This is Jutta Degener’s description of how she and some of the other Metaweb staff cracked the Bad Monkeys puzzle:
I’m a programmer for a small San Francisco startup called Metaweb; we run freebase.com. We’ve grown a lot lately; now, about 60 people work here.
The other day, Metaweb’s office manager, Jon, started a book exchange program with a mailing list. Book donations are supposed to be accompanied by a short post to the mailing list, describing the book.
The second book anyone wrote about was “Bad Monkeys”, donated by our systems engineer Tyler. I’d read “Sewer, Gas and Electric”, and remembered the name “Matt Ruff”, but didn’t remember where from – so I looked it up on the web, and noticed the hints about “winning something” and a puzzle.
PUZZLE 1: Cryptic Crossword
The first puzzle took about three or four hours, spread through a day. Everybody who entered my office got drafted into helping; the last person pulled in, Nix, turned out to be an experienced cryptic clue solver and breezed through the last clues.
The harder clues were often the shorter ones:
23 ACROSS: Fix lips to lead dispenser (6)
We’d been thinking “pistol” from the “lead dispenser” and letters at intersections, all along, but didn’t see it in “lips to” until the end. Anagrams that involve prepositions sometimes just don’t register.
21 DOWN: Gives name to Chief Justice and Speaker of the House (6)
I spent forever looking for first- or last names that holders of these offices might have in common. With fresh eyes, Nix saw this as “titles”.
26 ACROSS: Fifty-one untruths beginning tale most singular (9)
Taking fifty-one as Roman numeral LI, I got LILIES, which is a nice word, but needed letting go of to allow for “l-one-lies-t”.
29 ACROSS: Change in course is transparent (5)
I had no idea that “sheer” had a double meaning; once we looked it up, it became, erm, clear.
2 DOWN: Choose Christian from Cairo, almost. (3)
Ah. Christian from Cairo is “Copt”. Oh-kay. You’re not showing off or anything.
8 DOWN: Frequently ends solo of guitarist George Harrison (5)
We solved that as “often” because it fit, but it took another ten minutes of uselessly going through George Harrison solo records until we saw the connection between “o-f-t-e-n” and the clue.
In the end, we were left with an anagram of
D EE HHH II L MM N R OOO TTTT W
Typing that into the Internet Anagram Server didn’t yield anything that stood out as the solution.
The question was “Where’s Jane”. Eliminating “Vegas” as an option (no V, G, S), the beginning chapter answers fairly clearly where Jane is in ways that can be spelled with the letters –
but there are leftover
D H L M O TT
Too many consonants left to do anything with. So, backtrack. Maybe it’s not “ROOM”. Maybe it’s .. hum.
Again, this took fresh eyes (Praveen’s, from the data team) to tell me that that character salad contains “HTML”. “IN THE WHITE ROOM DOT HTML”. Ah. Ouch.
After a bit of confusion about how exactly to spell the URL, we got through to puzzle #2.
PUZZLE 2: Diagramless
The diagramless took the next day, on and off – that was just persistence; I’ve never solved a whole one of these, but I’d read a good online tutorial about how to solve them.
Tim, Tyler’s boss, stopped by and helped me for a while; he just likes to solve puzzles, same as I do. He got bored, I finished up, and stared at the anagram letters with Praveen for another ten minutes or so, since once again the Internet Anagram Server was of no help. This time I got it first– “Homo sapiens”.
PUZZLE 3: Double-Cross
Thursday is free lunch day, and, because it was the first of the month, there was cake. I’d solved about five or so clues of the doublecross during the morning and left it on a table with a pencil as the lunch was winding down; five minutes later, a small crowd had formed, and people were explaining to each other how these puzzles work.
In the end, the text turned out to be far easier to guess than the cryptic clues, especially if one had read Robert Anton Wilson’s trilogies at an impressionable age.
Micah, one of the quality assurance engineers, turned out to be a puzzle maven and supplied solutions until the team of me and our designer James managed to fill in the quote.
(J) Blondie lost in undertow, he admits (7)
I saw “towhead”, but had never heard the term, and went on reading up on Debbie Harry instead. James filled me in.
(Q) Odd if Mammon deems it shameless (8)
“Immodest” fit, but I didn’t get the “odd” clue until just now, writing this.
(T) Diminuitive protege goes wild in front of fish (8)
Another one that I didn’t get until just now. We missed “ward” and instead were trying to explain why “dwarf” amounts to a “diminuitive protege”, and just ended up thinking the author had lost it.
I didn’t think anything of the resulting text, either, “Let Us Go Out To The Field”, until looking it up. So, (pregnant pause) nothing to do with Baseball, then?