Discover the meaning of life!

You've trekked through jungle and tundra, across mountaintops and deserts, into giant caverns and beneath the ocean to find the person known as The Oracle. Finally, after all your hard work, you find him. He sits alone in an opulent palace, never moving, never blinking, allowing each visitor to ask one question of him. You take a moment to catch your breath after climbing the steps to his throne, gather yourself, and ask:

"What is the meaning of life?"

You were told that he would answer one question for each person, and this question has been nagging on your mind.

What you were not told is that his answers were not quite straightforward.

As he begins to speak, you scramble to grab your notepad and begin writing. At the end of his message to you, you read back what he's said. "What?", you ask out loud, audibly confused.

Of course, The Oracle does not answer.

To start, stay within the pathway of general glee,
though stay clear of the law faery, who flits about wildly.

Head north 'til you see the reverse, then once more north to the burial site.

When five becomes square, it may lead to confusion;
behead the basilisk, an ironic inclusion.

Before two sharp curves and the ring of sorcery,
stand still, close your eyes, and count aloud past three.

In the air - do you hear it? The water baby screams.
Let our own misgivings start and end in our dreams.

A quixotic elf and I stand at the gates -
succumb to the virus, and the city awaits.

As you approach the arbor, I wait in between.
Clutch your keepsake as the first enemy's heard and seen.

Primarily, primarily; whip around, forcefully.

yet in the shadows aligned so clearly you'll be surprised you missed it.

Can you discover the meaning of life from The Oracle's message?

HINT 1:

The Oracle speaks quite cryptically, don't you think? (I've added a new tag to the puzzle that should add some clarification to it. Hopefully that should give you some idea as to how the puzzle should be solved - and more importantly, some knowledge on how it shouldn't.)

HINT 2:

The two most important words to figuring out this puzzle's big gimmick are "definitively twisted".

Stanza-Specific Hints:

Stanza 1: This couplet gives you a key cryptic crossword indicator, but don't get caught up on the result making any sense. In fact, the couplet tells you exactly which words to use and which to avoid. Keep in mind somewhere in there is a definition!
Stanza 2: Pretty much everyone has identified 'u' and 'i' from this couplet, and you're all on the right track. Most of the words in this couplet aren't indicative of words, per se.
Stanza 3: If five becoming square actually meant the number 25, that wouldn't lead to confusion at all, would it? Harry Potter's version of the basilisk is not the only one out there.
Stanza 4: The last number reference leads to confusion. This one does not. Make sure you're counting aloud. To figure out the rest of the couplet, getting out a pen and paper and illustrating might help.
Stanza 5: I already mentioned that 'in our dreams' is just in this couplet as a rhyming mechanism. There's only one other place where I do that, and I'll identify it. The cryptic here has already been solved. Which words weren't part of it? Those may help you with another stanza...
Stanza 6: This one is a fairly straightforward clue. Open your cryptic-solving mind, remember the gimmick of the puzzle, and look for a keyword or two to get things going.
Stanza 7: You already know at least one word here that doesn't belong with this couplet. The rest of the couplet should be easily solvable, especially if you don't worry about the definition until you solve the cryptic.
Stanza 9: The first line means two things. You already know what 'definitively twisted' means, which is a good start. 'In the shadows' is a reference to the cryptic clues, which are apparently aligned so clearly! I'm surprised you missed it.

All stanzas: You will find pretty quickly that the words all share a specific property. It's not an obscure property, either (I promise).
All stanzas: The best way to approach this puzzle is to solve a stanza's cryptic clue, find its definition, then solve that stanza's cryptic clue with the words in the previous stanza's definition excluded (obviously); lather, rinse, repeat. Luckily, you've already been given a head-start with both a cryptic clue solved and its definition identified.

6/11/2015 Update: Hey, guys! I've opened a bounty on this puzzle as well as my other unanswered puzzle as a way of saying thanks for the bounty you helped me earn on this excellent puzzle. As such, I want this puzzle to be solved - my bounty shan't go to waste! If there are any questions I can answer to confirm whether or not you're going in the right direction, please don't hesitate to ask them in the comments. If I feel they don't give too much of the puzzle away, I'll be happy to answer them.

6/15/2015 Update: 2 days left on the bounty - someone better solve this! Pete and Fillet have given you all you need to work with. I can also conclusively tell you that the ninth stanza is specifically instructions, rather than another clue to the puzzle. Once again, I'm happy to answer any questions! (I've also added stanza-specific hints, in hopes that one or two might kickstart the solution to this puzzle.)

