25
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This is the final part of A Trivial Pursuit, a 25-part puzzle hunt.


Having solved the previous 24 sub-puzzles in this series, you have managed to find 24 keywords that will help you extract the overall solution to A Trivial Pursuit. For your convenience, these answers are collated in the following spoiler block:

#01 (History) = ASTUTE
#02 (Wrong Superhero) = THOR
#03 (Jurassic World) = BRYMBO
#04 (Threesome) = TERNIONS
#05 (Animal Songs) = SPHAERITES
#06 (Life Goals) = REINA
#07 (String Theory) = KIEV
#08 (Names) = DWYER
#09 (Windows 7) = REIMANN
#10 (Bookshelf) = READ UP
#11 (The Search) = COUMAPHOS
#12 (Logic Boat) = SIPHON
#13 (Things Fall Apart) = HAILSHAM
#14 (Integration by Parts) = HEELS
#15 (Those Not Present) = RHEIC
#16 (X) = ALSATIAN
#17 (Workaround) = OTIATRY
#18 (Connected) = STEADY
#19 (Glass) = SOTOL
#20 (Actors) = REHEARSAL
#21 (Expedition) = FEHMIC
#22 (Bookstore) = PLAGIARY
#23 (Making Things Difficult) = SOAPBERRY
#24 (Color Pattern) = MOFFATT

To help you find the overall series answer, you are provided with the following string of numbers, which should help you work out how to extract the required information from the individual sub-puzzle answers, and in what order...

.4.6.8.4.4.1.5.3.2.1.6.3.8.7.4.2.2.6.3.9.2.0.1.4.2.4.9.9.2.1.6.1.1.1.6.1.3.8.2.7.1.9.

The final answer is a 2-word phrase, appropriate for this series... or 20 words (or is that 21?) ... or an image... or a number... or a URL... or maybe there's no answer at all... or perhaps somehow all of these are correct at the same time... Agh, I can't remember!! Please solve and explain!

Hint 1:

Everything you need to get started is presented in the top spoiler block, but an additional hint has already been included elsewhere in this puzzle.

Hint 2:

The sub-puzzle that ended up as the last to be published was always planned to be so, in case it gave away something about this metapuzzle ahead of time...

Hint 3:

...because it isn't just the answer to each question that's important.

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9
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ (Of course, I can remember... That's just for flavour...) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 0:22
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I bet it's rot13(nyy bs gurz ng bapr). >:) (rot13(pngrtbevrf)…?) $\endgroup$
    – Someone
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 0:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The third hint? We may be playing with the fourth wall... $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 22:04
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Oh. Very sneaky, Stiv. $\endgroup$
    – Amoz
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 14:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Stiv ...or the fifth... $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 15:07

2 Answers 2

21
+100
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The overall answer is a very fitting trivial pursuit:

WORD PUZZLES (2 words)

Or is it 20 words? (Or does the hyphen make it 21?)

PARTS OF THIS ARIA WERE COMPOSED BY BRIAN ENO'S OPERA STAR AU PAIR AT THE START OF HIS POST-LIVE ERA

Which happens to be the

Text of XKCD comic 2032 with the aforementioned title 'Word Puzzles'.

How did we get here? Many probably saw this outright but I was lost until I noticed that

The bold numbers in the sequence are 3,4,24,11 which is A1Z26 for CDXK, a clear anagram for XKCD... and a quick check confirms that all of the titles are XKCD comic titles. (Fitting for the current month's topic challenge, although these are out of range). Interestingly there's also one titled 'Meta Analysis', though it doesn't seem to factor in here.
From there we use google to find the number (from "or a number...") of each comic. Example 'Animal Songs' is XKCD #2426.
Next, we have a very long numeric string:

.4.6.8.4.4.1.5.3.2.1.6.3.8.7.4.2.2.6.3.9.2.0.1.4.2.4.9.9.2.1.6.1.1.1.6.1.3.8.2.7.1.9.

.4.6 can be filled in with that number 2426, and sure enough, the length of this string matches the total length of all the comic strip numbers. So it is an assembly problem... and a quite challenging one, or else I took the hard way. There is likely a logical solve path, but I just played with it by trial and error, and found what is surely the unique solution (since I tried many others first :) )....
ordered numbers
This gives us an order to the answers. Now how to extract?

