some link to the number 21 on an ATY card.  The Roberto Clemente card, ATY-RCL, fits that need, as his jersey number 21 is shown on the front of the card.  Matt found this, and was certain of its location as the 2:00 card.  His initials being "RC" lended itself to the BRAJRC clue.

Since 2 connects to 3 on the clock, we thus need to find a date reference for the "Study of Hope".  The CM gives the clue that "For our last, finding a date may be unclear".  The original publication for "A Study in Scarlet" was in the "Beeton's Christmas Annual" in late 1887, although the exact date is uncertain.  "Consensus picks one, in the month of reindeer."  From this, we choose December 1, which in our calendar is card #335, Andrew McCutchen.  We circle the '21' on Clemente's jersey, and connect it to the card number on the McCutchen base card.

The next connection, 6 to 4, must occur in 1929.  "At 6 did it burst" ... this is the only thing on the clock that I can say for sure I actually got by myself, LOL!  Before I ever saw the Adam Jones card, I knew the connection was the Market Crash of 1929.  It made sense that a 'bubble' would be the thing that burst.  "Go with the end if you're finding a range" -- Black Tuesday, October 29.  The card at 4:00 is card #302, Brandon McCarthy.

Believe it or not -- and again with the crowd-sourcing -- we had not nailed down the BRAJRC connection, or even the actual use of items on the ATY cards as metaphors themselves, until yesterday.  Yesterday!  Adam Heeren and Crazy Paul both posted incorrect solutions which had the ATY-AJ card at 6:00.  This card features Adam Jones blowing a bubble.  It was then that we recognized what the CM meant all along when he said "circle the metaphors".  I know, if you were close to winning this, you're probably getting more and more pissed as you read.  My apologies.  Anyway ... we circle the 'bubble' on the ATY-AJ card, and connect it to the card number on the McCarthy base card.

Finally, 10 to 9.  "Thrice in 6, confusing I know.  Always reliable, it flubbed one, two were the throw".  Beautiful.  This is where Brian made his move.  After I posted my incorrect solution last night, the CM saw that we were only incorrect on the 10-9 connection.  He posted the following tweet, which will always make me laugh.
Someone else tweeted "G-Love and Special Sauce.  G-Love = Glove".  Kids, keep your thoughts to yourselves from now on.  :)

We knew now that ATY-BR, Brooks Robinson, was the card at 10:00, via the BRAJRC thing.  We now knew to circle the glove.  We still had no idea what the date connection (9:00) was.

Did I mention I was home sick today, with no plans to solve this?

I woke up today, appropriately, at 9:00.  Brian messaged me this morning around 9:30.  I told him where I was, that I had a picture with 8 of the cards right, and was just waiting for the card at 9.  And in a flash, Brian says - "July 28, 1971 - Brooks Robinson made 3 errors in the 6th inning - one fielding, two throwing."  And there it was ... "thrice in 6 ... always reliable ... it flubbed one, two were the throw."

July 28, card #209, Ike Davis.  I plugged it in, drew the final lines, tweeted.  And so it was.


I know there are probably other questions you have, and would like to have answered.  I'm sure others would be willing to help out!  Frank will gladly post the solution to 'MNP'.  ;)

We learned two valuable lessons while working on this code:  (1) Occam's Razor almost always applies, and (2) Always say out loud what you are thinking, even if it sounds ridiculous ... most of the time you will sound ridiculous, but every now and then you will be right.  And those two things are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

At any rate, it was a pleasure to write all of this, even in a medicated state.  Credit is owed to many more people than I can possibly remember.  Let me just close by saying this -- you may not have won, but if you contributed to this in any way, your contributions will not go unnoticed.

It will surely be a while before the cards come in ... I will keep you all posted.



  1. Codemaster here. As with previous winners, I'm happy to take any questions you have. I may not be able to give you the exact information you want, but I'll address anything the best I can.

    In regard to points you've already raised, here's what I can say. First, the final answer was exactly as I planned it back when I designed the code over a year ago now. That said, for behind-the-scenes reasons I can't get into, yes, the timing obviously got jacked up, and the process to get to the final step had to be truncated. I did my best to incorporate any dangling threads that lost their reason for being, but that's obviously a messy, incomplete business. On the other hand, the Ginter Code's always had its share of red herrings, too.

    On the crowd-sourcing, I honestly believed that the first picture tweeted at me would be correct, so it wasn't a huge concern to me. Barring that, I saw the public nature of tweeting the answer as a mechanism to ensure that people were confident in their answers and not just tweeting willy-nilly until they hit on it. I thought at most there might be one or two wrong attempts, and if some of your correct thoughts were poached, well, that's the price of not being sure. I truly didn't see it going in the direction it did, because I had no idea there would be that much time between the first incorrect answer and the right one. Given time, people with nothing to lose just jumped in because why not?

