Rebus Help Needed. For the sake of my mental health.
March 6, 2011 12:41 AM   Subscribe

Please help me solve this rebus. It's been tickling my brain for weeks, and it's been keeping me up at night. I asked the puzzle-creator for clues and he wouldn't budge. Until I asked, and guessed repeatedly, over the course of many days and finally was able to extract the following info: Pic #1 is meant to depict Mikhail Gorbachev. But the word intended here is a cruel, immature nickname for the splotch on his forehead. It is an English word. Pic #2 is most likely intended to be "eye." Pic #3 is a synonym for "flies." Pic #4 is probably not simply "pepper" but rather some word associated with pepper, like "sprinkle" or "season" or "shake." The final answer here is a recognizable, three word phrase. In English. Please help me if you can. And I thank you. Sincerely.
posted by Fofer to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (179 answers total) 95 users marked this as a favorite
I can't help but think that the first word happens to end in an [f] or [fl] sound or spelling, possibly 'fle' — you add [aɪ] from 'eye' and the last word begins with a [z] sound. The reason why is because you are supposed to subtract [flaɪz], 'flies', effectively removing that 'fl' and 'z' segment (and possibly the 'ai/eye' too).

I don't know. This is just how my brain works.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:43 AM on March 6, 2011

In other words, you need to add the 'eye' so that you can subtract 'flies' and therefore remove the consonants/letters.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:44 AM on March 6, 2011

Fofer: Please help me solve this rebus. It's been tickling my brain for weeks...

It's been tickling other people's brains for years now, though. I don't think it has ever been solved, and a lot of forums have tried. I'm assuming it isn't solvable but I'll be super-impressed if Team MeFi can crack it!
posted by DarlingBri at 1:48 AM on March 6, 2011

1. Other than "port-wine stain" (which isn't a cruel nickname but an accepted term) I can find nothing for this.

3. There are so few possibilities for this. "Flies", "pests", "bugs", "buzz". Note that if it came before "eye", it would only be part of the Gorbachev symbol, but since it comes after "eye", it almost certainly includes that sound. That makes this even harder.

4. If we know it's a three-word phrase then the last symbol is paramount. I have a strong hunch that it's "season", which presents all sorts of possibilities like "'Tis the Season", " season", " season".
posted by Shelf at 2:10 AM on March 6, 2011

Seems this is posted at a bookstore in Denver, CO. If that helps in the guessing.
posted by skypieces at 2:17 AM on March 6, 2011

By the way, I noticed on a different forum that the rebus is one of several puzzles in this bookstore. Do you have access to the others?
posted by Shelf at 2:24 AM on March 6, 2011

Birthmark, stain, blemish, nevus, placque, tumour, stigma
plus eye or i or see or sea
minus bees (or letter B's) bugs, moths, flies, wasps, gnats, midges
plus season or spice
posted by b33j at 2:29 AM on March 6, 2011

We always called those strawberry birthmarks. Add in shake for the last picture and I've decided it's strawberry milkshake. I have no way of getting the milk in the middle, unless milkfly is a word for eye which I've never heard of, but I'm kind of hungry so strawberry milkshake it is.
posted by shelleycat at 2:52 AM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Perhaps Gorbachev and his red birthmark are there simply to mean 'red' (as in communism). Not sure if that helps at all. 'Red eye' is a night flight, which may connect with the fly somehow.

I'll be watching this thread closely as I now NEED to see the solution too.
posted by MighstAllCruckingFighty at 4:34 AM on March 6, 2011

What's the name of the bookstore? Maybe it's a pun having to do with buying a book before your next flight? Something meaning, 'go on your next redeye without/minues the (???)'.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:01 AM on March 6, 2011

I think the last word might be "spies" because pepper is a spice. I like the "red" idea, but have no clue what to do with the eye and flies.
posted by apricot at 6:24 AM on March 6, 2011

Is it possible you're being had on in some fashion? I find it difficult, after a lot of Googling that brings up nothing even vaguely related except other threads on this rebus, to believe that this "immature nickname" for a PWS can possibly be in any kind of routine usage even among the cruel and immature. Unless it's either just one that they made up, or something they heard once that other people don't really use.
posted by gracedissolved at 6:24 AM on March 6, 2011

I can't make anything of the clue, but I *have* seen/heard 'jokes' in which Gorbachev's birthmark is compared to bird poo. I have no idea if varients on 'shit' will get you anywhere!
posted by AFII at 6:43 AM on March 6, 2011

gracedissolved: Is it possible you're being had on in some fashion?

It did cross my mind that we're being had in the Pepsi Rebus fashion, since this exact same question with the exact same wording has been asked under the exact same username on forums since at least November '10. But that would be a strange campaign for a long-standing MeFi member so I'm assuming the lack of clarity is just a posting faux pas.

The real issue with this rebus is that the explanatory guidelines make no sense. *Nobody* on any forum where I've seen this can come up with a common slang term for "port wine stain" outside of strawberry or stork bite. Neither works, nor is either particularly cruel.

Additionally, adding "eye" to then take away "flies*" would seem to make no sense, but there you have it. I don't think this is actually a valid puzzle.

*If those are supposed to be bees, I will personally shoot the artist.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:06 AM on March 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

The "minus flies" thing could indicate "no flies" or "no bugs" rather than an instruction to subtract sounds or letters. As in the song "There ain't no flies on her".
posted by beagle at 7:29 AM on March 6, 2011

If you like, I can ask my friends at We're alas, excessively familiar with nasty names for port wine stains.

But honestly, I've had 30 years of experience and there's really no pattern beyond "what's wrong with your FACE?!" In 6th grade the most common thing was to accuse me of being abused (this is on the list of "why I'm glad we switched to homeschooling,") but that's not a cruel nickname.
posted by SMPA at 7:32 AM on March 6, 2011

I agree with iamkimian. You're supposed to add eyes to whatever the hell the first word is and then subtract flies from that whole thing. I can't thing of a word where that works...but I think it needs to have "fl" and "s" in it to be subtracted later. Like "flags + eyes = flageyes - flies = ag" Now for the rest of the day I will be thinking, "Amingo Spill? Ea Season? Ubber Spice?" I can't think of any reasonable "fl-" words.
posted by artychoke at 7:41 AM on March 6, 2011

I just can't stop thinking about how many common letters there are in "President" and "Diptera" (or even better "Dipterans,") but it doesn't work unless you get an "a" from somewhere (say "Last," or "Mikhail," or even "Gorbachev.") But when I add in the "A" source, plus "Eye," before taking out "Dipter*," I just get this horrible soup of vowels, occasionally with a consonant wad at the end. And since (as I understand it) you're not ever supposed to reorder the letters, it's just a big stupid highway to fail.

posted by palmcorder_yajna at 8:05 AM on March 6, 2011

Oh, and now I see that we're not supposed to use Gorbachev's name or title-- it's about the port wine stain. Ugh.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 8:08 AM on March 6, 2011

I keep seeing flypaper (fly+pepper), but no clue about the rest of it.
posted by spinturtle at 8:52 AM on March 6, 2011

Could it be: 1. Eyesore 2. Eye 3. Soar (for "fly")
So: Eye Eye something? I would think Aye Aye Captain, but how is Captain = Pepper? ah well, never mind.
posted by prenominal at 8:53 AM on March 6, 2011

Thanks everyone for your help on this. This rebus is driving me crazy. I will try to address as many posts as I can here, with as much clarity as possible.

@iamkimiam and @artychoke: I, too, began with the "subtracting 'flies'" line of reasoning too. But I asked the puzzler, wouldn't that mean pic #2 would have to be a pair of "eyes" and not just one (ie: "eye"?) It's then that he gave me (what seems like it'd be) an important clue. Pic #3 isn't meant to be "flies," but rather a synonym for the insect. He mumbled something about what "other people in other parts of the country" might call "flies."

So I'm thinking pic #3 is something like "pests" or "bugs." Whatever it is, I do think it's going to be one syllable, so it's easily subtractable from whatever the construct of pic #1 and #2 are.

@shelf: I don't have access to any other puzzles like this one from the artist. Much of my conversation (mercy-begging, really) with the puzzler though revolved around me confirming that this puzzle is a standalone one and doesn't rely on knowledge of any other, or of some inside joke or local flavor. (Yes, I agree it might be helpful to see how this artist constructs other rebuses, to understand his "language.") Alas, he insists to me that it's meant for any passerby (even a child) to be able to figure out. He encouraged me to "not overthink it," and given that the pic #1 is meant to be a cruel insult, a nickname for the splotch on Gorby's head. This clue stuck with me and I asked "so it's not political at all, it's simply a playground taunt?" He said yes, and that it may even serve me well to think like a child in a playground, lobbing a mean word to demean someone afflicted with such an unfortunately prominent birthmark. Therefore it is not "port wine stain," nor is it the medical term "nevus flammeus," or "stork bite" or "strawberry." It's something particularly cruel and immature.