This part took me quite a while to figure out. I kept trying to make vertical stacks of words, as in the first and last mini-puzzle. It turned out to be much simpler...

The string with the alternating dots and numbers clues that we should read off the alternating letters from all the answers in order:
sPhAeRiTeSmOfFaTtHaIlShAm... Continuing in this fashion, and adding whitespace gives:
PARTS OF THIS ARIA WERE COMPOSED BY BRIAN ENO'S OPERA STAR AU PAIR AT THE START OF HIS POST-LIVE ERA
And googling that brings up the comic already mentioned with the title of our trivial pursuit, and in fact an appropriate title for all of these puzzles at the same time...
WORD PUZZLES!

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4
  • $\begingroup$ Great job, this is it :) It is (as you suspect) possible to solve the long number string entirely by logical deduction rather than trial and error (I had to change several titles along the way to make sure of it...) Also, the claim that "maybe there's no answer at all" can be satisfied too, based off the fact that rot13(gur cuenfr sebz gur yvaxrq pbzvp unf ab uvqqra chmmyr gb vg (vg'f n wbxr gung vg zvtug qb), ohg unf tvira cyragl bs sbyxf pnhfr gb zhyy vg bire naq gel gb svaq bar!). See here for example :) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ This is the PSE question mentioned in the above link, and I even used a title previously used in one of the past themed FTCs, to lay another link. 'Color Pattern' was left until last, because as a Brit I wouldn't spell it like that at all, which might have caused people to start googling sooner! Still, I'm glad this wasn't an immediate solve but I'm even gladder it got wrapped up soon-ish. Thanks for solving! $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 10:45
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, and one final comment from me - the concept of this series was partly inspired by rot13(gur inevbhf KXPQ gbcvp punyyratrf hfrq ba CFR va gur cnfg, jurer gvgyrf ner erfgevpgrq shegure ol univat gb or 15+ punenpgref va yratgu. Va guvf pnfr, V jnagrq gb znxr fbzr onfrq bss fubegre hfhnyyl-varyvtvoyr gvgyrf (urapr gur fyvtugyl jbeql gvgyrf V'ir raqrq hc hfvat, va beqre gb shysvy gur punenpgre zvavzhz naq nyfb ohel gur fvtavsvpnapr bs gur gvgyr pubvprf sbe n juvyr).) It's been a lot of fun, but I'm looking forward to getting back to some other puzzle creations and writing projects now! :) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 10:49
  • $\begingroup$ Bounty text: A bonus reward for solving this meta just before I was about to bounty it for more attention anyway! Well explained, even going about things the hard way with a trial-and-error approach at one point... Plus, this now frees up my brain-space to work on other projects again, as this one has been all-consuming for a while! :) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 15:13
13
+500
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Wrap-up: The Making Of A Trivial Pursuit

This is not a solution to this meta-puzzle, but provides notes from its poser concerning this puzzle's set-up and the wider series to which it belongs. This type of answer has been approved by the community.

Caution: This post may contain spoilers.


Inspiration

One of my favourite traditions in the PSE community is the Topic Challenge, whether that be Fortnightly, Monthly, or whatever: those regular challenges from the community - and to the community - to create a puzzle on a certain theme within a certain time window. Moreover, within that framework my favourite challenges have been the three instalments during which the challenge issued has been to create a puzzle based on the title of an xkcd webcomic.

The titles of the comics range from the seemingly mundane ("Appliance Repair") to the quirky ("Cosmologist on a Tire Swing") and the downright bizarre ("Brussels Sprouts Mandela Effect"), and when presented as a long list they contain so much variety that a creative person's imagination can run wild with ideas.

Often during these challenges it feels like there just isn't enough time to create all the puzzles I want to - in fact, I've often considered attempting to create puzzles based off the titles that have been listed for previous challenges but were unused (but I know that the completist in me would have his work cut out...). And I'd been meaning to create another puzzle series ever since my Twelve Labours series way back in 2019. So why not combine the two ideas, and create a new series built off xkcd webcomic titles?