6/16/2015 Update: Hopefully this will be the last time I update this puzzle! I just want to note that partial answers are totally awesome for this puzzle. If the final answer is spread among multiple posts, I'll post a community wiki answer encompassing everything (in fact, I may do that anyways). When all's said and done (or, tomorrow before it expires), I'll give the bounty to whomever's solved the most clues! Good luck, happy puzzlers! You're doing awesome so far (just sometimes off in the wrong direction)!

• 42! I'm sure it's 42. – Spencerkatty May 29 '15 at 19:42
• @SpencerKerr I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is. – Engineer Toast May 29 '15 at 19:52
• Is the Oracle's message all we need to solve this (i.e. the journey just provides flavor)? – Alconja May 29 '15 at 21:51
• I'm finding it hard to know where to start on this puzzle. What puzzle, if any, inspired you to make this one? It feels like if you could narrow it down a bit, I'd have a better energy focus. Or is it crucial to the puzzle to leave it open like this? As it stands, it's worded so weirdly that I feel that the meaning of life must be somehow hidden in the letters, intertwined between words in some pattern, maybe skipping every other word, or something. – JLee Jun 5 '15 at 18:30
• Someone find this already! It's driving me nuts, I can't figure out anything from this puzzle lol! – Spacemonkey Jun 11 '15 at 15:16

So, standing on the shoulders of giants, and adding in the answers to two remaining stanzas, we get the final complete solution (as noted by Quassnoi), to discover that life is indeed:

PUZZLING

Looking at the riddle, it's fairly obvious that the clues are cryptic, but there's a little more to it than that. As hinted, the final stanza tells us how to approach the puzzle beyond these cryptic clues.

yet in the shadows aligned so clearly you'll be surprised you missed it.

The definitively twisted part hints to us that the stanzas not only contain a word discovered through cryptic clues, but also the definition of the answer to one of the other stanzas. So as we solve cryptic clues, we can validate these answers by looking for words/phrases elsewhere to find synonyms/definitions thereof.

The in the shadows aligned part of the clue will become apparent at the very end...

Now, stanza by stanza we have:

Stanza 1:

To start, stay within the pathway of general glee,
though stay clear of the law faery, who flits about wildly.

Giving us:

PATHOGEN, by staying within PATHway Of GENeral, avoiding each of the letters from "law faery" (once each), as shown by Pete. This is of course synonymous with virus, from stanza 6.

Stanza 2:

Head north 'til you see the reverse, then once more north to the burial site.

Giving us:

QUINCUNX, by way of Q (the third least common letter for a word to start with), U & I (in flight), then N(orth) CU (U C reversed), N(orth), X (marks the spot). The definition of which ("an arrangement of five objects with four at the corners of a square or rectangle and the fifth at its center") can be found in the first line of stanza 3.

Stanza 3:

When five becomes square, it may lead to confusion;
behead the basilisk, an ironic inclusion.

Giving us:

WIZARDRY (again as from Pete), from a beheaded basilisk (aka lizard) to get IZARD, included in WRY (irony). The synonym, sorcery, is found in stanza 4.

Stanza 4:

Before two sharp curves and the ring of sorcery,
stand still, close your eyes, and count aloud past three.

Giving us:

FORZANDO, once more found by Pete, based on FOR (what you hear when you count past three), Z (two sharp curves) AND O (a ring). The definition of forzando in music is to play forcefully, as seen in stanza 8.

Stanza 5:

In the air - do you hear it? The water baby screams.
Let our own misgivings start and end in our dreams.

Giving us:

HEIRLOOM, again from Pete, because HEIR (sounds like air) plus the start letters of L(et) O(ur) O(wn) M(isgivings) at the end. With the synonym being keepsake from stanza 7.

Stanza 6:

A quixotic elf and I stand at the gates -
succumb to the virus, and the city awaits.

Giving us:

FELICITY, as solved by Quassnoi, derived from FEL (anagram of elf), I, and then CITY. Felicity means happiness, or glee, as seen in stanza 1.

Stanza 7:

As you approach the arbor, I wait in between.
Clutch your keepsake as the first enemy's heard and seen.

Giving us:

AIRBORNE, again from Quassnoi, since we put I into ARBOR (airbor), and add N (first letter "heard" in enemy), and E (first letter "seen" in enemy). The definition, "in flight" is found in stanza 2.

