Ꭵn 𝔞ges past when sailors feared the 𝚖onsters 𝔞t The Edge, life was sim⍴lꬲᴦ for me.

But ever ƽince Magellan and his cursed vهyage, I’m ever beside myself, ever before, ever after, ever surrounding and being surrouռded by myself. Never near, always far.

But I am not alone. We share the same miserable fate, you and I...

What am I? Your answer must explain each part of my riddle.

While I anxiously await your answer, I shall quiet my restless mind with my favorite poetry by Amie Parson:

11 Hsle ozpd te xply qzc l rpzxpectn dslap ez pynwzdp l aztye? Zy l awlyp? Zy l daspcp?

12 Ur U yahq m oudoxq rday baxq fa baxq az m ebtqdq, itmf tmbbqze mf ftq baxqe?

13 Vf n pvepyr rire n cbvag? Vf n cbvag rire n pvepyr?


Click below for the answer to the first question: “What am I?”. The hardest part is the second part: “How?”

I am a person. Nothing more, nothing less. But how is this possible?

[Update: I've made some significant updates since the answers by Wrzlprmft and Auribouros]


4 Answers 4


You are

Gerardus Mercator, the 16th century Flemish cartographer most known for its homonymous map projection

Because, first and foremost,

You are a person. It might be hard to see, but there's non-ascii characters in the text of the riddle. When all of those are properly detected and put together, they form the sequence "Ꭵ𝔞𝚖𝔞⍴ꬲᴦƽهռ"; a naïve romanization of those characters form the phrase "I am a person".

In ages past when sailors feared the monsters at The Edge, life was simpler for me.

Nautical charts before the golden age of sailing were... simpler, focusing less on the geometrical accuracy. I will argue that, if life was simpler for the maps, it was more difficult for the sailors - keeping a rhumb was hard and required constant recalculations until cylindrical map projections (like Mercator's) were introduced.

The "monsters at the edge" are the dragons, lions and mythical sea creatures drawn on the unknown areas of nautical charts. Alas, they didn't depict the edge of the flat earth, but rather the dangers of the unknown.

But ever since Magellan and his cursed voyage, I’m ever beside myself, ever before, ever after, ever surrounding and being surrounded by myself. Never near, always far.

The Magellan-Elcano expedition was the first documented successful circumnavigation of the globe. Alas, Ferdinand Magellan died mid-voyage, but it was his navigator Juan Sebastián Elcano who completed the voyage.

The Mercator map projection is mostly used nowadays not for maritime navigation, but for web maps since circa 2005. Specifically, the most common map projection is a specific kind of Mercator projection, dubbed Web Mercator projection. The important characteristic is that it's a conformal map projection, which preserves local shapes. And, when cut at about +/-85° of latitude, it forms a square. Assuming that the earth is a square allows for a lot of nifty computer science tricks, like quadtiles.

Anyhow, another characteristic of Web Mercator maps is that they wrap around the globe. This can be experienced by zooming out web maps like e.g. OpenStreetMap:

screenshot of OpenStreetMap, fully zoomed out

Hence, a Mercator map is always surrounded by copies of itself, and each copy is surrounding other copies. Each copy is separated from each other by 360 degrees of longitude, which is about 40000km, and the minimum distance for a voyage to be considered a circumnavigation. That's definitely not near.

But I am not alone. We share the same miserable fate, you and I.

Well, I haven't invented the Sánchez projection (yet), but I'm a geomatician myself - the modern-day computer-enabled equivalent of Gerardus Mercator's profession. I am cursed with needing to know the geometric intricacies of map-making.

An alternative understanding of this piece of the riddle is that, when you look at a zoomed-out, repeating, Web Mercator map, your current location is displayed several times - each copy of your city separated by 360° from the next copy.

And, regarding the hints:

They refer to the asymptotic nature of cylindrical map projections: The poles cannot be represented in a (non-traverse) Mercator projection, and so the areas of shapes nearing the poles are distorted greatly. In a Web Mercator projection, a line encompassing the equator has the same length as a line going around a pole (following a perfect west/east rhumb), or for that matter any earth parallel.

In particular, a small circle encompassing a pole is represented as a repeated polygon of infinite area. This looks weird to the untrained eye:

Buffer over Heathrow, orthographic Buffer over Heathrow, cylindrical

  • $\begingroup$ Vagrerfgvat gnxr naq tbbq wbo ba qrpbqvat “V nz n crefba” naq gur guerr yvarf bs “cbrz”. Lbh znl or bireguvaxvat gur fbyhgvba gb gur svefg cneg bs gur chmmyr ubjrire… :) $\endgroup$
    – bob
    Commented Feb 26, 2022 at 18:34
  • $\begingroup$ I added a hint in case it helps (warning it is a spoiler, though only of ~5% of the riddle). $\endgroup$
    – bob
    Commented Feb 26, 2022 at 18:38
  • $\begingroup$ This answer is very likely to be incorrect, but I like it! $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 1, 2022 at 4:13
  • $\begingroup$ Just FYI SE autoapplied the bounty to the answer with the highest score, which is why this answer has the bounty but has not been selected as the answer, in case anyone wonders (not sure why SE does that). $\endgroup$
    – bob
    Commented Mar 4, 2022 at 15:46

The horizon.
On a round world, the horizon’s position depends on the observer’s position and every point can be on the horizon. Thus the horizon is beside itself, etc. It also surrounds every fixed observer’s position, which in turn is on the horizon for another observer. It is never near the observer, but always far.