@MighstAllCruckingFighty: I went down the "red" line too. But the puzzler told me it's not that, and the word for pic #1 isn't about communism or politics, really, in any way. No "red" in the word. It's simply a childish taunt, a nickname for the huge birthmark. Something perhaps along the lines of "inkstain?" A cruel insult. He did confirm it's not a curse word, though. He also confirmed it was used to make fun of Gorbachev back in the 1980's.

@gracedissolved, @DarlingBri: I sincerely don't think I am being "had" (in the sense that this puzzle is meant solely to frustrate and has no solution,) is it part of any kind of stealthy marketing campaign, some wannabe viral thing. It's just a puzzle from a hipster dude who owns a funky, independent bookstore. I suppose it's "marketing" in the sense that it's meant as a conversation piece for passerby, a way to attract attention... but it's not some corporate campaign that ultimately leads to, say, a trailer site from a movie coming out from Warner Bros. in 2014. I'm also told that the solution isn't something like "Buy more books" (or anything that would relate specifically back to this store) but rather it's some other more generic (recognizable) phrase.

I do believe that there *is* a solution here, and that once we sound it out (apparently it's a a recognizable, three word phrase) there will be some kind a "Eureka!" moment. Now, I cannot say beyond a shadow of a doubt that the words we're meant to divine from the iconography here are particularly well-known. In fact, I believe the puzzler is vastly overestimating their recognizability. In that sense, it's a very bad (and particularly annoying) rebus -- one that's almost too difficult for anyone but the creator himself to figure out. But based particularly on my conversations with him, and also on the fact that it's simply tickling my brain and I want to find out the answer already so I can move on with my life, I'm committed to figuring it out. He assures me his goal wasn't to stump the world, or to "prank" anyone. He's optimistic that with some focus and "out of the box" thinking that someone will come forth with his solution. Extracting the few clues that I have has been a bit of a delicate tug-of-war, grateful for any clue nourishment, not wanting to overstay my welcome, annoy the puzzler, or inflate his ego to the point where he stops "cooperating" with my quest.

This explains why I posted this rebus on that other forum. My join date there was 11/10, I actually posted the same question there in an insomniac stupor last night, thinking that Ask MeFi and Ars Technica are the forums I'm on with the smartest people. In order to post in that forum on Ars you have to pay a subscription fee (which I hadn't ponied up until last night, and I did so so I could specifically post this question.) I am sorry if that double-posting constitutes a forum "faux pas," I wasn't thinking straight and clearly it wasn't my intention to deceive anyone. I was just covering the bases, posting it in places where I think the smartest people congregate. And it seems like the gang here is more interested and getting more traction, so I'll keep participating in this thread in the hopes we solve this damn rebus.
posted by Fofer at 9:02 AM on March 6, 2011

@SMPA, yes, every bit helps. If your friends on have any insight or ideas, I for one would love to hear them. I've been Googling for weeks and have tried every combination of childish, cruel insult I can think of that would help solve this rebus, and I'm obviously coming up short.
posted by Fofer at 9:08 AM on March 6, 2011

So Google tells me that there is a book called "Captain Pepper's Pets" that I'd never heard about before -- and since this seems to be posted at a bookstore and you mentioned it was only "associated" with pepper... "Aye Aye Captain"? Long shot, I know!
posted by prenominal at 9:09 AM on March 6, 2011

As far as pic #4 being "associated with pepper," I specifically took issue with the positioning of the pepper shaker, how it's on it's side, pouring out pepper. I surmised to the puzzler that this indicated to me that this means the word isn't simply "pepper," otherwise it'd just be standing upright. With this, he cheered me on and said I was definitely on the right track.
posted by Fofer at 9:11 AM on March 6, 2011

Gorbachev's nickname was the Marked One (at first in a good way, then later in a bad way).

The bigger photo (seen here) shows the rebus tacked up under a clearance sign. I think this will be something like "Marked down prices" (Marked One + Spices), but can't get the middle two pictures to fit with that guess.

Fofer, you didn't take the photo you linked to, did you? What is the name of the bookstore, and what's the address? Is the sign still up, or was it taken down years ago? How did you come to know the person you created the rebus?
posted by Houstonian at 9:12 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

So it could be "spill" instead of pepper?
posted by meepmeow at 9:12 AM on March 6, 2011

The flies could be gnats or pests
posted by meepmeow at 9:16 AM on March 6, 2011

Bird emanate + stare - gnats + dash
= bird e ma tare dash
= thirty meter dash
I'm sure that's wrong, but at least it will let me get this damn thing out of my head.
posted by drdanger at 9:18 AM on March 6, 2011

I think Houstonian is right -- Marked Down Prices makes so much to me. Minus the flies, of course.
posted by kate blank at 9:23 AM on March 6, 2011

via google it looks like "butterfly face" is a taunt for a person w/ red face marks.
posted by melissasaurus at 9:30 AM on March 6, 2011

Mover and shaker.
posted by tigrefacile at 9:32 AM on March 6, 2011

Okay, wait. How are we meant to look at this "equation"?

A. (01 + 02) - (03 + 04)


B. 01 + (02 - 03) + 04

Not that I can make much sense of it either way, admittedly.
posted by elizardbits at 9:35 AM on March 6, 2011

Has anyone considered that it's simply a bad puzzle? It's not hard to create a rebus or crossword puzzle, but it is hard to make a practically solvable one.
posted by cmoj at 9:36 AM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

@Houstonian, no, I didn't take the photo. A female friend was in Denver, CO about a month ago and grabbed the shot. The rebus is hanging above a funky independent bookstore called "Mutiny Now."

(Before you jump on this, I've already asked the puzzler if pic #1 is "mutant" and if the solution has anything to do with this bookstore, it's name, a sale/promotion, and I was told that it does not.)

From what I have learned (online and in brief conversations,) the proprietor of this little store is an artist, a rockabilly sort, with a penchant for brainteasers. While I do think he enjoys the role of mischievous puzzler, I have begged and confirmed and double-confirmed, this particular puzzle does have a solution, and it's not meant as any kind of cruel dead-end. I am told that the puzzle is still there, although he's put up another one that's apparently easier (resulting in a two-word phrase instead of a three-word phrase.) I am also told that he's made a few of these over the years and it's just meant to be fun.

So anyway, back to how this particular rebus entered my consciousness. As I looked through my friends' photo album when she returned from her trip, the rebus caught my eye, and then started to tickle my brain... this initiated a bit of a challenge, one I kind of committed myself to solve. Okay, maybe I want to impress my friend a little bit, as she was stumped as well. I haven't gotten good sleep for quite a few nights over this rebus, and my (potentially irrational) thinking as a result is that one day I'll be able to confidently, nonchalantly present the solution to her, as if it was nothing. Seems like an unique/impressive (if not aggravating) way to work up the courage to finally ask her out, no?

Anyway, I cropped the original photo a bit for easier online display here and other forums. I'm confused how the original (bigger) photo you linked to got hosted on, though, since I (and I'm sure she) didn't post it there. How did you find that?
posted by Fofer at 9:51 AM on March 6, 2011

Fofer: How did you find that

I assume by Googling Gorbachev rebus, which turns up some of the other forums where this has been discussed including the 247 Sports post.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:56 AM on March 6, 2011

@cmoj, I have certainly (and repeatedly) considered that it's "simply a bad puzzle." In fact, I'm pretty sure of it. The "eureka" moment has a tremendous "groan" potential, that's for sure.

I so sincerely wish that was enough explanation for me to just give up, though.

Instead, it's only fired me up more. The puzzle remains. It has a solution. We have a few clues. Perhaps we can think of more avenues to explore. Every few days I swallow my pride and carefully work up the strength to ask the puzzler some questions. Depending on his mood he will grant me some time and answer some of them. I do believe, based on our rapport, that deep down inside he's rooting for me and wants me to solve the rebus. But he's not really budging either, nor is he simply giving me more clues... he's making me work for it. It's a delicate dance, as I mentioned above, as the last thing I want to do is annoy him (biting the hand that feeds me,) nor do I want to inflate his ego to the point where he shuts down and no longer entertains my calls.