Stanza 8:

Primarily, primarily; whip around, forcefully.

Giving us:

POLLIWOG, by whipping around (reversing), the letters from WILL stuck in the letters of GOO (i.e. gowillo reversed), but starting with P (start of primarily). A polliwog is a tadpole, or a water baby from stanza 5.

Bringing all these words together, we end up with eight eight letter words:

Pathogen
qUincunx
wiZardry
forZando
heirLoom
felicIty
airborNe
polliwoG

And finally, coming back to the "in the shadows aligned" hint, we see aligned down the diagonal, the final solution.

• This is absolutely beautiful. Well done, to you and to everyone! :) A couple of things - it's wizardry, not wizardly, and 'whip around' alludes to an actual reversion, with 'will' stuck in 'goo' to make 'gowillo' - then primarily, primarily, and you see where to go from there, of course. – Bailey M Jun 17 '15 at 0:25
• @BaileyM - yeah, realised the whip around bit when I proof read it, and edited just before you commented. :) Will correct the Wizardry typo. – Alconja Jun 17 '15 at 0:26
• @Alconja Fantastic gets for the last two! Good job, I can relax now! – Pete Jun 17 '15 at 0:27
• @Pete - Wouldn't have got there without the start you had made... but yes, now we can all get some sleep. :P – Alconja Jun 17 '15 at 0:29
• Yes...get some sleep, as the Oracle concocts his next devious answer... – Bailey M Jun 17 '15 at 0:30

OK, based on the various updates, this is what I have at the moment:

Stanza 1

To start, stay within the pathway of general glee,
Though stay clear of the law faery, who flits about wildly.

Definition for another stanza:

glee, for stanza x (unknown for now)

Wordplay solution:

PATHOGEN - PATHway Of GENeral without the letters of 'law faery' which are interspersed within ('flits about wildly')

The definition for this is:

virus, contained in stanza 6

Stanza 3

When five becomes square, it may lead to confusion;
behead the basilisk, an ironic inclusion.

Definition for another stanza:

When five becomes square, it may lead to confusion, for stanza x (unknown for now) [quite a mouthful for a definition though]

Wordplay solution:

WIZARDRY - IZARD (lizard 'basilisk' without the first letter - 'behead') inside ('inclusion') WRY ('ironic')

The definition for this is:

sorcery, contained in stanza 4

Stanza 4

Before two sharp curves and the ring of sorcery,
Stand still, close your eyes, and count aloud past three.

Definition for another stanza:

sorcery, for stanza 3

Wordplay solution:

FORZANDO - FOR (sounds like 'four' - 'stand still, close your eyes, and count aloud past three') Z (two sharp curves) AND O (the ring)

The definition for this is:

forcefully (in music), contained in stanza 8

Stanza 5

In the air - do you hear it? The water baby screams.
Let our own misgivings start and end in our dreams.

Definition for another stanza:

The water baby screams, for stanza x (unknown for now)

Wordplay solution:

HEIRLOOM - HEIR (sounds like 'air') + LOOM (the start of each word in 'Let our own misgivings')

The definition for this is:

keepsake, contained in stanza 7

It looks like the answers may all have 8 letters, so perhaps they line up in some way to provide some deep and meaningful stuff?

• So you've done a fantastic job unraveling this stanza! Your interpretation of the 'definitively twisted' line is off, though. Almost every word in each stanza is relevant to the final solution. There are a few words that are placed just to rhyme - 'in our dreams' is an example of such - there are only one or two more. – Bailey M Jun 11 '15 at 17:10
• As a hint - your answer doesn't quite cover the entirety of a cryptic clue. (Also, unrelated, but the 'and end' in that stanza refers to the fact that 'loom' is at the end of the word!) – Bailey M Jun 11 '15 at 17:11
• @BaileyM Yes, it doesn't cover the definition and 'definitively twisted' suggests the definition has been modified in some way. I now have tomato in my head (from the Water-Babies protagonist), but why would The Oracle be talking about heirloom tomatoes and it doesn't bring me any closer to the definition O_o – Pete Jun 11 '15 at 18:09
• Oh, my... I've never heard of the Water-Babies before. That would be a coincidence. And tomatoes are definitely not part of this puzzle, though I applaud you for making that connection! Your brain works in a very fun way. :) – Bailey M Jun 11 '15 at 20:25
• Could "keepsake" be the direct definition for Heirloom? So the definitions are not in the same couplets as the cryptic part of the clue? Hence "definitively" twisted? – Fil-let's GoFundMonica Jun 12 '15 at 9:47

PUZZLING

If we put together whatever we have:
Pathogen
qUi
wiZardry
forZando
heirLoom
felicIty
airborNe

and read the diagonal it's pretty obvious

As you approach the arbor, I wait in between.
Clutch your keepsake as the first enemy's heard and seen.