And a series of puzzles should end with a meta-puzzle, right? Something to sum up the series, bring everything together all wrapped up in one final fanfare... Was there an xkcd webcomic that would make for an interesting finale - perhaps something with a puzzling connection already, to make it extra 'meta'? Well, there was only one candidate to my mind - an xkcd webcomic that has been so effective at pretending to contain a puzzle that even here on PSE, people have asked if there really is a puzzle contained within it: xkcd #2032, Word Puzzles:

xkcd #2032, Word Puzzles
Source: xkcd

The question was: How to go about this?

Creative steps

A natural format for a series with a meta-puzzle at the end is to ensure that each sub-puzzle results in a single-word answer and then the meta-puzzle somehow processes all of these (none must be wasted) via some novel mechanism in order to produce one final answer - a final flourish for the series as a whole. (The appropriateness of employing this method to produce a final answer which was a link to a piece named 'Word Puzzles' was part of the appeal!) So (i) how could I successfully lead the solver to the specific webcomic in an interesting fashion, (ii) how many puzzles would I need to achieve this, and (iii) how could I ensure nobody saw the grand finale coming and worked out what everything was building up to ahead of time?

I knew immediately that I wanted to spell out the key sentence from the webcomic: "PARTS OF THIS ARIA WERE COMPOSED BY BRIAN ENO'S OPERA STAR AU PAIR AT THE START OF HIS POST-LIVE ERA" - 79 letters in total (excluding spaces and punctuation). It clearly wouldn't be a good idea to create a series of puzzles whose answers led to the individual words that actually made up this sentence - a puzzle whose answer was 'THE' or 'BY' (or two whose answers were 'OF') would not feel particularly satisfying or rewarding. Besides, once words like 'AU PAIR', 'ARIA' and 'BRIAN ENO' were being turned out as answers in the series, somebody was bound to put two and two together and spot the meta-puzzle's theme before it was even published...

So I considered a few different options:

(i) Respacing the sentence and cluing the new words instead

For instance, PART[S OF T]HIS could be respaced as PART SOFT HIS. Likewise, there's a 'RASTA' in OPE[RA STA]R, a 'RAT' in AU PAI[R AT], and the final letters of E[RA] spell out the name of the Egyptian sun god, Ra.

But there were chunks within the original sentence that would be tricky to convert into other words in this manner ('BY BRIAN', anybody?!), and such a strategy would result in needing to use lots of small or even single-character words. This wouldn't be interesting enough.

(ii) Cluing anagrams of the original words, or words in the respaced sentence

For instance, 'PARTS' can anagram to STRAP, 'BRIAN' to BRAIN, and 'ENO'S' to NOSE. Due to the large number of smaller words in the sentence (OF, BY, THE, etc.) some respacing would be necessary.

But again, all of the words I was producing whilst considering this option seemed too short or 'normal' to be truly interesting enough...

(iii) Respace the sentence and clue words that differ from the ensuing words by a single letter

For instance, COMPO[SED BY] contains 'SEDBY' which is a single letter away from SELBY, a professional snooker player; and 'BRIAN' and 'ENO'S' could become BRIAR and EROS...

But again, all the words being generated were rather short and bland (no offence, Mark). Merely respacing the sentence wasn't giving me enough to play with. What I needed was a way to pad out the original sentence, to hide the required words within substrings or something similar. And after many false starts I finally hit upon my winning formula:

Clue a string of words in which every other letter spells out the target sentence

This approach would give me 157 to 159 characters to play with and much more flexibility, enabling me to introduce letters that weren't in the target sentence at all.

Enter Qat, the letter pattern-matching online tool from Quinaplus. By typing searches like .p.a.r.t.s* into its interface I was able to search multiple dictionaries for words containing the required alternating letters, this example suggesting 'sphaerites', a genus of beetle.

Qat search for .p.a.r.t.s*

Initially, I tried to take the longest words possible from each search, thereby accounting for as many letters as possible within each word - 'Moffatt' and 'Hailsham' followed sphaerites (you can see the final pattern emerging as we generate more of these: sPhAeRiTeSmOfFaTtHaIlShAm...) - but sometimes I would hit patches where there weren't any longer candidates. For example, there were no suitable candidates of the form r.i.a.w.e, r.i.a.w., or r.i.a.w, and I ultimately ending up settling for the 5-letter surname 'Reina' to solve that problem.