By contrast, on a disc world, the horizon is always the edge of the world (except when geography gets in the way) and the situation is somewhat more simple.

Sidenote: Magellan had nothing to do with this. Medieval flat earthism is a modern myth.

  • $\begingroup$ This isn’t the answer I had in mind but fits nicely. Nice! $\endgroup$
    – bob
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ I've edited the question with one additional piece to the riddle just FYI. $\endgroup$
    – bob
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 14:45

Is the answer


Thought process:

When Earth was first believed as flat, people thought going beyond the edge of the world would just make one (and their crew) fall into space. But after Magellan's expedition around the world, space was then seen as a way harder to reach place, because you couldn't "just fall" anymore.


In ages past when sailors feared the monsters at The Edge, life was simpler for me.

As mentioned above, sailors used to fear falling off the edge of the world, cliaming there were monsters, or just nothing but empty space.

But ever since Magellan and his cursed voyage,

Magellan's crew (even though most died before completing the journey, including Magellan) was the first to navigate the whole circumference of the world, proving the edge of the world didn't exist, and that the world was indeed, spherical.

I’m ever beside myself, ever before, ever after, ever surrounding and being surrounded by myself.

Space surrounds everything, being in text or in reality. It's omnipresent and vast.

Never near, always far.

Space, even though we can "reach it", expands rapidly, and makes it so we can't really visit most of it.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting idea. Does it it satisfy the other parts of the riddle? $\endgroup$
    – bob
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe except for "ever before, ever after", I'd say it fits the description pretty well ! $\endgroup$
    – Auribouros
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ Cool! My only suggestion would be to do a point-by-point demonstration of that in your answer--it's something I've seen done a lot on questions like this and I think it is helpful. $\endgroup$
    – bob
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ Edited! Even though the answer is probably incorrect, I thought it was almost profound $\endgroup$
    – Auribouros
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ Not sure it fully fits (and not the answer), but I agree that it is profound. $\endgroup$
    – bob
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 15:05

I am a person. It’s spelled out by the Unicode characters in the question as noted correctly by IvanSanchez, and also as an anagram of the name Amie Parsons, the fictional poet from whom the lines of “poetry” are quoted. Those lines are ROT-N encoded, with the line number indicating the number for each line, so line 11 is ROT-11 encoded, line 12 is ROT-12 encoded, and so on. Once decoded they provide hints at the type of geometric mindset needed to solve the second part of the riddle and explain how I am a person.

The key is to think about what it means to be surrounded by something. One definition is that no matter which way you turn, if you run in a straight line in only that direction you will run into the thing that surrounds you. On a plane, the shape at one time at least rumored to have believed to have been the shape of the Earth, a person cannot surround themselves. But on a sphere, which Magellan’s voyage supposedly established the Earth to be (though it had been established long before by the ancient Greeks, which is an aside), if you were to a make copy of yourself in your current location and starting from where your copy is move continuously in any direction, eventually you would end up where you started, but on the other side of your clone from where you began. And so your clone—you—surround yourself and are surrounded by yourself. From there the rest follow: you’re ahead of and behind yourself and beside yourself. But since the distance that you have to travel to reach your position again is nearly the circumference of the Earth, you are always far from yourself, never near.

As pointed out by IvanSanchez in a comment, this answer and the riddle only works if you assume the Earth is perfectly spherical. In reality it isn’t and so you don’t wind up in exactly the same place if you circumnavigate the globe. But for the purposes of this riddle it is assumed the Earth is spherical.

  • $\begingroup$ V zhfg qvfnterr. Vg'f gehr gung, ba n fcurer, tbvat fgenvtug jvyy qrfpevor n pvepyr. Ohg gur rnegu vf abg fcurevpny: vg'f na boyngr fcurebvq. Fb tbvat fgenvtug qbrf abg qrfpevor n pvepyr, ohg engure fbzrguvat pnyyrq n "trbqrfvp yvar". Naq n trbqrfvp yvar (sbe gur trareny pnfr) vf abg thnenagrrq gb cnff gjvpr guebhtu gur fgnegvat cbvag. Frr uggcf://ra.jvxvcrqvn.bet/jvxv/Trbqrfvpf_ba_na_ryyvcfbvq . $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 6, 2022 at 3:18
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks I’ve updated my answer with a note to this effect. That’s really neat! $\endgroup$
    – bob
    Commented Mar 6, 2022 at 16:50

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