18
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Once upon a time, a little user named Solvilocks tramped into the woods and happened on a house with three puzzles cooling on the windowsill and nobody home.

The first puzzle was much too hard.   “Ow!”

The second puzzle simply seemed too easy.   Sneer.

This puzzle might turn out just right.

Your name to begin said the puzzle.
             Little Solvilocks, typed little Solvilocks, and thought:   (Too easy too?)
17 chars too many    ?   (Really?)
16 chars too many    really?!
15 chars too many    ?
14 chars too many    this
13 chars too many    is
12 chars too many    silly
11 chars too many    ?
10 chars too many
or
9 chars too many     wha?
8 chars too many     ?
7 chars too many     ?
6 chars too many
or
Just right           just right?   (I hope, I hope, I hope.)
5 chars too many     just?!
4 chars too many     !
3 chars too many     -???   (Is this what it wants?)
2 chars too many
or
1 char too many     why you...
              ??               [  = blank ]
              ???               [  = blank ]
0 chars remaining
or
1 char remaining     ?????
No chars remaining    ??????????
2 chars remaining    -
3 chars remaining    must
4 chars remaining    stop
5 chars remaining    typing
6 chars remaining    compulsively
7 chars remaining    rrrrrrrr
8 chars remaining    ohhhhh   (Hmmmmm;)   (mmmmmm.)
9 chars remaining      (Whew!)          [  = empty entry ]


What would the puzzle say next?   (And why did it say everything else?)

All relevant information is only in what the puzzle said. Everything else includes just one weak hint and a red herring.

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Just for clarification, is the final entry supposed to be marked as ` ` or ``? $\endgroup$ – boboquack Jan 26 '17 at 2:18
  • $\begingroup$ The ` ` is an empty entry and the statement now says so. Sorry to be inaccurate, @boboquack, but I couldn't get the system to parse a truly empty `` as intended. (I don't even know how you got ` ` to look right in your comment.) $\endgroup$ – humn Jan 26 '17 at 5:20
  • $\begingroup$ I just used escapes like this: \`\`. $\endgroup$ – boboquack Jan 26 '17 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ That's two `` \`\` mysteries solved already, boboquack, thank you! $\endgroup$ – humn Jan 27 '17 at 1:31
  • $\begingroup$ Are each of the 17 chars too many type messages produced as a response to what Little Solvilocks answered on the previous line (i.e. a question/answer --> new question interactive situation)? Or did all the messages exist at the start (e.g. on a piece of paper) and Little Solvilocks just answered each one? $\endgroup$ – YowE3K Jan 30 '17 at 1:29
17
+50
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It appears to me that

The messages are self-referential in that they describe the difference between the number of characters in the message itself and the line number (starting from 0). I can't explain the blank entries: maybe the setter didn't find a solution for those or it would make the puzzle too obvious?

So, for instance,

"17 chars too many" is on line 0 and has 17 characters, so 17 too many.

For the lines marked with an or, the puzzle found more than one possibility. Take line 10: it's either "6 chars too many", which has 16 chars and therefore 6 too many, or "Just right", which has 10 characters, exactly what it should be.

The first thing to catch my eye were

the lines with an "or" in them. If the answer changes depending on what the answer itself is, then surely something self-referential must be going on.

Since all of the lines talk about character counts, that is the natural suspicion, and one can easily notice that the "or" points are the points in which the character count changes (either because of two digits -> one digit or singular -> plural).

As for the blanks,

I'm guessing this happens because there is no way to make a correct answer of the format "[number] chars too many", "Just right", or "[number] chars remaining" for those lines.

I do not like this because the rules as to what the puzzle might say don't seem so stringent at a first glance: it uses "no" instead of "0" in one of the lines, and the hint given in the community wiki uses "characters left" (if changing the wording is indeed illegal, that would be an evil red herring).

For the next line,

If we assume the answer can only be in the format "[number] chars remaining", then we can't represent 27 characters that way, as "9 chars remaining" is 26 and "10 chars remaining" is 28. So that line would have to be a blank.

