: New:

The US Postal Service announced new stamps for 2021. One title especially caught my eye: "Mystery Message." Wow, a stamp with a hidden message. Sounds like something right up my alley.

[Mystery Message stamp: stylized letters in a variety of colors]

According to the USPS explainer page, this stamp's hidden message is MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE!, as spelled out in a designer-ish semi-readable font. But as any serious puzzler will tell you, that's kind of a shallow mystery. Surely there must be another puzzle in there, an extra-mysterious message, as it were. Some doubters might claim that the USPS wouldn't put a multi-layered hidden message on a stamp. Hmph, those doubters probably still think The Crying of Lot 49 was a work of fiction. Thus, we should examine this design more closely.

First, consider possible Morse code. (No great reason to consider Morse code first. But as my puzzlehunt teammates will tell you, I am quite fond of Morse.) The letters in this stamp's "typeface" are decorated with extra dots and lines. E.g., the M has an extra – on top; that's a Morse T. The O is surrounded by ⸬, four dots; four dots is Morse H. TH sure could be the start of a message. Continuing in this manner yields THERM IETRRMIMMRRNRM which looked kind of promising at first before it devolved into a sort of sleepy mumble.

Next, consider the use of color. The letterforms use nine colors for the message. Any topologist could tell you that four colors would have sufficed. Consider the most obvious indexing scheme: There are 2 indigo letters (M on the first row, second T on the third row). This suggests that our extra-mysterious message has an N (The №2 letter in iNdigo). Continuing in this manner with the nine colors yields nine letters:

N  2 iNdigo
O  2 fOrest green (or mOss?)
I  2 pInk
U  3 blUe
I  2 vIolet
R  2 oRange
Y  2 cYan
D  3 reD
R  2 gReen

NOIUIRYDR. How to order these letters? If this stamp used just ROYGBIV colors, we'd use ROYGBIV order; but the presence of forest green and pink colors suggest we should try something else. But I'm not sure what else, so we can try swizzling the letters around and see what we get. A pessimist might not think much of this idea: Surely that's too many vowels to yield a sensical phrase. But but soon an anagram leaps out:


To some, that might sound like nonsense. But San Francisco-area puzzle nerds (and Cambridge-area puzzle nerds, one supposes) will of course recognize the last name of Ryan and Christopher IDRYO, designers of the The Hunt for Black Bart’s Hidden Hoard puzzle hunt (in which I played with team Dern Tootin').

I think that's the best solution I'll be able to come up with; but if you find another message, don't be shy about it.

Tags: puzzle scene

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