Penny Park Guide (MIT Mystery Hunt 2020)

Penny Park Guide
MIT Mystery Hunt 2020
The Grand Castle
The puzzle's icon, a castle tower bearing a resemblance to a rook piece in chess.
Author(s)Asher Walkover, Wei-Hwa Huang (graphic design)
AnswerClick to revealFIREBALL ROBERTS

Penny Park Guide is a physical puzzle from the Grand Castle round of the 2020 MIT Mystery Hunt. It's presented as a brochure (now available in printable PDF format), imitating those commonly given to guests at theme parks to help them navigate the area.

Solve Path[edit | edit source]

The guide ends up throwing a lot of information at solvers all at once, and it can be quite overwhelming. This is because the chaos of it hides 5 puzzles and a metapuzzle surrounding the theme of "pennies". To assist in figuring out what is or isn't a puzzle, the front page (labelled with WELCOME TO PENNY PARK) has instructions on how to use the guide. They list five things someone could do using the guide, and each one is a hint to the locations and method of solving one of the five puzzles. Additionally, the order in which the puzzles are described is identical to the order that the meta uses, so it's a good idea to go along with the recommended order.
The first thing the how-to guide recommends is reading about attractions and celebrity guests, as well as cutting out pennies from a "cut-out" section. These three sections make up the first puzzle. The paragraph about celebrity visitors doesn't provide a lot of information immediately, but one can attempt to answer the questions about the attractions. They don't relate to any real theme park rides, nor are any of them real phrases, but if a few can be worked out (DRONE CENTURION and PHONE CENTERPIECE for the first and fourth being easier entry points) solvers may notice that bridging the gap between the two words is the phrase "ONE CENT". Knowing this, the other can be more easily filled out. Returning to the celebrity guests, there is now something that connects the attractions to the text. All of the attractions had ONE CENT in them, and phrases that are similar but have had "ONE CENT" replaced with new letters can be found within the Celebs text (such as DRUID MALFURION instead of DRONE CENTURION and PHISH MASTERPIECE instead of PHONE CENTERPIECE). The last piece of this puzzle is to actually cut out the "ONE CENT" pieces. If solvers place the numbered coins over the Celeb text to form the attraction names, each coin's target symbol will end up over a different word in the text (FOUNDER and WON as continuations of the previous examples). What solvers also need to realize, both for this puzzle and later puzzles, is that information on the reverse side of cut-out sections is still important. In this case, each ONE CENT cutout has a bit of wordplay instructions on the back. In the case of FOUNDER and WON, these are evens and shift six. Taking the letters with even positions in the word FOUNDER and shifting the letters of WON six positions later into the alphabet results in the words ONE and CUT respectively. Taking all of these transformations in clue order gives ONE: FIND AND CUT OUT TWO ORANGE REGIONS.
The second puzzle is indicated to be the wordsearch, located under the FUN AND GAMES! header. While the wordsearch only provides crossword-style clues for each entry, they can easily be found in the grid due to only appearing horizontally (backwards and forwards), one per row. Solvers should notice that, in keeping with the penny theme, each word shares some amount of letters with the word PENNY. The clue that pointed solvers towards the wordsearch mentions being "bored to bits", hinting at the use of binary. As it turns out, if solvers treat letters that differ from PENNY as ones, and ones that don't as zeroes, each word can act as a 5-bit binary number. If these numbers are then transformed into letters (via a change to base-10 and A1Z26), they spell the phrase ATBASH GRID in clue order. Applying the Atbash cipher to the grid may or may not provide a useful phrase, depending on if solvers have found all of the words in the grid already. If they have, then looking at all of the spaces unused by the words gives them another intermediate phrase: OVERLAY THIS SHAPE ON BLUE AD. By cutting out the zig-zag shape made by the found words, solvers can place it over the blue "Gigantic Savings" ad under the picture of King Jeon, leaving it only partially visible. The remaining words spell the final answer phrase: TWO: CONNECT CENTERS OF RED PENNIES.