I just want to solve this damn rebus already.
posted by Fofer at 9:58 AM on March 6, 2011

Fofer, I found that photo by searching for gorbachev rebus. I was trying to find out what was around the sign. Here's the full posting. If you look at the image results for the same google search, the bigger photo is also hosted at Expressobeans, which you know of course, since you posted there too. Apparently the person who posted there (in 2006) also wanted to impress some girl. So, the sign's been up since at least 2006.
posted by Houstonian at 10:00 AM on March 6, 2011

Ah, actually, they posted that last year. But another poster there said it has been up for 2 years.
posted by Houstonian at 10:10 AM on March 6, 2011

@DarlingBri, okay, thanks for that. Based on the date of that other thread, I looks like the original image (before I cropped it) was passed along by someone I'd already shared it with, as a means to try and get it solved for me. It's clear that forum doesn't have the same collective hive mind of this one though. Seems like they gave up pretty quickly.
posted by Fofer at 10:14 AM on March 6, 2011

Yes, Houstonian. I started out small, hoping to solve the rebus without too much help, otherwise it wouldn't be much of an accomplishment, ya know? I've since abandoned that notion and am spreading my wings, reaching out for help from anyone who will listen. I just want the solution already and I don't care who helps me get there. For the sake of my mental health.

I had posted in any other forum where I saw it already being discussed. This brain-tickling saga began for me in mid-February so it's been a few weeks of intermittent sleep. It wasn't till last night that I thought to post on Ask MeFi. (You can see by my profile here I am a long time member but very infrequent poster. )

I will say, based on just a few hours of responses, your collective feedback has been far more encouraging than any other forum.
posted by Fofer at 10:23 AM on March 6, 2011

Just to clarify, Gorbachev's port-wine stain is the "devil's comb-over". Beelzebub is 'Lord of the Flies', literally translated, and this is a bookstore. Flies then, keep company with the devil; Martin Luther certainly thought so.

So if I (eye) subtract DEVILS COmpany from DEVILSCOMBOVER I'm left with MBOVER. The bee is silent, of course. Thus "MOVER".




(I'm guessing that this isn't the bookstore owner's answer, but I'm sure if I ever find it out I'll be at least as satisfied with my own reading.)
posted by tigrefacile at 10:24 AM on March 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


Gorbachev = freak (mean, I know, but I work at a school and kids would have called him that)
eye = optic
flies = tick (a stretch)
pepper = season

freak + (optic - tick)
freak + op

free cop + season

free copies in

As in, it's a bookstore, and might have free copies?

I don't know.
posted by christinetheslp at 10:30 AM on March 6, 2011

Where did you get "devil's comb-over" from, tigrefacile? Gets no relevant hits in that or any variation I can find. "Butterfly face" also gets no hits that have it in any actual relation to port wine stains that I can find. (A butterfly rash on the face is a sign of lupus, different thing.) This kind of stuff is why I'm thinking that, even if it's an actual solveable puzzle, it's possible that the person who put it together thought that such-and-such word meant a port wine stain, but nobody else has ever used it that way.

I guess there could be some kind of general taunt perhaps? The rest of it seems like it'd start to fall into place, especially as far as what synonym for 'flies' to use, if that could be figured out.
posted by gracedissolved at 10:33 AM on March 6, 2011

some brainstorming that doesn't end up anywhere, but maybe it'll help someone:

spackled + eye
take away "pesky" (but the "ck" both have to be knocked out by the "k" sound in pesky) = a l d e e
=al dee = "all the" ?

"all the seasons"?

spitzed (?)+ eye, take away letters from "pesty"
=iz dee
add "season"
"it's the season"? or "tiz the season," somehow?

But "spitzed" doesn't make sense as a word. "Spritzed" could work; that yields an extra r (r i z d e e), and the last work were "spices" would give rizdeespice... if the "r" could move it to after the "P" could maybe give "it's these (dees) prices" (along the lines of Houstonian's comment). But I don't think you can shift a letter like that in rebuses. Or maybe the rizdee = "raise the," so the phrase is "raise the xxxxx" where xxxxx comes from the last word/pepper shaker.

Again, I don't think I'm anywhere close to a common phrase, but I posted it in case it helps your brainstorming.
posted by neda at 10:34 AM on March 6, 2011

Where did you get "devil's comb-over" from, tigrefacile?

It's a big bloody-looking birthmark on the scalp. What else are you going to call it?
posted by tigrefacile at 10:50 AM on March 6, 2011

although he's put up another one that's apparently easier

Where? Can we see it so we get a better feeling for how this guy's mind works?
posted by iconomy at 10:58 AM on March 6, 2011

@iconomy, it's apparently in/on his store. I don't live there nearby Perhaps some kind MeFi'er who does live in Denver, CO wouldn't mind snapping a shot?
posted by Fofer at 11:01 AM on March 6, 2011

as to pic #1 - scarface? burn face?
posted by melissasaurus at 11:07 AM on March 6, 2011

So the third word in the rebus almost certainly has to be the pepper thing, right? You said he said it was a three word phrase, in English. Maybe working backwards will help, as in, if it were "spice", the answer could be "sugar and spice", that. Because no one knows what the first puzzle is, that's why it's so maddening. I agree that the answer is going to be a huge let down, something inelegant.

So working backwards, the third word in the phrase would be the word (pepper or whatever) or a word that sounds very similar to that word. So when I look at the pepper shaker, these are the words I come up with. I know it isn't a pepper mill, per se, but I don't know how this guy's mind gets from point A to point B so I'm including mill.


What else?

Also, does the artist work at the bookstore? Or is he doing this independently? It seems weird that he would make a rebus using something cruel as one of the puzzle parts if he worked there.

Also (just getting all of my thoughts out here) perhaps the nickname is something specific to Gorby and not birthmarks or port wine stains in general.
posted by iconomy at 11:44 AM on March 6, 2011

These people are funnier than we are.

ALSO. I really think the answer to this is going to be stupid and disappointing. This guy is probably the world's shittiest rebus maker. It's taken three years plus to solve because of the shittiness of his rebus-making skills, not because this is such a good rebus. And yet, I can't stop thinking about it. So thanks for ruining my Sunday, Fofer.
posted by iconomy at 1:10 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Considering this:

# "He mumbled something about what "other people in other parts of the country" might call "flies."

It could be moscas instead of flies.

And if that is Gorbachev, even though I don't think it looks like him, it could be Moscow or Mosco or Moscovite.

Which means the eye would need to be someting with "as" in it somewhere (lashes?) in order to remove all the letters from moscas.

But I'm stuck there.
posted by Robot Johnny at 1:29 PM on March 6, 2011

Didn't people make fun of the shape of Gorbachev's birthmark? I was young, but I feel like I remember an immature joke on SNL about it.

Here's a picture, in case this makes anyone think of something mean and childish about the shape. I feel like an asshole for saying this, but it seems like there's a penis joke there somewhere. That seems a little inappropriate for a bookstore, but then again, maybe it's kind of an edgy place.

... Hmm, on second glance at the rebus, it doesn't look like he even tried to mimic the shape so maybe that's the wrong direction after all.

This thread is fun!
posted by juliplease at 1:35 PM on March 6, 2011

Okay, I've got a headache now so I'm just going to throw what I've found in the mix and hope someone else can use it:

Pic 1: During the 1980s Robin Williams made a crack about Gorbachev's birthmark looking like the "Caspian Sea". You could probably also refer to the mark as an "Island".

Pic 2: Add "sea" to Caspian Sea and you get Caspian Seas. Or maybe "Caspian C I"?

Pic 3: Who knows? Some other synonyms: MIDGE; HORNET; LOCUST

Pic 4: Interestingly if you think of cayenne pepper it sounds like it is pronounced "ca an" (with some artistic license) which if you take from "Caspian Seas" leaves "spi seas". Spy sees? Spicy?

I hope I'm not just muddying the waters here.
posted by smithsmith at 1:38 PM on March 6, 2011

I looked into nicknames for the birthmark and found that Christian fundamentalists suggested Gorbachev had the "Mark of the Beast" (yes, really). So there's that.

The problems is that although we have the "eye" to take "flies" from, we need an "fl" and an "s". And I haven't found anything that gives me an "fl" combination in the nickname.

I did have the idea that perhaps the eye, since it is shown with eyelashes, is a female eye, and that gets the fl in there with the i, but still no s. And even I think calling that a female eye is a stretch.
posted by misha at 1:39 PM on March 6, 2011

My best idea (not that great): SORE (Gorby) + EYE + NO (minus sign) + BOOKS (bugs) + ???? = 'Sorry, no books....'
posted by beniamino at 1:40 PM on March 6, 2011

smithsmith, you have to take an s out of that, because there is more than one of the flying insects there.
posted by misha at 1:41 PM on March 6, 2011

Fofer, you said the artist said the #3 was a synomym for flies. Could he have meant the verb?
posted by iconomy at 1:43 PM on March 6, 2011

What I recall hearing in elementary school in the 80's regarding Gorbachev involved the word grape, ie. grape stain, grapeface. That may have just been the band of kids I knew, or it may be helpful.