Summary table from puzzle’s poser:

    Target cutoff                          Target length
                \                         ---------------
                 \17 chars too many              0
                 1\6 chars too many              1
                 15\ chars too many              2
                 14 \chars too many              3
                 13 c\hars too many              4
                 12 ch\ars too many              5
                 11 cha\rs too many              6
            or/  10 char|s too many              7 \
              \  9 chars| too many               7 /
                 8 chars \too many               8
                 7 chars t\oo many               9
            or/  6 chars to|o many              10 \
              \  Just right|                    10 /
                 5 chars too\ many              11
                 4 chars too \many              12
                 3 chars too m\any              13
            or/  2 chars too ma|ny              14 \
              \  1 char too man|y               14 /
              x                 \               15 x
              x                  \              16 x
            or/  0 chars remaining|             17 \
              \  1 char remaining |             17 /
                 No chars remaining\            18
                 2 chars remaining  \           19
                 3 chars remaining   \          20
                 4 chars remaining    \         21
                 5 chars remaining     \        22
                 6 chars remaining      \       23
                 7 chars remaining       \      24
                 8 chars remaining        \     25
                 9 chars remaining         \    26
              x                             \   27 x
                 10 chars remaining          \  28    

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  • $\begingroup$ 11 chars too few (and quite a few other alternatives) would suit the next response. (P.S. Given how long I have stared at this puzzle without having any inspiration, ffao certainly deserves the bounty! [But, if someone explains the blanks as well ...?]) $\endgroup$ – YowE3K Feb 6 '17 at 2:17
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Ohh!! Ohh! Ohhh! The next line could be Well done Little Solvilocks (or Correct Little Solvilocks!!, or maybe the owners of the house came back and said Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrowl !!). $\endgroup$ – YowE3K Feb 6 '17 at 3:58
  • $\begingroup$ You make this so fun, @YowE3K. And indeed, _ chars too few was in the original draft, partly as it's also the grammatically appropriate inverse of _ chars too many. The final format was chosen for clueliness, though, and the resultant reason for blanks is less interesting than imagined and has already been touched on in this solution. $\endgroup$ – humn Feb 6 '17 at 5:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @humn Added a guess as to the blanks, as well as the reason why I did not suggest that initially. Also, feel free to the add the table to the answer. $\endgroup$ – ffao Feb 6 '17 at 9:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @manshu: puu.sh/tTWdX/8c5dabbee2.png $\endgroup$ – Deusovi Feb 8 '17 at 16:06
9
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(Wikified worksheet – feel free to correct or add.)


What the puzzle “said” can be grouped like this, with ors on the same lines.

                                                                  mostly
   consecutive         consecutive                              consecutive
     stretch             stretch             oddballs             stretch
 -----------------   ----------------   ------------------   -----------------
                                        Your name to begin
 17 chars too many
 16 chars too many
 15 chars too many
 14 chars too many
 13 chars too many
 12 chars too many
 11 chars too many
 10 chars too many   9 chars too many
                     8 chars too many
                     7 chars too many
                     6 chars too many   Just right
                     5 chars too many
                     4 chars too many
                     3 chars too many
                     2 chars too many   1 char too many
                                        [blank]
                                        [blank]
                                        1 char remaining     0 chars remaining
                                        No chars remaining
                                                             2 chars remaining
                                                             3 chars remaining
                                                             4 chars remaining
                                                             5 chars remaining
                                                             6 chars remaining
                                                             7 chars remaining
                                                             8 chars remaining
                                                             9 chars remaining


From manshu:
I found a hint on OP’s chat profile. In about section, it says 181 chars remaining:

$\small\color{black}{\textsf{( From poser, a non-chat-profile equivalent if typed in a comment:}}$ 581 characters left $\small\color{black}{\textsf{)}}$

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  • $\begingroup$ I wonder whether there is any significance in the fact that Little Solvilocks is 17 characters (including the space)? $\endgroup$ – YowE3K Jan 29 '17 at 18:12
  • $\begingroup$ To be fair, @YowE3K, that's the red herring, but noticing it is meant to be indirectly helpful nonetheless $\endgroup$ – humn Jan 29 '17 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ Is the "weak clue" the "a different story altogether" comment? Or is that another red herring? :D $\endgroup$ – YowE3K Jan 29 '17 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ "Different story altogether" can be ignored. The weak clue is elsewhere, existing by accident rather than design, as the only even-remotely relevant detail outside this worksheet. $\endgroup$ – humn Jan 29 '17 at 22:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Any ideas on why there is a "0" character's and a "no" chars yet? $\endgroup$ – mkinson Feb 1 '17 at 18:42

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