Fun "The Puzzle Murder Case"

Discussion in 'Amusement: Quizzes' started by Salzmank, May 3, 2017.

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  1. Salzmank

    Salzmank Member: Rank 2

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    Below a puzzle, posted here in three parts, that I wrote--something of a puzzle in the form of a detective story, to be honest.

    I hope you humor the format and enjoy it. (The detective is indeed very annoying, on purpose, but then he's a parody of S.S. Van Dine's very annoying Philo Vance, updated to the modern world.)

    All the clues are, needless to say, contained within the narrative.
     
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    #1 Salzmank, May 3, 2017
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  2. Salzmank

    Salzmank Member: Rank 2

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    “The Puzzle Murder Case”

    The puzzle murder case, as some of the more imaginative members of our daily press called it, was something of a nine days’ wonder in New York. Philip van der Lyine, the amateur sleuth who eventually solved the mystery, thought it only one of his more middling efforts, however—a reaction that infuriated District Attorney Mattham and Sgt. O’Rourke, who had exhausted both of their considerable intellects in pursuit of the solution.

    The case proper began when the District Attorney burst into Mr. van der Lyine’s study and started to rave about the murder of Horace Littel, the puzzle expert.

    “Now, now,” drawled van der Lyine, puffing on one of those infinitesimal Persian cigarettes that he inexplicably fancies, “we’d best begin at the beginnin’. As one of the old Anglican divines—I’m engaged in a study of early Anglicanism at the moment—put it…”

    “Shut up,” Mattham snapped.

    “Well, yes,” van der Lyine responded, unperturbed. “I heard somethin’ about Littel’s death, yes, but how does that concern you, Mattham, old sport?”

    “He’s been murdered, van der Lyine—shot through the head. And we’ve got nothing to go on—no clues, no fingerprints, no suspects!—except this.”

    He thrust an object into van der Lyine’s hand. It was a slip of paper with a most curious set of words on it—in order, then: Fax headed the list, followed by Shops, Chips, Babbage (after which the ink was blotted—curious, though Philip van der Lyine), and Rings, with the s trailing off—and a blood stain to the side.
     
    #2 Salzmank, May 3, 2017
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  3. Salzmank

    Salzmank Member: Rank 2

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    “My, my, Mattham, old horse, this has left even me bemused, as well as amused,” van der Lyine chuckled. “You’re sure it’s not Littel’s to-do list?”

    “Very funny,” snapped Mattham. “Littel did write it, though—while he was in the presence of his killer, we think.”

    “From the evidence of the bloodstained s, I suppose.”

    “Yes, and also the fact that, according to the three persons closest to him—his friend Mr. Smale, his maid Mrs. Wesck, and his nephew, Tom Littel—he had something of a one-track mind and could not go on to another puzzle for days while he was working on one. Yet he must have started it while in his murderer’s presence, because (1) it was not the puzzle he’d been working on and (2) it was also not what he was supposed to write for that week. He wrote a puzzle column for the Tribune, as you know.”

    “Indeed I do,” drawled the Great Man, smiling. “Always found those puzzles a bit too easy—eh, what? Too little from Littel?”

    “Uh-huh,” muttered a sarcastic Mattham, who didn’t much value calling van der Lyine into his cases. “That’s why I came to you. Well, there’s a puzzle for you, probably: what to make of it? It’s either a puzzle or the most ordered piece of nonsense I’ve ever come across.”

    “Well, m’dear Mattham, you go and search for physical evidence and all that sort of thing—or whatever it is you police chappies”—Mattham genuinely winced—“do with your time. I’ll set to work on this.”
     
    #3 Salzmank, May 3, 2017
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  4. Salzmank

    Salzmank Member: Rank 2

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    And set to work he did. He looked through every puzzle book he could find, he used deductive, inductive, abductive, and every other -ductive logic in existence, he immersed himself in Greek and Roman texts (in the original Greek or Latin, of course) to see what the Classics had to say on codes—and nothing. Absolutely nothing. Two days after Mattham had called, van der Lyine was burning the midnight oil—and despondent. He needed something to take his mind off the riddle—the Anglican divines again? Anglican divines… That was interesting. No, but the thought vanished from his mind. Perhaps, he considered, he needed a key word—and, without that word, it was all hopeless. Or another mathematical equation, perhaps? A… Wait a moment. Mathematical? Babbage. Babbage was a mathematician. Yes, indeed—and there was another mathematician…

    The telephone rang.

    “Van der Lyine!” It was Mattham, and he was screaming. “You awake? I’m sorry, but…”

    “Yes, yes, I’m here,” drawled the Great Man. “Well?”