Other terms for bugs like that may be punkies or no-see-ums.

Also, dash is a measurement of pepper that I haven't seen up here yet.

I haven't been able to logically form anything into a possible solution, however.
posted by droomoord at 1:43 PM on March 6, 2011

Unfortunately I'm stuck on the idea that the last part has to be "grounds". There is significance that the pepper is overturned, and the pepper grounds are drawn, and I can't think of any other word you use to describe pepper grounds. (Not "flakes" or "grains" or anything like that.) So it could end with "grounds" or "rounds" if the "g" is used before that, etc.

I call this "unfortunate" because I'm probably wrong and therefore going in the wrong direction.

I predict if the answer is ever revealed it'll be a "what?" moment. ("I never heard a birthmark called that before," etc.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 1:43 PM on March 6, 2011

I have an easier time thinking visually so I made a spreadsheet with some of the suggested terms. Anyone can edit it.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:06 PM on March 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

That's awesome, DarlingBri. I added a few.
posted by iconomy at 2:14 PM on March 6, 2011

It might pay, if we're considering verb forms synonyms of "flies" to do the same with "pepper".

Also I like "with" in the spreadsheet. An alternative I hadn't considered (assuming my suggestion is wrong, pshaw.)
posted by tigrefacile at 2:24 PM on March 6, 2011

For Gorbachev, maybe pisser, pisshead, dickhead, penishead?
I cannot believe I just typed those words.
posted by lesli212 at 2:32 PM on March 6, 2011

I think obscenities have been precluded. Though I'm not sure what counts as obscenity for a Denver bookstore owner.
posted by tigrefacile at 2:37 PM on March 6, 2011

Russky/Russkie? It's not about the birthmark, but would make sense with subtracting eye.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:02 PM on March 6, 2011

brainstorming on "fly":
fly = shoo fly, blow fly, black fly, house fly, horse fly, deer fly, chigger, no-see-um, "turkey gnat", "buffalo gnat", midge, punker
fly = cool, hip, sexy
fly = zipper on your pants
fly = type of hit in baseball (fly ball)
flies = jets (as in "jets to the coast for the weekend"), hurries/rushes,

other random associations: bar fly, time flies, dry fly lures for fishing, The Fly with Jeff Goldblum as Seth Brundle/Brundlefly
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:33 PM on March 6, 2011

I REALLY hope it isn't this lame, but it *could* be:



-2 bees


Eat Your Peas.
posted by misha at 3:34 PM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Working off the suggestion that the third word will be intact, I've added a tab to the spreadsheet, called "Phrases". The idea is that you can enter random (but real!) three word phrases ending with any word from the "pepper" column.

Possibly we can reverse engineer it this way, because doing it the traditional way is certainly not working.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:45 PM on March 6, 2011

#1 seems like it has to be "poop head", "bird poop head", "red head" or something similar if we want to fit all the clues.

#2 could be "I" rather than "eye". I doubt it's anything other than those possibilities.

#3 due to the remark about "other parts of the country" we know it's a regional slang for "flies". "Midges" is the only word I can think of that totally fits.

#4 you know you were "on the right track" by suggesting it's something like "spill" because it's turned over. But why is it pepper and not salt or some other condiment? "Sneeze"? "Grounds" makes sense.

There you are, then. poop head + i - midges + grounds. It must be solved now, otherwise I would have to be wrong. Proof by contradiction.
posted by Xezlec at 3:50 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Any rebus that can't be solved by Metafilter after 60+ comments isn't a very good rebus.
posted by jasondigitized at 3:55 PM on March 6, 2011

Any rebus that can't be solved by Metafilter after 60+ comments isn't a very good rebus can't be solved.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:05 PM on March 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Trying to find things for parts 1, 2, and 3 that at least have the right letters to subtract. Maybe the letters are scrambled? I actually wrote a program to come up with hundreds of them and only then realized how pointless that was.

markedone + seeingeye - midges = arkeoneeneye
smudge + i - midges = (no letters left)
posted by Xezlec at 4:46 PM on March 6, 2011

Maybe it is a reference to the previous tenant? Ichabod = Icky for a childish taunt?

The owner of Mutany Now used to work for Ichabod Books and Mrs. Crane. They pled guilty to buying stolen books and resold them in their store. The owner decides to sell the business, and she sells it to her former employee/the current owner. See this news article for details.

If it helps people to see a little more of the current store and the owner's artwork (which he puts on the walls and sells from his store), you can see this blog posting and this write-up in the local entertainment magazine.

Now would be a great time for someone to get the owner a free MeFi account....
posted by Houstonian at 5:05 PM on March 6, 2011

The "half-baked punk with a WAKE UP SHEEPLE attitude" vibe I'm getting (from two articles and a few states away, I admit) isn't instilling in me confidence that this is a solvable puzzle. Do we know that it's ever been solved?
posted by cmoj at 5:12 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

The birthmarks crew has joined us in our despair, FYI.
posted by SMPA at 7:08 PM on March 6, 2011

I kind of wanted to punch this guy before, and now I really do after reading those articles. Smug so and so.

I wonder if the flies are supposed to be "soars," as a synonym for flies as a verb? I don't know what else to do with that but it's a thought.
posted by apricot at 7:17 PM on March 6, 2011

When I see pepper turned over like that, I think "Sneeze." Which could make something ending in "knees."

The bee's knees?

posted by audacity at 7:32 PM on March 6, 2011

@Houstonian, @cmoj, I too have read those websites, and got a feel for the kind of character this Jack guy is. I also read a bunch of reviews on Yelp! which gave me a bit of kinder impression. I think the reason I'm staying on the hook though is the fact that I've spoken to the guy. I called him, engaged him for inspiration and clues. He's certainly not a jerk to me on the phone. He's encouraging and sympathetic, and maybe a little funny. Since I am calling his place of business, and I'm approaching this with the idea that he's stumped many visitors before me, I am treading carefully and showing extreme gratitude for any clues he's given (and confirmed) for me thus far. I will say this -- his clues and his answers to me have always been consistent, and many days often pass between my calls. I don't think this puzzle is a cruel mindf*ck (ie: one without a solution.) I have asked him that repeatedly and if I had any indication this was the case I would gratefully move on. I just think the solution relies on somewhat obscure references. And that's tempered by the fact that the puzzler isn't rejecting my requests for assistance. I mean, he takes my call, he'll tell me if my guesses are right or wrong, he'll answer yes/no questions as I probe for more details about each picture. I just don't feel right bombarding him with too many questions and typically after 7-10 minutes the call gets a little weird and he tells me he has to go tend to a customer. So, it's sort of a delicate dance we're doing. In the movie version of this little saga, I'm thinking of Jack as my tormentor -- I'm a prisoner of his puzzle -- and there's a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome going on. I feel protective of our rapport thus far, and feel a bit of a kinship, all the while hating him for putting me through this torture.

So perhaps we can tackle this by coming up with a series of direct questions I can ask him the next time I call?

Other than that, Houstonian, thanks for taking the initiative to create that spreadsheet. It's a great idea and the best step forward I have felt in at least 10 days.
posted by Fofer at 7:47 PM on March 6, 2011

Apparently one term for a birthmark is a "bug."
posted by audacity at 7:52 PM on March 6, 2011

@audacity, indeed, with a rebus, it's all about the "how you got there."

I could say the answer is "'tis the season" (with the spilled pepper being "season") but unless I can explain how "gorby's splotch plus eye minus synonym for flies" becomes "tis" I haven't really solved it.

I do like "sneeze" as a possibility for that last icon though.
posted by Fofer at 7:52 PM on March 6, 2011

The eye could mean a part of the eye, such as the iris or the pupil. And... I think I'm out of ideas.
posted by audacity at 7:55 PM on March 6, 2011

Also, the one repeated clue, over and over again that I got from the puzzler is that the first picture is meant to translate into a really cruel nickname for the birthmark. I'd say something like "is it strawberry?" and he'd say, "no, that's not really very mean, now is it?"

And then I asked him if it was "shitstain" (he said no) or some other curse word (he said no.) I asked if it had to do with menstruation (ie: some tampon reference) and he giggled a bit, said no, but told me his giggle could/should be interpreted to mean that was the maturity level of the nickname he'd tried to illustrate ther. Seemed like that was the level of cognitive thinking he was encouraging -- something on the level of a playground taunt. "Don't overthink it," I remember him saying. So it wouldn't be port wine stain and it certainly wouldn't be nevus flammeus. It's going to be something like "ink stain" or something crueler than that.
posted by Fofer at 7:57 PM on March 6, 2011

Oh good. Thanks for the extra info, Fofer. I am less irritated now.

