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An entry in Fortnightly Topic Challenge #49: Pub Quiz Camouflage

Thanks to @Stiv for permission to take Sgt. Sequence out for another spin on KWIZ NITE!


"This case is going nowhere, Sequence." sighed the Chief Investigator. "We know Patrick Terne has been seen in London, and the trail was hot for a while, but all of our leads have decayed."

Sgt. Sequence replied, "We know he's been in touch with at least two different smugglers, so it's probably theft this time. We just need more clues."

"Well, there won't be any more clues tonight. It's your pub quiz night, isn't it? Why don't you call it a day? It may not be Terne's turn today, but we shouldn't take it home with us."

Not needing to be told twice, Sgt. Sequence closed up his desk and sauntered down the way to The Badger and Biscuit for KWIZ NITE. Stopping at the bar for a pint, he noticed Lando (the usual publican) was not serving. He had been replaced by a new man with a cowboy hat, big mustache and a nametag reading Tex. "Where's Lando?" asked Sgt. Sequence. Tex replied, "Off for the night. Had a fall walking to get his egg and chips this morning."

"That's funny," thought Sequence to himself, "Lando's pretty spry...not the falling type." But things do happen, and as Sequence opened his mouth to order his pint, Tex pushed one to him, saying, "I'm four steps ahead of you, mate!" "Cheeky git," thought Sequence.

Shaking his head, Sequence drifted over to the usual corner table where his quiz team sat, saving him a spot. After a few minutes, the quizmaster got on the mic, "Welcome, ladies and gentlemen! We have quite a treat for you tonight. The Police Appreciation Trust is sponsoring tonight's pub quiz, and since many of you work at the Headquarters down the street, pork scratchings and scotch eggs are complimentary tonight. If you have too many, make sure to check on your heart before leaving tonight!" The crowd chuckled, not really appreciating the bad joke, but greatly appreciating the free food. "The Trust has also provided five sets of five questions to start the quiz off, and is giving a prize for the top team for each set. Here we go!"

As the quizmaster called off the questions, Sgt. Sequence and his team were doing great...they won the first first and third sets, losing the second to a group of Americans on holiday. But Sequence kept having this itch in the back of his skull, and it really threw off his game for the last sets. There was just something wrong here. As the final question rolled out, Sequence stood suddenly and growled "Terne!". Looking around for the new barman, "Tex" was gone. Sgt. Sequence ran to the back room, saying to his colleagues, "I need to check on Lando. Call the Chief...fuel! Terne is after fuel!"

YOUR TASK: Answer the questions of the evening's quiz, presented in order below, and try to identify the secret information contained therein that lead Sgt. Sequence to conclude that Terne is stealing fuel. Please complete as much of the puzzle as possible before posting an answer - no partial answers solving a handful of the trivia questions, please.

  1. What term is used to describe a group of several people 100 years old or older?

  2. Whose Elements was the standard for teaching geometry for thousands of years, into the 19th century?

  3. From what cape are many United States rocket launches made?

  4. Whose "pillars" stand at the junction between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean?

  5. What is the nickname of the NHL hockey team in Buffalo, New York?

  6. What is the highest ranking red suit in the game of bridge?

  7. What Polish city is the birthplace of Paul von Hindenburg, noted president of the Weimar Republic?

  8. What is the lowest ranking red suit in the game of bridge?

  9. What was the last name of Tennessee, the animated penguin?

  10. What blimp has been making flyovers at sporting events since the Rose Bowl in 1955?

  11. What was the last name of the US Senator who was beaten on the floor of the Senate after delivering a speech against slavery?

  12. In what sea are the Cyclades found?

  13. What is the most widely used type of rare-earth magnet?

  14. What term is used in cryptography for a function that is easy to compute, but difficult to invert unless you have a specific piece of information?

  15. What are the blood vessels that return blood to the heart called?

  16. What is the most common skin condition that causes pimples in teenagers?

  17. What is the capital of Chad?

  18. What is the last name of the current longest serving woman in the U.S. House of Representatives?

  19. What is the last name of the man who invented the coelostat?

  20. What is almost always the shortest month of the Gregorian calendar?

  21. What term is used for a side road used to avoid a toll road?

  22. What term is used to denote the ratio of an object's speed to the speed of sound?

  23. What is the rarest naturally-occurring element in the earth's crust?

  24. What is the last name of the Labour leader who succeeded Winston Churchill as prime minister of the United Kingdom?

  25. At the Kennedy Center Honors in 2012, the band Heart performed a cover of a Led Zeppelin song, commonly known by which first word of its title?

