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Which number am I thinking of?

Here's a set of clues:

  • Call it sin, and mess it up (9)
  • between θ and κ (4)
  • engage emotionally (5)
  • half a byte (6)
  • mottle (5)
  • Never mix meds & gin (7)
  • ‐ (4)

If you get all the answers right, that's only about 33% percent of the solution: you need to justify them too.


I had some clues left, so here's a second set:

  • Sing about the matter (10)
  • Frog's pole (3)
  • Heroin or slap (5)
  • 0 or 1 (1,3)
  • A toy asking a question on PSE (4+2 = 6)
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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ these look like normal crossword-esque clues and not pure cryptic clues $\endgroup$ – Sid Feb 13 '18 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ What are those parenthized numbers and sums? $\endgroup$ – Vi. Feb 13 '18 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Vi. In a crossword puzzle clue, the number in parenthesis is the length of the answer word. Many numbers indicate that the answer has more than one word. $\endgroup$ – Bass Feb 14 '18 at 6:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Sid, guilty as charged. There are a couple of cryptic clues included, so I figured followers of that tag would be interested. Mostly, this puzzle is of the enigmatic variety though. $\endgroup$ – Bass Feb 14 '18 at 6:23
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Most of the hard work has been done by James Webster. I think I have the rest.

The first set of clues leads to

the words SCINTI L LA I O TA TO U CH NIB B LE FL E CK (might actually be SPECK) SMID G EN D A SH

where I have

justified them to the right and marked out the third column from the right, yielding LOU BEGA, the name of a German musician.

The second set leads to

the words S M ATTERING T A D S M ACK A B IT D O LLOP

where I have

aligned them to the left and marked out the second column to get MAMBO, part of the title of the musical work ("number") for which Lou Bega is best known. So the number the questioner is thinking of might be this work -- or it might be the number 5, since the full title of the work is "Mambo No. 5". (Thanks to Joe for pointing out in comments the latter possibility.)

So despite the coincidence of lengths

it would seem that EPSILON and DELTA have nothing much to do with this.

And of course (as pointed out by Joe in comments)

some confirmation that we have the right answer comes from the thematic connection: the song is full of "a little bit of" various women the singer fancies, and the answers to the clues here are all one sort of "little bit" or another.

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  • $\begingroup$ Damn that's good. $\endgroup$ – APrough Feb 13 '18 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ The rest of the work's title contains a number; there's a good chance that number is the answer, not the wordplay of a work being a number $\endgroup$ – Joe Feb 13 '18 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Joe Good point. Will adjust my answer accordingly. $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Feb 13 '18 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ Listening to the mentioned piece may prove helpful for tying any loose ends :-) $\endgroup$ – Bass Feb 13 '18 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Bass presumably all of the words being synonyms for "a little bit", and each line of the song's chorus starting "A little bit of..."? $\endgroup$ – Joe Feb 13 '18 at 16:43
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Answer

Is the answer

ε. "an arbitrarily small positive quantity is commonly denoted ε" [Source]

Partial Answer

Set 1

Call it sin, and mess it up could be

scintilla. The only anagram of call it sin I could find.

between θ and κ is

iota. The greek letter ι

[Unsolved] engage emotionally is

not solved yet!

half a byte is

a nibble, 4 bits

I think mottle will be

fleck

Never mix meds & gin could be

smidgen. An anagram of meds gin

is probably

dash. Just the name of the character. I have a feeling this will represent minus since we were asked for a number and it is the last clue before the second set.

Set 2

Sing about the matter will be

smattering as in: SmatterING

Frog's pole is

tad. As in tadpole

Heroin or slap is

smack. Smack is a slang term for heroin, slap is a synonym

0 or 1 could be

a bit. A binary digit

A toy asking a question on PSE could be:

Really not sure on this one! Rand+al = Randal? Not sure how this relates to toys or to the rest of the answers. I just looked through the user's list and found a 4-2 username

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ All of those look correct since they all mean a small amount. $\endgroup$ – mkinson Feb 13 '18 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ Mottle is perhaps FGNVA or SYRPX(rot13) because it is singular. SPOTS is plural. $\endgroup$ – Sid Feb 13 '18 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ I think you are infinitesimally close... $\endgroup$ – mkinson Feb 13 '18 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ I built this puzzle so that when you find the intended answer, you will be certain you got it right. (Refraining from other commentary for now.) $\endgroup$ – Bass Feb 13 '18 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ I'm a bit stuck for now. I'll leave it to somebody else to find the final answer or wait until there is a hint. $\endgroup$ – James Webster Feb 13 '18 at 15:28
2
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If the clues continue I'd expect to see one or more of the following: spec, pittance, drop, splash, taste, mite, pinch, crumb, dab, particle, whiff, trace, sliver, fraction, morsel, and trifle.

@jameswebster has most of the clues filled in already.

As far as the number goes, I'd guess

aleph zero, which is the trailing end of negative infinity.

All of the clues point to a small amount. And since we're looking for a number, the smallest concept of a number is the above answer.

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0
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And now for a completely crazy and most likely incorrect answer...

Call it sin, and mess it up (9)

There was Cardinal Sin, but cardinal sin is something else, let's not mess them up. So, you are talking about a cardinal or an ordinal number.

between θ and κ (4)

κ is commonly used to denote cardinals, θ sometimes to denote ordinals. Also, the Greek letter ι (jota) is between θ and κ.

engage emotionally (5)

to uplift - To raise something or someone to a higher physical, social, moral, intellectual, spiritual or emotional level (source: Wiktionary). And, the existence of an uplifting cardinal, as well as a remarkable cardinal is consistent with ZFC. Yes, you are definitely talking about cardinals.

half a byte (6)

is a nibble, which is one hexadecimal digit. The biggest possible number encoded is 15. There is a 6 attached in parenthesis, which mean you are referring to a 6-bit character code - the most influential one was FIELDATA, and 15th codepoint stands for j (i.e. corresponds to the Greek jota from above).

mottle (5)

mottle is multicolo(u)red, colo(u)rs are mostly referred in hexadecimal, this just reinforces the above inrepretation

Never mix meds & gin (7)

Georg Cantor, the founder of set theory and transfinite numbers, suffered from clinical depression (and likely died as a result). He would be on meds today, but that was unfortunately not an option in his time.

The answer is:

So, yes, you are talking about an uplifting or a remarkable cardinal.

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-3
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"Mambo, number 5"

Five is your answer!

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  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Answers should come with some explanation. If the added explanation is meant to be the content of my answer then this would probably have been better as a comment on that answer rather than as an independent answer. Also, best to put spoiler markup on answers, though it looks like you're a new user so may just not have known either that that's common practice or how to do it. (This answer has attracted some downvotes; as it happens none of them is mine.) $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Feb 13 '18 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ Oops - sorry, forgot the blank-out in the excitement. Downvote me to hell please ;) $\endgroup$ – Glenn Feb 13 '18 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ It's OK, I added spoilerification for you. $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Feb 13 '18 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Glenn don't be put off from answering in future - people who want to contribute are always welcome! P.SE is less rep-oriented than other SE sites, answers tend to be very collaborative; for example I commented on Gareth's post with what is likely the actual answer but since he'd laid out all the groundwork and was just missing the final tiny step, a comment is more appropriate for this kind of thing :-) $\endgroup$ – Joe Feb 13 '18 at 16:40

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