Solutions for Meta - The Wheel Turns

So what do we have here? A disc containing a myriad of letters, and two rings of different sizes. If you've been following the theme of this year's Puzzle Hunt, then you might realise that these rings are related to the Mayan Long Count Calendar, which supposedly predicts the end of the world on December 21 this year. The Long Count Calendar looks like three wheels that rotate together to give the year, month, and day on any given date. We have three wheels here as well, but the two smaller wheels on the second page must clearly go inside the bigger disc if they're to help make sense of the letters. The image of the rings, and the little flag on the inside of the "I.1" space on the large disc, tell us where they should start and what direction both rings should initially rotate, but without some further guidance, they're just going to rotate around forever.

But of course, this is the meta puzzle, and the puzzles and stories so far have given us the information we need to solve it. Each of the twenty puzzles gives a strange symbol when completed (for instance, the first Meta piece looked like this). These are Tzolk'in calendar symbols used by the Maya. The extra-enlarged first letters of the Prologue, each Act's Scene 1, and the Meta Puzzle stories spell out "TZOLKIN" as a hint toward this. We can replace the Act/Scene placeholders in the outer segments of the meta puzzle disc with these symbols. As each symbol corresponds to a number from 1 to 20, this gives us a special ordering going clockwise around the disc:

Further research into the Tzolk'in calendar reveals that they each also have a special meaning, and many of these meanings might look familiar: each has featured in one of the twenty puzzle stories. From the first to last puzzle, this gives us an additional ordering of the Tzolk'in symbols (for instance, the first puzzle story references a rain storm, which is associated with the 19th Tzolk'in symbol), but what do we do with it?

As already noted, having the two inner wheels go around and around the disc doesn't give us anything. The smallest ring passes directly over the letter M, which is not coincedentally labelled with a 1, but one or both inner rings need to change their direction of rotation at some point to get anything else. As the middle ring is touching the symbols in the outer disc, one idea is to try reversing its direction whenever it reaches a segment with the next symbol in the story-ordered list. It would move anti-clockwise from the 16th symbol to the 19th, then back around clockwise to the 10th, and so on. These direction changes would also allow the smallest wheel to 'swing out' towards the centre of the big disc, giving it the ability to pick up more letters. Unfortunately, this doesn't get us all the way there yet: the small ring does eventually pass over a W, but this doesn't fit as a second letter of a message after M and furthermore is numbered 11 when we would assume we are looking for a 2.

It seems the smallest wheel needs to change direction as well, giving it a broader range of movement. Changing its direction at the same time as the middle ring means it will 'cling' to the outer disc just as before, so that won't work. The only plausible option left is that the smallest ring changes direction whenever it hits a letter. Sure enough, this gives us the letter A, numbered with a 2, shortly after the M, and then a Y numbered 3.

The rest of the puzzle is simply a matter of continuing in this pattern. The complete message of fourteen letters spells out MAYANCHAACWELL.

Chaac is a Mayan god of rain, and his well refers to the Well of Sacrifice in the city of Chichen Itza. The most common name for this well is the SACRED CENOTE.

Design Notes:
The original tested version and final version of this puzzle indeed had "Mayan Chaac Well" and Sacred Cenote as the message and answer; however, worrying that some teams would use programming to determine all possible messages from the numbering of the letters alone, we slightly changed the message to the more cryptic "Mayan Chaac weer", referring to the serpent entity Chicchan, considered by some ancient historians to be a miniature (or "weer") version of Chaac. The total number of letters we could use and short time frame meant we could not invent a neater, less bashable sentence in time, but the nice connection between Chicchan and the similarly named month we hoped was confirmation enough.

Our first live update to the Meta was made to improve the circles' offsets and increase the inner ring's size slightly, making the original image require less finicky precision. The second update was obviously made to change the final sentence back to the neater "Mayan Chaac Well" after we reconsidered and realised from the guesslog that teams didn't seem to be trying to brute force a solution anyhow.

We apologise for the number of updates to this puzzle, and others, after they had been released. All of our writers have had either Honours or PhD theses due within two weeks and mine (Scott) was due during the hunt itself last week. Because of this, we let an unfortunate number of small mistakes get past us. We hope you nevertheless enjoyed the puzzles and story this year, and hope that you'll return next year for an even better and completely honours-free ΣUMS Puzzle Hunt!

The answer is: sacredcenote