The third puzzle revolves around the Op-Ed section, which reads as relatively normal. If solvers interpret the phrase "non-cents" from the clue literally, rather than as a pun, they may notice that several phrases that normally contain the word "penny" can be found if punctuation is ignored and "penny" is replaced with a new word (such as " for a surprise. In for a pound..." with "surprise" replacing "penny"). The original clue also mentions there may be something "behind" the non-cents, which can be interpreted as looking on the opposite side of the paper (where the Penny Pound image is located). Fittingly enough, each word that has replaced the word "penny" is directly opposite of the heads or tails of a dog/cat/dragon. Taking this as an indicator for first/last letter of the words, solvers can spell the phrase THREE: VALLEY FOLD.
The fourth puzzle mentions two sections: Trivia Time and the Penny Pub advertisement. While it may be possible for solvers who, at this point, realize that their answers follow a pattern to skip the majority of the puzzle by playing a bit of connect-the-dots with the advertisement, the intended route is a bit more involved. Each of the Trivia Time facts can be related to a two-to-five letter word (HE, BELL, and OTTER for the 1st, 4th, and 8th, respectively). As the introduction to the Trivia Time section mentions the replacement of elements with copper, solvers may notice that all of their answers begin with one or two letters that are a valid elemental symbol. If they replace that symbol with the symbol for copper (Cu), new words are formed (CUE, CULL, and CUTTER). The specific elements that are replaced aren't actually important. The original clue points to using the Penny Pub ad after this, specifically to "read between the lines" to find "seven secret ingredients". As it turns out, synonyms for the 8 CU- words from Trivia Time are found throughout the ad's text (PROMPT, SELECT, and KNIFE). If solvers play connect the dots using these synonyms in order of their appearance in Trivia Time, the line will cross over a single word each time, spelling the answer phrase: FOUR: REPEAT THIS PROCESS WITH LIME PENNIES.
The last of the five clues points to using the map, and the use of the words "slither" and "link" indicate it as being a slitherlink puzzle. The given coordinates and their ratings allow one to place numbers at particular points, resulting in a uniquely solvable slitherlink. The clue to this puzzle mentions "first initial impressions" of attractions that are included, indicating looking at first letters of the attractions that end up on the inside of the loop is the next step. By doing so, solvers should get the intermediate phrase FIND RHYME COORDS. As it turns out, one of the words in each attraction rhymes with a number from one to nine, while the other (non-trivial) word starts with a letter from A-I. Therefore, each attraction name can be treated as a new coordinate. If solvers repeat the slitherlink with these new coordinates (and repeat the extraction method), they get another intermediate phrase: FIFTH LETTERS. Taking all of the fifth letters of the attractions in the given order, the answer phrase can be found: FIVE: POKE HOLES IN RED AND BLUE LETTERS. Notably, either slitherlink puzzle is technically possible to skip, due to presence of the hidden coordinates and the fifth letters from the beginning, with the intermediate phrases only pointing solvers to focus on them.

