mezzacotta Puzzle Competition

Solution: 1B. Picture Carnival

The first part of the puzzle has lines for eleven phrases or words, and in each line we have a highlighted red, green, and blue space. It seems likely that we will have to fill these spaces and so get three eleven-letter strings, and that those will guide us to the answer.

The second part of the puzzle consists of mostly simple images, and a quick count reveals that there are twenty-two of them. This fits in well with the first part, as twenty-two is twice eleven, and suggests that each line will correspond to two images; that many of those lines contain two words is moderate confirmation of this theory.

Many of the photos lend themselves to a few interpretations, while some are fairly narrow in scope, evoking a single concept. We have a club symbol from playing cards, a kitten, something that could be smith or anvil or forge, and so on. After listing the most likely concepts associated with each picture, we can then look for pairs that share some connection. When the right connection is found, that will allow us to choose the correct interpretation of uncertain pictures, and so complete the assignments. Successfully doing that would produce the following intended interpretations of each image:

Looking for connections, perhaps one of the more easily findable to start with is the pair of iron and maiden, giving the well-known band Iron Maiden (or the torture device after which they were named). Further evidence for this pairing is the presence of a (4,6) entry on the first page. Following up on this idea should enable the above list to be completed and all eleven band names found. Placing them in the appropriate spaces by length (in some cases, omitting an initial "the"), leads to the following list of bands:

Reading the highlighted letters gives three names: Richard Rahl in red, Will Stanton in green, and Harry Potter in blue. All three are characters in fantasy series:

All three characters display magical abilities in their respective works of fiction, but the stronger commonality is that they were all appointed as seekers within those works: Richard Rahl was named the Seeker of Truth; Will Stanton is called the Sign-Seeker; and Harry Potter was given the position of seeker in his various Quidditch games. Linking back to the working step's theme of bands, we see that there is a significant band called The Seekers. In fact, one of their famous songs was The Carnival is Over, finally providing a connection to the puzzle title.

The answer to this puzzle is THE SEEKERS. We also accepted SEEKERS.

It seems that many teams focused on the magic connection, and there were a large number of incorrect guesses for the bands Wizard (or maybe this other Wizard), Wizzard, WZRD, and The Wizards. All of this came as a surprise to the puzzle author.

Addendum: After the competition was over, one participant noted that they had found a different plausible Will Stanton, from the movie A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. This Will Stanton had the power to become the "Wizard Master", tying in with the wizard theme that the other two answers had. This makes the various wizard-based guesses completely understandable.

Moreover, Google had presented that participant with that Will Stanton on the first page of search results, while the intended Will Stanton was not listed until the third page. When the puzzle author checked Google just now, the desired Will Stanton appeared several times on the first page, while the one from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 was buried on the fourth page. It is interesting how much variation there can be in the order that items are returned to searchers in different geographic locations!

The author completely missed this alternative Will Stanton (none of the test solvers found him either), and apologises for the consequent confusion that it caused. In future, we hope to do more to catch such situations during testing and so avoid a similar situation. Alas, Google's search algorithm becoming "smarter" over the years has actually made it less reliable for puzzle solving.

Author's Notes

Warning: The first paragraph of these notes includes a spoiler for a puzzle from the 2016 MUMS Puzzle Hunt.

This puzzle had its indirect genesis in this year's MUMS Puzzle Hunt. One particular puzzle in that hunt had a final step of identifying a song from its solfege. After it was over, I was discussing the hunt with some of the SUMS people and remarked that the piece in question was literally the only piece of music that I could identify from its solfege. I added that I tended to think of it more as Take Me to the Emerald City, and was met by blank incomprehension. I added, "... by The Seekers", but that did not seem to help. (Sadly, they did not respond "The Who?") I called them whippersnappers and told them to get off my lawn. Still, it got me thinking about The Seekers in a puzzle context.

I had a tentative idea for a puzzle that involved identifying bands based on people with common properties tied to the band's name. One possibility that came to mind was for The Carpenters to be clued by Jesus and Harrison Ford (who worked as a carpenter during his early acting career). At some point, I noticed that three candidates I had for possible seekers all had names of the same length; this was clearly promising for the answer, and suggested that I would want eleven bands, together with some method of extracting letters to clue the relevant names.

I ended up abandoning my original idea, since finding bands which both had the desired form ("The" followed by some useful noun phrase) and contained the necessary letters was beyond my meagre musical knowledge. I liked the result, but I needed another way to clue the bands; I put the puzzle on the backburner for a while.

A bit later I happened upon this Sporcle quiz that involved identifying band names from two images. I found that enjoyable, and it seemed like a serviceable mechanic to use. I was eventually able to come up with a working set of band names that had the required letters and fit the desired pattern; most of them I had already heard of, too, which was reassuring. Two of the bands were also used in that quiz; I would have preferred to have no overlap, but I considered them valuable as identifiable "ins" to the puzzle and so they stayed. (I would later find out that there were a few other Sporcle quizzes with similar motifs, and some of the other bands that I used were included in those. That was a bit unfortunate.)

One of the most difficult triples of letters to find a good band for was ATT. I originally had Utah Saints for this trio, but the testers felt this band was not as well-known as they would like, and came up with the excellent alternative of Atomic Kitten.

My thanks to David Morgan-Mar for finding suitable royalty-free images to represent the various concepts, doing all the picture layout, and for coming up with the puzzle title (its working title had been the creative "Unnamed Puzzle #2").

Test solver's notes

Interestingly, we found another seeker, with a name 11 letters long, who therefore could potentially also have been hidden in the puzzle: Quin Kincaid, who is the titular Seeker in the Seeker series by Arwen Elys Dayton. It would have been wonderful to include this character, but it would have involved finding a well known band with a two word name, including the letters R, W, H, and Q!

(If anyone manages to construct this super-enhanced version of the puzzle, please let us know!)