Solution to Unraveling the Mystery

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by Alan Huang

The body of this puzzle is blank, but someone seems to have called in a bunch of wrong answers. Curiously, the submissions span twenty years—but all of them happen in mid-January, specifically on the Saturday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. That’s because each submission is actually the correct answer to a puzzle from that year’s Mystery Hunt. As the flavortext indicates, we need to figure out the reason they are now marked as incorrect.

The reason can be found by tracking down the solution writeups for the puzzles. Each answer comes from a cluephrase in its original puzzle, which has become out of date in some way during the intervening years. We need to find an updated answer that works for the same cluephrase in the present day. The flavortext also notes that this puzzle has no rate limiting on guesses, in order to let us confirm subanswers along the way.

YearIncorrect AnswerPuzzleCluephraseUpdated AnswerHM/SIndexedNotes
2011AMERICANCrowd’s ChantLEAGUE WITH DHNATIONAL18/8LThe American League has had the designated hitter rule since 1973; the National League has adopted it starting in 2020.
2008TUESDAYCampsiteFINALE DAY OF WEEKFRIDAY25/6AGilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, a sequel miniseries, aired in its entirety on Friday, November 25, 2016.
2001SENSORY CORTEXAgoraphobiaROGER HACKETT and VINCENT SIMMONRICH XYTIS37/9TThe original extraction takes the first word of each man’s company at the time. They and their latest ventures can be found on LinkedIn.
2016SPORTAGEThe Case of the Dangerous GameFOURTH GEN KIA SUVSORENTO44/7EThe fourth generation Sorento was introduced in 2020.
2013CARL SAGANDigging Up MusicHOST OF PBS DOCUMENTARY WITH THIS COMPOSERNEIL DEGRASSE TYSON516/17OThe documentary in question is Cosmos; Tyson has hosted both Cosmos series since 2014. (Admittedly, those series do not have the same composer as the original.)
2011STINGRAY NEBULAUnlikely SituationsJANUARY 14TH XKCD TITLEMAGNETIC POLE64/12NThis refers to the most recent January 14th when an xkcd came out, which was in 2019.
2014OPERATOR TESTOperator TestQUAGMIREUNRAVELING THE MYSTERY716/20SQuagmire was a 2004 puzzle whose extraction was to call in the title, QUAGMIRE. Operator Test’s cluephrase was QUAGMIRE, indicating to call in the title, OPERATOR TEST.
2005JANE AUSTENEvil EmpireSHE WROTE EMMAELEANOR CATTON81/13EWho can be said to have written Emma, other than Jane Austen? Well, the screenwriter for the 2020 film adaptation was Eleanor Catton.
2010RIKERSorry, I Love These Big Wrong Musical NumbersNUMBER ONE FOR PICARDPIT BULL93/7TThe 2020 series Star Trek: Picard features Picard’s pit bull, named Number One.

In the timestamps of the submissions, the hours provide an ordering, the seconds give the length of the updated answers, and the minutes index into that answer. The final answer is LATE ONSET.

Author’s Notes

The original concept for this puzzle had a last step where you would phone us, and we would pretend you were the team running the hunt and we were calling in LATE ONSET. We would get to do our sound effects, and you would get the answer along with a little taste of the old-style answer callbacks. Under the circumstances, we cut it. But I think it would have been cool.

Among the answers dropped from this puzzle were:

  • 1997, Puzzle 28: The solution page, which was written several years afterward when the hunt was archived, actually notes that radio station WRIT had changed its callsign to WVCD during that time.
  • 2003, Second Game: Frederik Pohl won another Hugo award in 2010 — it’s for Best Fan Writer, so he was credited as himself.
  • 2007, Logical Digits: The cluephrase involves looking up a hostname on MIT’s network from the IP address. However, we believe the IP was in the part of the 18 block that MIT sold off, and thus is no longer accessible.
  • 2009, Space Ghosts, Coast to Coast: Ghostbusters: Afterlife, scheduled for release in 2021, actually stars three new members of the Spengler family! We don’t know yet if any of them are Ghostbusters, though.
  • 2016, Missing the Mark: Lauren Faust has a new series that ends in “Girls”: it’s DC Super Hero Girls. But there’s no obvious way to add D to that phrase. (My proposal of Roman numeral arithmetic, resulting in MC SUPER HERO, was shot down by testsolvers.)
What does the title mean? It’s what happens when a clue frays.