This is an entry into the 16th Fortnightly Challenge -


The Puzzleland Inc. is recruiting some fresh blood, and after some brain-bending tests, the candidates have been shortlisted to just two - of which you are one, of course. The final hurdle to cross is an interview; both the candidates will be called one by one, and asked a question. The one to answer the quickest will be appointed to the post of CEO - the Chief Enigmatic Officer.

On the day of interview, as luck would have it, your opponent is called first, as you are told to wait outside. You grin devilishly. You put on the headphone that is linked to a thought-reading device you secretly implanted in your rival's neck. As you turn on the switch, his train of thoughts crowd in you ear. Albeit the streaming is a bit noisy, you manage to listen to his mind...

Ah, interesting! But I don't get how this one is supposed to work; it obviously looks too short. Hmm...a CD maybe? Silence? What could mean silence? A gag? Shh...! That is not quite correct, I think...

Probably I am barking up the wrong tree...let me try something else.

OK, then... But I need the D. D is nothing? Nil? But what does the other part mean? The I is suspicious...maybe that is the D? I, three? ...could it be one? Hmm...ahh, I know - it's not telling, it's giving an example - and zero is nothing. Now THAT makes sense. This gives me a feeling of self-esteem. I should write it down quickly...the answer is ...

You are dismayed as the connection is suddenly interrupted. Shortly after, you are called inside. The interviewer announces, in a grave tone:

We have seen through your trickery. As you might expect, we are not going to ask you the same question that we asked him. Instead, your task is to figure out what the question was that we asked the other candidate. If you succeed, we will forget all that happened, and select you; but if you don't, the Police will take care of you.

You gasp. What are you going to answer?

  • 2
    Get that mind-reading device... That could be the find of the century!! – Sid Sep 20 '16 at 7:04
  • I am sorry, but I originally missed a sentence while copying from my notes . I have fixed it now. Apologies for the mistake. – Ankoganit Sep 20 '16 at 8:13
  • Does the narrative starts at the beginning of the interivewand ends abruptly or begins at random point and ends when the interviewer finds it ? – user27395 Sep 20 '16 at 13:30
  • 1
    Updated my answer (with thanks to GPR and others for help in chat). – Rand al'Thor Sep 21 '16 at 0:36
  • 3
    Wow, this was VERY clever. I loved it! – Deusovi Sep 21 '16 at 3:34
up vote 21 down vote accepted

This is something to do with

crossword clues.

Specifically (with thanks to @GentlePurpleRain for help coming up with this):

your rival is attempting to solve the following crossword clue: I say nothing (3). The solution is EGO, because the ego is part of the self ("I"), and "say" refers to giving an example (as in "a part of the self - the ego, say"), which is abbreviated as e.g., while "nothing" ~ zero ~ O.

This fits with most of what your rival is saying, as follows (with help from the OP for one or two lines):

Ah, interesting! But I don't get how this one is supposed to work; it obviously looks too short.

Only three letters.

Hmm...a CD maybe?

He wonders if the clue could be a Cryptic Definition.

Silence? What could mean silence? A gag? Shh...! That is not quite correct, I think... Probably I am barking up the wrong tree...let me try something else.

"I say nothing" sounds like it means something to do with silence, and "gag" and "shh" are 3-letter words, but ultimately he's barking up the wrong tree here.

OK, then... But I need the D.

Assuming this is 'regular' cryptic clue, he needs the Definition part.

D is nothing? Nil? But what does the other part mean?

He wonders if the "nothing" bit could be the definition. Nil is a three-letter word associated with the word "nothing" which appears in the clue. But that doesn't fit with the "I say" part.

The I is suspicious...maybe that is the D? I, three? ...could it be one?

Starting from the "I" part of the clue, he reached "one", another 3-letter word, as a possible solution.

Hmm...ahh, I know - it's not telling, it's giving an example - and zero is nothing. Now THAT makes sense.

Finally he gets it: the word "say" isn't say as in tell, but say as in giving an example, and the word "nothing" gives a zero or O.

This gives me a feeling of self-esteem. I should write it down quickly...the answer is ...

