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This puzzle is part of the ‘Twelve Labours’ series. Previous instalments can be found here: Prologue | 01 | 02


Hercules was grateful the morning sun wasn’t hotter as he pulled the heavy flatbed trolley laden with crates up Hippocrates Hill and along Aristotle Avenue to the Golden Hind. Arriving out of breath, he knocked at the deliveries entrance and the door was answered by the landlady, Artemis.

“Oh wow, Hercules – did you drag that all the way here?! You must be exhausted – come in, come in.”

Hercules picked up a crate and heaved it inside. Although he hadn’t recognised the name, the pub felt strangely familiar to him...

“Didn’t this use to be the White Swan?”

“Oh, a long time ago now!” chuckled Artemis. “It’s been the Golden Hind for the last month. Before that it was the Black Dog, the Golden Ram... You might say I’ve got a thing for coloured animals!”

Hercules lifted the lid of the crate and was met by the sight of 169 bottles of various colours, with letters on their caps, and a variety of odd symbols stencilled onto the wooden rim of the crate itself. A slip of paper on the top listed the names of the beverages to be found within. Hercules sighed.

“This is another puzzle, isn’t it?”

“Of course!” replied Artemis. “You see, I borrowed something from your mother and she would like it back. You just need to work out what that item was, given what you see before you...”

Hercules frowned. “Did you customise this crate yourself? Hang on – did you go down to the wholesalers already, open this up, do something weird to it, and then leave it there for me to bring all this way?!”

“May-be...” said Artemis, a little guiltily. “It is very heavy... Anyway, search around and see what you can find. Just beware – I’ve got a thing for coloured animals, remember...”

TASK: Solve this enigmatic puzzle to find the 13-letter object Artemis borrowed from Hercules’ mother. Watch out for those ‘coloured animals’...

enter image description here
enter image description here

Bottle-cap text reproduced below for copy-paste purposes:

NOMTAWOSINODA  
RRIDRETEMEDSE  
ADLOGDETILFOX  
WSETUOBACKNYI  
AEMOHGRCHUMTS  
SDISEGEKSCANU  
YENNAIADSFLEE  
PMOOSNSERATWH  
PITGULURETDTT  
AHAREMUCHEAIE  
HCUOZSELSELEM  
NRRGWHERBREWU  
UAACHILLESELR

Grid of colours and list of unicode symbols available in source, if required.

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  • $\begingroup$ can you also give us the unicode of the symbols around the crate? thanks $\endgroup$ – Omega Krypton Oct 17 at 13:53
  • $\begingroup$ @OmegaKrypton Will look them up for you once my working day is over. While they serve a purpose, note that there's no arithmetic to perform though, so don't go down that (unintended) mathematical rabbit hole! $\endgroup$ – Stiv Oct 17 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ Could you give the colors in a different format (say, as a similar text square, where R = red, B = blue, K = black...)? I'm colorblind, and several of these colors are near-indistinguishable. $\endgroup$ – Deusovi Oct 17 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Deusovi Good point - one I usually remember since my own brother is colour-blind, so it's bad I forgot. Will add, thanks for the prompt... $\endgroup$ – Stiv Oct 17 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for editing that in! $\endgroup$ – Deusovi Oct 17 at 17:39
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Take the descriptions of the bottles,

and index into the titles by each part of the percentages. (Indexing is a common puzzle hunt tactic: if you have a list of words/phrases and a number corresponding to it, take the (number)-th letter of the phrases.) For example, ALE ZEUS is rated 7.6%: take the 7th and 6th letters of ALE ZEUS and you get S and U.

Skipping all zeroes, the parts before the decimal spell START TOP LEFT. The parts after the decimal spell USE THE D-PAD.

So, to follow that new instruction:

Start in the top left corner, moving right. Whenever you hit a letter representing a direction, turn to move Up, Down, Left, or Right.

When doing this, the path takes you to nearly every bottle:

enter image description here The path starts at the cyan here, then changes to yellow, then to orange, and then to red.

The unused letters spell out the item: a BACKSCRATCHER.


A list of all of the other messages in the puzzle, useful or not:

The bottles:

Most of the bottle colors have a message in them.
- Dark green: NOT A CLUE
- Light green: ALSO NOT A CLUE
- Orange: FAKE TRACE
- Pink: WHITE LIES, reversed
- Light red: HERRING, reversed - Purple: RANDOM NOISE, anagrammed
- Dark red: RUBBISH MIXED UP, anagrammed
- Yellow: UNHELPFUL ANAGRAM, anagrammed

- White: WORD SEARCH
- Dark gray: DOT TO DOT AZUL
(The remaining three blue colors do not spell anything, and the light gray color that uses the majority of the bottles also does not spell anything.)

