Human Cannonball (MIT Mystery Hunt 2020)

Human Cannonball
MIT Mystery Hunt 2020
Big Top Carnival
Author(s)Benjamin L de Bivort and Jennifer Erickson
AnswerClick to revealWAR MUSEUM
No. solves16
No. total guesses108

Human Cannonball is a text-heavy puzzle from the Big Top Carnival round of the 2020 MIT Mystery Hunt.

Puzzle Elements[edit | edit source]

Flavortext - You’re excited to find out that the next act in the Big Top is a human cannonball. He comes to the center ring and, next to a massive artillery piece, and says “This very gun will propel me from right here to Over There!” Then he gives a surprisingly encyclopedic hype speech about the long history of the interactions between human bodies and artillery. You expect a bit of patter to get the crowd excited, but this was a bit over the top.

Text-Heavy Presentation - True to the flavortext, the meat of the puzzle consists of nine extremely long wartime memoirs.


Identification (History - Conflicts, 20th Century) - Each memoir can be traced back to a specific World War I battle based on place names and other context clues. The third paragraph, for instance, claims "Regret is the name of the last town you pass before" the site of its battle. Searching Google Maps for a town called "Regret" leads to a town just outside Verdun, the site of a particularly infamous battle on the Western Front.

Indexing - The memoirs also contain many, many numbers—perhaps most noticeable in the sixth, which overloads its second paragraph with out-of-place numbers. Indexing these numbers in order into the respective battles (using the Wikipedia title for the battle as the string to index into)...

Reordering - ...and reordering the resulting strings by the date of the respective battle (the memoirs start in alphabetical order)...

Intermediate Clue Phrase - ...yields an extremely long cluephrase, ameliorated somewhat by the enumeration at the beginning of the puzzle: BY COALITION USE / MEMBERSHIP OF / GE RU SP AH IT / OR / GE UK IT RU AH / IN CAPS TREATIES.

Initialization - Finding the "CAPS TREATIES" in question involves taking the capital letters from every memoir, to spell, say, "TRIPLE ALLIANCE" (from the third).

Knowledge Required (History - Diplomacy, European, Late Modern) - Each of these are actual treaties concluded between the powers listed in the cluephrase—the powers involved must be identified...

Binary - ...and subsequently converted into five-bit binary using one of the schemas mentioned in the cluephrase to obtain the answer. Which schema each applies to is ambiguous; the correct solution applies the first schema to the first three memoirs in chronological order and the second schema for the rest, with the switch-off coinciding with a word break.