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Solved! The answers to the quiz questions are as follows:

1. What term is used to describe a group of several people 100 years old or older? CENTENARIANS
2. Whose Elements was the standard for teaching geometry for thousands of years, into the 19th century? EUCLID
3. From what cape are many United States rocket launches made? CANAVERAL
4. Whose "pillars" stand at the junction between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean? HERCULES
5. What is the nickname of the NHL hockey team in Buffalo, New York? SABRES

6. What is the highest ranking red suit in the game of bridge? HEARTS
7. What Polish city is the birthplace of Paul von Hindenburg, noted president of the Weimar Republic? POZNAN
8. What is the lowest ranking red suit in the game of bridge? DIAMONDS
9. What was the last name of Tennessee, the animated penguin? TUXEDO
10. What blimp has been making flyovers at sporting events since the Rose Bowl in 1955? GOODYEAR

11. What was the last name of the US Senator who was beaten on the floor of the Senate after delivering a speech against slavery? SUMNER
12. In what sea are the Cyclades found? AEGEAN
13. What is the most widely used type of rare-earth magnet? NEODYMIUM
14. What term is used in cryptography for a function that is easy to compute, but difficult to invert unless you have a specific piece of information? TRAPDOOR
15. What are the blood vessels that return blood to the heart called? VEINS

16. What is the most common skin condition that causes pimples in teenagers? ACNE
17. What is the capital of Chad? NDJAMENA
18. What is the last name of the current longest serving woman in the U.S. House of Representatives? KAPTUR
19. What is the last name of the man who invented the coelostat? LIPPMANN
20. What is almost always the shortest month of the Gregorian calendar? FEBRUARY

21. What term is used for a side road used to avoid a toll road? SHUNPIKE
22. What term is used to denote the ratio of an object's speed to the speed of sound? MACH
23. What is the rarest naturally-occurring element in the earth's crust? ASTATINE
24. What is the last name of the Labour leader who succeeded Winston Churchill as prime minister of the United Kingdom? ATTLEE
25. At the Kennedy Center Honors in 2012, the band Heart performed a cover of a Led Zeppelin song, commonly known by which first word of its title? STAIRWAY

But - hang on a moment - there's something very familiar about the new barman, 'Tex'... What did he say to the Sergeant? "I'm four steps ahead of you"... There's something very susp- Wait! I know who he is!

The letters TEX are each 4 steps (letters) in the alphabet along from the letters PAT - oh my days! Is it too much to suppose that 'Tex' is an alias for Patrick Terne, Sequence's nemesis - right here, masquerading as a barman in his favourite pub?! What's more, this 'Police Appreciation Trust' that's sponsoring tonight's event... those initials spell 'PAT' as well!

Tex is Patrick Terne. Lando's 'fall' is a cover story - and a shaky one at that: who eats 'egg and chips' in the morning?! (It's a teatime meal!) Something is clearly wrong. Lando may be in danger, and for some reason Patrick Terne needs to be running tonight's pub quiz... And if Patrick Terne is here and leading a pub quiz, doubtless he's slipped in a pattern of some kind (his modus operandi, if you will) into the quiz itself...

How can we go about spotting this pattern? Well, first note that quizmaster 'Tex' has chosen his words carefully in in his dialogue, presumably in order to convey a message to an associate in the room (possibly the group of Americans on holiday who win round 2? Winning the round ahead of Sequence's team suggests they're good quizzers with a mind for puzzles and more than capable of finding a secret coded message left for them...). Most important of all that Tex says is his suggestion to:

make sure to check on your heart tonight.

This means that we need to:

look at the middle letters (i.e. the heart) of each of our answers. (Note that this is also clued by the title of the puzzle: "The heart of the matter"...)