That's a good idea to come up with questions for him. I'll be thinking of this all night. Maybe a dream will bring the answer?
posted by apricot at 7:58 PM on March 6, 2011

I did ask about pic #2 and wondered if it was "cornea" or "iris" or "see" or "look" or whatever, and he seemed to shake all of those off, and sorta/almost/kinda confirmed that it was much simpler than that... most likely, the most basic of rebus components... that it was just "EYE."
posted by Fofer at 7:59 PM on March 6, 2011

Xezlec: #2 could be "I" rather than "eye". I doubt it's anything other than those possibilities.

Right, but keep in mind out rebuses (rebii?) work... it's not meant to be constructed as individual/distinct words but rather as syllables and sounds.

(ie: "Eye Scream" becomes "Ice Cream" or "sand witch is there" becomes "sandwiches there," that kind of thing.)

Xezlec: #4 you know you were "on the right track" by suggesting it's something like "spill" because it's turned over. But why is it pepper and not salt or some other condiment?

Well, the object does have a "P" on it. I just don't think (and was encouraged to continue thinking this way by the puzzler) that this means the icon is meant to be interpreted simply as "pepper."
posted by Fofer at 8:09 PM on March 6, 2011

@SMPA, thanks for enrolling the birthmarks crew. Perhaps a day or two of thinking will garner some new ideas. I've taken breaks in between insomniac nights, forcing myself to think about other things and sometimes have come back with a feeling of fresh perspective.

I also emailed this to my cousin who lives in Russia, thinking perhaps he's been exposed to (or has access to people who know) more cruel nicknames for Gorbachev's birthmark.
posted by Fofer at 8:13 PM on March 6, 2011

DarlingBri: Working off the suggestion that the third word will be intact, I've added a tab to the spreadsheet, called "Phrases". The idea is that you can enter random (but real!) three word phrases ending with any word from the "pepper" column.

Possibly we can reverse engineer it this way, because doing it the traditional way is certainly not working.

I definitely like this strategy and will likely focus on this method for the rest of the evening. One other approach I have been doing is trying to come up with the construct where the synonym for "flies" will be subtracted from. Like, if the first pic is "inkstain" and the second is "eye" then we have "inkstaineye" and then looking at it (and saying it out loud) and figuring out if there's anything in there subtractable... that could be construed as a synonym for flies.

Thinking about it this way, pic #3 isn't likely to be a complex word or even one with more than one syllable. It's probably a simple thing like "bugs" or "pests" or "buzz." For a while I was stuck on the fact that there are two flies there (and only one "eye" in pic #2) so I'm thinking pic #1 must have an "s" in it (or at least the sound of an "s" in there somehow.)

Dear lord I hope the above makes sense to someone else out there. I'm feeling the weight of this descent into madness and really want to figure this damn rebus out already. I do so very much appreciate the thought and cooperation offered up here today. It's helped me feel better, even just a little bit, knowing there are other people out there willing to assist.
posted by Fofer at 8:21 PM on March 6, 2011

If this guy reveals that he just fucking with you and it's actually completely meaningless I think a good lawyer could get you off on justifiable homicide.

posted by Bonzai at 8:24 PM on March 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

Fofer: "Seemed like that was the level of cognitive thinking he was encouraging -- something on the level of a playground taunt. "Don't overthink it," I remember him saying... It's going to be something like "ink stain" or something crueler than that."

I think we're going to find this was some weird local construct from wherever the puzzler guy grew up, because I don't think we have it on the current list. Nothing there hits the playground threshold for cruel. And in fact, I am unable to come up with a cruel thing to call a PWS, even when I let my vicious inner 10 year old out to play. I'm pretty sure that if one was widely or readily available, SMPA wouldn't have struck out - it would be "the mean thing" kids with this birthmark are or were called.

Therefore, I like the approach of working backwards from the pepper word. There are far fewer three word phrases out there to work with.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:03 PM on March 6, 2011

If this turns out to have anything to do with a ski resort I'm going to punch someone in the throat...
posted by dersins at 9:18 PM on March 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

The spreadsheet people can try to expand the wordbank by using google sets
posted by tacit_urn at 9:31 PM on March 6, 2011

I thought that maybe what people call flies somewhere else could be "tse tse" and that sounds like t c, so that might help.

Or not.

Honestly, people, I should be sleeping now!
posted by misha at 9:39 PM on March 6, 2011

Rhymezone will give some phrases
posted by b33j at 9:46 PM on March 6, 2011

I remember the birthmark being said to be the shape of Latvia and added that to the spread sheet. Latvia is not a slur as far as I am aware.
posted by deborah at 11:04 PM on March 6, 2011

* For the first, possibly stainhead or stainface (I've seen at least one instance of Gorbachev called "ol' stainhead." I do think that something with an "s" in it is far more likely because of the presumably plural flies thing.

* For the flies, I'm leaning toward gnats because it four letters in common with stain. Possible at all he's going rogue phonetic with "nats"?

* Another outlier for pepper: flakes. Not because the image looks like flakes, but if you wanted the word "flakes" in a rebus, and you were shit at drawing snowflakes, you might go with pepper flakes... and then how to show pepper flakes? Not a strong addition, but thought I'd mention it.


Okay, now ... I do have one, but it's a terrible reach: The nymph forms of some insects, like dragonflies, mayflies and stoneflies are called "naiads." (Fishermen are probably pretty familiar with this.)

stainhead - naiads = the

eye = eye

spice = spies

The eye spies

Twisted for sure... but there must be something twisted about this thing, right?
posted by taz at 11:13 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

@taz, as far as that "stainhead - naiads = the" goes...

Is that how rebuses work? Are we expected to eliminated assorted, non-consecutive letters from the previous word(s?) If so, that's rather annoying, not especially fun at all. I have been working under the impression that the word (or more appropriately, the sound the word makes) is subtracted from the previously constructed sound. In other words, we're working with syllables and sounds, not individual letters.

At least, that's how I've always thought rebuses are meant to work. If the puzzler disagrees with this, well, he may have finally lost me.

I do remember in one of my earliest chats with him, trying to clarify this point, but he didn't seem to follow the question.
posted by Fofer at 11:33 PM on March 6, 2011

Taz, I like your solution (I was thinking that spice=spies was a likely answer given the mysteriousness of the thing and this guy's, um, eclecticness?), but I kind of wonder why the guy would go to so much trouble just to get us to the word "The". But then again, maybe that's the point. And, yes, Fofer, that's not how Rebuses are supposed to work, but I think if this one worked the way most rebuses worked we would have figured it out by now.

For my turn, I'd like to suggest that it means "Diary of Seasons" and is supposed to point people to calendars for sale? I haven't quite figured out how I got there, but:

Pic of gorbachev = diarrhea f_____
pic of eye = eye [the sound/syllable "I"]
pic of flies = ???
pic of pepper = seasons

So somehow the completion of the f-word (or it might be a v-word, or a b-word?) when combined with "eye" is the sound/syllables which is removed.

I don't even know anymore, I just want you all to know I got out of bed and turned my computer back on to give this answer. (I typed it after getting back into bed with the laptop, though I'm not sure if that makes me any less obsessive).
posted by sarahnade at 12:16 AM on March 7, 2011

Because "Diarrhea f-" Sounds like "Diary of" when you say it fast. Okay I'm going back to bed now.
posted by sarahnade at 12:19 AM on March 7, 2011

He mumbled something about what "other people in other parts of the country" might call "flies."

Do you know that this is a word in English? People in other parts of the country might use a word in Hebrew, Spanish, Navajo, Tlingit, French Creole, San Francisco's dialect of Chinese, Hawaiian, Tewa, or any number of things.

And it might be what other people in other parts of the country call their button fly or zipper fly, a flying object, what an airplane does, what a bird does, gliding, hurrying, part of a tent, being high, going on a carnival ride, playing a video game, time passing, running away, escaping justice, leaving an abusive relationship, a theatrical rigging system, the act of operating a theatrical rigging system, objects being raised or lowered, a lure for fishing, displaying a flag or any number of other things. Since fly has appeared in a lot of jargon and slang, there are probably many other examples, and other languages, regional dialects, and jargon for particular jobs/industries/subcultures may have had their own usages. It could be the "fly" in some other take on an expression such as "fly in the ointment" (such as speck, contaminant, gremlin).

As an additional complication, our rebus writer seems to have used a particularly unusual term for port wine stain, or has used a term that he believes refers to that. Possibly, he thinks that some people use a certain word for fly, but has misunderstood the usage.

