There's a park behind the local basketball courts, where I like to go for quiet time. The other day, a group of thirty people arrived with a basketball as I was sitting down. One sat next to me, introduced himself as Marcel, and said he wanted me to watch the game his friends were going to play. For the next hour or so, he said, the other twenty-nine were going to pass the ball from one to another; he challenged me to count the total number of times each player passed the ball. 'Including passes to themselves?' I asked; he nodded. I set up my gif camera. The players' shirts were numbered from 1 to 29. Player 1 started with the ball and began by passing it to someone, and they proceeded to pass the ball for what seemed like hours; finally player 1 received a pass and the game finished. 'So I just need to count how many times each player passed the ball in total?' I asked. 'Well,' smiled Marcel, 'those numbers definitely have a meaning, but once you've done that, you'll realize you've overlooked some details in counting the passes...' and with that he got up and left. When I got home, I spent hours examining the footage, until I realized something quite amusing I'd missed in the game.

So I present the puzzle to you, friends, as I think it's amusing even if very simple: Can you find the secret in their game? I'll know you've found it, when you give me a seven letter word.

Here's the footage of the game; I've edited it to colour-code the players by their shirt number with (irrelevant) colours to make it easier to analyse:



A downloadable copy of the gif can be found here. In fact, because I'm not as cruel as Marcel, if you don't want to spend hours counting passes, I'll give you a comma separated text file (here) showing the sequence of players who had the ball (i.e. player 1 begins with the ball, passes it to player 15, who passes it to player 27, and so on). This CSV is all you need to find the game's secret.

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    $\begingroup$ Reminds me of this famous test. $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    May 24, 2020 at 9:57
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    $\begingroup$ This puzzle took me forever to make (you'll see why when you see the solution), but it should be able to be solved quite quickly. $\endgroup$
    – Anon
    May 24, 2020 at 9:59
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    $\begingroup$ Who Killed Lord Smithe? TFL cycling safety advert: twitter.com/wtgowers/status/1262417456519405574 $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    May 24, 2020 at 10:31
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    $\begingroup$ Hi Anon - just a note to say the gifyu.com link is now broken in your post, which is a shame as this is a great puzzle :) Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Sep 26, 2021 at 12:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Stiv Thanks for that! I'll try to post it when I get home $\endgroup$
    – Anon
    Sep 26, 2021 at 18:46

1 Answer 1


Brace yourself to realise that this puzzle is even cleverer than you first think... This is a special one...

The seven-letter answer is:


Why? Firstly:

Count up the number of times each numbered player receives the ball to get the following 29-number sequence:

66, 117, 116, 32, 100, 105, 100, 32, 121, 111, 117, 32, 115, 101, 101, 32, 116, 104, 101, 32, 95, 95, 95, 95, 95, 95, 95, 32, 63.

Note that if you rely on the CSV file rather than counting the passes in the GIF (which would take a very long time!) you need to discount the initial occurrence of '1', as this is the player just being in possession of the ball, not the result of a completed pass - thus there are 67 1's in the file, but only 66 of these are completed passes.

Next, notice:

That the number 32 crops up a disproportionate amount of times here. Since the number 32 is the ASCII encoding for a space, this suggests we should convert each number into its ASCII equivalent. This yields (ordering the players numerically from 1 to 29 by their shirt numbers):

But did you see the _______ ?

To replace the underscores with a seven-letter word, note that:

This puzzle is an adaptation of a very famous 'selective attention' test by Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris, which @F1Krazy inadvertently linked to in the comments! In this, a group of white-vested players and a group of black-vested players pass a basketball between each other and the viewer is asked to count the number of passes by white-vested players. The catch is that at the end of the exercise the assessors reveal that while the viewer was so focused on counting the passes, somebody dressed in a gorilla suit walked right through the middle of the players, turned to face the camera and beat their chest before walking off again - and a large number of people do not notice this while their attention is focused on the counting!

For this reason, I believe the final sentence the OP is looking for is:

But did you see the GORILLA ?

HOWEVER - HOLD THE PHONE... So far this is little more than a glorified educated guess. But there is more - and it is worth looking into. You see, there is more that we can do with these data than merely counting the number of passes. We can also:

Count the number of passes between each pair of players and tabulate the results. This can be achieved in something simple like Excel (see the post-script if interested in the method).

If we do this in Excel and then shade all cells (using conditional formatting) that are non-zero, we see the following:

enter image description here

IT'S ONLY AN ACTUAL GORILLA!! Which we didn't originally see while we just counted the passes!!

Mind. Blown.

Post-script 1: Excel methodology:

- Import the CSV file, so each number occupies its own cell in row 1, starting with cell A1.
- In row 2, use the formula =CONCATENATE(B1,"-",A1) to form pairs of passed-to-dash-passed-from.
- Write the numbers 1-29 in cells C4 to AE4 and again in cells B5 to B33 - these form your labels.
- In each cell within the grid formed by these two label axes, enter the formula =COUNTIF(\$A\$2:\$CRO\$2,CONCATENATE(\$B5,"-",C\$4)). This then counts the number of times each pairing occurs among the concatenated numbers in row 2.

There may be a simpler way to achieve this, but this was my way!

Post-script 2: I also note the OP's choice of name for the character in this puzzle:

In the US sitcom Friends, Ross has a pet capuchin monkey called 'Marcel'! Clearly a pop-fiction nod from the OP there to an ape/monkey connection :)

(In response to this observation the OP pointed out that their true inspiration behind the name was Marcel Delgado, the stop-motion model-maker behind the most iconic of all screen apes, the original unexpected gorilla, King Kong. I wouldn't be surprised if the same man proved to be the inspiration behind naming Marcel the capuchin monkey from Friends as well...)

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    $\begingroup$ Oh my god, I actually called it. $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    May 24, 2020 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Anon Is there anything more to find within this puzzle? I noticed that certain sequences repeat over and over for a while and I also spent a chunk of time rearranging the numbers from the CSV file into various size grids to see if you formed any ASCII-art-style pictures within them, but couldn't spot anything. As I couldn't find anything further I thought it worth posting this answer - but do say if you've hidden something else that needs solving! (Just going off the complexity of the last one of yours that I solved!) Thanks :) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    May 24, 2020 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Stiv There is more. So far all you have is a guess... ;) In counting the total number of times each player passes the ball, what might you have overlooked? Your grid idea is on the right track... $\endgroup$
    – Anon
    May 24, 2020 at 21:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Anon I've just worked it out and it is a thing of beauty! Writing up now - I see now why it took you so long! Oh, this is exciting... $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    May 24, 2020 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ I just saw the update to the answer. If only I could star the question twice.. $\endgroup$
    – oAlt
    May 25, 2020 at 14:50

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