Audio (Puzzle Presentation)

Audio files are a type of alternate media often found in hunt puzzles. Audio files are often involved in music-based puzzles, but can also extend to things like spoken homophones and clips from movies and television.

Background[edit | edit source]

Audio as a medium for puzzles and games is very common, particularly in popular culture. Identification of well-known music/voices and transcription/repetition of notes from audio have become mainstays of modern game shows and literary/video game puzzles over the years.

A prominent version of audio identification puzzles in mainstream culture is the game show Name That Tune, which originally premiered in 1952 as a radio show, before moving to television a year later. The general premise was that contestants would hear an orchestra play a famous song, and had to run to ring a bell and name the song being played. Over time, the show began to include more and more popular music, but always used live performances of the music being guessed, providing a level of obfuscation for people who knew the original recordings better.

Another common pop culture use of audio puzzles is in video games, particular puzzle or adventure games. Some puzzles approach audio puzzles in a classic, simon-says-like way, providing a tune or series of notes that must be matched by the player. Alternatively, games may choose to use audio as an alternate way to express other puzzle mechanics, such as The Witness's jungle region. In it, sounds of birds (and other things) are played when near particular mazes, and players must use relative pitches in order to find the correct path through each.

Puzzle Application[edit | edit source]

Within hunt puzzles, audio is just another way of presenting information. However, it is often one of the best ways to present certain kinds of information. For example, audio tends to be more effective at presenting music to solvers, as opposed to sheet music which requires solvers to be able to read it. This also extends to other audio-related media (such as dialogue from movies/TV/video games/plays/etc.), but it is not without its limitations, especially compared to video files that have the opportunity to express all of what a mixed-media product has to offer.

Audio can also be used very effectively in technology-related puzzles, should it be presented as a downloadable file. Giving solvers access to a tangible file allows for puzzles that explore file manipulation.

Audio can be difficult to use in large quantities, as excessive use of audio identification puzzles (without proper transcription) can alienate solvers that are hard-of-hearing, not to mention becoming repetitive to others over time. As with all types of alternate media, audio-based puzzles should be used in moderation.

Strategy[edit | edit source]

Depending on the type of audio (music, voices, general sound) and the reason audio is being used (identification, technological, unique presentation), certain skills may be required to solve an audio-based puzzle.

Identification[edit | edit source]

Music identification is a very difficult task without any clues as to what the original tracks are, even for people who feel comfortable with the task. One of the only ways to improve one's ability is to listen to a wide variety of music, as lyric-lookup and reverse-audio searching can only get you so far. Having a large range of audio to recall from is important, but not everyone is capable of this level of recall. As a result, it's wise to keep someone who is able to do this kind of solving on your team for special occasions.

Similarly, identification of movies or TV shows from audio can be a difficult task, but one that is greatly helped by databases like IMDb that collect quotes. Dialogue in audio form is more searchable, and with the help of scripts uploaded to the internet, even partial quotes are likely to get results. The difficulty often comes when a clip does not focus on dialogue, and instead features music or sound effects, which can be difficult if you haven't seen that particular movie or show.

File Manipulation[edit | edit source]

If a puzzle involves manipulating of audio files or general databending, it's possible it won't be spelled out. As a general rule, puzzles with hidden information in audio files tend to avoid audio contents that could be construed as things to identify. This is partially because the usual ways to hide information in an audio file (spectrograms, turning images into audio files, etc.) tend to leave their own footprint on the audio itself. While this can be avoided in order to place hidden messages in actual music, authors also tend to want to avoid the confusion that would arise from this (unless the puzzle has multiple layers and explicitly clues a databending step through an ID step). As a result, most audio-manipulation puzzles involve audio that is made up of a single track, monotonous/repetitive, or nonsense noise, in order to best mask what is hidden underneath.

If you suspect that a piece of audio needs to be manipulated, consider what kind of manipulation makes sense. If it's made up of actual music or dialogue, consider amplifying the volume or reversing the audio to see if there's any additional content hidden on the surface. Otherwise, consider throwing it into an audio manipulation program where you can generate a spectrogram (a visual representation of audio), or dig into the digital makeup of the file. Some audio files can hide other types of files (like images or text) within their data, and by reformatting an audio file into another form you may be able to extract new information. Many audio databending puzzles start with images that get turned into audio files, or have audio files with easier first steps that ultimately become more complicated, so keep an eye out for flavortext mentioning things like 'hearing images' or the concept of synesthesia.

Other Uses[edit | edit source]

In cases where audio is being used for non-ID or technological reasons (or simply for the sake of having an audio-based puzzle), you can generally treat it like any other puzzle (provided you are aware of the topics the puzzle utilizes). A puzzle about homophones may use audio to obscure what words are actually being said. A spatial puzzle may use audio to map out a region, assigning sounds to locations. For puzzles like these, the audio is a supplement, and audio-specific skills are not necessarily required to solve them.

Notable Examples[edit | edit source]

  • Radio Alphabet (MITMH 2017) (web) - Music ID. This puzzle is helped by additional clues, but the fact that all of the audio is the word 'Radio' from different songs makes for an interesting (if repetitive and slightly hypnotic) puzzling experience.
  • best song ev-er (MITMH 2020) (web) - Audio Manipulation. Presented as an audio file of the song 'It's A Small Word After All' on loop, this puzzle actually dives deep into audio manipulation, requiring solvers to both do amplification analysis and some serious audio steganography.
  • High Noon Duel (MITMH 2020) (web) - Movie ID. Presented with audio of people talking, solvers have to either identify the movies the lines come from and then ID the speaker, or just recognize a particular actor's voice and skip that first step.
  • Fret Not! (MITMH 2021) (web) - Spoken Clues/Note ID. A double-dose of audio fun, this puzzle plays with spoken crossword clues in a way that forces solvers to consider the possibility of homophones (is it 'partner of locks' or 'partner of lox'?). It also requires solvers to have a keen musical ear in order to figure out the frets being played before each clue.

See Also[edit | edit source]