I think this man is a cheap fly-by-night rebus writer who is feeling pretty fly about seeing discussion on this flying around the web, and if it is resolved the solution shall be one which flies against all common sense. Considering how some people are nearly flying off the handle figuring this out, he's lucky that no one has flown to Denver to fly a flying disk at his head out of frustration, but fortunately rebuses appeal to those who think on the fly and do not wish to have to flee prosecution. Pigs will fly before this is solved.
posted by yohko at 12:44 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

An appropriate question to ask the guy would be: "has anyone ever solved this puzzle besides you?".
posted by smartypantz at 6:30 AM on March 7, 2011

OK I was wrong above: this actually works as a pattern, if you don't mind thinking in letters rather than syllables (we know there's something "wrong with it", right?):

smudge ___ + i - midges + ___ = u ___ ___ (or you ___ ___)

Here's one solution sort of along those lines:

smudge side + i - midges + P down = up side down

(but if this jerk actually thinks upside-down is a three-word phrase, so help me, I will buy a plane ticket, endure the TSA cavity search, fly over there, and personally strangle him with my bare hands.)
posted by Xezlec at 7:42 AM on March 7, 2011

You're right, "stainhead" was a very common nickname for Gorby in the 80s and I don't know how I forgot that.

Super stretch:

stainhead + eye - sty (flies indicate filth, i.e. a pigsty) + grate (on the top of the shaker) = ain head grate = ain't it great

Wow, did I just break some kind of record for stupidly far stretches or what?
posted by Xezlec at 8:02 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is making me grumpy.

1. I think probably this is a terrible rebus.
2. You should just ask her out already.
3. How's about "freak of nature?" Then you got your "freak of nature + eye" and then if you subtract "gnats" (or something close to that sound - like "nates") you get freakier fri .... and then you just have to get "day" out of the pepper and pretend that that's three words! Solved!
4. Seriously, though, just ask her out. You've got some kinda dedication.
posted by lauranesson at 9:25 AM on March 7, 2011

Though about it some more at lunch. Tried using "blowfly" for the insects with "xxxxface" for Gorbachev. Again, didn't get anywhere 100%, but sharing if it helps:

bloodface +i/eye sound - blowfly
= d ace (could be "days" or d ace="the ace" or "daze")?
the ace picks (pepper=piques="picks")
days of labor (pepper=flavor = f lavor = "of labor")?
the ace of cups (spilled pepper=fuckups = "of cups")????

or just "ace of cups" via:
blotface +eye -botfly = ace +fuckups =ace of cups

blobface +i/eye sound -blowfly
=b ace (could be "bays" or "base" or "be a s...")
bay sea spice? bay sea spill?
bays of lakes (pepper= flakes = f lakes="of lakes")
bays pigs (pepper=piques=pigs...but that's missing a word)
be a saver / be a savior (pepper="savor")

blotface +i/eye -blowfly
=t ace = taste, taze
deadended here.

This is beyond me...I'm out! Good luck, dude.
posted by neda at 10:18 AM on March 7, 2011

Rearranging letters is not how a rebus works. Normally.

I doubt it's The Eye Spies just because an eye is one of the puzzles. But who knows with this person, I guess anything goes.
posted by iconomy at 10:46 AM on March 7, 2011

I've got nothing so far, except that perhaps the pepper shaker being in use makes the word for it a verb, like "peppering" or "spicing"?
posted by missix at 10:57 AM on March 7, 2011

Oh!!! This is close. But I need help. I think the answer is

A Fair Shake

Which makes total sense, is a common three word phrase, and would make this puzzle a "legal" rebus.

The first word is stainface. The second word is iris. The third word is insects. The fourth word is shake.

Write down stainface iris and then scratch out the letters from the word insects. You're left with

a fair i

and add shake

to make

a fair i shake

Help. How to eliminate the other i? Is it not iris? Is it not insects? No, it has to be insects, it's too perfect. It's the word iris that's wrong,
posted by iconomy at 10:57 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay. Good morning everyone. I looked at the clock and saw 11:11, so in wishful, optimistic state I just called the puzzler and asked three simple questions.

Q: Is the answer "A fair shake?"
A: No.

(We then had a quick little exchange about how this phrase sounded good, how it satisfied many of the clues, etc.)

Q: Is the first word "inkstain?"
A: No.

Q: With regards to pic #3, are we to subtract non-consecutive letters that spell out the synonym of "flies," or are we subtracting the word's sound?
A: The sound.
posted by Fofer at 11:17 AM on March 7, 2011

Damn it.

I don't understand #3.
posted by iconomy at 11:19 AM on March 7, 2011

yohko: Do you know that this is a word in English?

Yes. The puzzler has informed me that all components of this rebus are in American English.
posted by Fofer at 11:19 AM on March 7, 2011

Fofer, what do you mean by the sound? Can you give an example?
posted by iconomy at 11:20 AM on March 7, 2011

iconomy: I don't understand #3.

Let's keep it simple. Assume a totally different rebus.

Pic #1 is "tug"
+ (plus)
Pic #2 is "love"
- (minus)
Pic #3 is "glove"

Then what you are left with is "tu"

Rebuses don't work by removing letters (that may or may not be consecutive.) It's done phonetically, by removing sounds and syllables.
posted by Fofer at 11:24 AM on March 7, 2011

I think Fofer means that we aren't subtracting the letters "f" "l" "i" "e" and "s" ... we're subtracting what it sounds like. It's not a literal, "remove these letters" thing. (Some answers above take a word like "interstate" and remove "taters", leaving "inet". That's not what we should do.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 11:24 AM on March 7, 2011

Or, on non-preview, what Fofer said.
posted by iguanapolitico at 11:25 AM on March 7, 2011

Yes. And the sound being removed might not be spelled the same way as it's spelled via the earlier icons' construct. It could be a homonym.
posted by Fofer at 11:26 AM on March 7, 2011

Thanks for the explanations. I sort of don't get it. I must be operating on a different, dumber wavelength. No wonder I always hated these.
posted by iconomy at 11:28 AM on March 7, 2011

smartypantz: An appropriate question to ask the guy would be: "has anyone ever solved this puzzle besides you?"

You know, in my quest to discover the solution to this rebus, this question has come up quite a bit. As if the fact that no one has yet to solve it somehow disqualifies it?

Heck, if that was enough of a reason to explore other pursuits, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay would never have climbed Mount Everest. Charles Lindbergh wouldn't have flown the Atlantic solo. Neil Armstrong wouldn't have walked the moon.

The fact that this puzzle hasn't been solved (yet) is only strengthening my resolve. The allure is stronger and the prize is greater. And with this much interest from a community of extremely smart people (coupled with the fact the puzzler is still accepting my calls and responding to my questions,) I feel that we're going to be able to be the first to reach the solution.

"It has no solution" or "No one else has solved it, it must be impossible" just seem like the rallying cries of a quitter to me.

And I'm no quitter.
posted by Fofer at 11:39 AM on March 7, 2011

iconomy: Thanks for the explanations. I sort of don't get it. I must be operating on a different, dumber wavelength. No wonder I always hated these.

I think it's that you're operating on a smarter wavelength, actually. Don't think of any of these icons as "words spelled out by letters." Instead, focus on what they sound like, when you say them out loud.
posted by Fofer at 11:42 AM on March 7, 2011

Do we know what "flies" is subtracting from? Meaning, is it (Gorbachev + Eye) - Flies or is it Gorbachev + (Eye - Flies)?

[Or, somehow, an especially evil (Gorbachev - Flies) +Eye?]
posted by lesli212 at 12:24 PM on March 7, 2011

Fofer, next time you communicate with the puzzler, if you haven't already, can you make sure that s/he's operating under the same rules we are? I.e., thinking in terms of phonemes rather than letters, removing (or adding) sounds in order, without breaking them apart, etc.?
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:25 PM on March 7, 2011

@lesli212, pic #3 is a synonym for flies. I believe it's gotta be "(1+2) - 3" otherwise pic #2 would be plural.

@palmcorder_yajna, yes, I asked that question this morning and the puzzler confirmed we're working in terms of sounds/phonemes and not letters.
posted by Fofer at 12:31 PM on March 7, 2011

Are they consecutive sounds, though?

(And yep, I get the synonym thing, just referring to the pictures.)

Since it doesn't seem like you've asked the creator, I'm still operating under the assumption that "flies" could come in the middle of "eye", in addition to coming between "gorbachev" and "eye" as you've indicated. Of course this all assumes the sounds are consecutive.
posted by lesli212 at 12:37 PM on March 7, 2011

The middle, beginning, or end, actually. But that the "flies" word might be wholly contained in the "eye" word is still, i think, a possibility.
posted by lesli212 at 12:38 PM on March 7, 2011

Right, but the puzzler* has all but confirmed that pic #2 is meant to be "eye" and nothing more complicated than that. ("Eye" as represented in this particular puzzle, it seems, is one of the most basic ingredients of a standard rebus.)

