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Yesterday I went to a magic show and I was part of a clever trick. First of all, the magician arranged 36 cards in a 4 x 9 grid as follows:

cards grid

Then they called me on the stage. I felt a little bit uncomfortable, after all I didn't want to be sawn into two pieces! As the magician explained what I had to relaxed: I just had to point a card of my choice while they were turned around. Then they would guess which card I pointed by asking a single question to the assistant. "Wait a minute" I objected: "This should be simple, you could just ask your assistant which card I pointed!". "It's not that simple" they replied: "I will only ask my assistant what happened today".

At this point I was curious. They turned around and I pointed at the first card. Then they turned back to us and the following conversation took place (M is the magician, A is the assistant, who saw which card I pointed):

(1) M: what happened today?

A: An apple fell inside a bucket.

M: That's the seven of hearts!

I was intrigued, the magician got it right! They asked me if I wanted to retry and I accepted: they turned around again and I pointed another card. Then they turned back to us:

(2) M: what happened today?

A: A cow mooed to my cat.

M: That's the five of hearts!

Amazing, it was right again. Clearly the magician and the assistant had an agreement on a sort of code. I wanted to figure out the code, so we repeated the game a lot of times:

(3) M: what happened today?

A: A bomb killed Jane.

M: That's the seven of diamonds!

(4) M: what happened today?

A: A dog hit a bus.

M: That's the ten of spades!

(5) M: what happened today?

A: Joe ate an apple.

M: That's the ace of diamonds!

(6) M: what happened today?

A: A ram attacked Mike.

M: That's the jack of hearts! Poor Mike by the way...

(7) M: what happened today?

A: A chestnut tree blocked Peter.

M: That's the six of diamonds!

(8) M: what happened today?

A: Janet kissed Alice.

M: That's the king of diamonds!

(9) M: what happened today?

A: Bob met Diane.

M: That's the three of clubs!

At this point I was truly impressed: they got it right every single time! I was sure that no information was given by the assistant other than the answer to the silly question. The magician asked "do you want to try one last time?". "Sure!" I replied.

(10) M: what happened today?

A: A meteor destroyed a cyclamen.

M: That's the ace of spades!

Sure enough it was right. At this point something came to my mind: I thought a little bit and... I guessed the "code" used by the magician and their assistant! So I pointed a card and I told the magician:

(11 - QUESTION) Today a dog climbed a chestnut tree.

"Well done", he replied: "you cracked our code".

How could the assistant communicated my cards using just their answers?

What is the last card I pointed?

I EDITED this post on 2020-10-20 to clarify that the whole trick is not just about pre-memorizing 36 phrases or something like that.


Additional cards pack 1 (2020-11-02)

Yesterday I come back to the magician's place, they immediately recognized me and said: "I saw that you posted my trick on PSE!". "I didn't lose time! But my friends there need a little help to figure out your code". "I see... someone replied but no answer is correct. Look at this for example":

(12) M: what happened today?

A: John cut an apple tree.

M: That's the eight of spades!

"I know what's going on here" I said, "you chose this particular card just to prove that both @Johnathan Ashley and @Joe Ferndz are wrong". "Sure", they replied, "look at these too":

(13) M: what happened today?

A: A walnut fell on Alice.

M: That's the seven of clubs!

(14) M: what happened today?

A: A cat scratched Philip.

M: That's the Jack of hearts!

(15) M: what happened today?

A: The eraser rubbed out a rose.

M: That's the ace of spades!

(16) M: what happened today?

A: A locomotive ran over Angelina.

M: That's the seven of diamonds!

"That's it" said the magician "I hope that your friends will be able to guess our code by looking at this additional pack of cards". "So do I, see you soon." I replied, and left.


Additional cards pack 2 (2020-11-10)

Yesterday I come back to the magician's place again seeking for a little bit more help for you, my friends!

(17) M: what happened today?

A: Leyla planted an orchid.

M: That's the ten of diamonds!

(18) M: what happened today?

A: a mushroom grew over an oak.

M: That's the nine of clubs!

(19) M: what happened today?

A: a grape fell on Donald.

M: That's the four of clubs!

(20) M: what happened today?

A: Daniel punched Jonas.

M: That's the two of diamonds!

(21) M: what happened today?

A: a watermelon rolled on a spider.

M: That's the three of spades!

(22) M: what happened today?

A: a taxi hit a cow.

M: That's the five of clubs!

(23) M: what happened today?

A: Paula fed a crocodile.

M: That's the ten of clubs!

(24) M: what happened today?

A: a cherry fell from the cherry tree.

M: That's the nine of hearts!


Additional cards pack 3 (2020-12-01)

(25) M: what happened today?

A: An apple rolled over a pear.

M: That's the four of spades!

(26) M: what happened today?

A: a lion scared Carola.

M: That's the seven of spades!

(27) M: what happened today?

A: Emma talked to William.

M: That's the eight of diamonds!

