My friend Etta and I constantly pay visits to each other. Etta runs a little flower shop down the street from my house, so naturally I try to stop on by while I gad about town, and sometimes I'll even offer help whenever she needs it — provided it's not too much trouble.
Just last week, she received a massive shipment of flowers all squared away in her backroom for the upcoming season but because her usual stockperson called in sick, yours truly had to lend a hand.
She started by handing me two boxes, each containing one kind of plant, and asked me to pull out each one. To my left was a box with the shipping label
IM-74-Q9-668-64C-5KK, and to my right was another box but with shipping label
AZ-240-1oF-BY-38o-25A. I figured I'd start with the box on left, and so opened it up.
Much to my dismay, I saw not a flower, but... a number! It was the strangest thing: it was the number 20, sitting stiff in a terracotta pot, looking... well, rather not plant-like.
Naturally, I picked it up without much thought, only to have part of the number brush against my forearm. Suddenly, pins-&-needles crept up my arm and I yowled in pain, startling Etta who immediately rushed to my aid. She looked at the box's label and frowned. "Oh dear, you need to be more careful! Those spines will tear you to shreds!" My eyes were watering from the pain.
She got some gauze and wrapped the tender spot of my arm until I felt fit enough to continue my work. Of course, I nearly forgot I left the other box untouched, so I hastily went back to my station.
Opening the second box, I was surprised yet again: this time, the number 10 sat rather low in the soil. Warily, I quickly grabbed the number — but carefully enough not to make the same mistake twice — and practically threw it down onto the table; Etta turned around just in time to see me do this and scolded me. "What are you doing, you brute?! That there is a delicate one! Just because it sounds like the last one doesn't mean you get to brutalize it." She rushed passed me and cupped the number gingerly in her palm without so much of a scratch on her fingers — all the while, flashing me the most bitter scowl imaginable.
I was exasperated. "Honestly, how was I supposed to know? I'm no botanist, but I know a number when I see one!" Her frown looked more serious.
"Well, maybe if you read the label once in a while, you'd have figured it out!" A lightbulb suddenly went off in Etta's head. "Fine, since you're being clueless at the moment, I'll make a little game out of this." She turned around and lugged two more boxes in front of me, each with new labels.
She opened up the first box on my left to reveal a shrubby number 21. She pointed emphatically at the label, which read
1QF-89-635-4V0-156-3T3-4o0-36C. "This guy you do not want to just grab and thrash about like before. See the little thorns on the bark?" Her finger strayed back to the number. I tilted my head a few times looking at the thing, but I didn't see anything noticeable: just a squat, earthy number. Still, I didn't wanted to disappoint Etta, so I pretended I understood and nodded my head; it seemed that was enough to convince her.
She then turned to the box on my right, whose label read
PXC-3CD-2G7A-Y80-1WY3-7K8-7AI-56o. As she opened the box, I peered in and — lo and behold — another number: this time it was a fat, low-lying 420. "This one, however, is safe to handle. See for yourself." I hesitated, of course, but Etta reassured me with a hush of her voice; I reached out, and I was surprised to feel small hairs tickling my fingertips. "Sure, they both sound related, but this guy's closer to dandelions than 'fairy trees'."
She crunched up her face again, though this time more worried than irritated. "Hmm... I'm not totally convinced you understand yet, so I'll try two more". Once again, she pulled out two more boxes, the one on the left reading
2K8-Ao1-4U8-DUR-AJ6-CBC-1CM and the one on the right reading
54G-LC2-9oG-ZEL-ID4-FE6-1Q8. She ripped open both boxes at the same time, the left one with an aromatic and rather beautiful 70 and the right one with a hardy and wooden 140.
"Now, you'd think these guys are related, right?" I could do little but nod unconvincingly, but Etta didn't seem to mind my confusion. "This guy on the left, however, is normally quite thorny, but I got one of the only cultivars with no thorns, so you're safe." I let out a shaky breathe before she turned to the plant on the right. "This guy is also pretty harmless, although you could make some sharp things out of it when it's fully grown." At this point, Etta seemed quite satisfied with her tutorial. "Now then, it's you're turn." Two new boxes sat in front of me. She opened them up for both of us to see their contents.
A stout, little 12 poked out on the left with the shipping label
2XC-4X-2I8-3VC-55C on the box, while the box on the right held a simple 2 in its belly with the label
CH-7X-88-69-E8 on the side.
"Tell me," Etta poised, "which of these are safe to touch without gloves?" I immediately broke out in a sweat; both looked rather innocuous. "Now this is a toughy, so don't make any wild assumptions. It's a 50-50 shot." She rested her chin into her hands.
"So, what's it gonna be? Left... or right?"
I really don't want to get hurt again, but I have no clue how Etta expects me to figure this out... perhaps you could help me out?
Just like Etta said, you need to tell me exactly which plant is safe, so don't just guess. Hopefully you can figure out the name of the two plants (along with all the others) to make this easier.
I may not yet know what's-what, but I did notice something... peculiar about Etta's behavior: she could neither tell me the identity of the plants without first looking at the shipping label (i.e., my first "prickly" situation) nor without opening the box and looking at the plant-number; she needed both. Why would a botanist not know what plant is which by looks alone? There's got to be a connection... but what is it? What remains to be discovered?