mezzacotta Puzzle Competition

Solution: 2D. I Met A Man

The coloured sections highlight fragments of this rather odd tale, and enable us to form the hypothesis that it has been created by loosely stringing together small segments, some of which have been coloured in for reasons we hope to discern.

On further inspection, it seems as though each highlighted segment acts as a clue for some word. A few seem reasonably clear: To bet on the result of a race is to GAMBLE, a mouthful of water indicates GARGLING, a fictional World War I ace is probably BIGGLES, unmarried is SINGLE, etc. A pattern is forming: With a little interpretation, it looks like we are getting a series of words that are each six-letters long and end in -LE.

Following through on this idea, we see that there are also many such clues that are not highlighted. Solving enough of the clues reveals that we have a word ladder, where a single letter changes at each step. This realisation helps to sort out some unclear answers, and we can find the complete list to be:

A man is agilelyNIMBLE
a racehorse's leg, disabling itNOBBLE
and causing it to teeterWOBBLE
and make turkey sounds.GOBBLE
Meanwhile, the chatterGABBLE
of an unruly crowdRABBLE
in the ruined stadiumRUBBLE
merges into a low growlRUMBLE
as they meander aboutRAMBLE
and bet on the result of the race,GAMBLE
which is being announced incoherentlyGARBLE
due to the announcer's mouthful of water.GARGLE
A group of geeseGAGGLE
are being passionately barteredHAGGLE
as the geese move their tailsWAGGLE
and the crowd vibrateWIGGLE
their scarf tiesWOGGLE
as they stareGOGGLE
and laugh.GIGGLE
The man (once a fictional World War I ace)BIGGLE
shakes his legJIGGLE
to a dittyJINGLE
as an unmarriedSINGLE
Australian fashion model'sBINGLE
and is carefully manipulatedWANGLE
by her to clatter metallicallyJANGLE
in a tropical forest,JUNGLE
but it catastrophically failsBUNGLE
and they tie it with the othersBUNDLE
in a circular pit of crushed oreBUDDLE
in a confused fashion,FUDDLE
and mix upMUDDLE
and interfereMEDDLE
in the centre of the pitMIDDLE
using a violinFIDDLE
that had been cunningly stolen,DIDDLE
just to waste the hours away.PIDDLE
They hawk the violinPEDDLE
in a pool of waterPUDDLE
and embraceCUDDLE
but something smells badCURDLE
so they jump over a fenceHURDLE
and rush down a hillHURTLE
in order to perform another con,HUSTLE
for which they must stop her dress from dragging at the backBUSTLE
and making soft crackling sounds.RUSTLE

Explanations for some of those answers:

Now there is the task of extracting meaning from these words. A first guess would be that we should get a word from each colour, arising via extraction of a letter from each answer. Each word in a word ladder is formed by changing one letter from the previous word, so there are two special letters associated to each (except the first and last, but neither of those are relevant here since they are not coloured): The letter that is different from the previous word, and the letter that is different from the following word. We probably want one of these, or perhaps both.

Looking at just the orange words first, if we use the letters that differ from the previous words then we get WAIIJSWJDC. That does not seem at all promising! Trying instead the letters that differ from the following words gives WRIGGSWADD. That is not entirely sensible, but not complete nonsense either. Applying this to the other colours produces the following strings (choosing rainbow ordering for the colours):

It would be easy to think this was incorrect and move on to another approach, but a closer look reveals a thematic connection: Each item gives one or two word fragments that can make words by appending -LE to them. Doing so gives us the words WRIGGLE SWADDLE; AMBLE ABLE; HOBBLE FEEBLE; and RIDDLE.

It is the last of these that gives the game away; the words are describing the three stages of man in the famous riddle of the Sphinx: Crawling as a baby (WRIGGLE SWADDLE); walking as a man (AMBLE ABLE); and using a walking stick in old age (HOBBLE FEEBLE). The references to a man in both the puzzle title and the start of the story are now understood within this context.

To solve the puzzle we must answer its question of "Who am I?" The answer is the person who met the man of the title and related this tale, the asker of the riddle itself: THE SPHINX. We also accepted SPHINX.

Testers' notes

During final retesting of this puzzle, we discussed also accepting LE SPHINX as an answer, but decided this was just too facetious...