Solution to Just Index

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Answer: MERINO

by Ben Yang, Herman Chau, Jon Schneider, Anderson Wang

We can start by solving the clues:

Like an object that curves or bends light (5)REFRACTIVE
With “the”, a derisive sign also frequently called the bird (3)FINGER
Buried remains of a Dracorex or a Brachiosaurus, e.g. (4)FOSSIL
This determines the sum paid in a purchase (1-8i)PRICE
A king, ace, or jack is an example of this component of a deck (20)CARD
With “crowd”, to pay for a specific project as a large group (0)FUND
Relating to blood glucose levels (5-4i)GLYCEMIC
A finger that might be green or opposable (4i)THUMB
What an exothermic reaction produces as a side effect (-4)HEAT
Item traded on exchanges such as Euronext or Nasdaq (8)STOCK
A basic data structure that can be dynamic or associative (-2)ARRAY
It may be genitive, objective, dative, or ablative (3.5+0.5i)CASE

Each of the answers makes a two-word phrase with “index” (refractive index, index finger, etc.), which can help in solving the clues and confirming the answers.

This (combined with the title) implies that we want to index into the answers somehow - if we index 5, 3, and 4 into REFRACTIVE, FINGER, and FOSSIL we get “ANS”, which is promisingly the start of “ANSWER”, though none of the other numbers work given they are too large, negative, or even complex.

The next step is suggested by the monospace font and weird spacing: it turns out that each of the answers can be found word search-style within the clues themselves. For example, ARRAY is found reading down from the “A” in “A finger that might be green or opposable”, and CARD is found backwards in “Dracorex”. This lets us extend the indexing to numbers outside the normal range:

  • For numbers larger than the length of the word, we count past the end of the word in the grid of clues to extract a letter. For example, with CARD, indexing 20 means going 16 letters past the D, which ends up at the “e” in “Buried”.
  • Similarly, for negative numbers, we count backwards from the beginning of the word. Keep in mind that 0 corresponds to the letter immediately before the start of the word.
  • Finally, for complex numbers, a multiple of i means to count that many characters in a 90 degrees counterclockwise direction (this is how the complex plane is represented). For example, THUMB is found reading in a northeast direction starting from the “t” in “structure”, so to index 4i, we start at 0, which is the second “i” in “genitive” (i.e. the letter immediately southwest of the “t”), and then count 4 spaces northwest to arrive at the “e” in “finger”.

If we do this, we find that the 4th, 5th, and 6th clues give “WER”, which confirms that we’re doing the right thing. Continuing indexing in this way, we get “ANSWER MERINO”.

Here are all the words and corresponding indexed letters:

PRICE (1-8i)W
CARD (20)E
HEAT (-4)R
CASE (3.5+0.5i)O

Authors’ Notes

We wanted to make a puzzle that plays with indexing, a step that solvers often take for granted (sort of like how identify, SORT, index, solve from the 2016 Mystery Hunt plays with the “sort” step). Originally we considered ideas like providing a grid of some sort, but they all felt unsatisfyingly underconstrained, until we hit on the idea of hiding the words in the clues themselves. We then added the “makes a two-word phrase with index” constraint since we still had leeway and didn’t want solvers to read into the words too much.

At first we thought that it might be too constrained to fit in all the words while having reasonable-sounding clues, but it turned out to be surprisingly doable (it definitely helped that we put in both “finger” and “card” horizontally).