Qat search for r.i.a.w.e*

As time went on and I settled on more and more words to make up the meta-puzzle, I became happier and happier with this approach - particularly with the notion that the nature of the final meta-puzzle would not easily be cracked from this assortment of sub-puzzle solution words, which I intended to present out of order in the puzzle series for further obfuscation (using the meta-puzzle somehow to reorder them correctly).

It also quickly became clear that I was going to end up with about 20+ words that needed cluing, and thus also 20+ sub-puzzles that needed creating and solving. This was going to be quite a long series, and if I intended to keep the xkcd title connection unannounced and secret throughout (to add to the surprise of the eventual reveal) then to make the series seem nicely cohesive I would need to incorporate a second theme of some kind, one that could be much more openly obvious to readers. At this point I consulted the list of as-yet-unused puzzle ideas in a note on my desktop...

One of these ideas was to create a puzzle revolving around the six categories of the trivia-based board game, Trivial Pursuit. These are, traditionally: Geography, Entertainment, History, Art & Literature, Science & Nature, and Sports & Leisure. Perhaps each sub-puzzle could pertain to one of these categories, with a relevant answer word or a relevant theme - or both! In which case, for an equal number of sub-puzzles belonging to each category I would need to create a number of sub-puzzles that was a multiple of 6 (since six categories). This helped me to finalise the list of sub-puzzle answers to be clued, making 24 in total, and partitioning them into categories based on which one their meaning most closely matched. Ultimately, this gave me:

GEOGRAPHY: Hailsham (a town in East Sussex), Astute (an anagram of 'STATUE'), Sotol (an alcoholic spirit from Mexico), Kiev (the former spelling of the Ukrainian capital city, Kyiv).

ENTERTAINMENT: Dwyer (a character in the TV series Parks and Recreation), Heels (a fashion item), Thor (a Marvel superhero), Rehearsal (a word relating to acting).

HISTORY: Rheic (a Paleozoic term), Brymbo (a Welsh village connected to fossils), Reimann (an architect), Fehmic (an adjective relating to the justice system in the Middle Ages).

ART & LITERATURE: Ternions (a word meaning 'trios', suggestive of a puzzle mechanism), Alsatian (suggesting a puzzle relating to fictional dogs), Read Up (a connection to books), Plagiary (another connection to books).

SCIENCE & NATURE: Sphaerites (a genus of beetles), Coumaphos (an insecticide), Soapberry (a plant), Otiatry (a field of medicine).

SPORTS & LEISURE: Moffatt (the surname of a British TV personality), Reina (a footballer), Steady (a racing term: "Ready, Steady, Go"), Siphon (...I'd work on this one later! A connection to water(sports), perhaps?)

With the target word set finalised, it was time to work on the sub-puzzles themselves...

Logistical steps

I shall spare you a description of the creative process behind each and every one of the 24 individual sub-puzzles and the meta-puzzle itself - we don't have all day... Instead, here's a general overview of my logistic process for the structure of the series as a whole.

  1. I planned to publish the puzzles in a recurring sequence of their themes, ordered in the same way as they usually appear on a Trivial Pursuit question card:

    An example Trivial Pursuit card
    An example Trivial Pursuit card - note the order of the categories...

    This would give the overall effect of working one's way through four cards in the game. To this end, I assigned specific target words to each of the 24 sub-puzzle 'slots' and then sought out suitable xkcd titles to use with them by scanning title lists online. Sometimes the right title suggested itself immediately for the target word (e.g. Wrong Superhero for THOR, which then suggested a puzzle mechanism of superheroes with typos in their name); other times, a title suggested a puzzle mechanism and I then found a suitable target word with which to use it (e.g. Logic Boat for a Battleships-style puzzle, which I could use for the water-themed SIPHON).

  2. I did not necessarily create the sub-puzzles in the same order they would be published. I tended to pick off what I considered the 'low-hanging fruit' first - puzzles for which an idea had immediately jumped out at me (e.g. using animals from Beatles song titles to clue an answer relating to beetles) - and then invariably these puzzles would get used sooner within the slots allotted to their Trivial Pursuit category so as to keep the series moving along.

    Usually I would set aside some time in the evening after work to take a look at which puzzles on my list were still outstanding, see which ones caught my interest and imagination in that moment, and work at those until I was happy with the result. If I hit a creative dead-end with a particular puzzle, I would stop and come back to it at a later date, turning my attention to another in the meantime.

