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Solution to Mysterious Mechanics


by Kevin Wald

This puzzle makes use of the "The Physical World" relief on the north-northwest wall of the Eastman Lobby (Lobby 6) at MIT.

Various pictures appear online and a couple are Googleable, including the following.

Photo from MIT Admissions website
Source: MIT Admissions website
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons (harder to find at first, but giving better detail)


  1. Each "Attempt Number" clues one of the words in the text at the bottom; this enables us to order the rows by the order of these words in the text.

  2. Each "Attempted Repair" involves connecting what sound like two auto parts. These are actually references to two parts of the picture in the relief.

    Drawing a line from the first part to the second and continuing gets you to one of the eleven pictures of scientists around the edge; the scientist's name has one phoneme in common with the onomatopoetic word used to describe the engine sound.

The resulting chart summarizes what 1 and 2 give us:

Attempt numberWordAuto Part 1Pic Part 1Auto Part 2Pic Part 2ScientistSound wordShared Phoneme
144grossround weight on the timing apparatuspendulum bobshiniest round reflectorVenusFresnelPLOP/l/
1 of 4 (and by far the weakest!)gravitatingright end of the generator shaftright end of the generator shaftcenter of the 27-ball-bearing assemblagecenter of the crystal structureGalileoSNAP/æ/
Just ask someone — they'll tell you immediately.responsivegap the spark crossesspark gap of the spark gap transmittercenter of the radio receivercenter of the loop-shaped radio antennaHelmholtzSQUEAK/s/
I already told you that.revealedmiddle of the bottom of the glasscenter of the bottom half of the hourglassthin glass tubetube between the halves of the hourglassNewtonSPLAT/t/
5 out of 123456789innermostcentral generator coilcentral generator coilmiddle of the top small crossbarmiddle of the top small crossbar on the pendulum clockHuygensHOWL/h/
0.00729735structure [it's the fine structure constant]lowest point of the lower radiatorlowest point of the spark gap transmitterreflector with the automobile name on itMercuryRumfordCLUNK/ʌ/
1 of 9 (for Mr. Boddy, anyway)studybottom of the 27-ball-bearing assemblagebottom of the crystal structurereflector that was new less than thirty days agoMoonAmpereBLOOP/p/
2 out of 2bothrusty reflectorMarsblue water holderEarthMaxwellKNOCK/k/
85 out of 118Atcore of the central gas reservoircenter of the sunleftmost wheel on the generatorwheel on the extreme left of the generator shaftArchimedesYAHOO/ɑ/
10 10thswhollygap in the radio receivergap in the loop-shaped radio antennatail end of the thing with the tail lightstail end of the cometFaradayVROOM/r/
Sorry, I can't really tell one from another.indistinguishabletop of the 27-ball-bearing assemblagetop of the crystal structuretop of the glasstop of the hourglassAlhazenZOOM/z/

Taking these phonemes in order gives LAST HUPP CARS (hinted in the intro; they are vintage automobiles).
The answer is thus the last cars made by the Hupp Motor Car Company: SKYLARKS (hinted in the flavortext; "capers" and "skylarks" are synonymous verbs).