GMark Hardy (@g_mark)

February 4, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Another fun puzzle for Shmoocon fans. BTW, I included a more straightforward alternate way of ordering the badges if you couldn’t figure out the date sequence. As Darth said, you can do a frequency analysis or line up the last letter of each row. You could even brute-force all 7! permutations (5,040). But all of those are too much work, if you ask me. Just take the first letter of each badge text block (C – C – E – N – N – O – T), and solve that like a JUMBLE puzzle — only one seven letter word works — CONNECT. Now you’re down from 5,040 permutations to 4. Read column two, and if you get R – E – A – R – S – G – E, for example, you’ve got the C’s reversed (positions 1 and 6) — so swap those badges around and you get G – E – A – R – S – S – E in column two, and you’re onto the next stage with directions in hand. :) Congratulations to Darth for a great puzzle, and looking forward to more.

Matthew (@magicmatt)

February 5, 2012 at 12:20 am

Hey Darth,

I did enjoy it! I am in fact a regular reader of all of your crypto solutions. I studied the past badge puzzles here and how you solved them. When I left work on Thursday before the con all I could think about was that I was going to solve and hopefully win this year’s puzzle. I knew (or thought at the time) that meant I had to contend with you and your knack for solving these things. When Friday came I got my badge and started to check out the program for all elements that may be involved. I was pretty sure that there were 7 badges I just had to find them. The guy next to me had badge 0128 and did not want me to photograph and share it because he thought it may contain Personally Identifiable Information :/ (I even told him that there were only seven unique badges). Luckily the guy in front of me was a speaker from Foundstone and said to follow him on twitter to get all the pictures of the badges. Later I saw the tweet by you “First big breakthrough on the ShmooCon badge puzzle!” I immediately thought you were talking about yourself and I started to get bummed out. Later hope was restored when I read “I’m actually not playing the ShmooCon Badge contest this year. But happy to throw some hints out. :) ” Now that I knew the Dark Lord was out of the running, I knew I could do this!

Friday night Mike and I had all the badge pictures but were stuck at how to order them. I went to sleep knowing that we needed to find an order to these badges to move on. At 6am Saturday morning I woke up having thought that representing the numbers xxxx as xx/xx would produce dates. I immediately thought that 7 badges = 7 days of the week however it worked out to not be unique days of the week, I was stumped again. At 9am I rode in to ShmooCon with Mike and we discussed my thought that they were dates. He then asked “Was ShmooCon always the last weekend in January?” I said I was not sure and we moved on. We were so close but did not make the connection. As it turned out we never did or did we need to. On 395 I saw the clue from GMark about reading down for directions. Under direction from Mike I just tried to make a word from the first letters of the boxed badge text (see the GMark method above in his comment). At the con Mike fixed up a simple error I made and we were off to “Turn the gears”. Two hours later and the puzzle was solved. I loved the literal use of key and the 80 char long key string, typing that on my phone was a challenge. I also loved when we asked Bruce directly and he looked at Heidi and asked if he could answer she said no and he told us he was leaving so he did not do anything stupid. The reason Mike and I looked through the program was that we thought one of the five car repair slips might have had the initials BP (Bruce Potter). I was really asked by Heidi “who do I ask for anything I don’t know” to which I replied “the internet”. The crowd loved that the closing ceremony.

I did find it odd that both you and GMark were tweeting hints so after it was done I sent some tweets GMark’s way. I told him I did not see any “gmarks” in the puzzle and he said that this puzzle was your show and was just a consultant. After I saw this it was quite obvious as to why you were not competing, and knew all the answers (you designed it).

Sorry for the long comment. I just wanted to give my side and the obstacles Mike and I faced. By the way after I found out that you had made the puzzle I almost felt like I had cheated, knowing that I read all of your crypto posts here. This was my second ShmooCon and I found your site after last year’s groans that you had won again, I needed to see who this guy was that had won.

Long and short Great puzzle, I had a wonderful time figuring it out! Perhaps you may get some joy knowing that you had an unintentional hand in training the winners.


Darth Null

February 6, 2012 at 9:09 am

So glad you had fun! I’m a little disappointed that the bulk of the puzzle fell so quickly after you got the badges in order, but then maybe you’d already been thinking about later stages anyway. It’s especially funny how you danced around the ShmooCon date trick but never quite latched on.

And I’m glad that my writeups here helped… don’t feel like that’s “cheating”. :) I try to document these puzzles for two reasons: 1, so that great puzzles aren’t lost to time (and that others may build upon past successes), and 2, so that people can learn more about solving them. So if my posts helped you in any way, that’s a big win in my book!

Matthew (@magicmatt)

February 6, 2012 at 11:08 am

Well as for the last stages of the puzzle, we had the vins already as I was pretty sure we were going to need them at some point. Of course I knew you had solved the puzzle the last three times so we progressed to the three gear stage rather quickly. The three gear stage was pretty tricky though :). I tried them the way they were, forwards and backwards but no dice. I then convinced myself that K-E-Y was the key since there was only one k, e, and y on each respective gear. At first we were stuck on how many revolutions it would take to get the gears to align to key. Take that number and rotate the previous 7 gear’s to get the key to the VIN’s. The method was way too complicated and did not work. I then realized I could just set the three gears to key and try reading forwards and backwards. All of a sudden I saw “YOUHAV” pop out and I went crazy! I kept decoding it three letter chunks at a time because I just wanted to see what it said. I was very excited because I could not think of any more cipher text that needed decoding. I thought it was over and we had one. Then I decoded “NOW FOR THE FINAL CHALLENGE” and I started to get stressed again because there was one more step. At the very end our key was messed up and I entered the cipher text wrong so we decoded WHAT CAR DOES BRUCE STILL HAVE ON BLVORD. I felt like Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” saying “have on what?”, “HAVE ON WHAT?”. We then corrected it to blocks after we identified the mistake.

I thought that the puzzle was perfect because each stage led me to the next and presented a clue for the key. You should remember that I had read how it is important to keep it simple. Many of your puzzles showcase how easy the answer was after you know the solution and the importance to not over-complicate matters. At every stage and at every dead end I took a step back and said what I know, what is there left, and what was the clue. This allowed me to refocus on a simple approach after I made leaps in the wrong direction. I hope you are not disappointed now that you know all the wrong directions I went :). It was challenging and set us for loops at times!


Darth Null

February 6, 2012 at 11:41 am

I also ensured that “GMH” (G. Mark) and “DJS” (my initials) were available on the wheels as potential distractors. :)

I’m glad that the “one stage leads to the next” format worked. I first really saw that with G. Mark’s TOORCON 12 puzzle, and I like the structure of it. Though I do think that there should be some looping / branching, just to make things a little more interesting. Maybe next year. Finally, I’m really glad that you’re learning from my mistakes as far as keeping things simple. Refocusing, stepping back, keeping an open mind, not getting bogged down on a single approach (whether that approach is reasonable or rabbit-hole-crazy) is a skill that I’m still developing.

Thanks again for your comments. Seeing what you went through, and your enjoyment and enthusiasm, makes it all worthwhile!