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This puzzle is part of the Puzzling Stack Exchange Advent Calendar 2022. The accepted answer to this question will be awarded a bounty worth 50 reputation.

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xkcd:christmas-settings

So the question is:

Who might have changed the Christmas settings?


Close-up shots: (1), (2), (3), (4)

*This puzzle is based on the xkcd comic: Christmas Settings by Randall Munroe.

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  • $\begingroup$ Sorry if the image quality is too low. Here are some other editions of the (same) image: (1), (2),(3). And hopefully, close-up images will be helpful, if these are not. Please let me know if anything is illegible. $\endgroup$
    – ACB
    Dec 7, 2022 at 10:19
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I like the idea of the comics, for sure! $\endgroup$
    – Stevo
    Dec 7, 2022 at 10:20
  • $\begingroup$ Did you scan these or draw them online? $\endgroup$
    – user79541
    Dec 7, 2022 at 12:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @parz I scanned them. Everything is hand-drawn except header and footer. $\endgroup$
    – ACB
    Dec 7, 2022 at 12:56
  • $\begingroup$ It’s really well drawn. I, however, can’t draw to save my life… kudos! $\endgroup$
    – user79541
    Dec 7, 2022 at 13:01

1 Answer 1

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Notice that

each dial has 10 settings, and the examples whose labels are shown have the labels in a consistent alphabetical order around the dial.

This suggests

numbering each dial 0..9 in that order and looking at the digits.

The Christmas settings are

0 3   0 8   1 8
0 9   1 9   2 0
0 9   0 1   1 4

and the New Year settings are

1 4   0 5
2 3   2 5
0 5   0 1
   1 8

Hmm,

the left-hand ones in each pair are always 0,1,2. Maybe these are 2-digit numbers. Interpreting as A1Z26 gives us

C H R
I S T
I A N

and

N E
W Y
E A
 R

suggesting that the person who changed the settings

replaced CHRISTMAS with CHRISTIAN. Perhaps they're very religious. Or perhaps the settings always have to form a word, and this was their best way of getting the specific changes they want. Having the settings at CHRISTMAS would have had (from M) coal for Black Hat and Santa entering through the chimney, and (from S) Santa using a sleigh.

So an obvious guess is that

the change was made by Black Hat, who is hoping for something other than coal this Christmas despite being (as shown in many xkcd comics) a very naughty boy indeed

and OP has confirmed that this is the intended solution. But there's another that I personally like better!

The dial's set to give Beret coal in his stocking. As we have seen at https://xkcd.com/1282/, Beret has some unusual preferences and sometimes prefers what's meant to be the booby prize. Perhaps the mysterious meddler is Beret, who really likes coal.

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