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Solutions for Act IV Scene 4 - Beats

This was the last puzzle in our series of music-themed ones, and for variety's sake was decided to be an original composition - albeit a horrible-sounding one.

Since we don't have much to go off in terms of the music itself, the title is key here: Beats implies we probably want to focus on the beats, or rhythm, of the piece as opposed to its pitch/tune. This makes notating the piece much easier, since the rhythm is for the most part a lot easier to record than the pitch.

First we should try to identify the time signature. The total number of beats can be determined to be 144, telling us the number of beats to a bar is likely a multiple of 3 or 4, as is common in most pieces of music. Listening out for when beats are accented, it should become clear we are actually dealing with a piece in 6/8 time - the first beat in every bar is accented more strongly than the others, while the fourth beat is accented about half as much, which is typical of this rhythm. Other hints put in the piece to convey the time signature were the fact no syncopation was used excepting the bass drum in the penultimate bar, and the fact the drum kit (either the bass drum or the hi-hat) always played on the first beat of the bar.

Knowing this, we can start to transcribe the rhythm for each of the four instruments. These instruments were chosen to be distinctly recognisable, but not so dissimlar as to not make sense in an ensemble. The full score, complete with unnecessary pitch, can be seen here (note the piano chords are sustained for arbitrary lengths of time, mostly because they sounded strange when played without being held and because Sibelius sometimes seems to choose arbitrary note lengths).

From this point there are a few things we can notice:

  • The piano plays the least notes of all the instruments by a large amount, on average only once a bar.
  • The main guitar never plays on the first beat of the bar, and plays on every other beat about 50% of the time. It also repeats certain bars' rhythms multiple times.
  • The bass guitar similarly sometimes plays two bars using the same rhythm.
  • The drum kit plays a mixture of drum and cymbal, sometimes even in the same bar, but rarely more than three times per instrument. The hi-hat is also never held for more than a single beat, and again there are repeated rhythms per bar.

A few of these properties strongly suggest each instrument is encoding a message. The main guitar's code is easiest to spot here, especially if its rhythm is being recorded in rhythmic shorthand: Each note can represent a 1, while each rest can represent a 0, giving a binary number less than 31 per bar. Even better, if we start converting these numbers to letters in the usual way (A=1, B=2, ...) we get a message: PIANO'S SECOND CHORND IS A RHO. Ignoring the unfortunate typo, this message seems to be telling us how to decode the piano's message.

If the piano's second note is rho, we must be dealing with some sort of mapping to the Greek alphabet. The piano's second note falls on beat five of the third bar, or beat 17 overall. This looks promising, since rho is indeed the 17th letter of the Greek alphabet. Since the Greek alphabet has 24 letters, we can in fact map the beats in every four bars to these Greek letters and extract a message from the piano's performance in this way. So the first chord, played on the fourth beat, is a delta, or D. Altogether we get the message DRUM'SU [TH]IRD NOTE IS A DOT, where the [TH] is a theta.

Again ignoring the typo, we find that the drum's third note, which is a hi-hat beat, is somehow a dot. There's only one obvious code that uses dots that we can use here: Morse code, and this would make sense since we could then attribute the longer-held bass drum's notes to dashes. (This incidentally was considered the other possible "in" to this puzzle, since people were likely to have Morse code fresh in their minds after solving puzzle Long Transmission, and since Morse code is somewhat based on rhythm itself.) The first drum kit bar translates to ....-, which translates to the number 4, while the second is a single drum beat, or -, mapping to the letter T. All up we get the message 4TH BASS NOTE IS DOT 5 RAISEJD.

Finally then for the bass guitar, we need to use the fact its fourth note is "dot 5 raised". The fourth note is played on the fifth beat, and the only common code involving raised dots is Braille, so it seems our last encoding maps beats played to raised dots per bar. Note here that a Braille 2x3 grid has a unique numbering running from 1 to 6 down the left column and then the right. Also note English Braille has some patterns that represent letter clusters, as well as a pattern that indicates the following symbol is a number (represented by #). The first bar plays on beats 1, 2, 4, and 5, implying the letter G. Considering all bars, we get GUITAR BAR #1 IS [THE] NUMVB[ER] #1#6.

While this last message is certainly true, it seems we've simply come around full circle without learning anything that could contribute to the next step of the puzzle. One thing we haven't used though are the supposed typos in each message. To recap, we had:

  • Guitar: PIANO'S SECOND CHORND IS A RHO
  • Piano: DRUM'SU THIRD NOTE IS A DOT
  • Drums: 4TH BASS NOTE IS DOT 5 RAISEJD
  • Bass: GUITAR BAR 1 IS THE NUMVBER 16

Note here we have also kept the ordering as above, because this is reinforced by the clues - we were told the guitar's first bar, the piano's second chord, the drum's third note, and the bass's fourth note. So taking the incorrect letter from each line, we find the string NUJV.

At this point if one does not recognise this seemingly random set of letters, a quick Google will immediately elucidate: NUJV is the actual semaphore translation of The Beatles' positions on the cover of their album Help!. Just like in the case of the album cover, we have decoded common cyphers and found mistakes, so this is obviously the answer we're looking for. The final step was also hinted again by the title, which is referencing The Beatles (and arguably the song's instrumentation reflects The Beatles').


Design Notes: I had always liked the idea of using the trivia that the cover of Help! doesn't in fact translate to anything resembling the word, and having a music-themed puzzle day finally gave me an excuse. Constructing the last step, I was confident this puzzle would be great, because the theme ties in so nicely.

Unfortunately the puzzle necessitated having a first step that involved decoding an original composition, and I knew this wouldn't make it very popular. It's difficult to avoid unintentional red herrings in audio puzzles, so I made sure to have an explicit title and tried to have as many easy "in"s to the puzzle as possible. Originally the binary code was instead going to be a simple "number of notes per bar" encoding, but this made the notes far too fast and difficult to count. I also considered just not having a tune at all, but the song sounded even worse (if such a thing is imaginable) in monotone. Apologies to everyone who had to listen to Beats more than once!

Also, special thanks has to go to Joachim, who created the album cover art and hilarious "Beats by Sean" logo, which I somehow had not seen coming. We hope it didn't lead anyone too far astray.

The answer is: help