Solution to Syncopation

by Reid Barton

The puzzle consists of two sets of crossword-style clues written in a cipher in which pairs of funny symbols from a five-symbol alphabet correspond to the letters A through Z. (U and V are identified, so that there are 25 letters.) For simplicity, the correspondence is "base 5" and "order preserving", so writing the symbols as 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, we have A = 00, B = 01, ..., Z = 44. In order, the symbols are the bottle, the zigzag, the cylinder, the cane, and the person.

Several of these clues are ambiguous at first, and a cursory examination of the answers yields no discernible pattern. Realizing that the cryptogram used for the clues was probably not tacked on at random, the solver should write the answers in the same way. At this point a pattern begins to emerge, as the solver notices that KNEE becomes 20230404 while CPU becomes 023040, for instance.

Indeed, each answer to a clue in the top set pairs off with an answer to a clue in the bottom set such that the bottom word is obtained by removing the first and last symbols of the top word when the two words are written in this cipher. Thus, the pairing of symbols into letters in the bottom word is offset from that in the top word (clued by "syncopation" and "off-beat"). Take the two leftover symbols from each of the top words, and convert back to letters. These letters in order spell the answer, OLYMPIC GAMES.

Deciphering the text yields:

leg joint
disorderly crowd
dirt eaters
ark builder
pursue stealthily
vocal accompaniment
element one fifteen researcher bob
pie ingredient
force open

apply friction to
dozes off
family game show
gerald sussman and stephen gould
hair style
heart of a pc
holy chant
lambda follower
latex temp file
of the kind in question
shade without hue
well known

And the answers pair off as follows:

leg jointKNEE2023040424 = O023040CPUheart of a pc
disorderly crowdMOB22240121 = L2240MUlambda follower
dirt eatersWORMS412432223343 = Y12432223HYMNholy chant
ark builderNOAH2324001222 = M324001RUBapply friction to
pursue stealthilySTALK333400212030 = P33400212SUCHof the kind in question
divineGUESS114004333313 = I14004333JAYSgerald sussman
and stephen gould
cyclistBIKER011320043202 = C11320043GRAYshade without hue
senseFEEL1004042111 = G004042AUXlatex temp file
vocal accompanimentBACKUP01000220403000 = A1000220403FAMEDwell known
element one fifteen
researcher bob
LAZAR210044003222 = M10044003FEUDfamily game show
pie ingredientCRUST023240333404 = E23240333NODSdozes off
force openPRY30324333 = S0324DOhair style

2006 MIT Mystery Hunt