*I eschew calling him "the creator;" it feels a bit too god-like for my comfort.
posted by Fofer at 12:42 PM on March 7, 2011

aha! Didn't know that, thanks.

I'm still a bit confused, because since most plurals end in an "s" sound, then "flies" must be subtracted wholly from "gorbachev" because there is no "s" sound in "eye" (which, I do understand is refers to a phoneme and not the word "eye").

I suppose that means we could be looking for a synonym for "flies" that ends in a vowel sound though, which could be helpful. That's what I'd assume now... unless the sounds are not consecutive... soooo?
posted by lesli212 at 12:58 PM on March 7, 2011

Actually, I honestly wanted to know if any other human has solved this puzzle. The answer to that question changes how I would approach solving it. If no one has ever solved it then it is even more important to understand the puzzler's idiosyncrasies in order to solve it.

We need to know where this person is from and what their childhood culture was in order to see this puzzle the way he does.
posted by smartypantz at 1:02 PM on March 7, 2011

@leslie212, I feel pretty good assuming the sounds are consecutive.

I think pic #3 will be subtracted from the middle (or end) of the construct created by pics #1 and #2. If pic #2 were meant to be subtracted wholly from pic #1, then it would have been placed second and not third in the rebus, is what I am thinking.
posted by Fofer at 1:03 PM on March 7, 2011

Gotcha, @smartypantz. There have been a few links in this thread, with articles that showcase just what kind of character this puzzler is. (Here's one that paints quite the interesting, somewhat damning picture.) I will say my phone conversations with him give me a decidedly kinder impression. He's certainly not an asshole to me (and I've pestered him quite a bit thus far.) He's got a punk/beatnik vibe, he doesn't care what people think, he's just having some fun, and likes to encourage people to think outside the box. He's proud of his funky, indie bookstore, as well as this rebus for all of these reasons, but I do believe with the right approach, it can be solved by someone other than himself.

Perhaps no one's solved it yet but I also doubt anyone's spent more than a few minutes even thinking about it, either. Googling tells me it hasn't been effectively crowd-sourced yet, and I don't think the puzzler been's properly interrogated over it, either. I mean, there are so many ways we can extract the answer, once we ask the right questions. Folks have recommended I enlist a private eye, alert the media, descend further into madness (with a tattoo of the rebus or something) to help this quest go viral, showcase it on signs at major sporting events, whatever. Anything to get more minds cooperating towards a solution.

Keeping things simpler for now, I am keen to just start compiling a list of questions I can pepper (hehe) him with over the course of the next few days. What do you suggest I ask him? Please note I've remained polite throughout our dealings. The last thing I want to do is lash out, throw a tantrum, bother, or belittle the man. (All that will do, I fear, is piss him off, driving us further away from the solution.) I'm calling him during work hours and it sounds like he's understaffed.

Now, the puzzler hasn't told me to stop calling (he actually sounds happy to hear my voice) but our conversations always feel a bit delicate. I think he wants the eventual solver to achieve success with the least amount of hand-holding from him as possible. And yet, at the same time, he answers my questions, consistently (and what seems to be) sincerely.
posted by Fofer at 1:22 PM on March 7, 2011

I came back in excited anticipation that someone may have found the answer. Bummer.

I've done a little more brainstorming and with the hope of keeping momentum going in the thread here's where I'm heading. I'm trying to use the "reverse engineering" technique so here are two phrases that might fit (somehow):

1. Bird's Eye View

Thinking that Pic #1 is "Birdshit" Pic #2 is "Eye" Pic #3 might be "Shit Flies" (in keeping with the parochial theme). How you get "View" I have absolutely no idea.

2. Bull's Eye Hit

Similar thinking to the above, but "Bullshit" rather than "Birdshit". To be honest though I don't think either of these fit with the childish, rather than crass, clue for Pic #1.
posted by smithsmith at 1:32 PM on March 7, 2011

Another thing I was thinking was that perhaps Pic #3 is Cicada (See-cada) which taking away from Pic #2 as "See" would leave "cada". Of course this idea is now totally kibosh-ed by the acknowledgment that Pic #2 is definitely "Eye".
posted by smithsmith at 1:37 PM on March 7, 2011

What do you suggest I ask him?

"What kind of drugs were you on when you created the rebus and do you have any left?"
posted by iconomy at 1:44 PM on March 7, 2011

Fofer - can you offer to send him a link to this thread and get some feedback on whether anyone is even remotely in the ballpark?
posted by smithsmith at 2:38 PM on March 7, 2011

What do you suggest I ask him?

Can you ask him for just one letter of either the Gorbachev clue or the "flies" clue? Or would that be too big of a hint?
posted by missix at 2:48 PM on March 7, 2011

...descend further into madness (with a tattoo of the rebus or something)

If you get a tattoo, you have to put it on your forehead. That would be so meta.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:36 PM on March 7, 2011

@smithsmith, I suppose I could offer to send him a link, let him know about the firestorm that's brewing over his old rebus... but part of me is a bit gunshy about that. He strikes me as the kind of guy that would get all giddy over the commotion; it would inflate his ego even more, making him less likely to offer assistance, in order to keep the mystery going.

Regardless, word is certainly spreading, folks have branched out with this, so it's only a matter of time before he can Google himself and giggle over the guesses.

That being said, I suppose now it's just a race, and someone, somewhere, somehow is going to stumble on the magical combination of phonemes that leads to a Rebus Solution.

I'd love for that someone to be from MeFi. And I'm committed to stick with this until the bitter end, and will call the puzzler with worthwhile questions, whenever politely possible.
posted by Fofer at 3:41 PM on March 7, 2011

I keep thinking 'pinkeye punkie something' ... anywhere to go with that?
posted by iamkimiam at 3:46 PM on March 7, 2011

Could this be the center? ... taz upthread mentioned naiads...if we have (foo) stain eye add (pepper thing) then we subtract [naɪæd] we get (foo) stay (pepper thing). Any phrases with 'stay' come to mind?
posted by iamkimiam at 4:22 PM on March 7, 2011

I doubt this is the solution, but I'm going to throw it in there

Menstrual + Eye - Ants + Ground
M(ants)rual + Eye - Ants + Ground
Mrual + Eye + Ground

posted by smithsmith at 4:34 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I asked him if pic #1 had anything to do with menstruation and he said no, but giggled... and told me that his giggling could be interpreted as positive feedback, that I was thinking on the appropriate maturity level. In other words, the insulting nickname for the red splotch on Gorby's head is cruel and childish. But it's not a reference to menstruation.
posted by Fofer at 4:57 PM on March 7, 2011

What else could #3 be but "punkies"? It has to have something like "eye" in it or else it wouldn't be third. It has to be a regional synonym for flies of some kind. Ergo, #1 contains "punk". Pumpkinface? Then we have "in face ___" or "in head ___". Purple punk?

Maybe not. Is anything else a common regional term for flies (it's not naiads: we already know that a child is supposed to be able to solve it with no special knowledge) that also contains something like an "i" or "e" sound?
posted by Xezlec at 6:39 PM on March 7, 2011

Xezlec, clue #1 could be something with "spunk" in it. Someone's put "plumspunk" in the google spreadsheet, it could be that or something like it.

I'm trying to get an idea for what kind of three-word phrase we should be thinking of. This is a bookstore and art gallery and coffee shop, so could it be related to any of those things? The yelp page shows a picture with the rebus outside the front of the shop, so I think it most likely refers to the books or something esoteric referring to the store's former owners?
posted by sarahnade at 10:51 PM on March 7, 2011

The yelp page shows a picture with the rebus outside the front of the shop, so I think it most likely refers to the books or something esoteric referring to the store's former owners?

So I immediately thought of "mutant" as an insult for the mark and "ants" for the bugs (flying ants?).

The last image really bugs me because I can't tell if it is a shaker on it's side on a table with a spill of pepper or if it is hanging in mid air and the pepper is floating down. I am leaning to the former because of the pattern of the speckles and then I wonder if it really matters that it is pepper. I am assuming that each line of this art is the way it is on purpose and that the "P" on the side is significant.
posted by smartypantz at 11:13 PM on March 7, 2011

And according to the article the regions of influence in question are northern Illinois (grew up in Waukegan) and he has spent most of his adult life in Colorado/Denver. Thanks for the link Fofer!
posted by smartypantz at 11:18 PM on March 7, 2011

Mean, childish nicknames for that port wine stain: scar, blood, poo, jizz, spit, splotch...
So, could the first word be "scary"? (scar + eye) or "bloody"? (blood + eye)

Could the flies be: bugs, fleas, mosquitoes, gnats...?
Could the pepper be: shake, dash, sprinkle, season, tap, spice...?