"Airborne": we insert "i" into "arbor", then add "e" and "n", first letters seen and heard, respectively, in the word "enemy". Definition: "in flight", stanza 2

A quixotic elf and I stand at the gates -
succumb to the virus, and the city awaits.

"Felicity": quixotic "elf" is "fel", then "i", the "city". Definition: "glee", stanza 1

• Welcome to Puzzling.SE! This is not a complete answer, it's just a single speculation (I don't know if correct) about an element of the puzzle. I kindly invite you to delete your answer and post it as comment, if you want :-) – leoll2 Jun 16 '15 at 16:22
• @leoll2: is it ok to have (potential) spoilers in comments? – Quassnoi Jun 16 '15 at 16:24
• @leoll2 Well my answer is also speculation. In cases like this, where a solution has multiple steps and no full solution after a long while, I would say it's appropriate to add an answer if it deals with a new part of the solution. Gives a person a chance to get some credit. Just my two cents, as they say. – Pete Jun 16 '15 at 20:17
• @Pete If you check the edit history of this post, you may notice that the first version was completely different! Previously, it was just a single, quite trivial speculation. Now it's a complete answer with proper explanation. It's a progress, no? – leoll2 Jun 17 '15 at 11:16
• @leoll2 Ah OK, all becomes clear! I'll check the edits next time before I jump in! – Pete Jun 17 '15 at 12:02

Just going to put some things that I've noticed here. Most of this is working with Fillet's comment about the answers for stanzas being in a different stanza.

Looking at the stanza with the third-fewest words gives us stanza 6, at 18 words, above stanzas 3 and 8. The only word with "ui" is "quixotic," which fits the "in flight" both because it is in the first line and because the word refers to those with "their heads in the clouds" so to speak.

Head north 'til you see the reverse, then once more north to the burial site.

Haven't found a thing for this yet. I've looked for "iu", words that are antonyms for quixotic, and phrases that are somehow palindromes for quixotic, but I've turned up nothing.

When five becomes square, it may lead to confusion;
behead the basilisk, an ironic inclusion.

The new hint makes me think the "5 becomes square" is referring to the 5 on a digital clock, which could be interpreted as an "S", leading to confusion.

Additionally, Wikipedia says this on basilisks: "In European bestiaries and legends, a basilisk... is a legendary reptile reputed to be king of serpents and said to have the power to cause death with a single glance."

Not seeing a connection yet, but I'm sure one will come at some point.

• I am relatively certain that the third stanza is "catacomb", which matches to "burial site" in the second stanza. Some versions of the basilisk have the head of a rooster, so "beheading the basilisk" could refer to a comb. The basilisk's inclusion is ironic because 1) its stare causes death, and 2) the "common basilisk" is a real-life lizard that runs across water and for this reason is nicknamed the "Jesus lizard". I am stumped on how to get to "cata" from the first line of that stanza, though. – VictorHenry Jun 16 '15 at 17:01
• @VictorHenry Somehow my first thought when you said that seemed to jump to something that makes sense. A Cat5 cable, which I guess somehow could end up as "cata", has a square lead on the end, and is a category 5 wire, fitting all of the elements of that line. – PrincessTrevor Jun 16 '15 at 17:09
• None of these guesses are 'correct' within the constraints of the puzzle, but you're absolutely heading in the right direction. If you keep thinking along these lines, I'm sure you can solve this puzzle! :) – Bailey M Jun 16 '15 at 17:15
• Also, perhaps "law faery" is the opposite ("reverse") of "quixotic elf"? Once more north from law faery is pathway? I dunno, just throwing ideas out there. – VictorHenry Jun 16 '15 at 17:51
• @VictorHenry to keep your head in the right place, other than the definitions being out of order, everything you need to solve the cryptic part of the clue is contained within the couplet. – Bailey M Jun 16 '15 at 18:17