(28) M: what happened today?

A: A hammer destroyed a train.

M: That's the six of spades!

(29) M: what happened today?

A: Sophia built a tower.

M: That's the nine of spades!

(30) M: what happened today?

A: David milked a cow.

M: That's the queen of hearts!

(31) M: what happened today?

A: Isaac bought a piano.

M: That's six of clubs!

(32) M: what happened today?

A: An elephant ate an pinapple.

M: That's the jack of spades!


Additional cards pack 4 (2020-12-14)

(33) M: what happened today?

A: A drum deafened Christian.

M: That's the eight of hearts!

(34) M: what happened today?

A: a monkey hid over a lime tree.

M: That's the three of diamonds!

(35) M: what happened today?

A: Selena bought a tangerine.

M: That's the ace of clubs!

(36) M: what happened today?

A: a nutcracker smashed a cherry.

M: That's the two of hearts!

(37) M: what happened today?

A: a rose stang Erika.

M: That's the jack of clubs!

(38) M: what happened today?

A: a palm broke a truck.

M: That's the five of diamonds!

(39) M: what happened today?

A: a sprout poisoned a cat.

M: That's the king of hearts!

(40) M: what happened today?

A: a chestnut tree grew a chestnut.

M: That's the four of hearts!

Now that you have the "code" for all the cards it shouldn't be difficult!


Hint 1 (2020-12-28)

Yesterday I came back to the magician's place again. "I saw that no one got my code yet, and I'm very sorry about it" they said. "What should we do now? Could you give us an hint?" I replied. "It's not time for a hint but...

... you could notice something by looking at the last additional cards pack"

"What do you mean? What should they look for in particular?"

"Many of the cards in the additional cards pack 4 have something in common".

"Oh, I see it now. Thank you". Can you guess the code now?

Credits: I drew the cards grid using the "playing cards" section of the random.org website.

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  • $\begingroup$ Does it have to do with the fact that rot13(fbzr pneqf ner abg gur fnzr jura ghearq hcfvqr qbja)? $\endgroup$ – Torsten Link Oct 20 '20 at 12:07
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for posting addition clues. Will look into this. $\endgroup$ – Joe Ferndz Nov 3 '20 at 2:46
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    $\begingroup$ Work has kept me away from this. Thanks for posting additional clues. Mayve Veterans Day homework;) $\endgroup$ – Joe Ferndz Nov 10 '20 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ you are killing us with these hints. :) $\endgroup$ – Joe Ferndz Dec 30 '20 at 0:37
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    $\begingroup$ Q28 says (28) M: what happened today? A: An hammer destroyed a train. M: That's the six of spades!. Did you intend to have it as An hammer instead of A hammer ? $\endgroup$ – Joe Ferndz Dec 30 '20 at 4:32
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The magician and the assistant need not memorize 36 phrases, because they have memorized the following simple table:

 MALE NAME  |  FEMALE NAME |        FRUIT
 TREE/PLANT |    ANIMAL    | (NON-FRUIT) OBJECT  

Note that every sentence contains two nouns (or nominal phrases), and a verb.

The verb is irrelevant, and the class that each of those noun phrases fall into determines the position of the card.

To explain more clearly, consider mentally dividing the grid of cards as follows:

Subdivided grid We have split the array into 2x3 subgrids, arranged in a 2x3 grid themselves. The class of the first noun in the sentence gives the subgrid where the card is, and the second one gives the position of the card inside that subgrid.

As an example,

take "An apple fell inside a bucket". "Apple" is a fruit: referring to the first table, we see that fruit corresponds to the top right subgrid. The next noun, "bucket" is an object, and per our table, this corresponds to the bottom right position. Thus our target card is at the bottom right position in the top right subgrid, and that's the seven of hearts! The other examples check out as well.

For our purposes,

"Apple" counts as a fruit, even though apple can be a tree as well. The general rule seems to be that "fruit" takes precedence, unless the word "tree" or "plant" is mentioned explicitly ("chestnut tree", for example).

As for the card the narrator is pointing to,

the nouns are "dog" and "chestnut tree". Dog is an animal, so the card is in the bottom middle subgrid. The next thing is a tree, so the target card is the bottom left card in that subgrid, which can only be three of diamonds.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is awesome. I have one question. How would you place A rose stang Erika. Wouldn't Erika be female and so be part of the middle section? This is Jack of Clubs. Figured out. It is Plant and Female. So bottom left top row middle. $\endgroup$ – Joe Ferndz Dec 30 '20 at 4:55
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, rose counts as a plant. $\endgroup$ – Ankoganit Dec 30 '20 at 5:20
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    $\begingroup$ You are a genius. I spent a few days trying to crack with the firat set. I just looked at the full list a few hrs ago and couldn't figure out a pattern. I did see male, female, animal, plant, object. I was looking at parts of speech and got into that rabbit hole $\endgroup$ – Joe Ferndz Dec 30 '20 at 5:31
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    $\begingroup$ Congratulations, I accepted this answer! @JoeFerndz the code is not that difficult if you look it now, is it? Also, I didn't know that you can refer to a plant also by sayng (for example) "apple". I thought the correct form was "apple tree" and that "apple" just denoted to the fruit. $\endgroup$ – melfnt Dec 30 '20 at 9:54
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    $\begingroup$ @melfnt to be honest I've never heard anyone refer to the tree as just "apple" either; but Google tells me it can mean the tree as well. It's just inconsequential nitpicking anyway, I wouldn't worry too much about it. :-) $\endgroup$ – Ankoganit Dec 30 '20 at 10:20
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Not a solution by any means, but a few things I have noticed.