Remembering that we need to split the 25 questions into 5 sets of 5 (in order), this yields the following sets of letters:

NA, CL, V, CU, BR.
AR, ZN, MO, XE, DY.
MN, GE, Y, PD, I.
CN, AM, PT, PM, RU.
NP, AC, AT, TL, IR.

What are these? Well, perhaps it would be more helpful to write them like this:

Na, Cl, V, Cu, Br.
Ar, Zn, Mo, Xe, Dy.
Mn, Ge, Y, Pd, I.
Cn, Am, Pt, Pm, Ru.
Np, Ac, At, Tl, Ir.

Because these are now clearly symbols of elements in the Periodic Table!

Remembering that this is a Sergeant Sequence puzzle, we need to identify sequences among these letter groups. How? The first step is to convert these letters to numbers in the normal way:

i.e. using the atomic numbers of these elements. This yields:

11, 17, 23, 29, 35.
18, 30, 42, 54, 66.
25, 32, 39, 46, 53.
112, 95, 78, 61, 44.
93, 89, 85, 81, 77.

Hopefully it is immediately obvious that each of these is a list of terms in a simple arithmetic sequence:

11, 17, 23, 29, 35 = add 6.
18, 30, 42, 54, 66 = add 12.
25, 32, 39, 46, 53 = add 7.
112, 95, 78, 61, 44 = subtract 17.
93, 89, 85, 81, 77 = subtract 4.
Bonus Easter Egg (not sure if at all intended!): If we sum all of these arithmetic differences together (6 + 12 + 7 - 17 - 4) we end up with +4, which is also the Caesar shift we applied earlier to get TEX from PAT...

The question now becomes: what do we do with this information? How can we infer a secret message hidden among this?

Note that Tex talks of a prize for 'the top team in each set' - which may well be a guarded way of nudging his associates to identify the next ('top') numbers (and their corresponding elements) in each sequence. These would be:

41 Niobium (Nb)
78 Platinum (Pt)
60 Neodymium (Nd)
27 Cobalt (Co)
73 Tantalum (Ta)

And what we see now is that these five answers form yet another set of 5. So let's see what their middle letters spell out...

B, Ti, Y, Ba, Ta

Now, as @GarethMcCaughan points out in comments below this post, all of these substrings are also the symbols of elements in the Periodic Table! We have another sequence to consider... If we take the atomic numbers of these elements, they form the arithmetic progression:

5, 22, 39, 56, 73 = add 17.

The next term in this sequence would be element 90: THORIUM.

Now that we've drilled right down as deep as we can go using this solving method, this is very likely to be the final answer. After all (again as pointed out by Gareth):

thorium is sometimes used as a substitute for uranium as fuel in nuclear reactors, by bombarding it with neutrons to produce the highly radioactive isotope uranium-233. (Note here that the OP's use of 'decayed' in the opening paragraph is a subtle pointer towards this desired solution, serving as a hidden reference to radioactive decay.)

It seems likely that the American smugglers are here in attendance at KWIZ NITE purely to receive information about their next target from Patrick Terne (masquerading as 'Tex'). Terne's message to them is that thorium is the resource they will be smuggling next!

Run, Sequence, Run! Get that info back to base and stop those criminals in their tracks!

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    $\begingroup$ You are oh, so close! You're going to kick yourself when you see it :-) $\endgroup$ Feb 13 at 12:18
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    $\begingroup$ If we do the same thing to the final list of "next" elements we get "hearts" B, Ti, Y, Ba, Ta, with numbers 5, 22, 39, 56, 73, again in arithmetic progression (which seems like confirmation that we're meant to do this). Next would be element 90, or thorium. It's still not obvious to me how to get from there to "stealing fuel", though. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Feb 16 at 3:03
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    $\begingroup$ (I mean, thorium is used as fuel in some nuclear reactors, but that seems like a stretch.) $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Feb 16 at 3:05
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    $\begingroup$ @GarethMcCaughan Ach, I've extracted those hearts before and only tried to spell stuff with them rather than repeating the process...! Nice spot. I'll have a think about what it might mean... $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Feb 16 at 7:44
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    $\begingroup$ @GarethMcCaughan That is the correct answer! Maybe a bit stretchy, though I read it is a promising technology. Given the constraints of the puzzle I didn't have a ton of choice of potential answers :-) $\endgroup$ Feb 16 at 14:43

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