    “Well! The murderer’s confessed, van der Lyine. Forget about the puzzle. The murderer is…”

    “Ah,” van der Lyine sighed. “One ought never to forget about the puzzle. Adds spice to life, I say. My dear Mattham, I know who the murderer is.”

    “What! But…”

    “Of course, m’D.A. The murderer is…”
     
    #4 Salzmank, May 3, 2017
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  5. Nick91

    Nick91 Member: Rank 2

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    First of all, a really well-written detective story, Salz. It's undoubtedly a tricky one, and I struggle to make any sense of the series of words written right before his death. I wonder if the whole "another mathematician" thing is a red herring or if it's relevant to the solution?

    If I had to give a non clue-based guess solely out of gut feeling, I would say that Horace's nephew Tom Littel is the murderer because he's the only "potential suspect" for whom you gave a full name. Not the most detective-like anwer, perhaps.:emoji_innocent:
     
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  6. Salzmank

    Salzmank Member: Rank 2

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    Many thanks, Nick--I really appreciate your compliment.

    I love puzzles and riddles and hope that other folks at these forums will be interested.

    As for the solution... I'll tell you that, in a confined format like this, I had no room at all for red herrings, so... Take that as you will! :emoji_wink:
     
    #6 Salzmank, May 4, 2017
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  7. Nick91

    Nick91 Member: Rank 2

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    Let's see here...Since we know next to nothing about the three main potential suspects (besides their names), any guess would be less about personal motives and more about how the letters in the clues can form any of their names. I note that only one of them has five letters in their last name, while the rest have six letters. And there are exactly five words (fax, shops, chips, babbage & rings). Hmm...

    Writing these words down on an Excel document doesn't show any meaningful patterns either horizontally, vertically or diagonally. I wonder if this is where the Charles Babbage clue comes in? An advanced type of cipher that he was involved with?...I honestly can't recite his mathematical works without googling, so hopefully that won't count as cheating...

    I found the following article on Wikipedia about something called Vigenère cipher. It briefly mentions Babbage here and there, like in the following paragraph:

    The Vigenère cipher gained a reputation for being exceptionally strong. Noted author and mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) called the Vigenère cipher unbreakable in his 1868 piece "The Alphabet Cipher" in a children's magazine. In 1917, Scientific American described the Vigenère cipher as "impossible of translation". This reputation was not deserved. Charles Babbage is known to have broken a variant of the cipher as early as 1854; however, he didn't publish his work. Kasiski entirely broke the cipher and published the technique in the 19th century. Even before this, though, some skilled cryptanalysts could occasionally break the cipher in the 16th century.

    [​IMG]

    The chart above looks simple enough, but I have no idea how to go about using it for the five words in this puzzle. Simply put, I don't really get the concept. But at least we know now that Babbage was familiar with polyalphabetic cipher, which is basically the branch of mathematics that seems most relevant to the story.
     
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    #7 Nick91, May 4, 2017
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  8. Salzmank

    Salzmank Member: Rank 2

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    Very clever, Nick, but you're overthinking it. (I'm no mathematician, I'll say that!)

    You do not need the Vigenere cipher--or any other cipher, in fact. It's something different.

    However, I will say that your spoiler has the answer in it, amusingly enough.

    And, Lord, no, not knowing it without Google does not count as cheating! In fact, you may have to Google that one part in your spoiler to which I referred.

    Sorry about how oblique my comments are--I can't say any more without giving it, or at least a huge hint to it, away.
     
  9. Nick91

    Nick91 Member: Rank 2

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    "You do not need the Vigenere cipher"...Thank God for that, lol.

    I'm intrigued by the fact that my spoiler appearently has the answer in it without me even realizing it. It's a bit like the following joke, where you in a one-in-a-million chance unintentionally get it right:

    Physics teacher: "Billy, what is the derived unit of power?"
    Billy (who's been staring out the window half-asleep): "...What?"
    Physics teacher: "Correct. Well done, Billy".

    But anyway, back to the murder case.

    Most of the spoilered text is about the cipher, so what is there left?

    Wait, two other mathematicians are mentioned, Friedrich Kasiski & Lewis Carroll. Aside from maths, Kasiski was also an archeologist, but I don't think that's remotely relevant here. Carroll, on the other hand, is the author who wrote Alice in Wonderland. Of course, it would make more sense that a word puzzle would be somehow connected to someone who was a writer. Had no idea he was a mathematician, actually.

