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This puzzle is part of the Monthly Topic Challenge #6: Is it really that [time] again?.


You wake up, finding yourself sitting in a room you've never seen before. Around the room there are loads of clocks - more than you've ever seen in one place before. There's also some art that resembles Mondrian's works, a world map, and a newspaper page with some ominous words stuck on. The door is locked, only to be released once a three-digit code has been entered and there's some dynamite on the floor - it looks like there's more hidden in the walls though.

"Huh? What's this?"
[no response]
"Ah s██, here we go again..."

enter image description here


Hint:

I pulled off the stickers which warned me of the bomb in the room; this is the 'fun fact' that was underneath. Does it mean anything? enter image description here

Hint II:

The digital clock seems to have something off about it, but I can't quite place it... It says PM on it, does that mean all the times are in PM?

Hint III:

The times appear to mostly be around 7 and 8 o'clock... I wonder what that would mean in a 24 hour context?

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3 Answers 3

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Confidently, you type in the combination:

129.

57 minutes earlier. Let's do the crossword first.

The completed crossword is below. The highlighted letters spell RED HERRING. The crossword was tough and you've wasted quite a bit of time here.

     A I R B A G
         ^   N
             E <
             C
           > D E B A U C H E D
             O     S     ^   E
             T     P         E <
             A     I         P
             L   > R   F O R E W A R N E D
       J           A       ^ N
     > I           T         I
       N           I         N
       X Y L O P H O N E S   G <
                   N ^

Okay, 13 minutes left. What about the clocks and the map?

Strangely, the clocks haven't changed while you were solving the crossword. It turns out that all of the clocks show a p.m. time. Rendered as 24h time, these times can be interpreted as years from 1673 to 2020. (16:37? Yes, that digital alarm clock is strange ...)

Each clock has a coloured border that corresponds to one of the cities marked on the map. These cities share a common property: They had a different name in the year marked by the respective clock. In particular:

In 1917, Oslo was Kristiania.
In 1956, St. Petersburg was Leningrad.
In March 2010, Topeka was Google.
In 1934, Dushanbe was Stalinabad.
In 1807, Toronto was York.
In 2020, Astana was Nur Sultan.
In 1673, New York was New Orange.
In 1938, Yekaterinburg was Sverdlovsk.

Nine minutes left. And the only thing left is the Mondrian painting. What now?

You have no idea.

Five minutes left. You are stuck. But ...

.. let's have another look at that crossword again. Hey! The letter counts fit the old names: There's one four-letter word, where York will fit. One six-letter words where Google will fit. Hm, let's see:

     G O O G L E
         ^   E
             N <
             I
           > N U R S U L T A N
             G     T     ^   E
             R     A         W <
             A     L         O
             D   > I   S V E R D L O V S K
       Y           N       ^ A
     > O           A         N
       R           B         G
       K R I S T I A N I A   E <
                   D ^

That was a breeze. You've still got four minutes left.

There are ten highlighted cells in the crossword. They spell ONNTWIEONE. You are looking for a three-digit number. There's a ONE right there, but that's it.

But you can enter these letters in the usual writing order into the coloured squares of the Mondrian:

   O . N
   N T .
   . W I
   E O N
   . . E

You can see the numbers right there! You key them in, open the door and run. There's just one little thing still nagging you:

What were the different colours in the painting for? Apparently they had no significance. Another red herring.

Never mind, you think as you hear a muffled explosion in the distance.

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  • $\begingroup$ Correct! The colours had some significance in an early draft of the puzzle - I should've phased them out when I removed that stage. Great solve! :) $\endgroup$ Jan 20, 2023 at 22:29
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I'll attempt at least some pieces of the puzzle:

The artwork:

The colours are all primary colours, which can be mixed in certain combinations to form additional colours. e.g. mixing blue and yellow results in green. The resulting colours, per row, of the artwork is: orange, green, purple, black, yellow.

