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2012: Solstice

This page describes the puzzle hunt I created as a midwinter 2012-2013 present for my younger brother. This wasn't as extensive as past hunts, but it had some cool elements nonetheless.

As with the previous hunt, this one made use of a narrative to connect the puzzles and their answers. We did our family gift exchange on the solstice this year, so the hunt is solstice-themed.

I will put framing story parts in this format.

This year's puzzle hunt was about an apprentice taking over for a master in the performance of a solstice ritual.

"You mean the sun doesn't just come back on it's own?" Asked the apprentice.

"No," intoned the master, "no, on today, of all days, it does not. It is gone so long that it forgets to come back. That is why we must remind it."

The master stopped for a moment -- Hrmph! -- "rather, that is why you must remind it."

The pupil looked stunned as the realization dawned: "so this is the test you've been hinting at?"

"Indeed. If tomorrow dawns, you will be a pupil no longer."

"But what will I do? Where do I start?"

"Trust your training; your intelligence. You will know. And what you do not know, you will infer."

With this, the master turned back to the diagram on the floor, chanting and tapping. A clear dismissal.

The student though for a moment, before concluding: "I shall perform a scrying to show me the way."

This led to "The Scrying," a simple chess puzzle tied to a (it turns out) near-impossible sound puzzle. You can play it here.

working with the scrying puzzle

"Observe, Interview, Prepare, Perform" -- not the most enlightening advice, but the apprentice decided it was better than nothing, and set out to observe.

Though observing the chickens and goats of the common yard would have been fun, the student decided that seeking out places of mystery and power might be more rewarding.

And so the student decided to visit a special vantage over the misty mountains to the west, and an strange crystal formation to the east.

Mike decided to go west first, and encountered a majestic view:

rainbow puzzle

Staring into the clouds among the mountains at the curious rainbows, the student's thoughts turned -- or were perhaps led -- to the pocket watch.

("Wait," thought the student, "I don't own a pocket watch, do I?")

But there it was in the pocket of the student's robe. An odd watch indeed, half-broken, with the hands flicking every which-way.

The watch was represented by a flip-book of poses (source):

flipping the watch poses

It was certainly an odd watch. Indeed, after some manipulation, Mike discovered it was possessed.

"This watch is possessed by a daemon." Concluded the apprentice. "I'll have to take it to the worrier. Perhaps I can learn something about my task while I am there."

The apprentice headed east to the crystal formation.

The crystal formation was an arrangement of water-filled glasses. They were tuned to various notes, which when read around the circle produced the phrase "FADED BADGE." I set the puzzle up using Reason's Neptune device, but Mike solved it with just his ears (and a guitar):

working with the crystal formation

Tapping the circle of crystals one-by-one, the apprentice noticed an odd scrap of fabric on the floor. Picking it up, it turned out to be an old forest service badge. Odd. The student was sure it wasn't there moments before. Perhaps this required further observation.

The badge is actually pretty nice looking for a quick illustration. I'm getting better at trees:

faded badge puzzle

"Sunfire, eh?" The apprentice considered. "The old minstrel. Not someone I would have interviewed; but Sunfire knows many stories, perhaps one of them will inspire me."

Having gleaned what could be gleaned from the workings of the natural world, the apprentice returned to town to interview the Minstrel and the Worrier. Both were wise in their ways and might shed some light on the working of the solstice ritual.

To the North lived the minstrel, always full of tales and songs. To the South lived the worrier, who cared for all the problems that nobody else had time for. The pupil was sure that both would have advice.

Mike chose to interview the worrier first.

The Worrier took the watch from the student and promised to properly deal with it later.

Then the pupil told the Worrier about the task, and the Worrier looked most alarmed. "Oh my! Oh me! You truly are right to worry. It is your task, so I cannot worry for you. But take these worry beads. They always help me to concentrate and distil my unease."

Turning the beads over and over, an idea began to form in the Apprentice's mind for the core of the ritual.

the worry beads

The two sets of worry beads only had a few common letters, which spelled out "flame." Mike headed off to interview the minstrel.

Upon being asked about the seasons, the Minstrel Sunfire said: "Ah, I remember a song. Here, let me sing it for you." And so the Minstrel began, "Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel ... "

And trailed off. "I've forgotten the lyrics. Perhaps if you play the music for me I can remember."

This wasn't really a puzzle. Mike just had to look up a chord sequence of "Windmills of Your Mind", and play it while I sung.

"What a beautiful song," said the Minstrel, "perhaps you can glean something from its talk of spirals and cycles."

The apprentice thought hard for a moment.

"No, I don't think I can."

"That's a shame," said the Minstrel. "Well, at least take this bag of supplies."

Dumping out the contents of the sack, the apprentice had the impression that something -- perhaps the most important thing -- was missing. But what was it?

The contents of the sack was most curious:

contents of the minstrel's sack

That's: bullet, circuit, cutlass, delta, kiwi, lasso, letter, oval, table, turkey, vulcan, weezer -- in case you are wondering.

(The missing thing turned out to be a candle.)

I'm really happy with how this puzzle came out. Thanks are owed to Chris and Sarah for suggestions and to everyone at William's cocktail night for playtesting.

The apprentice reported to the master. "Master, I know what to do now. I must bring the sacred flame to the woodland shrine."

"Good, good," said the Master, "prepare your candle well, for the flame must survive the journey to the shrine, and to bring any other source of light would be a great sacrilege. When you are ready, I will transfer a bit of the sacred flame to your candle."

"I have also," instructed the Master, "left the components for the construction of the ritual altar in the clearing."

This was a free-form engineering challenge -- building a shield for the provided candle that would let it burn despite the high winds outside. After a few false starts, Mike came up with a combination of a jar and aluminum foil that worked out pretty well.

The pupil accepted the gift of flame. The final components of the ritual would be arrayed in the woodland shrine, near the village. This was how it had always been -- the master would venture out alone to complete the calling of the sun. And now it was the pupil's turn to locate the final components of the ritual in the howling, rainy darkness.

All by the light of this one flame.

(Unfortunately, it wasn't quite dark out yet, and the rain had stopped. So things weren't as dramatic as I would have liked.)

This finale to the hunt involved constructing an altar from components arrayed in a forest clearing:

the clearing with skylon parts

Each component was tagged with a cloth scrap, and bundles of cloth scraps were tied to the trees. Mike interpreted the clearing to assemble the structure:

the skylon, having been built

The structure itself was a design inspired by the Skylon, a tensegrity structure from 1951. My version uses three poplar dowels and one metal broom handle as compression members, 15 thin steel cables as tension members, and three stakes to anchor it to the ground. It is very cool. The central broom handle is suspended off the ground, but rigidly fixed.

Many thanks are owed to my father for helping to fabricate this "skylon kit" the day before the hunt. The kit seems to have held up quite well (before and after photos).

After the altar was constructed and the candle placed at its tip, the apprentice sighed. Perhaps this was all that was needed. And so the pupil returned to the village, and hoped the morning would dawn.