    Going back to what I said earlier about one person having five letters in their last name, and that there were five clue words in total, I'm inclined to believe that it is Mrs. Wesck based on that. One letter from each of the five words would then be able to form her name. But how?

    Just to recap where I'm at, "fax, shops, chips, babbage & rings" ---> W-E-S-C-K, where the arrow would symbolize something related to the text in the spoiler. Perhaps Lewis Carroll, but it could just as well be something else that's so obvious that I'm completely missing it.

    Edit: I don't know if my mind is playing tricks on me, but I could have sworn that Horace's friend had six letters in his last name. Oh well, there goes my main suspect, Mrs. Wesck...Could be anyone then, really. :o
     
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    #9 Nick91, May 5, 2017
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  10. Salzmank

    Salzmank Member: Rank 2

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    You're quite close, Nick, but I'm reluctant to say more. Well--except that you're right about what its being a word puzzle suggests. I'd recommend following up on that line, particularly famous literary works. :)

    P.S. Thank God indeed it doesn't involve the cipher! My brain would be fried!
     
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  11. Nick91

    Nick91 Member: Rank 2

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    Literary works? So it does have something to do with Lewis Carroll then! But how would van der Lyine come to that conclusion?

    Ok, I've created a solution out of the Lewis Carroll clue that, mildly put, is quite far-fetched and has nothing to do with his literary works. But on some level, there is logic behind it.

    Ready?

    [​IMG]
    As you can see, It indicates that the maid, Mrs. Wesck, is the murderer! Horace probably wouldn't give her a well-earned raise or something! Since the letter "x" consists of the combined sounds that "k" and "s" makes, it makes sense to spell "fax" like this in here. Also, "rings" and "shops" get to share an "s". In addition to Babbage, we also have that "other mathematician" which is Lewis Carroll.
    Obviously, this is not the right path to solution that the detective used, but all roads lead to Rome, as they say!

    I should add that other than Alice in Wonderland, I'm not familiar with Lewis Carroll's books. I must have been around 9-10 when I last read the Alice books.
     
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  12. Salzmank

    Salzmank Member: Rank 2

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    OK, how exactly do I go about this...?

    All roads may well lead to Rome, but this is--shall I say--the roundabout path.

    The simplest path to the solution, which involves fax spelled exactly the way it appeared in the story and no charts or diagrams, does indeed involve Alice--particularly Through the Looking-Glass--in fact, a certain celebrated passage in Through the Looking Glass--the second of Carroll's duology. Think of vowel sounds--that's the best way I can express it--and then type in Through the Looking Glass and certain words that you'll get... That still doesn't have the whole answer, but it will put you on the right track.
     
  13. Nick91

    Nick91 Member: Rank 2

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    It took a while, but the answer appears to be that
    Horace changed one letter from the words in the poem "The Walrus and the Carpenter". The "w" in "wax" was substituted with "f". The "e" in "shoes" was substituted with "p", etc. To illustrate what I mean:
    [​IMG]
    Even if this is the correct answer, I will admit defeat here because I would never have gotten it on my own. It could be that people from English-language countries are more familiar with this poem than me, in the same way that "Humpty Dumpty" or "Twinkle Little Star" has mainstream level of fame, but I have never heard of it before. Nonetheless, it was enjoyable trying to figure it out and keeping the mind busy for a while.
     
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    #13 Nick91, May 6, 2017
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  14. Salzmank

    Salzmank Member: Rank 2

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    That is indeed the answer, Nick, and thanks for spending the time on it!

    No, "The Walrus and the Carpenter" is not as well known as "Humpty Dumpty" or "Twinkle Little Star," but it is still fairly well-known (probably less so nowadays, of course...). It's one of my favorite parts of Through the Looking-Glass (though I'm just a big Lewis Carroll fan in general).

    Thanks again. Happy you enjoyed it!
     
  15. duzit

    duzit Member: Rank 6

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    I've been following along with this. No idea how to solve it but, I found it very interesting.

    Kudos to Nick91 for solving it◆◆◆:emoji_clap::emoji_ok_hand::emoji_dancers:
     
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  16. Salzmank

    Salzmank Member: Rank 2

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    Thank you, Duzit--much appreciated.

    May I ask--is anyone here interested in another one of these? With fewer literary references but the same basic format, I'll put it? I wrote several of these for party games and that sort of thing.
     
  17. duzit

    duzit Member: Rank 6

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    If I were you, I'd just go ahead and post it. I bet you'll get some takers. We have some very smart, deep thinkers around here.:emoji_hushed:
     
  18. Salzmank

    Salzmank Member: Rank 2

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    Will do, Duzit. Thanks.
     

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