"a feeling of self-esteem" hints at the solution: EGO.


Original attempts at working out the meanings of the paragraphs of thought processes

The first paragraph seems to be about

a word with 2 or maybe 3 letters ("it obviously looks too short. Hmm...a CD maybe?"), where the clue contains something to do with the word "silence".

In the second paragraph, your rival is deciding

to move on and try a different clue from the crossword instead.

The third paragraph is about

a word which is known to contain a D and/or an I, where the clue contains something to do with the word "nothing". Your rival wonders if "nil" may be part of the solution, but eventually realises that in fact "zero" is, and that something else in the clue is an example rather than an instruction.


  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – GentlePurpleRain Sep 20 '16 at 18:56
  • This is basically correct. I've edited the "CD" and "D" part to indicate the intended explanation. :) – Ankoganit Sep 21 '16 at 3:18
  • 5
    Oh! I've been doing cryptic crosswords for many a year and never used those abbreviations or heard anyone else do so. But of course that's no reason why someone else shouldn't use them. – Gareth McCaughan Sep 21 '16 at 9:27

Wrap-up: The Making Of Cheating is efficient, but only until you get caught!

This is not a solution to the puzzle, but provides notes from its poser. This type of answer has been approved by the community.

Caution: This post may contain spoilers.


Inspiration to Creation

I have always found to be a versatile base for building various puzzles, and browsing through ingenious instances of classic cryptic clues is one of my favourite pastimes. Some time back, I came across a gem of a puzzle: I say nothing (3).

Oftentimes, I find it worth analysing how I could have solved a puzzle. Seeing such a crystal clear and perfectly sensible surface meaning, my first thought would be cryptic definition. How, trying various interpretations of the given clue, I would soon realize that's not going to lead me anywhere.

Having failed at the first attempt, I'd assume it's a fair cryptic clue with definition and wordplay. The first thing I try in most cases is to spot the definition, and in this case, it can be either 'I' or 'nothing'. After some work with the first option, I would probably hit upon the right solution at last.

After was taken up as the topic for the fortnightly challenge, I decided to try this very idea. I wondered if it would be really possible to pinpoint the specific puzzle from the mental note made in course of solving it. More importantly, I wondered if I could assort the clues in the right way while not making it too obvious (by giving too many clues) or too broad (by including too few clues). After some hesitation, I took up the challenge.

After a few hours of effort, I wrote out the main puzzle and embedded it into a story.

Determination of Solvability

Most reverse-puzzles tried earlier were based on puzzles of deductive nature, while the process of solving a crossword clue is mostly inductive. Besides, the clue under discussion is not nearly as well-known as the Tower-of-Hanoi or River-crossing Puzzles. Given these facts, I had to ensure that the answer is uniquely deducible, even without prior knowledge of this particular clue.

So I tried to work out how one can possibly solve this (now that's reverse-reverse-puzzling!). It should be more or less obvious that the puzzle under discussion is a crossword clue. The next pointer should be the abbreviations CD and D; so reading over the rival's thoughts and noting the attempts to get three letter words (SHH, GAG, NIL, ONE) one would know we are looking for a three letter phrase that can be defined as 'I'. Given this information (and the fact that 'one' is not the answer) one would naturally go for EGO (that's the second result this automated crossword solver gives). It would be confirmed by the line "This gives me a feeling of self-esteem.". Now it shouldn't be impossible to reverse-engineer the clue itself.

Evolution

As I mentioned in a comment, I originally missed out one of the crucial sentences in the puzzle, which I added in an edit afterwards. Interestingly enough, this incident turned out to be a hint.

Takeaway

This puzzle taught me a big lesson: never leave out important bits of a puzzle! Also, the actual process of solving this puzzle turned out to be different than what I expected. Gareth McCaughan pointed out that CD and D are quite non-standard abbreviations 1, to which I agree. In retrospect, it was probably a bit unfair to expect the solver to understand them, but I couldn't have found a better way to put them down.


1 After some Googling, I later found a site for crossword-related discussions, which actually uses the abbreviation CD for cryptic definitions.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.