    And that brings me to the heightened interaction with Codebreakers. Yes, that was the first time I've ever directly interacted with a participant. I don't as a rule because I don't want to be helping people on whatever particular point they're stuck on, since that's not fair to everyone else who doesn't reach out when they're stuck, but he raised a general point I wanted to confirm as a clue. Since it occurred on my Twitter feed and was visible to all, I thought it was fair. All the increased interaction came down to the time crunch, and the fact that the clock was ticking for 2014, for which some new people had joined up and were just twiddling their thumbs waiting.

    One note on your solution: "the great middle, the beginning, the end, the dock" was a clue for Grand Central Terminal. "The great middle" = Grand Central, "the beginning, the end" = Terminal, and "the dock" is also supposed to be a reference to Terminal as well as being reminiscent of travel, but mostly I just needed it to rhyme.

    Finally, as a general note, I will say that 2014 is designed to be a very different experience from all previous codes. I already know there are some points that will be even more head-scratchingly infuriating than anything you've seen before, but I think the new structure is even more compelling and engrossing. I hope, once you all get to know it, you agree.

    1. CM, I can't thank you enough for sharing. Really appreciate you sharing the background information as you did -- most of it is in the neighborhood of what we expected.

      Can't wait to see what you've got in store for 2014!

    2. The more I review and consider your response -- I would like to point out one thing.

      "On the crowd-sourcing, I honestly believed that the first picture tweeted at me would be correct, so it wasn't a huge concern to me."

      I hope you consider this a little differently now. We (collectively) are certainly not as smart and discerning as you give/gave us credit for. The metaphors themselves were highly ambiguous, which I know was intentional, but that also means that the odds of anyone piecing together the exact solution without some semblance of trial-and-error were infinitessimal. Wheels, Matt, and I -- working separately for the most part -- were all able to snugly fit the Apollo 14 mission as the date for the 9:00 tail. Now, of course in hindsight we all see how much better Brooks Robinson fits -- but you can't know that until you know that, right?

      Of course that's all over now. My biggest concern is that you noted the 2014 code would be more "head-scratchingly infurating" than previous codes. I do believe there is a distinct difference between ambiguity and intentional red-herrings. I know, it's an extremely difficult process to craft the 'perfect' code, but one of the great dangers of too much ambiguity is, well, what happened over the final few days of the 2013 program.

    3. Those are all very fair points. There's an extremely fine line between ambiguously perfect and perfectly ambiguous, and threading that needle is the hardest part of putting the code together. (I've been mixing metaphors for months; I'm not stopping now.)

      The biggest hurdle I have every year is that I have very little feedback on the code until it's out in the wild. Seriously, you should see the eyes glaze over whenever I try to run it by people in the office. So the only barometer I have for the value of each clue is myself, until I see how you guys run with it and potentially have to recalibrate. Even then, it's an imperfect science, considering how (rightly) closely to the vest you all play it. And even if you've never tried to construct something like this, I'm sure you can imagine how wildly off you can sometimes be when looking at a clue from the inside. As you said, you can't know it till you know it, and for better or worse, I always know it.

      All that said, each clue has a purpose, and I will always err on the side of making sure they're correct, in that there's nothing in them that says they can't point where they're supposed to, over expressing more clearly where they should point.

      And just one more note on 2014 for those of you jonesing for more: Other than gathering resources and familiarizing yourself with the set, there is literally nothing you can do on the 2014 code until Tuesday.

    4. You may want to consider setting up an email address that we can all send our current thoughts to without having to tweet it for everyone to see. A sort of public drop box for your eyes only... You would never reply to the messages but if you got enough similar messages, you would understand what might be too misleading and need a tweet for clarification.

      Other than that, great code, and I cant say enough how thankful we are that you put it on ever year. It's a ton of fun to get some mental exercise.

    5. I'm doing my best not to bombard you with questions here Abe ... but there is one thing that I would like some detail on if you have time:

      Which parts of the 2013 A&G release were INTENTIONAL red herrings for the code?

  2. Dear Mr. Abe, can I call you Floc?

    First off, let me reiterate the most important thing, you've given me a fantastic hobby. Since stumbling across my first code card in 2009 you couldn't imagine the course you've set on my on (code pun intended). I mean that, really. The chance encounter with a code card lead me to Jason Wong who in turn introduced me to Kryptos. Since that time I've gone on to learn A LOT about codes, ciphers, puzzles, etc. I've been fortunate enough to meet and talk with both of the creators of Kryptos which has been a life highlight.

