Jester prankster Alex Weinberg, who may or may not be making this all up, documents what happens when you win at puzzling. UPDATE, 12:07 PM: Additional photographical evidence has been located! 

hjThe cryptic ThemEarthMeteors puzzles began to pop up again this spring, stapled in dramatic “M’s” along bulletin boards in Mudd and on the semi-permanent construction barrier in front of Butler. These flyers directed passersby to, an equally mysterious website (now defunct) where you or I could submit our answers. I solved them as best I could, partially because I like puzzles, but mostly because I relish any excuse to visit a non-porn website. I solved three over the course of the semester and then forgot all about them.

Then, a few nights ago, a person named M e-mailed me to tell me that I had solved enough puzzles to join his secret society. Sweet. He provided the date, time, and location where would I could meet him. Since it’s always been my policy to accept the rendezvous invitations of anonymous Internet strangers, I followed his instructions exactly.

On Tuesday night at 10:00 PM, I arrived, knocked twice, and whispered the password. I guess some other secret society had booked Columbia’s Triga III nuclear reactor, the abandoned Pupin cyclotron, and our vast network of abandoned steam tunnels, because the most mysterious and creepy place they could hold their meeting was Mudd 327. A guy ushered me into the darkened classroom, which was illuminated only by a projector displaying a five foot tall “M” on the pull-down screen. Comically epic choir music boomed from Dell laptop speakers. After enough people had trickled in (twelve, by my count) the five leaders turned on the lights and quieted their grandiose tunes so that they could welcome us to their group, The Master Theorem, an anagram of ThemEarthMeteors. (Perhaps was already taken.) The leaders then explained that their leader, M, had deemed us worthy. We were now invited to attend their weekly meetings during which the group creates and solves more puzzles.

Yes, I had solved a series of puzzles in order to earn the privilege of solving more puzzles. That’s it. This secret society had no black cloaks, no blood rituals, no rings, no alien technology. Just more goddamn puzzles. Maybe my reference frame is too mainstream, but there’s a reason why the grand prize on Jeopardy isn’t a take-home version of Jeopardy. Girls don’t strip their way through college so they can become


As I stewed in my disappointment, the lights went off again so that they could show us a PowerPoint presentation about common ciphers used to code messages. A small Asian girl took notes. Once this presentation was over, they turned the lights back on and revealed a blue box with  combination lock over its clasp. We were then instructed to use our new knowledge to decode three clues (contained in an envelope stamped with an “M”) which corresponded to a three digit combination that would open the box, which at that point I assumed to be filled with smaller boxes.

I snatched the first clue, which was based on the first group of ciphers that we had been taught. I joined a group of three other people, and within about ten minutes we had solved our puzzle. The first number of the three digit combination lock was 7. The other people in my group went to join the other two groups who had been given more complicated clues and were having a harder time solving them. In the meantime, I realized that this three digit lock would only have 100 potential combinations left, since we knew the first number was 7. I figured that trying all of these wouldn’t really take very long, and within three minutes, I reached 7-5-4 and the lock popped open.

Although the contents of the box were actually many bags of M&Ms, it felt like I had just exploded a pipe bomb of shame. I thought I was being crafty for circumventing the puzzle that they had lovingly and meticulously prepared for us, but the popular consensus seemed to be that I was a twat. One of the leaders gave me a look of disappointment and restrained anger that I’ve seen on little league coaches and prom dates so many times before. I closed the box again and let them continue their puzzle until they told me I could go.

sdfAll things considered, The Master Theorem club may consist of puzzle-loving nerds, but at least they’re well-intentioned. I don’t think that M exists in the corporeal sense, and if he does, I hope he wears a suit covered in question marks like the Riddler or that insane Matthew Lesko guy who tries to give you money. The Master Theorem is a clever group of people who could just as easily be using their skills to make sarin gas bombs, so I think it’s just best if we just let them enjoy their weekly puzzles. Having said that, I hope they aren’t horribly mad that I wrote this piece, because they could probably have me crushed under an enormous Rubik’s Cube if they so desired. If my dead body is found with a giant M burned into my chest with hydrobromic acid, then I posthumously redact this article.