Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The JKL's of Treasure Hunting - "J"

courtesy of

"J" is for "Jigsawing

When confronted with a riddle, there are many approaches one can take to tackle it - one of the most useful when everything seems hopeless, is to apply a rule learned from jigsaws - the pieces that fit together first, should be fitted first - then work on the remaining pieces. It therefore also becomes useful to be familiar with all the pieces.

Jigsawing the few pieces that could make up the whole puzzle seems like a straight-forward strategy. There are only a finite number of ways a puzzle can be set in a treasure-hunt, but there are infinite permutations (varieties) to each piece.

I will try something different here ... I will write about the different pieces of jigsaws used in Treasure Hunts and I then invite all readers to contribute examples! You learn more when you get involved!

This way, I hope, we can study together the different ways a treasure hunt question is pieced together with a wider and more interesting variety of examples:

1. Anagram (Scrambling)
This is the oldest and most common piece. There will be a word that will depict "disorder" in one way or another. The permutation to it varies from which word or words near the pointer is being scrambled, to identifying which is the actual "anagram pointer". We have seen entire signboards being scrambled too.

2. Charade (Substitution)
Usually, the apparent absence of other jigsawing clues means that the words need to be substituted. The dictionary and thesaurus come in handy for this kind of jigsaws. Of course, the permutations include single words, pairs of words and phrases, not to forget that dual languages can be deployed.

3. Deletion
A word will be subtly or directly used to indicate that a letter, letters, word or words is/are to be removed from either the question or the sign to form the answer.

4. Insertion
A word will be subtly or directly used to indicate that a letter, letters, word or words is/are to be inserted to some part of the question or the sign to form the answer.

5. Reversal
A clue will indicate that some part of the question or the sign is to be reversed in order to form the answer or a part of it.

6. Numeral Conversion
A number is converted to a letter and vice versa. Usually, a universal number is converted to a roman numeral and vice versa.

7. Expansion
Here an abbreviation or acronym is expanded. It may include spelling a number in full.

8. Contraction/Abbreviation/Acronym
The reverse of expansion. A full version of a word or words is abbreviated or represented by popular or regular acronyms (usually can be confirmed by reference to an authorised source).

9. Acrostics
The first or last letters of a series of words are used as part of the clue or the answer. Together with other numeric values, other positions may also be used to form the word(s). Other positional indicators are also used to the same effect.

10. Containers
The answer or part of it is found within a series of words in the question or the signboard Usually, a clue is given to indicate that the solver need to look into the words or phrase for the required "content". You are required to look for the contents given the holders.

11. Holders
It is like the containers except that the answer required now holds the word or words given. You are asked to look for the holders given the contents.

12. Double Jeopardy (the answer is given, look for the question).
This one used to be THE jewel piece but owing to increasing popularity, it has become a common piece. Nevertheless, it does demand good skills to set. Here the answer is given and one has to look for the signboard that seems to have the "question" to fit the answer perfectly. Use of this jigsaw piece can lead to multiple answers, if the setter is not careful in ensuring that there can be no other answers.

13. Mirror
Lateral inversion of letters. Just as you would see them if you had placed a mirror next to the letter, letters or word.

14. Mimic
A given pattern or patterns of letters or words is/are similarly seen in the signboard if you know what the pattern is!

15. General Knowledge
This is just a quiz or a statement of fact. Pure quiz like questions are not something we like to promote but it is most welcomed when combined with any of the other jigsaw pieces.

16. Word Rebus (Juxtaposing)
This is almost like trying to describe a phrase using the relative position of letters and or words to each other. A couple of COCs love to introduce their treasure hunt briefing sessions with lots of examples of this - inviting the participants to guess the phrases.

17. Pictorial
Pictures are used to replace words or phrases. One then forms the question or the answer from the correct interpretation of the pictures. Or in some cases, just a portion of a picture is given as a question. One is to spot the picture to which that piece belongs to. A pure spotting task.

[Update:Feb 13, 2009]18. Homonyms (Sounds like)
This is amongst COC's top favourites. The clue will contain word(s) that has(ve) to be literally read out and the closest "sounds similar" words on the signs will be possible answers. Of course, it could be the reverse.

It will include words or phrases you usually hear in the common languages and dialects of Malaysia. COCs have experimented, mostly successfully, Cantonese, Hokkien, Indonesian, Kelantanese, Mandarin and even Tamil. The spelling will usually not match the intended word (otherwise it is not a "sounds like") but be aware of the more witty versions - where perfectly spelled words can be "read" differently.

I have seen attempts by some COCs who combine "sounds like" with "anagrams" - as far as I remember, none of them went well with the hunters, drawing sharp criticism from those cared about the standard of setting questions. I would not recommend it, unless you are very convinced that you have found a way to blend these two jigsaws in a single question with one getting in the way of the other.

I believe those are the pieces that we have been jigsawing together in treasure hunts so far. If I did miss any - please let me know and I will add on to the "check list" for every one's benefit.