I'm just reaching. Basically the only thing I felt OK about was "bloody" for a first word.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:05 AM on March 8, 2011

Xezlec: What else could #3 be but "punkies"?

I have never, ever heard this term. If #1 is some obscure regional term for a birthmark, and #3 is some obscure regional term for flies, I am going to kill this guy WITH A DICTIONARY.

Use real words, mofo!
posted by DarlingBri at 12:22 AM on March 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

More bug words: mosquito, skeeter, mayfly, bug, roach, lice, buzzard, grub, mozzie, earwig, nit, flea

Birthmark words: splotch, mark, stain, spill, giant zit

This is going to be a real anticlimax when it gets solved, but it's going to drive me crazy until then.
posted by Gordafarin at 2:57 AM on March 8, 2011

Using (mutant's+eye)-ants+shaker = (somehow) Mover and Shaker?
Actually it would be "mut eye shaker" which makes no sense, but I thought I'd throw my brainstorming into the mix.
posted by smartypantz at 7:24 AM on March 8, 2011

Another highly tenuous guess (and probably my last):

Smudgehead + Eye - Midge + Season

S(midge)head + Eye - (midge) + Season

Shead + Eye + Season



A Star Wars reference? Okay, I think I'm losing the plot. I honestly don't think this can be solved without the puzzler explicitly telling us the first clue.
posted by smithsmith at 4:11 PM on March 8, 2011

Maybe it is time to offer him $100 for the solution.
posted by meepmeow at 11:20 PM on March 8, 2011

He does not deserve $100 for this rebus.
posted by Xezlec at 9:11 AM on March 9, 2011

Don't you think droomord is right though?

From "grape stain", you can remove "pest" and get "Grain eye pepper" or "Green eye drops" or "Graying eye spice" or something. Can't you native english speakers make a sentence out of that?
posted by springload at 9:50 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not a sentence but a three-word phrase.
posted by springload at 9:57 AM on March 9, 2011

$200 ... do I hear $200?
posted by iguanapolitico at 1:38 PM on March 9, 2011

Following springload's logic, "Grain o' salt" would be possible if the definition of salt were to include seasoning in general, and only if it were pest rather than pests.
posted by droomoord at 9:14 PM on March 9, 2011

Maybe we can lure Ken Jennings or some other puzzle/trivia savant into this. This rebus must be solved. I need a good night's sleep.
posted by Fofer at 12:25 AM on March 10, 2011

I'm going to call the puzzler again tomorrow and drill him with guesses for pic #1. We need a key word anchor.
posted by Fofer at 12:26 AM on March 10, 2011

I actually tweeted Ken about it, but didn't get any response. I would post it on his message boards (he often posts tough puzzles for his blog readers), but they don't seem very active.
posted by Gordafarin at 1:10 AM on March 10, 2011

My wild guess: Milk is spilled. (?,i,gnats,spilled)
posted by meepmeow at 7:23 AM on March 10, 2011

Why not ask for a hint, like the first letter of the first word or something like that.
posted by smartypantz at 9:32 AM on March 10, 2011

Fofer, next time you speak to the all powerful rebus creator*, can you ask if he's actually made the rebus according to standard rebus rules? Because, I can't think of anything that removes "flies" from "Gorbachev+Eye" when the phonemes are in order.

I can only think that it must be either "(gorbachev-flies) + eye" or "i/eye/aye" is added to the middle of "Gorbachev".

*Come on, who are we kidding?
posted by lesli212 at 1:50 PM on March 10, 2011

Bloody Mikhail + sight - might = bloody khail + grounds = Bloody hails grounds or bloody hellgrounds.


Or possibly Bloody Kill Grounds, because of the K...

Neither really works, but it fits with the frustration I am starting to feel with this puzzle!
posted by misha at 5:13 PM on March 10, 2011

Oh, and I didn't see this on the spreadsheet, but doesn't "Garbagehead" sound sorta like Gorbachev? Sorta? Kinda? And it is definitely childish.

Adding it to the list.
posted by misha at 5:17 PM on March 10, 2011

Another rebus in the bookstore's front window.
posted by misha at 6:06 PM on March 10, 2011

I got busy with work today and didn't get to call the puzzler. Will do so tomorrow.

@lesli212, we've already been told that pic #3 is not meant to be interpreted as "flies" -- it's a synonym for that particular insect.

@misha, pic #1 isn't about Mikhail so much as it is about the splotch itself. The puzzler told me it's a childish, cruel nickname for the splotch, and could be used to make fun of anyone with a similar splotch.

Also, thanks for that new pic of the other rebus, but I can't really make it out... it's too small/blurry.
posted by Fofer at 9:49 PM on March 10, 2011

Yes, it is a small image, sorry. Easy to describe, though: It's just a cross, a pistol (or handgun), and then a dollar sign, only the dollar sign is facing the wrong way (think of a backwards S in the dollar sign and you'll get what I mean). There are no + or - signs, just those three images.
posted by misha at 10:05 PM on March 10, 2011

This is a better photo of the sign misha linked to. It doesn't look much like a rebus to me though.
posted by bethnull at 11:28 PM on March 10, 2011

That is the strangest collection of books around the religion-weapon-cashupsidedown thingy! (I do think it's a rebus, but possibly a really strange, abstract one perhaps?)
posted by iamkimiam at 6:31 AM on March 12, 2011

I don't think the cross/pistol/upsidedownmoneysign is a rebus in that it's meant to be interpreted as words. The guy is an artist so I imagine he deals a lot with symbols in his art.
posted by smartypantz at 11:01 AM on March 12, 2011

I think this rebus is based upon too private a meaning. I don't think it's a real rebus. It's not a puzzle. It's more like asking, "What am I thinking?"

Am I'm thinking about how Timur defeated the Ottomans at Ankara? About whether or not to question my sexuality because I find Anne Coulter hot in spite of (or because of?) her mannish features? About whether or not I think it was wise to place my mobile home on a flood plain in Tornado Alley?

There's no way to tell. If the brilliance of the hivemind cannot beat this I don't think there's a legitimate way to guess at this guy's obscure obscenity for Gorbachev, etc. I call bullshit.
posted by MasonDixon at 12:12 PM on March 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know it's quite a longshot, but has there been any new information from the bookstore guy? I'm still quite curious about what it was intended to be.
posted by missix at 8:51 PM on March 16, 2011

Nothing new yet. The last few times I have called there was no answer. I think I will try calling tomorrow from another (or blocked) phone number.
posted by Fofer at 11:13 PM on March 17, 2011

The more and more I think about "sneeze" for pic #4, the more I like it.

For some reason now I am stuck on the idea the answer is

"thuh bee sneeze"


"The Bee's Knees"

I know pic #3 isn't bees (and they're subtracted anyway) but maybe the construct of pic #1 plus pic #2 minus pic #3 = "thuh-bee"

posted by Fofer at 10:14 AM on March 18, 2011

No updates, huh? And again, (I know, it's hard to keep track of who says what) I have read the thread and, I do know that the picture of flies is not meant to be read as "flies". I'm calling them "flies", "gorbachev", etc, as shorthand, as I mentioned previously.

And that's why I feel like my question still stands, and is a very important one to ask the puzzle creator: is this rebus made using standard rebus rules? Meaning, are the phonemes in the order that I indicated (by referring to the pictures) in my most recent previous comment?
posted by lesli212 at 4:27 AM on March 23, 2011

It's pretty amazing to arrive at what looks like the end of this thread and see no solution. Kinda makes me sad.
posted by lostburner at 6:30 PM on April 4, 2011

Okay, here's another shot at it:

smudge + see - midges + season

where midges = mid "G" "E" "S"

smudge see + season = S'MUDDY SEASON = IT'S MUDDY SEASON

(or smudge + eye + season, where midges = mid "G," "E"s (the G and all the Es) to get smud y + season = it's muddy season)

Which seems a stretch, but apparently Colorado has a "Mud Season," so ... ?
posted by taz at 2:31 AM on April 5, 2011

@ lesli212, I'm going to collect a list of various questions to ask the puzzler and call in the next day or two.

@ taz, I will see what he says about "It's Muddy Season."
posted by Fofer at 12:23 PM on April 5, 2011

SO, uh, any update on this? (I mean other than the fact that this guys clearly sucks ass at making rebuses?)
posted by dersins at 12:42 AM on April 28, 2011

Remembered this after months and months, and came back to check. Dismayed that there's still no resolution. Any update?
posted by lostburner at 10:40 PM on February 12, 2012

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