A Washington Square Park Puzzle Is Solved

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The New York Sun

Move over “Da Vinci Code.” Here comes the Washington Square Park code.

This story begins with the book “Puzzling Adventures: Tales of Strategy, Logic and Mathematical Skill” by a New York University computer science professor, Dennis Shasha.

In a feat worthy of Sherlock Holmes or Colombo, Jerry Farrell,aretired math professor from Indianapolis, solved cryptograms sprinkled throughout the book. He solved codes from “Puzzling Adventures” such as:

“R’X W7g7Y5 dZ 4yc z3AZY2 XA 7Y1ZX3 e6ye h3 XyA yWXZde z3 dy7 2 eZ z3 W7g7Y5 yayce.” – 3 3 1fXX7Y5d (CJKF-CKHD)

Following a trail of cryptic clues, he understood what he needed to do: board a plane and head to Washington Square Park. He did so on Saturday, in search of two men in yellow, one wearing a red wig.

Mr. Farrell said he began to realize there was a real life adventure after reading a hint in plain text that said the trail seemed to “lead somewhere beyond the book.” Nearly every chapter in the book had encrypted clues.

“We who like puzzles are a crazy and eccentric bunch,” the puzzle creator, Mr. Shasha, said. “Farrell is a particularly talented natural decoder.” Farrell solved clues that Mr. Shasha had made slightly contradictory on purpose, so that a reader would have to sift through them all and find consistencies.

A friend of Mr. Farrell, Robert Friedhoffer, who teaches science education at the CUNY Graduate Center, seconded that observation: “He’s a man on a mission to solve and create puzzles.”

Mr. Friedhoffer and Derrick Chung,a New Yorker whose research interests include symmetry and group theory, poured over the puzzling clues that Mr. Farrell had deciphered, in an effort to try to assist in Mr.Farrell’s search for the author the next morning.

They narrowed down the area to eight square blocks, slightly to the south of Washington Square Park. The clues said the author and Dr. Ecco, the main character of the book, would be there from 10 a.m. to noon wearing yellow, with two women wearing blue.

“We accosted everyone in yellow,”Mr. Farrell said.Then the deadline came. “I was tired and sitting down, off Washington Square South,” Mr. Friedhoffer said. He suddenly spotted two people, one in yellow shorts and a scarf, the other in a yellow vest, heading into Washington Square Village.

It was 12:15pm. Mr. Friedhoffer cut across the grass and jaywalked to get to the mystery people, while his polite out of town friend trailed on the sidewalk. Shortly before the yellow-shirted duo would have disappeared indoors, they nabbed their prey: Mr. Shasha’s editor at W.W. Norton, Brendan Curry, who was playing the red-haired Dr. Ecco, and Mr. Shasha. “It was a Hollywood ending,” said Mr. Friedhoffer.


COMMENTARY DINNER Henry Kissinger offered a tribute to Norman Podhoretz on Wednesday night at a dinner of friends of the magazine to which Mr. Podhoretz is editor-at-large and a frequent contributor, Commentary. Mr. Kissinger said when he was in government, he would have thought it “grotesque” to be praising Mr. Podhoretz. But things have changed.”He attacked me from the left.He has attacked me from the right, and we when became good friends, he attacked me from the front,” Mr. Kissinger said of Mr. Podhoretz.

The former secretary of state went on to say that Mr. Podhoretz, “thinks like a prophet, which means he believes not only in absolute values, but in the fact that absolute values must be realized instantly, and that any time lag is unacceptable.”

The dinner’s annual Norman Podhoretz lecture was delivered by a professor of computer science at Yale, David Gelernter, who argued that America is “a biblical republic” – not a theocracy, but not secular, either. He said a biblical republic has the Bible on its mind like a tune you can’t get out of your head.

While most of Mr. Gelernter’s speech was devoted to history, ranging from the Puritans through Franklin D. Roosevelt, the professor did touch on contemporary topics, including gay marriage, which Mr. Gelernter spoke against, and Terri Schiavo, of whom Mr. Gelernter said, “America’s moral authorities approved the killing,forbade the ice chip.”

“Tolerance is American but secularism is not,” said Mr. Gelernter, insisting “Ultimately, morality can’t get any purchase without religion” and bemoaning what he said was a collapse in knowledge of the Bible among young people.


The New York Sun

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