There are of course infinite permutations to each piece and many combination of pieces (combos!) The fun for COCs is to introduce them - the right ones at the right hunt. The fun for the participants is to be able to crack them the first time they are introduced.

The above do not represent the tricks used by COCs - their tricks are however usually within these frameworks. It is within them that the battle of wits take place.

Strategically, a team could just go through each question using this checklist and try to solve the puzzles. One or more of them will lead you to the answer for sure. The only thing against you is time! Experience generally buys that time!

As you can see - there are not many ways a treasure hunt question can be set - keep playing the game regularly, and soon you will be familiar with all of them - have them at the tip of your fingers, tongue and back of your head!

It is now time that I invite all readers - regardless of your experience - to contribute examples (and your explanations) for each piece of jigsaw. Just name the jigsaw and give your example(s). No limit to how many you wish to share!

That's "J" ... look forward to your contributions towards educating the hunting community while you are having fun with it!


Cornelius Koh said...

There is another rare kind of puzzle which is based on
mathematical numbering systems. The common indicators are "odd" and "even".

Check out this question from one of my past hunts:

Q) Oddly, this business is having a sale.


Businesses are having a "SALE" all the time, and there is nothing "odd" about that. The "sale" referred to in the question is "odd" in the cryptic sense.

By taking only the oddly-positioned letters found in SHAKLEE, one can find the word SALE.

These indicators are rarely used in hunt questions, but it's good to remember them. You never know when you're gonna see them, but when you do, you will know how to handle them.

BlogCe5nT said...

Thank you indeed for your sharing, Ckoh!

This is a very good example of the use of "positional" indicators.

I would for now categorise that under Jigsaw No.9 Acrostics.

While Acrostics by definition, usually refer to the 1st and last letters - I have used it to loosely categorise all other "positional" indicators as "acrostics" too. Other examples (mid, centres, seconds, lefts, rights, etc.

And you have pointed out an important tip in treasure hunting - because of the "in frequent" appearance of certain jigsaw pieces - they can catch the unprepared!

peter said...

I posted this question sample somewhere asking for comment, but no one did. I try here again. It involved anagram, reversal and numeral conversion.

Q: Nine in crazy comeback.


Nine - IX
crazy - anagram indicator
come - fodder for anagram
back - reversal indicator

Nine in crazy comeback
(IX) in (OCEM)[Reverse]
=> OCIXEM [Reverse]

Cornelius Koh said...

Hi peter,

Actually, you posted that under "A FIZZY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION", and both 2R1I and I responded with our respective comments:

"If I am thinking what you are thinking, I can't fault your logic.

Nothing wrong with this craft in my books."

- 2R1I

"Not the way I'd set my question - it lacks elegance; it reflects a "lazy" CoC. But yes, the solution is logical enough."

- ckoh

peter said...

Sorry, I missed that.

My main query is:

Can the fodder for the anagram just a part of the adjacent word?

In this example, it is only to anagram come in 'comeback'.

Probably in this example, it is not so bad, as 'come' is a complete word by itself. But what if it is not? Then would it not be endless possibilities??

Cornelius Koh said...


That's exactly the point I was trying to make when I said "it lacks elegance; it reflects a "lazy" CoC".

As a general rule, the fodder can't be only some letters taken from a single word. However, sometimes the indicator is connected to the fodder in a single word. For example, EARTHQUAKE, where EARTH is the fodder, and QUAKE is the anagram indicator; or ADJUSTABLE, where ADJUST is the anagram indicator, and ABLE is the fodder.

It is not the same with, say, CONFUSED HUNTER, where we're adopting CONFUSED as the anagram indicator, and only take HUN as the fodder. I don't think this is accurate - in fact, I think it is awful!

In your CRAZY COMEBACK, perhaps one can argue that although COMEBACK is a single word, the BACK in that word is itself an indicator, thus leaving COME as a qualified (independent) fodder. If viewed from this angle, then I suppose it is possible - and logical - to treat COME separately with the anagram and reversal operations. I think it is debatable whether it would have been more agreeable to split the COMEBACK into two words, i.e. COME BACK.

But my main objection to your solution - although it is logical - is the dual operations of anagram and reversal, which in my opinion reflects a "lazy" CoC looking for an easy way out.

In the course of my (limited) study of cryptic clueing, I have not seen such an approach. The anagram is a powerful tool for the reconfiguration of letters, and my view is that there is no need to adopt the reversal operation here. The anagram operation alone is quite good enough to get the job done. It makes little sense to me to arrange some letters in a specific order, only to follow that up with the reversal of the final product. It is more efficient to configure those letters to the final product directly using the anagram operation.

This is the challenge for the setter, i.e. how to set the clue in the most efficient way with a reasonable surface reading, but still obeying cryptic rules:

Q) Nine come awkwardly.

Or something like that. There is no need to include the reversal operation. But of course the above clue is too straightforward for MEXICO.

BlogCe5nT said...

I don't know how I could have missed the very common "Sounds Like" piece.

I was reading the "Well Wishes" posting and then something triggered me to ask "did I include it?" ... it's there now as No.18.