Natural HistoryBack to round

Exhibit of Colors

by Mona Wang and Tracey Lin


We are presented with three physical fans. All of the backs of the fans have roughly similar striped patterns, while the front of the fans differ. Since there’s no obvious break-in for the backs of the fans, we start working on the front of the fans, which are mini-puzzles. The mini puzzles below are in rough order of ease to break-in.

One fan’s mini puzzle is a modified nonogram. Note that each block always counts as one square – so a red isolated small block and a red isolated big block would still be counted as a single red block. Below is the solution of the nonogram, which yields the word YOUR.

Another fan’s mini puzzle is a series of overlapping mazes. The break-in here are the tiny arrows: on the left edge of the fan, the arrows point inwards along the scribbles, and on the right edge, the arrows point outwards. Although the scribbles are overlaid, they each are a different tint and width, which can help with seeing the mazes. Here is the solution to the three mazes, which yields the word KNOW.

The last fan’s mini puzzle depicts a series of plants that are spliced. With a physical fan, we fold the fan such that for each plant, we “hide” the plants in the middle to see the whole plant.

For convenience, this is what the plants look like when unspliced.

This allows us to see (1) what the type of plant is and (2) how many of each plant there are. Note that the number of plants for the flowers means how many blooms they have. The plant ordering is consistent between slices, so a bamboo slice is always to the left of an orchid slice for example. Below are the plants, ordered from left to right. This yields the word ADVICE.

Type of plantNumber of plantsNumber of plants indexed into type of plant

We now have the words ADVICE, KNOW, and YOUR. To figure out the order of these words, we must look at the back of the fans. Each stripe on the back of the fan is split into equally sized sections. The ADVICE fan’s subsections all start neatly on the left and get cut off on the right, the KNOW fan’s subsections all get cut off on the left but end neatly on the right, and the YOUR fan gets cut off on both sides. Looking more closely, the colors that are cut off on the YOUR fan match the cut off edges of the ADVICE and KNOW fan. This gives us the ordering of ADVICE, YOUR, KNOW when looking at the backs of the fans – which means the ordering is KNOW YOUR ADVICE when we look at the front of the fans as everything flips. We can arrange the fans in a circle as follows by folding the fans a little bit.

KNOW YOUR is a clue phrase for KNOW YOUR MEME. Searching . At this point, we note that each stripe of color corresponds to a different Advice Animal background. COURAGE WOLF, LAME PUN COON, and INSANITY WOLF can be used to confirm that Advice Animals is the correct dataset, as their stripes have various effects that correspond to these animals’ backgrounds. Note that some of the colors don’t match exactly as memes often use colors out of the CMYK printable range, so both the physical and digital version of this puzzle used more subdued colors.

Each stripe has one section that’s not the meme color but instead a white box surrounded by black. That means when we fill out the Advice Animal name clockwise starting from the ADVICE fan, the white box corresponds to what index to extract. Additionally, the number of each stripe is equal to the length of the meme’s name, so we should index into the meme. Here is how we would fill out SOCIALLY AWKWARD PENGUIN, which yields an A.

Below is a table of memes and extracted letters from the outermost edge to the innermost edge, which yields the answer ABSTRACT MEMES.

Authors' Notes

Tracey: With an answer like ABSTRACT MEMES in the art round, and with me being relatively new to making puzzles, I decided the best way forward was to make a super aesthetic puzzle that would make a good souvenir. Mona and I had already decided on the final meme mechanic, so I ideated a Mondrian-flavored nonogram, a technicolor maze, and a glitchy plant fan. Here are the original mini-puzzles.

We got all the way to testsolving the puzzle, where one of our solvers pointed out that this wasn’t an art round puzzle, but a natural history puzzle. 😱😱😱 The worst part is that I had already testsolved the natural history meta, so I should’ve known that…

Well, the plants could stay, but the Mondrian and the technicolor maze got totally reskinned. I hope it felt relatively natural-history themed in the end!