    I mention this because Ed Schedit, the man who designed the codes featured on that sculpture reiterated to me the biggest challenge he faced was walking the fine line between making it too easy and making it unsolvable. You have that same daunting task every year.

    I appreciate the frankness you've displayed here and we assumed some of what you described (one man team, little resources, no one to bounce it off of), and because of this we attempted to provide feedback.

    The few times I chimed in with "we don't get it", I really meant the collective we. And not due to a lack of hours or brainpower. Since you gave us a peak behind the curtain, let me give you a peak behind ours.

    From the moment a clue is released we all immediately stop what we're doing, or at least attempt to do so. We then over analyze and over scrutinize every detail of said clue or clues.

    From that point, if there's a clear "to-do" we literally stay up all night, or sometimes all night (or until mentally exhausted), every night, for a week trying to "get" what we need to get.

    Once a few days wear on and if no one has an "ah-ha" moment, the fences that we put up around our teams begin to break down and we all begin to talk to one another (eg- do you have anything, did you see this?). When it gets to the point where people are information trading just to try and move along, it becomes less of a team against team against team race and more of a group photo finish.

    After we've exhausted talking about the code to one another, exhausting our teammates and code friends, we start talking to our wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, moms, dads, kids, or even Uncle Reggie about the code until we get that same eye glaze you referred to in your post. But we don't stop there, oh no, we go back to talking to one another, but this time getting desperate, offering to trade information, all sorts of quid pro quos going on.

    And if all that fails, I look at my wife one more time and I say "hey, can I just tell you one more thing about the code before you try to suffocate me with a pillow in my sleep tonight?". Then she gives me "the look", you know which one I'm talking about.....

    And then, and only then do I come over to Twitter and type out a message like "@TheGinterCode jeez boss, ya got me, this stuff is reaaaaaaaaallllll foggy". In my head that's what I'm writing, but what comes out is "@TheGinterCode WTF man, you're killing us". For that I apologize.

    To wrap up a really long comment, I just want you to understand we do see it from your side, but at the same time, we're spending a ton of time trying to wade through the clues, and by the time we come back to tell you about it on Twitter, believe me, we've invested plenty of hours. You've got people calling in sick to work for the love of Ginter!

    In closing, congratulations on making something iconic within the card industry, and I appreciate you keeping the customer in mind to whatever extent you can.

  3. Grant, I have to say thank you for the mention in this very well written blog. You guys did a hell of a job and I cant wait to start again next week!

    I know when I posted: Aug 5
    "#thegintercode just a thought but: make the clock (if you can figure out how), take a picture of it, tweet it at cbcardz, win. OK go."

    and got the "reply" (CM didnt reply it directly to me but as a post to all):
    "Some think it can't be known what the solution might be. Well every single piece has been said by someone other than me. #thegintercode"

    the community was shaken. I don't think anyone wanted to believe that it was that simple after working on the mini's all year. And truthfully I didn't want to believe that either. I was wrong with the @who, i guess, and as simple as it was, it still took 2 weeks for someone to give it a shot. In a way I'm glad that one is over and on to the next.

    Everything aside, IT WAS FUN.

    Congratulations guys. Good luck to all breakers.

  4. Grant, thanks for putting this together and congratulations again! As I’ve done in years past, I’ll participate in the collective post-mortem. Not a ton of time right now, but a few quick thoughts/questions:

    - Grant: your comments on the right ingredients for solving these are spot on. Karen, Chaz and I had that dynamic going right up until our 7 of 9 post on the last night. At this level of complexity, teams are almost a necessary condition.
    - CM: First, the solution is elegant, logical and completely hangs together. Very well constructed. Sans the 6 month delay, I think this one could have topped 2011 (still my favorite, followed by 2009). I won’t dwell on the pacing, but will simply say that I hope that the delay was not a personal tragedy or something similar. Seriously.
    - CM: I gave some feedback in 2011 that having interim “wins” a la “unravel it” would appeal to a broader base and make the code more enjoyable. The 4 mini codes were perfect for that. The cipher was easy, the others a bit harder. The night we solved Soap Minister, I was elated. Anyway, the feedback is that it would be great to see this design feature repeated.
    - CM: Ambiguity and vagueness are part of your brand! They make the codes more fun and intellectually stimulating. Love it. My only gripe: “every single piece has been said by someone other than me”. Unless we are missing something, that tweet killed us. What did you mean? I’ll never forget R.A. Dickey’s bday!
    - CM: I have to ask you directly if Apollo 14 was an intentional or accidental red herring? Here’s why:

    - Dip, dip, dip: 1971
    - Thrice in 6: Apollo 14 was the 3rd of 6 manned US moon landings
    - Always Reliable: After the Apollo 1 disaster, NASA launched the Reliability and Maintainability Program, which laid the groundwork for the Apollo 13 diving catch and the troubleshooting that resolved Apollo 14’s “dock”ing issues.
    - Flubbed one: Alan Shepard flubbed his first attempt to hit the golf ball.
    - Two were the throw: Mitchell followed the golf shot by throwing a javelin
    - “Landing at the third, visions of the other two I did see.”
    - Apollo 14 had it’s orbital insertion on Feb 4th. Hence our obsession with Harvick (properly connecting the date to the metaphor). Harvick’s pub trivia clue was “Round and round till the flag”…

    - If it was intentional, it was brilliant. If not, a funny story and a good code breaking lesson.

    - CM: on crowd sourcing, I’m actually fine with it. It builds the community and makes it fun. Before we did our first submission, we debated long and hard the pros/cons. Our own life circumstances were part of the decision calculus. Now, if folks took the time to reverse engineer that post before we took it down, you would have gotten 1971/1929/1887, two of the three metaphors, the search for 88 and how to make the connections to the calendar. Instead we got a bunch of snarky comments, which we decided to not reply too in order to protect what we could of what we knew at that point. :-) Anyway, do we regret it? Not a bit. I have no qualms about providing folks a nudge here or there. Personal preference. Not saying others should play that way. Remember “dewey” or how to turn the keys in 2011? Tweeted those, no regrets.

    Anyway, great code. Always a pleasure. Fix the pacing. :-) ☺

    To the community, would love to hear your red herring war stories. Don’t even get us started on Byamba…


    1. BYAMBA!

      Someone said "can you believe they thought it was Byamba?" to me, and I had Byamba slotted as our card too! COMPLETELY. Byamba pointing to Andrew McCutchen. (I was still wondering how the two cards would point to the ATY as, at the time, I thought the circles were meant to literally be drawn on all three/four cards). No shame in that game.

    2. given the thread on twitter about alternate solutions for 10, a few more points on Apollo 14. on our Occam's Razor submission, we went with Babe Ruth:

      - Fits BR (initials and position)
      - His bday is actually the day that shepard hit the golf ball and mitchell threw the javelin on the moon
      - visually, his finish looks just like the finish on a golf swing. we circled the bat in his hands because both the golf club and the javelin used on the moon were built from scoop handles.

      anyway, brooks was clearly the best and right answer. no dispute, but at least for 10, there were alternates that hung together pretty well, IMHO.

    3. and frank, you got me started on byamba! again, in retrospect very clearly wrong. some more of the thinking though:

      - Card number 21
      - Byamba fights in a ring. Pub trivia clue: "get in the ring and stay in the ring"
      - A key plot line in A Study in Scarlet is over the key piece of evidence: a wedding ring
      - Why did we link it to Saturn? The rings are a clear visual metaphor, but it goes deeper. Byamba is a Mongoleese name. English translation: Saturn.

      Side note, explicit props to Karen. From day one, she insisted that the final answer would have a strong visual metaphor. And... she was right.

  5. Great job Grant!

    Couldn't have explained it better myself (and man-o-man had i planned on explaining it myself this year). The reverse engineering was a huge part of everyone's solution, I think, but that made Adam posting the Aztec thing all the more infuriating for my team because we HAD the AZ card and could tell many, many others were baffled by it. We were hoping to hold that back as our ace in a hole and submit solutions with a purposely bad 8 spot to feed more clues. (Which is not meant as a dig at Adam, but only to showcase some of the games man ship at the end there.)

    "Even up until a few days ago, I was insistent that the "machine" was going to somehow generate a message pointing us to a URL with actual photos of an actual machine. I'm sure others had similar ideas. Maybe this was supposed to be a pointer to find pictures of the flux capacitor? At any rate, this is the primary reason we felt like the CM deviated from his original plan, as this was one of the earliest clues back in September 2013. " -UM YES. It definitely threw me. I was insisting that the clock was going to be the mechanism by which one got the final solution. I resisted until the last few days that it was the final solution. More fool me, I suppose.

    *THANK YOU for explaining the Raising of Powers tweet to me. I wasn’t tying it to the tweet before, thinking the 21 and 18 were the latter numbers. The “Calendar” was one of the first things I figured out tho, so it would have only been a bit of confirmation for me. It’s actually why I had so much damn bravado at one point with Jim. I couldn’t figure out the damn metaphors (because I kept trying to tie them to something directly in the set) but I knew when I DID, it was a matter of tying their date to the 350 card set.

