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What follows here is a little Easter Egg hunt I've pulled together for you all this year. Ultimately, you need to discover a single word of four letters in length which will be revealed by the puzzle once all steps have been fully resolved.

Happy hunting, and Happy Easter!


It’s taken time to plan for you
A scheme of sorts, a trail of clues.
Something hidden in plain 'sight' -
Come: Hear my tale, and see the light...

A place where one might choose to meet,
Becomes the venue for this feat.
The door's held open, "Welcome, please
Do join our game – have one of these..."

I’m either mad or just plain dense...
What I’m encountering makes no sense!
"What is this?!" I to them exclaim.
"What’s the message? What’s the aim?!"

This whole thing seems extremely eerie.
What does it mean...? But then: a theory!
I spot a theme – I then resolve it!
Now follow me, read on, and solve it...

enter image description here

ADORN 48 AIRHORNS 29 AMONG 14 ANALOG 8 ANcESTRAL 14
ANT 0 ANTRUM 20 ART 23 ASPIRATE 9 bAHT 3
BANGLeS 22 BeAT 12 BRAWLER 33 CARtELS 17 CAtS 1
CHARS 1 CHORE 21 CRAtER 1 DEAL 15 DENIAl 28
DOMAINS 21 FINdERS 27 FLOG 19 GENRE 19 GiF 17
GOD 12 GRoAN 3 HASTEN 10 HIP 10 HUMaN 21
HURT 37 KANYE 21 LIBrA 3 LOKI 20 lOTS 21
LOW 21 LYE 21 MAGMA 20 MAIL 11 MaRS 21
MICRoNS 3 MINKs 9 MORE 37 NEED 21 NONE 21
OCHE 12 OCTAvE 3 ORCAS 14 PAGeR 21 pAIRS 17
PAROTIC 3 PELE 52 RANSoM 12 RE 1 ReAP 7
RECIPE 8 REGALIA 2 REIGN 30 RETCHEs 15 RINGTONE 20
ROMANcE 11 SABeR 3 SAWN 16 SHAM 15 ShORE 20
SIP 30 SKELTEr 15 SNAPsHOOTER 3 SNEAK 33 SOlO 20
STAInS 9 STOPlIGHT 21 SWELL 23 SWING 43 TEa 15
TIGHTENS 23 TOGA 19 TONGA 18 TREELEsS 0 yAM 10

Image credits: All images are taken from Wikipedia.

Hint 1:

@HTM has made great progress in their answer, and @user39583 has made a very useful comment, which should be applied. And if those numbers "don't look like indices or an A1Z26 type of substitution", what do they look like?? There is also still one more hidden message in the puzzle which will prove useful...

Hint 2:

If you're still struggling to spot a hidden pattern when looking at the number set components (and have already ordered them as per the now-discovered hidden instruction), you might find it helpful to sort the sets themselves - now, if only there was a way to order them that I'd concealed in the puzzle somehow...

Hint 3:

The 'one more hidden message' referred to in Hint 1 is concealed in the poem - focus on the last line. Note also that as you solve more of this puzzle the poem will only become more and more relevant...

Hint 4:

The final step of the puzzle is indeed a . The final linking answer has more than one connection with this puzzle's executìon and theme. ATTITUDE and KICK belong in the same connecting group.

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2
  • $\begingroup$ @user39583 Thanks for pointing that out - you are indeed correct :) (Thought I'd double checked all of those!) I'll wait until tomorrow before correcting the number, as it will rather give away the next step and it seems you may have worked that out already without it - this should give you a little time to see if you can finish it off first before I open it up again more widely and nullify your advantage! $\endgroup$ – Stiv Apr 10 at 14:42
  • $\begingroup$ No worries about me losing an advantage, I doubt I could finish it off anytime soon :) $\endgroup$ – user39583 Apr 10 at 15:18
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Partial answer (updated)

First, we can identify the people in the image:

Sofía Vergara, Xi Jinping, Victor Hugo, Tiger Woods
John Oliver, Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Joel, Hugh Grant (thanks user39583!)
Chad Kroeger, Heath Ledger, Bristol Palin, Martin Luther
Freddie Mercury, Darryl Strawberry, Betty White, Teen Titans

Next, we

index into each person's name using the numbers in the bottom left corner, using the first name if the person is in a row with a 1, and the last name if the person is in a row with a 2:

Sofía Vergara, Xi Jinping, Victor Hugo, Tiger Woods
John Oliver, Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Joel, Hugh Grant
Chad Kroeger, Heath Ledger, Bristol Palin, Martin Luther
Freddie Mercury, Darryl Strawberry, Betty White, Teen Titans

Taking these letters and adding spaces gives us FIVE OF EACH STRAIN.

