Solution to Fret Not!

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Answer: SPOKEN WORD

by Cami Ramirez-Arau, Jakob Weisblat, Lennart Jansson

We're presented with an audio file of a person playing guitar and saying clues. The first thing we must do is transcribe the guitar sounds and the clues. The title of the puzzle suggests that the specific guitar fret each note is played on is relevant, so instead of (or in addition to) notating the absolute pitches, we notate the guitar fret used.

Chord Frets Clue Answer
C/G 335553 Certain strength exercises KEGELS
A7add9/C# 977987 Companion to lox SHMEAR
F♯7 242322 Famous trail OREGON
E/B 779997 “Good heavens!” OHDEAR
E57 020X00 He served with Richard SPIRO
F7 101211 In a way, wrapped VEILED
56X875 It's a lake HURON
C♯ 986669 Kind of Blue tune SOWHAT
C♯mm7 X42100 Like many arcade games RETRO
DM7/A 55422X Overseas greeting HALLO
F♯add9 X98699 Predecessor of “Messages” ICHAT
AM7sus2/G♯ 40X454 Prepares to cook, say PEELS
B♭ 653336 Red and green fruits MANGOS
E♭/B♭ X11043 Some have deep pockets PITAS
B♭ 688766 Some Peet's products MOCHAS
Cm 865888 Tot RUGRAT
GM7/B X20032 Trad climbing implement PITON
D7/F♯ X97778 “Turn on the fan!” IMHOT
Fm 133111 Went off VENTED
G♯7 4X4544 You might hear them in court PLEAS

Due to the nature of the guitar, some of the 5-note chords could be played in multiple ways using different strings. An astute listener might be able to tell which string is sounding, but that is not necessary to solve the puzzle. For most of these, there only one feasible fingering (choice of strings and frets to play) unless your hands are enormous, but there are a few that need to be disambiguated by the next step.

The next thing we must do is solve the clues. This is complicated by the fact that several of them (e.g., taught/tot/taut) contain words that have several homophones.

Once we notice that the answers contain the same number of letters as there are notes in the corresponding chords, we might think to try to put the letters of the answers onto a guitar at the corresponding frets.

E S V O K P H M O R S              
B E P P E R A U H O I              
G I I E N L G W M C D              
D T T L G E E H H R E              
A R E O O A L A O A A              
E O D N S S N S R T T              

At this point, we can use the crossings to help us solve the rest of the clues. We may notice that most, but not all, of the letters are checked (clued by 2 clues). In fact, exactly one letter in each row is left unchecked, spelling the answer: SPOKEN WORD.

Authors’ Notes

The idea for this puzzle came about during a discussion at our first writing retreat. We were discussing the lack of variety crosswords in the hunt, so one of the authors cast about their room looking for an object to put a crossword on, and this puzzle was born.