    *Since you asked me to, the MNP tweet: The numbers were the positions of the words in mini code 1, the soap tweet in particular. (M)inus, (N)eutral, (P)lus were MNP. Lower case was a 1, Upper case a 5 so 14Mmm was 14-5-1-1 or 7. This was for the second mini code 1 (Modern French).

    A few questions for the CM (I apologize if I am duplicating someone else’s Q).

    1. When would you say the first time this was “solvable” was?

    2. It seemed to me that most teams had NOTHING with the first two clues. It wasn’t until just a few months ago that we had RECREATE MY LAST DAY/FIND THE PHOTOS and I suspect that was the case for every team. Suppose, however, that one team HAD figured that out fairly quickly after it was posted and started to ask you questions about where to find the photos, or what about Colin’s last day. Would that have spurred on more tweets from you at the time, or would the code still have been in lock down? Or, another way- was the long silence, in part, because no one seemed to be making any progress w/r/t the code.

    3. Were we supposed to be tweeting to Colin or just you? I know the “Tweet it at me” in quotes confused folks, which is why Colin got a lot of tweets 

    4. Was there ever going to be a Codemaster’s letter “For your eyes only” to find? The fact that there were “clues herein as well” in the blog so very early, but the number strings were more than half a year away always made me feel like I was missing something with the blog.

    Thank you again for putting on the show, and thanks for being very forthright with as much as you can be. Thanks again Grant for posting the solution.


    1. "4. Was there ever going to be a Codemaster’s letter “For your eyes only” to find? The fact that there were “clues herein as well” in the blog so very early, but the number strings were more than half a year away always made me feel like I was missing something with the blog."

      I'd like to state something about this, regarding one of my crazy theories for how this would play out. In late July, the CM tweeted "If you've cracked the code of the M's, N's, and P's, then you could b c b with relative ease.", which was followed by the tweet "Lowercase c? What could that bode? Can't Codebreakers crack Colin's code?"

      b c b --> bring colin back -->

      The CM even made it a point to highlight the "lowercase c". How I interpreted this tweet, after realizing the solution to MNP was not on the path to the final solution, was essentially -- "go to the blog". This only further encouraged my assumption that we were still looking for actual photos ... and from those tweets, I conjured up the notion that we would eventually be looking for them in the CM's "Flocculent Abe" account.

      I'd really like to hear an explanation on where those two tweets were supposed to lead.

  6. oh shoot, right. BRAYRC vs. BRAJRC?

    1. J -> Y -> Yonder -> Years..... I was insistent that this was a pointer to the letters being first name initials, especially since I had just "asked" that. Yonder Alonso being in the set and all. And had it been first name initials, I thought he just didn't want to give away that Eg- J = "Jason"

    2. I said this to Guillaume in a Twitter DM ... Jim and I figured almost from the start that BRAJRC was what we were supposed to focus on (the CM later tweeted to this effect), even after the BRAYRC tweets, and even though we didn't know exactly what to use it for. We almost immediately identified Brooks Robinson, Adam Jones, and Robinson Cano (two out of three ain't bad ...), but again, had no idea where to go.

      The two tweets using BRAYRC were -- again, we realize this after the fact -- supposed to be a loose pointer to the A-t-Y set. However, at the time, all we could focus on was the Y, which was used for the words "Yonder" and "Year". Yonder Alonso + Year. Jim made the Alonso connection, and from there we deviated off the path, and assumed that instead of fetching ATY with BRAJRC, we were looking for first or last names that began with those six letters, as well as for something to do with the years (birth years maybe?) of those six subjects.

      Ugh. So many dead ends.

  7. I just wanted to say one last thing. I hope you guys aren't mad about the way I went about solving.

    Note: I was working alone.

    I had figured out the Caesar shifts, the number strings, and template for the clock.  Then I was watching what others were submitting. "Hold my beer, watch this" was spot on.

    I definitely was not working in the right direction for 9, 3, & 4. If I had caught on and by some miracle submitted the correct solution, I probably would have felt really bad, especially because I hadn't figured out the rest of the clues with the completeness shown above.

    I can see now how my partially correct submissions were probably frustrating to the teams. I honestly did have some crazy logic built in to all of them though and thought they could be correct. With no one to bounce them off of and no one to tell me they were ridiculous prior to submitting, I clicked that tweet button and waited for feedback.  I took 3 swings and came up short.

    But, like I said, it was a heck of a lot of fun.

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