This implies that the words in the table below the image

can be sorted into 16 groups of five words each, like in a connect wall. This is also clued in the poem in the line "I spot a theme – I then resolve it!" - here, the "themes" are the 16 groups we must find.

In fact, each word in the table

can be anagrammed to form words and phrases that belong in one of 16 categories:

  1. Elements in the periodic table: ADORN, DEAL, GRoAN, NONE, RINGTONE -> RADON, LEAD, ARGoN, NEON, NITROGEN
  2. US presidents: AIRHORNS, ANTRUM, CRAtER, DOMAIN, RECIPE -> HARRISON, TRUMAN, CARtER, MADISON, PIERCE
  3. Fruits: AMONG, GiF, PAGeR, PAROTIC, ReAP -> MANGO, FiG, GRAPe, APRICOT, PeAR
  4. Countries in Africa: ANALOG, KANYE, MAIL, REGALIA, REIGN -> ANGOLA, KENYA, MALI, ALGERIA, NIGER
  5. Cities in the UK: ANcESTRAL, bAHT, LYE, RETCHEs, SWELL -> LANcASTER, bATH, ELY, CHEsTER, WELLS
  6. Colors: ANT, CARtELS, CHORE, GENRE, MICRoNS -> TAN, SCARLEt, OCHER, GREEN, CRIMSoN
  7. Chinese zodiac animals: ART, GOD, ShORE, SNEAK, TOGA -> RAT, DOG, hORSE, SNAKE, GOAT
  8. Academy Award for Best Picture winners: ASPIRATE, CHARS, STOPlIGHT, SWING, TIGHTENS -> PARASITE, CRASH, SPOTlIGHT, WINGS, THE STING
  9. NFL teams: BANGLeS, MaRS, SABeR, STAInS, TREELEsS -> BeNGALS, RaMS, BeARS, SAInTS, STEELERs
  10. Greek letters: BeAT, HIP, MAGMA, SIP, TEa -> BeTA, PHI, GAMMA, PSI, ETa
  11. Birds: BRAWLER, LOW, OCTAvE, SAWN, SKELTEr -> WARBLER, OWL, AvOCET, KESTrEL, SWAN
  12. Books of the Bible: CAtS, DENIAl, HUMaN, HURT, RANSoM -> ACtS, DANIEl, NaHUM, RUTH, RoMANS
  13. American TV shows: FINdERS, lOTS, RE, SHAM, SNAPsHOOTER, -> FRIENdS, lOST, ER, MASH, THE sOPRANOS
  14. NATO alphabet: FLOG, LOKI, OCHE, ORCAS, TONGA -> GOLF, KILO, ECHO, OSCAR, TANGO
  15. European capital cities: HASTEN, MINKs, MORE, pAIRS, SOlO -> ATHENS, MINsK, ROME, pARIS, OSlO
  16. UK prime ministers: LIBrA, NEED, PELE, ROMANcE, yAM -> BLAIr, EDEN, PEEL, cAMERON, MAy

Next, user39583 found that the lowercase letters in the words in each column of the table

anagram to "once resolved sort sets alphabetically." So, we follow these directions and include the numbers associated with each word:

  1. Elements in the periodic table: ARGoN, LEAD, NEON, NITROGEN, RADON = 3, 15, 21, 20, 48
  2. US presidents: CARtER, HARRISON, MADISON, PIERCE, TRUMAN = 1, 29, 21, 8, 20
  3. Fruits: APRICOT, FiG, GRAPe, MANGO, PeAR = 3, 17, 21, 14, 7
  4. Countries in Africa: ALGERIA, ANGOLA, KENYA, MALI, NIGER = 2, 8, 21, 11, 30
  5. Cities in the UK: bATH, CHEsTER, ELY, LANcASTER, WELLS = 3, 15, 21, 14, 23
  6. Colors: CRIMSoN, GREEN, OCHER, SCARLEt, TAN = 3, 19, 21, 17, 0
  7. Chinese zodiac animals: DOG, GOAT, hORSE, RAT, SNAKE = 12, 19, 20, 23, 33
  8. Academy Award for Best Picture winners: CRASH, PARASITE, SPOTlIGHT, THE STING, WINGS = 1, 9, 21, 23, 43
  9. NFL teams: BeARS, BeNGALS, RaMS, SAInTS, STEELERs = 3, 22, 21, 9, 0
  10. Greek letters: BeTA, ETa, GAMMA, PHI, PSI = 12, 15, 20, 10, 30
  11. Birds: AvOCET, KESTrEL, OWL, SWAN, WARBLER = 3, 15, 21, 16, 33
  12. Books of the Bible: ACtS, DANIEl, NaHUM, RoMANS, RUTH = 1, 28, 21, 12, 37
  13. American TV shows: ER, FRIENdS, lOST, MASH, THE sOPRANOS = 1, 27, 21, 15, 3
  14. NATO alphabet: ECHO, GOLF, KILO, OSCAR, TANGO = 12, 19, 20, 14, 18
  15. European capital cities: ATHENS, MINsK, OSlO, pARIS, ROME = 10, 9, 20, 17, 37
  16. UK prime ministers: BLAIr, cAMERON, EDEN, MAy, PEEL = 3, 11, 21, 10, 52

What do we do about the numbers? Well, according to all the hints so far,

there is one more hidden message that can be found within the introductory poem. The last line provides the instructions for finding this message: we "follow me" by taking the letter found after each occurrence of the string "me," possibly with extra spacing. It turns out there's exactly one occurrence of "me" in each line; taking the letters after those occurrences gives TOTHESPHINXSLAIR.

The big "aha" at this point:

The Sphinx's Lair is the main chatroom for Puzzling SE, so the next step will involve it in some way, though it may not be clear why it would be relevant. If we take a look at the numbers from the sorted categories, though, we can notice that they look like timestamps in the format Day/Month/Year, Hour:Minute (in 24-hour format). For instance, the "Elements in the periodic table" category gives us the timestamp 3/15/21, 20:48.

It turns out that there exists a message sent by the OP in The Sphinx's Lair at that exact time - in fact, every single timestamp indicated by the groups is the timestamp of a message sent by the OP in that chatroom! Furthermore, every message is a clue for the Cryptic Clue Chat Chain (CCCC for short), which is a chatroom game where users set cryptic clues for others to solve, and the solver of a clue has to set the next one.

So, following off of that lead, we

sort the categories by the timestamp and find the solution to each CCCC clue:

+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+
| Category | Timestamp | Chat message | Message ID | CCCC clue | CCCC solution |
+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+
| European capital cities | 10/9/20, 17:37 | https://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/14524?m=55779283#55779283 | 55779283 | CCCC: Messy lions eating start of the digestive tract (16) | GASTROINTESTINAL |
+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+
| Greek letters | 12/15/20, 10:30 | https://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/14524?m=56436767#56436767 | 56436767 | CCCC: 'Dish best served cold', perhaps, in Disney's Aladdin (5) | SALAD |
+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+
| NATO alphabet | 12/19/20, 14:18 | https://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/14524?m=56485557#56485557 | 56485557 | CCCC: Policing Norway holds back crime (5) | WRONG |
+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+
| Chinese zodiac animals | 12/19/20, 23:33 | https://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/14524?m=56489318#56489318 | 56489318 | CCCC: In Los Angeles, for example, Middle English is allowed (5) | LEGAL |
+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+
| Academy Award for Best Picture winners | 1/9/21, 23:43 | https://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/14524?m=56698134#56698134 | 56698134 | CCCC: Tip from Big Bird: Move quickly! (4) | BOWL |
+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+
| American TV shows | 1/27/21, 15:03 | https://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/14524?m=56881365#56881365 | 56881365 | CCCC: Round-the-clock sore head; taking drink at beginning and end of day (6) | STEADY |
+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+
| Books of the Bible | 1/28/21, 12:37 | https://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/14524?m=56890622#56890622 | 56890622 | CCCC: Frame of mind at tonight's opening: I mustn't close up without first pocketing dinnertime tips (8) | ATTITUDE |
+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+
| US presidents | 1/29/21, 8:20 | https://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/14524?m=56899620#56899620 | 56899620 | CCCC: I am climbing around Switzerland with nearly-new apparatus (7) | MACHINE |
+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+
| Countries in Africa | 2/8/21, 11:30 | https://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/14524?m=56995290#56995290 | 56995290 | CCCC: Throws up terribly (rotten starters), eating English shellfish (7) | LOBSTER |
+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+
| UK prime ministers | 3/11/21, 10:52 | https://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/14524?m=57306387#57306387 | 57306387 | CCCC: Recoil from pickled heart with cry of disgust (4) | KICK |
+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+
| Cities in the UK | 3/15/21, 14:23 | https://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/14524?m=57344865#57344865 | 57344865 | CCCC: Detective gone astray becomes scapegoat (6) | PIGEON |
+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+
| Birds | 3/15/21, 16:33 | https://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/14524?m=57346320#57346320 | 57346320 | CCCC: A fight nearby in the neighbourhood - almost concerning! (5) | ABOUT |
+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+
| Elements in the periodic table | 3/15/21, 20:48 | https://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/14524?m=57349198#57349198 | 57349198 | CCCC: Song lacking obvious finale features wretched pirate performing in theatre? (9) | OPERATING |
+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+
| Fruits | 3/17/21, 14:07 | https://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/14524?m=57367959#57367959 | 57367959 | CCCCC: (Corrected CCCC!) Sports team accepts loss, leading to sharp drop down table (5) | SLIDE |
+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+
| Colors | 3/19/21, 17:00 | https://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/14524?m=57389291#57389291 | 57389291 | CCCC: Rainstorm beginning after dry mid-January - it may eventually ease (8) | SECURITY |
+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+
| NFL teams | 3/22/21, 9:00 | https://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/14524?m=57409024#57409024 | 57409024 | CCCC: Container ship heading into Cook Strait at last (6) | BASKET |
+----------------------------------------+-----------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------+------------+-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+------------------+