Following the first instruction from the bottles:

Solving the word search (using the beverage names as a word list), and looking at the remaining letters, you get: "NOT A WORD SEARCH, SEEK CLUES ELSEWHERE".

Following the second instruction from the bottles:

Drawing lines between bottles of each blue color, you get "ABV". This is a hint to turn to the ABV percentages given with the beverages, which leads you down the correct path.

The symbols:

The first letters of the symbols, reading around, spell a message: ONLY TWO CHARACTERS ARE RELEVANT. OTHERS ARE JUST DISTRACTING.

enter image description here

This refers to the greater than sign and the caret, which mark the start and end of the path in the true solution.

The beverage descriptions:

The first letters of the beverage descriptions tell you "ONLY FOR FLAVOUR", which says that the descriptions are otherwise irrelevant.

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    $\begingroup$ Still not sure what "dot to dot azul" was about - I was trying to match the three blues with three of the characters around the outside, but had no luck. (Also not sure what those outside characters do either. The rest of the puzzle seems to be accounted for.) $\endgroup$ – Deusovi Oct 17 at 19:14
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps it's the first part of this? (In case the comment disappears, it said rot13(V guvax gur oyhr qbgf pbaarpg gb sbez "NOI", juvpu pbhyq ersre gb gur crepragntrf ba gur zrah.)) $\endgroup$ – HTM Oct 17 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ @PiIsNot3 Oh, that looks right to me! I wasn't familiar with that abbreviation. (I guess the symbols are just useless, and there's not even a way to get a message from them?) $\endgroup$ – Deusovi Oct 17 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ hdsdv and PilsNot3 are both right on the dots. The symbols do give you a message - it would have helped corroborate the other 2 messages you found. I'd be interested to know if anyone can suss that one too :) $\endgroup$ – Stiv Oct 17 at 19:38
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    $\begingroup$ Can I just say (last thing!) that it gave me so much joy to write 'flavour text' that was literally just that! Pulling this together made me smile a lot :) $\endgroup$ – Stiv Oct 17 at 22:25
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Disclaimer

Not sure if this answer should be here, asking in meta. Please comment before downvoting. Thank you for your cooperation

Some false paths and breakthroughs:

Reading the red caps render herring, i.e. RED HERRING.
Reading the magenta caps render (from bottom to up) WHITE LIES.
Reading the crimson caps render (unscrambled) RUBBISH MIXED UP.
Reading the orange caps render FALSE TRACE.
Reading the dark green caps render NOT A CLUE.
Reading the light green caps render ALSO NOT A CLUE.
Reading the purple caps render (unscrambled) RANDOM NOISE.
Reading the black caps render WORDSEARCH.
Reading the dark grey caps render DOT TO DOT AZUL.

Azul can be either

a board game (not sure how to proceed)

or

the blue colour, which when connected, forms the letter "ABC"

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for starting on this OK :) I will avoid commenting on your progress for now (I am resisting nudging you in the next direction!), but personally since this puzzle (as I'm sure you've worked out) depends in large part on "red herrings" I think this partial answer is a valid start. Obviously some way to go, so don't give up yet! $\endgroup$ – Stiv Oct 17 at 14:41
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    $\begingroup$ rot13(V guvax gur oyhr qbgf pbaarpg gb sbez "NOI", juvpu pbhyq ersre gb gur crepragntrf ba gur zrah.) Also rot13(gurer ner frireny navznyf va jbeq-frnepu snfuvba (SBK, RYX, rgp.)). $\endgroup$ – hdsdv Oct 17 at 16:37
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    $\begingroup$ just to save you some time, if you rot13(gerng vg nf n jbeq frnepu, ybbxvat sbe gur anzrf ba gur zrah, gur yrsgbire yrggref fcryy ABG N JBEQ FRNEPU, FRRX PYHRF RYFRJURER) $\endgroup$ – hdsdv Oct 17 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ @hdsdv Don't think of it as purely saving time, post it as a partial! (Include a diagram for clarity if you can...) $\endgroup$ – Stiv Oct 17 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ The yellow caps spell "UNHELPFUL ANAGRAM", unhelpfully anagrammed. $\endgroup$ – Deusovi Oct 17 at 19:13
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Partial answer and red herring to follow on Omega Krypton's work:

If you

treat the grid as a word search (hinted by the black caps), and find every word that appears in the name of a drink on the menu,

the resulting message is

NOT A WORD SEARCH, SEEK CLUES ELSEWHERE

And here's an image (I washed out the original image a bit, there's a lot of color going on.

enter image description here

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