Thursday, December 22, 2011

Where in the world? A puzzling view

Richard Fisher, features editor
NS-Xmas-Puzzle_art.jpg(Image: Jonathan Lucas)

Solve the visual puzzle and you will be entered into a draw to win a Garmin SatNav (the competition is open to subscribers and registered users only)

LOOK closely at the image above. What's that on the wall? Why is there a file on the table? Is that green shape all it seems? (To see a full size, detailed version of the image pick up a copy of the 24 December issue of New Scientist.)

The objects and shapes are clues that point to a mystery location, somewhere on the surface of the Earth (see "Decoding Tips").

This New Scientist puzzle was devised by Tim Dedopulos and artist Jonathan Lucas. They are the pair behind a book called The Great Global Treasure Hunt on Google Earth and its associated competition, which will lead you to places within Google Earth via its awesome online satellite imagery.
The book features 14 picture puzzles, like the one on the opposite page, which contain objects placed in dreamy, surreal scenes. For example, there is a bedroom where the curtains meld into the trunk of a tree and a fallen glass of water becomes a river.
Once solved, the book's 14 puzzles should, together, point to a final specific place on the globe. Those who figure it out can submit an answer on the treasure hunt website to have a chance of winning a grand prize of €50,000. Dedopulos has been tweeting and sharing additional clues on his website, and will continue to do so until the competition ends in March. A winner will be selected at random from the correct answers and announced in April.
Despite the puzzle's modern online twist, the whole game feels nostalgic. The premise nods to Kit Williams's Masquerade, another book-based treasure hunt published in 1979, where hunters pieced together pictorial clues in the hope of finding a golden hare buried at a mystery location. (This one ended in controversy when the hare was unearthed by other means.) What's more, the global treasure hunt book is the same size, shape and paper stock as a children's annual, so browsing through it feels more redolent of play and childhood than an adult's coffee-table tome.
The real world inspires Dedopulos when he is creating his puzzles. "It's about the underlying magic behind reality," he says. "I don't have the nifty graphics of a video game, but I can play with human legend, mythology and culture." He argues that you don't need to build a fictional world to create a compelling game. "Google Earth is a photographic record of the entire globe," he says. "The physical world can still provoke a sense of awe and wonder."
Indeed, browsing Google Earth with a treasure-hunter's eyes makes you peer at the planet in a new way: the roads, hedgerows and fields stop being mere furniture and patterns on the surface, and rather become potential signs pointing to a secret solution.
Need help to get started with our puzzle? We'll let slip that this secret place has both a geological and musical flavour, and has been featured in New Scientist in the past few years.
Perhaps you need a bit more? Tim Dedopulos, the puzzle maker himself, offers a cryptic clue:

Martel would have approved, as would de Tocqueville. I have crossed the dizzy heights of the fine river, and if there ever was a truly beautiful daughter of the stars, then it is to her garden that I have come. There is much here to maze the eye and delight the heart, but I am the prisoner of other senses. This land has its karstic elements, and there are times when one feels the dark lure of the hypogean.
I enfold myself in the cool air. Ahead, the trembling sounds of percussive idiophony pick out my precise destination. But my route is studded with marvels, as the titular presence of Washington himself attests. Suddenly distracted from my elfin ramble, I find myself dreaming of a lake where pearls and snowballs grow together. "As Above, So Below" has never rung so true, not even amongst the castles on the Rhine. Lechuguilla this is not, but Martel would have approved.
The competition is open to subscribers and registered users. See full terms and conditions, and submit your suggested answer on the competition page.

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