    Once I had about half of them ready I published the first in the series and kept working away at the rest in the meantime, giving myself some initial leeway but also - importantly - a sense of a deadline, an impetus to complete the project, as I didn't want the gaps between publishing each puzzle to get too long and the audience to get bored waiting!

  3. In fact, among those puzzles I had not yet created when I began to publish the series was the meta-puzzle itself. Until the first 7 or 8 sub-puzzles had been published I still did not really know how the meta-puzzle should be constructed! Out of curiosity I wondered if I could mirror the usage of alternating letters of the sub-puzzle answer words by constructing a logical deduction puzzle using alternating digits of the corresponding xkcd webcomic numbers... and it worked with those I had posted so far but would require some alterations to titles I was planning to use later on. Some trial and error with other title options and their corresponding numbers eventually gave me a working puzzle, which is the one you see before you here!

Resources

Takeaway

I love making puzzle series - it's a really enjoyable process for a puzzle creator and gives you opportunities to produce puzzles you might not normally create as standalone. The creative process is so much fun - but it is hard work, and it takes a lot of time to do it well!

In my time on this site I have seen a number of fantastic puzzle series (@Jafe's various "Gladys" series spring immediately to mind, as does @Deusovi's "On The Subject" series from 2020). But I have also seen many who tried and (for whatever reason) failed - series that began but which were quietly dropped after only a couple of instalments; others that hadn't really been fully thought through as to whether the type of puzzle being used would interest any site users other than just the OP. And that's fine. It is absolutely okay to try something and 'fail', as long as you use it as a learning opportunity.

During this series I made mistakes of my own. Most notably, I had to drop one puzzle (recently presented here as a case study) just before publishing it because in the final double-check I realised I had used an incorrect spelling of the answer word 'REIMANN', which rendered the puzzle's theme irrelevant and would break its intended contribution to the every-other-letter mechanism of the meta-puzzle. Thankfully, I caught this one in time, demonstrating the importance of double-and-triple-checking all aspects of a puzzle before publishing (and yes, ironically my sharing of that original puzzle contained a typo of its own... Sigh...).

If anybody reading this is considering creating their own puzzle-series-with-a-meta, I would encourage you to do so (they're great!) but with the following provisos:

  1. Before embarking on this initiative, be prepared for this to take up a lot of your time and head space. A good series (which I'm not claiming mine is, although I would love it to be considered so) is one which contains well-thought-out sub-puzzles that catch the interest of potential solvers and keep them coming back, keen to see how everything unfolds, and - of course - a solid meta-puzzle that ties everything together in an interesting manner. Creating something that ticks these boxes requires time, effort, and perseverance when things aren't quite falling in place nicely...

  2. Related: If you have doubts about your sub-puzzle before publishing - like perhaps you feel it isn't quite right, or you find yourselves saying "This will do" - DON'T PUBLISH IT YET! Even if you've previously announced that you will be posting one puzzle a day, your audience of puzzle fans would prefer to receive a decent puzzle after a delay of a few days over a lacklustre or completely broken puzzle sooner. Delays happen - own them.

  3. Finally, do your best to keep the meta-puzzle's mechanism a secret whilst the series is in progress. Aim for a novel mechanism that hasn't been used before (or is rarely used - there are already plenty of 'read off the initial letters of the answers' puzzles out there already...) and try not to give away the ending through choosing too-obvious sub-puzzle answers - if you can catch your audience by surprise they will enjoy it more! :)

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed this series!
Stiv.

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5
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    $\begingroup$ Bravo! Lots of good little nuggets in here. $\endgroup$
    – LeppyR64
    Commented Apr 8 at 12:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I do consider this a good series, and I'm sure most of the PSE community do as well :) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 9 at 7:25
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks sarsaparilla and @LeppyR64 - great to hear you've enjoyed the series :) It was all-consuming for a while! $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Apr 9 at 7:31
  • $\begingroup$ And thanks @msh210 for the generous bounty! :D $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Apr 9 at 7:31
  • $\begingroup$ Oh gosh, and thanks to @juicifer too! Very glad you've enjoyed the series :) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Apr 10 at 13:00

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