Each of these sentences contains a Subject, a Verb, and an Object.

If the sentence's Subject is a person, the card is in the first row. Else, if the sentence's Object is a person, the card is in the third row. Else, if the Subject begins with a consonant, the card is in the fourth row. Else, the card is in the second row.

Based on the above, I am guessing the unknown card is in the fourth row.

I still have no idea how the columns are determined, but it looks like we only needed the Subject and Object for the row, so I suspect the columns are based on the Verb.

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    $\begingroup$ this is good. I got this as well. I went one step ahead to look at Subject and Object are both Person, Subject and Object are Person/Animal (or swapped) or Object and Object (ex: 10th one). That also gives some hint. I am trying to figure out the solution based on that. That's my task for tonight. $\endgroup$ – Joe Ferndz Oct 20 '20 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ rot13(Zbfg yvxryl hfryrff, ohg jurarire gur pbybhza ahzore vf qvivfvoyr ol guerr, gur cnff grafr bs gur ireq unf gur fnzr ahzore bs punenpgref nf vg qbrf va cerfrag grafr.) $\endgroup$ – risky mysteries Oct 21 '20 at 3:00
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Here's my answer so far:

Each sentence from the assistant has 3 parts : Subject, Verb, Object.

If the Subject is a person, then the card is on the first row.

If the Object is a person, then the card is on the third row.

If the Subject is an animal, then the card is on the fourth row.

If the Subject is a thing, and the thing starts with a vowel, then the card is on the second row.

If the Subject is a thing, and the thing starts with a consonant, then the card is on the fourth row.

With the basics, out of the way, let's focus on the cards in the first row. The answer for cards on the first row are as follows:

If the subject is a person; then the card is on the first row The position of the card is the number of non-dup characters

Joe ate an apple : row 1; col 3; count of Joe = 3 non dup. This makes Card = ace of diamonds

Janet kissed Alice : row 1; col 5; count of Janet = 5 non dup. This makes Card = king of diamonds

Bob met Diane : row 1; col 2; count of Bob = 2 non dup. This makes Card = three of clubs

The answer for cards on third row:

(I am still working thru this)

A bomb killed Jane : row 3; col 8; col from back 2.

A ram attacked Mike : row 3; col 4; col from back 6.

A chestnut tree blocked Peter; row 3; col 1; col from back 9.

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  • $\begingroup$ The intended code is way simpler than this $\endgroup$ – melfnt Oct 21 '20 at 6:26
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    $\begingroup$ Please don't vandalize your answer. If you want to remove it temporarily while you work, then delete it. There is a delete link near the "share" "edit" and "flag" links, at the bottom of your answer opposite your namecard. $\endgroup$ – bobble Dec 30 '20 at 3:31
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    $\begingroup$ sorry. i should have deleted. My apologies. I will post the new one once I have figured out the full answer. $\endgroup$ – Joe Ferndz Dec 30 '20 at 3:35
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One possible way is

the magician and assistant pre-memorized 36 different phrases and the corresponding location in a 9x4 grid.

Not very elegant, but would work if the magician and assistant were both adept at memorization.

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    $\begingroup$ Sad about the downvote with no comment! :( But rot13(zragnyvfz gevpxf yvxr guvf jvgu na nffvfgnag ner nyy tbvat gb or cerneenatrq pbqrf, va guvf pnfr ireony. Vg qbrfa'g arrq gb or gur jubyr cuenfr, creuncf 36 jbeqf be anzrf hfrq va n cuenfr. Be cbffvoyl 2 jbeqf be jbeq cebcregvrf juvpu cvacbvag gur pneq ol ebjf/pbyhza/qvntbanyf, ohg vs guvf jrer gur pnfr, V jbhyq unir gubhtug gur BC jbhyq tvir n cuenfr naq nfx hf sbe gur pneq) $\endgroup$ – SteveV Oct 20 '20 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ OP commenting here. I'm not downvoting but the intended rule is way too simple than the one in this answer. Anyway you're right, I will rephrase the question to make it sure that the whole thing is not just about rot13(cerzrzbevmvat 36 cuenfrf). $\endgroup$ – melfnt Oct 20 '20 at 15:33

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