The clocks:

From the clues: Andrew IV died in 1159, which is what a digital clock would display at a minute before noon. This hints that the clock times refer to years, when written in a digital clock format. The other hints then add that these times would be PM, therefore referring to years around the 1900s and 2000s.
Pink = 1917
Purple = 1956
Black = 2010
Red = 1934
Blue = 1807
Yellow = 2020
Green = 1673
Orange = ??38
Notes: the hour hand on the wristwatch is not visible, so it's either missing, or obstructed by the minute hand, which then refers to 1938

The world map:

The dots on the map have the same colours as the clocks, so they must be related somehow. Not sure how yet. Maybe cities, countries, or time zones. Given the whole time theme of the puzzle, I'd lean towards the latter.

The crossword puzzle:

This is left as an exercise to the reader... JK I don't know its solution yet, but I guess it will tell how the map is related to the years (and the exit code)

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    $\begingroup$ For what it's worth, I can see a loose pattern, where rot13(gur qbgf znex pvgvrf gung unq nabgure anzr va gur pbeerfcbaqvat lrnef, hfhnyyl bar qrevirq sebz n ehyre: Yravatenq, Ahe-Fhygna, Fgnyvanonq, Fireqybifx, Puevfgvnavn ...) $\endgroup$
    – M Oehm
    Jan 19, 2023 at 20:56
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    $\begingroup$ Your intuition on the use of the artwork is incorrect, unfortunately... Your work on the clocks is absolutely correct, and M Oehm's comment is on the right track to solving the puzzle! $\endgroup$ Jan 20, 2023 at 11:21
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I believe I've got the crossword - leaving the answers here for anyone who may find them helpful. In the meantime, I'll work to solve the rest of the puzzle. I've bolded the "yellow" letters in each crossword solution. EDIT: Please see M Oehm's comment below for a better solution.

1. Life-saving device-airbag(thanks Radiohead) 2. Informal-admission(least sure on this one) 3. Louche-salacious(only counting the S once from word 2) 4. Life goal-aspiration 5. Digging into-shoveling 6. Told in advance-forewarned 7. Curse-jinx 8. Percussion instruments-xylophones

Here's what I've got regarding the clocks:

I've reduced the times on the clocks to their year formats: format: color//raw time(as year)//GMT time(as year)

artwork-
orange//1938//1438
green//1673//2073
purple//2056//1756
black//2010//0210
yellow//2020//1420
----------------- not shown-
red//1934//1434
blue//1807//2307
pink//1917//1817

Regarding the map:

After a second look, I realized a few things:
-Several dots appear to share a latitude
-The colored dots appear in clusters... 3 dots to 2 dots to 3 dots, and each cluster on a separate continent
-Black and blue appear to be St. Louis and Toronto respectively, the former sold by the French and the latter wrested from the French. Green is most likely Boston, though I'm not sure how that relates to the French.
I did notice that blue could also be London or St. Thomas, and the name for Boston is based on St. Botolph. Can we relate the other five dots to saints somehow?

More on the cities:

Pink = Oslo, formerly Christiana, patron saint St. Hallvard
Purple = St. Petersburg - presumedly St. Peter
Orange = Yekateringburg, formerly Sverdlovsk, Saint ???
Yellow = Astana, formerly Nur-Sultan, Saint ???
Red = Samarkand, known for St. John the Baptist Catholic Church

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    $\begingroup$ Ah, well done! The definitions are very loose and I couldn't find my way into this. But starting from the good work you've done in the southeast corner, I found another possible answer. If you take the highlighted letters in the usual rowwise top-top-bottom reading order, you'll get a rather disheartening message. :( $\endgroup$
    – M Oehm
    Jan 19, 2023 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ I believe yours is the correct solution. Thanks for posting. Darn OP... $\endgroup$ Jan 19, 2023 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ Oof. Nice try though, and we know the crossword is useless now! $\endgroup$
    – user79541
    Jan 19, 2023 at 20:13
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    $\begingroup$ M Oehm's crossword solution is correct, unfortunately. I wouldn't give up on it completely though... ;) $\endgroup$ Jan 20, 2023 at 11:18

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