Putting all five instructional answers together, solvers can proceed to extracting the final answer.

By following the instructions (the orange regions being the small parking lot area on the map, and the large background section crossing all three inner panels), one should end up with a folded-up brochure, with the circular bottom of the roller coaster on the front page lining up with the circular border of the map, with the king's head peeking over the edge between them. Poking out the correct red and blue letters should result in numbers (from the awards list) showing through. It may be noticed that these numbers are unique from 1-15, but if solvers attempt to construct a phrase using the letters they punched holes in, they'll wind up with gibberish. The leap that solvers have to make at this point is that the overlaid elements of the brochure at that point bear a striking resemblance to the tails side of a United States penny (as of 2010). If solvers take the letters that are on the penny where the holes have been made, they should be able to extract a 15-letter final answer.

Puzzle Elements[edit | edit source]

  • Physical Media - Originally, solvers received this puzzle as a physical paper brochure for Penny Park. While these paper props can't be collected any more, you can still make one for yourself with the PDF on the puzzle page.
  • Mini-Meta - While not explicitly stated, the high information density of the brochure along with the five "recommendations" on the front page point towards this puzzle being a mini-meta.
  • Hint in Flavortext - Depending on your definition of flavortext, there could be a lot of flavortext for this puzzle, or none, since the puzzle page doesn't actually provide any. However, the first text that solvers will see on the front page of the guide is certainly both flavorful and hint-y. Each recommendation of something to do with the guide is a fairly comprehensive clue towards how to complete one of the five puzzles hidden in the guide. They're even presented in the order that their answers are used in the meta!
  • Something Different (Clues) - The questions asked as part of the first puzzle, in the "How Well Do You Know Penny Park?" section, aren't exactly...fair. But of course, since Penny Park isn't a real theme park, it doesn't have to abide by the rules of what attractions should be named. Or be in the first place. Ultimately, each of the questions can be answered by a nonsense phrase, only bound by...
  • Hidden Substrings - ...the phrase ONE CENT appearing in the middle of them. A fitting theme!
  • Substring Replacement - Granted, these phrases don't last long. In the long paragraph about celebrity guests, those same phrases can be found, but with ONE CENT replaced by...other letters.
  • Papercraft - At a minor and not-at-all artistic level. This first puzzle out of the five requires cutting out little circles, and the second requires cutting out a shape defined by words found in a word search. Even the final meta involves cutting away certain parts of brochure entirely and performing multiple valley folds.
  • Marked Words - To change these new phrases back to what they should be, the little circles that were cut out can be placed on top of them, replacing whatever nonsense they had with "ONE CENT" again, but in the process marking a single word with a question mark. These words...
  • Transformations - ...can then be transformed, according to wordplay clues found on the reverse sides of the circles, such as "reverse" or "opposite of". If they're done correctly, they can form the puzzle's final answer.
  • Instructional Feeder Answers - Unlike most feeder puzzles, these minipuzzles result in numbered instructions, with the meta just requiring solvers to follow the instructions in order.
  • Wordsearch (Clue List) - The second puzzle starts with a relatively straightforward wordsearch. Aside from only providing a series of crossword clues in lieu of a normal word list, it's an easy wordsearch. Each of the words can be found horizontally (either forwards or backwards) with not a single vertical or diagonal line in sight.
  • Binary/Eigenletters - Solvers may also notice that most of the words are suspiciously similar to PENNY. If they treat the eigenletters between them and PENNY as 0, and unmatching letters as 1, they can interpret the list as binary, resulting in...
  • Intermediate Clue Phrase - ...the phrase ATBASH GRID. There are other intermediate clue phrases as well: OVERLAY THIS SHAPE ON BLUE AD at the end of puzzle two, and FIND RHYME COORDS/FIFTH LETTERS in puzzle five.
  • Atbash - Doing what the clue phrase says allows solvers to use the parts of the grid without words in it, spelling out the second intermediate clue phrase of the puzzle.
  • Overlaying - If solvers do what the clue tells them, they'll end up with a mostly-covered advertisement. What isn't covered up is the answer to this puzzle.
  • Idioms and Figures of Speech - The third puzzle revolves around common phrases that use the word "Penny", but that have had the word replaced with a new one. Not all of them are idioms/figures of speech, but enough of them are that it's worth including here.
  • Positional Extraction - Depending on whether the new word is opposite a head or a tail (both found on the opposite side of the page), solvers can take the first or last letter respectively, spelling the answer to the puzzle. Initialization is also used in puzzle 5, along with the rarely-used "Fifth Letters".
  • Chemical Symbols - Puzzle four involves replacing other elemental symbols at the starts of words with the same one (Cu) in order to make new words.
  • Synonyms - The words created by swapping chemical symbols have synonyms that can be found in the Penny Pub ad.
  • Connect-The-Dots - While there are no dots to be seen, solvers can connect the synonymous words within the pub ad in the order they're presented in the first half of the puzzle. By doing so, the line passes through all of the words of the answer in order.
  • Coordinate Systems (Alphanumeric) - The last feeder puzzle involves a map that has been helpfully divided into a 9x9 grid, complete with a A-I/1-9 coordinate system.
  • Slitherlink - That same grid ends up playing host to a slitherlink, with the provided attraction coordinates and ratings acting as givens. When solved, the first letters of the attractions inside the loop spell FIND RHYME COORDS.
  • Rhyming - Each of the attraction names contains a single word that rhymes with a number from one to nine. The other major word in each starts with a letter from A-I, providing a new coordinate for each.
  • Repetition of Mechanics - Armed with new coordinates, solvers can redo the slitherlink, hopefully getting a new result this time. If they do it correctly, they'll be greeted with the same extraction method giving them "FIFTH LETTERS" instead of their original clue phrase. Following this new one gets them their answer.
  • Just Break Stuff - While a lot of the puzzle involves intentional paper cutting and folding, a little bit of destruction comes right at the end, when solvers are instructed to punch holes in particular letters. Seeing as most people don't just have a hold punch on hand, it's likely your average solver just jammed a pen or pencil through them and hoped for the best.
  • Currency (Coins, United States) - The final aha of the puzzle is that the resulting image created by the meta papercraft is identical to a 2010-or-later US penny...
  • Same Enumeration, Different Words - ...except for the words. However, all of the words on the brochure have the same enumerations as the words on the actual penny (E. PLURIBUS UNUM --> K PENNITON JEON, etc.)