We can further verify that we are on the right track by noticing that

the names of the people in the image - specifically the parts that we extracted the letters from - can also fit in these categories, and the ordering of the categories match the ordering found using the chat messages:

  • SOFÍA Vergara -> European capital cities
  • XI Jinping -> Greek letters
  • VICTOR Hugo -> NATO alphabet
  • TIGER Woods -> Chinese zodiac animals
  • John OLIVER -> Academy Award for Best Picture winners
  • Jerry SEINFELD -> American TV shows
  • Billy JOEL -> Books of the Bible
  • Hugh GRANT -> US presidents
  • CHAD Kroeger -> Countries in Africa
  • HEATH Ledger -> UK prime ministers
  • BRISTOL Palin -> Cities in the UK
  • MARTIN Luther -> Birds
  • Freddie MERCURY -> Elements in the periodic table
  • Darryl STRAWBERRY -> Fruits
  • Betty WHITE -> Colors
  • Teen TITANS -> NFL teams

Thus, we are left with this:

presumably, a connect wall of 16 words given by the solutions to the CCCC clues:

GASTROINTESTINAL SALAD WRONG LEGAL
BOWL STEADY ATTITUDE MACHINE
LOBSTER KICK PIGEON ABOUT
OPERATING SLIDE SECURITY BASKET

I've only found two plausible groups from this so far though:

____ system: GASTROINTESTINAL, LEGAL, OPERATING, SECURITY
Rock ____: STEADY, LOBSTER, PIGEON, SLIDE

as well as a couple of less well-formed ones e.g. "Side ____" = SALAD, KICK. Additionally, I'm not entirely sure we are supposed to solve this like a connect wall, but I've tried indexing into the CCCC solutions using the name indices and a couple of sorting methods and gotten nothing useful. So this is likely the final step - once all four categories are found, there will probably be one word that fits in all four categories (as is customary for puzzles on this site), which will likely the final answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Last word in #12 should be rot13(EbZNAF) $\endgroup$ – samm82 Apr 4 at 3:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @samm82 Fixed, thanks for pointing it out! $\endgroup$ – HTM Apr 4 at 3:15
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ The one you haven't identified is rot13(Uhtu Tenag) $\endgroup$ – user39583 Apr 4 at 8:39
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The next step seems to be rot13(Gnxvat gur ybjrepnfr yrggref sbe rnpu pbyhza tvirf nantenzf sbe gur jbeqf "bapr erfbyirq fbeg frgf nycunorgvpnyyl") $\endgroup$ – user39583 Apr 4 at 9:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I can't figure out the group that connects (NGGVGHQR) and (XVPX) but I do notice (SEHVG___: ONFXRG, OBJY, ZNPUVAR, FNYNQ) $\endgroup$ – Vicky 2 days ago

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