Crop Circle Solution

How It Works

Step 1

The teams need to figure out how to reconstruct the field into a map that looks like their example signals, each of which look like a solar system. To do this, they need to recognize that there is a central circle ("sun") and a spiral going outwards from said center. As in all example signals, the location the spiral coincides with the "sun" is North or Up and the spiral proceeds clockwise. Walking along this spiral noting orientation allows the teams to reconstruct the field, which looks like this.

Step 2

(There are many paths to discovering the encoding, and outlined below is one example path.)

Now the language needs to be determined.

  • Teams should notice that the number of planets is always equal to or less than the number of letters.
  • It should also be noticed that words beginning with similar letters (march, mechanics, marble), ending with similar letters (charcoal, daffodil, lyrical) or sharing similar letter sequences in the middle (honor, signal) reflect identical "planet-plus-moon" orientations in the same relative positions along solar system spirals (starting on the inside and working out).
  • However, teams will find inconsistencies if they try to do a direct letter to planet mapping. For example charcoal shares its beginning with the end of march. It might make sense then to assign the sequence "CH" to "South planet, East moon". Unfortunately, there's a "South planet, East moon" missing from the CH in mechanics. Worse, there appears to be a "South planet, East moon" in suture, a word with no CH.
  • What 'suture' does have in common with 'charcoal' and 'march', that 'mechanics' does not have is the 'tsch' sound. 'mechanics' = 'meh-can-icks' whereas 'suture' = 'sue-tsch-ur'. Compare to 'march' = 'mmm-arr-tsch' and 'charcoal' = 'tsch-arr-cuh-ohh-ell'
  • Checking a few more examples (i.e. the ing in finger and swimming versus the ign in signal) confirms that it is a sound mapping.
  • Teams can either build a full alphabet of sounds, or they can look exclusively to match the sounds from the crop circle. Either way once they mouth the sounds in order of the spiral they get "buh-ahh-sth-err-ooh-mmm". Bathroom.



Design Notes

  • The phoneme (sound) to planet-moon mapping was not arbitrarily made up. Some teams may notice that vowels all seem to have Easterly planets, with the moons differentiating them. In fact, this is true of all the cardinal directions. Different linguistic sound categories like consonate stops, fricatives, semi-vowels and nasals were each assigned a cardinal direction. The sound divisions were based not on the complicated International Phonetic Alphabet but on it's simpler cousin The ARPAbet.
  • To help motivate the final answer, the original flavortext for the puzzle was: "After the aliens travelled many, many light years they stopped in our solar system in search of something incredibly important. Unfortunately they didn't know our word for this important artifact, so they scattered clues around our solar system in the form of crop circles. In particular, we just found a crop circle on the planet's surface nearby. Please explore this crop circle in an attempt to decode what the aliens are so desperately searching for."

Construction Notes

The puzzle was originally called "Maize" and was going to be run in a full scale crop circle that doubled as a "Corn Maze" (the original inspiration for each solar system to have a spiral and vertical and horizontal 'aisles'). Unfortunately that was a difficult location to pin down and the work to make a giant crop circle would have been extremely taxing. The official location for the puzzle was going to be in a field with knee-high grass. However, this location cancelled on us right before we ran the event and we had to move it to a short-grass field. This brings us to the point below.

A special thank you should go out to Matt Vanderkolk, Joshua May, and Matthew Riley for their patience and flexibility with working on fabricating the construction for this puzzle. They used math, engineering, skill, rope and what some are convinced must have been magic to very accurately lay down the flags in precise and accurate positions (plus they aligned the entire design against true north!).