# Who here likes puzzles?October 26, 2016 5:53 PM   Subscribe

I found this strange artwork at a thrift store today. Can you tell me what it says?

It consists of 48 individual wooden blocks glued into a frame and each block has a letter painted on it. The blocks can't be rearranged by hand. The whole thing measures about 3'x3'. There is no pattern that I can discern (and there was nothing written on the back).

Here is a grid of the letters as they appear:

H O W i T H t I
S r T O N H l a
B E A u y H o E
e t K E A G L S
h F O N L T A E
V i A P R W I n

And here are all the letters written on one line:

H O W i T H t I S r T O N H l a B E A u y H o E e t K E A G L S h F O N L T A E V i A P R W I n

I've tried removing all the uppercase letters, all the lowercase letters, looking at the letters in reverse order, even plugging different combinations into an online anagram solver. No solution presents itself. Or is the solution right in front of me and I just can't see it?

Any ideas?
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! to Grab Bag (47 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

Been trying to see if it is a snake- start at a letter then move one by one to spell something, but no dice. HOW has got to be a red herring.
posted by vrakatar at 6:40 PM on October 26, 2016

If you read it aloud you get "How I thought is right on" and then I can't make out what the next words would be. To me this seems like a more likely way to "solve" the artwork than doing something more complex. The one wrinkle is what if the "message" was never coherent to begin with?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:55 PM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

The only wood grain/stain pattern is in the lower left that I can see. (V-i)
Might be a pattern in the grains used for lettering.
posted by clavdivs at 6:56 PM on October 26, 2016

Nothing obvious yet, but it amuses me that TRANSPOSITIONAL is in the middle, there.
posted by rokusan at 6:58 PM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is it possible it's not a code at all but meant to represent a collage of letterpress blocks?
posted by brentajones at 7:26 PM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

If it was cut from a single piece of plywood, you could conceivably get somewhere by matching grains at the edges, but I tried that for a few moments and got nowhere.
posted by jamjam at 7:41 PM on October 26, 2016

I think it originally spelled something, but then they took a letter out, and slid the blocks around like you do in one of those puzzles where a block is missing, and when they had something aesthetically pleasing, they stopped and put the missing piece back in. That's why there are some almost-words, with a missing letter or two (which is usually nearby), like "beauty" or "eagle(s)".
posted by lollusc at 8:08 PM on October 26, 2016

Well, at first I was inclined to think that it was just a random jumble of letters.

But, for what it's worth, the letter frequencies of the blocks are approximately in line with the English language, which does suggest that it is some sort of rearrangement of an English phrase or English words.
posted by mekily at 8:31 PM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

The second line phonetically is certainly. At least it reads that way to me.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 9:46 PM on October 26, 2016

Well, I'm confident that there's something there, and probably something a lot better than my best result so far, which is this less than elegant answer:

Hah, how is it that in folklore, beauty is elegant when vapor?

But maybe that's enough of a start to trigger someone else to the real answer. If not, I'm sure I'll get it sometime on my next mind-numbing 12 hour flight, or the one after that.
posted by rokusan at 9:57 PM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is it solvable, eh? We think it on through, anyhow, after a plea.
Not actually an answer, but I couldn't resist the anagram suggestion.
posted by wanderingmind at 10:32 PM on October 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'll go with the anagram too:
Hoots at naive folk worshiping ethereal beauty within. Ha.
posted by unliteral at 10:46 PM on October 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

Just putting some of my brainstorming out there in case anyone can do something with it:

[HOW with it] / [HOW is it]
CERTAIN [haloes / holes / hallowed]
BEAUTY / Beth
[TAKE ON / TAKE AN] / [ANGELS / AGELESS / EAGLES]
[FINAL / FINALITY] / [TALES / TALENT] / IN
[Via / VAPOR / POWER] / [IN / WIN / WINES / SLAIN]

How is it that certain hallowed beauty takes on ageless finality and power?
posted by naju at 1:48 AM on October 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

I know this is going "outside the four corners" of the puzzle, but I'd be curious if the thrift store owner has anything to say about it.
posted by naju at 1:55 AM on October 27, 2016

I think the letters were written by different people as well; there are three uppercase "E"s and they don't match (e.g. one of them has the middle bar extending all the way across the tile and the other two don't).
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:10 AM on October 27, 2016

It's frustratingly close to an anagram of the Lord's Prayer, if you take the last letter of the second row as a 'd':

Our FATHER In HEAVEN, Hallowed Be Thy HWiTtISTONloKGSiAP

You can also see things like "SON", "Holy GHOST", "Pray" "HEAVENLY" etc. but I can't see how to fit them together.

Trying to match the grain of the wood pieces in Paint is tantalisingly suggestive of those words too, but I don't have the time to play around with it.

My guess is it's some form of common prayer, arranged as a child's puzzle.
posted by rollick at 9:50 AM on October 27, 2016

Yeah there are a ton of holy sounding words in the anagrams I've come up with.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 10:02 AM on October 27, 2016

I agree with rollick and Just this guy, y'know...

I've gotten:

FATHER, SON, WHO ART IN HEAVEN

SO IT WILL BE THY KING

PIETA, HOU-A

if that should help anyone
posted by amicamentis at 10:09 AM on October 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

You've got such a tantalising quote there, if I could just rephrase the last line as: HE UTOPIA A

FATHER, HE WHO ART IN HEAVEN
THY SON, HE WILL BE KING
SO IT A UTOPIA *

*It a utopia, much paradise, very heaven
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 10:21 AM on October 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Theoretically, two of the lower case T's might by a ✞ instead.
It might start and end with a ✞ to make up the numbers.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 10:54 AM on October 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

The lowercase t's may also represent "+" signs to mean "and".
posted by amicamentis at 11:03 AM on October 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm playing around with this iterative anagram tool

and I've got paint and powerpoint open so I can shuffle letters around, though the woodgrain thing may or may not lead anywhere.
I do have a pretty decent looking "LY" correlation, which is why I'm going with "HEAVENLY" for now.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 11:12 AM on October 27, 2016

I wonder if all of the letters are the right way up? I keep wanting to make "KINGDOM", and I'm starting to eye those two W's. One of the O's looks sideways too.
posted by rollick at 11:18 AM on October 27, 2016

I've been thinking that.
Kingdom is a good call too.

There's some plausible looking woodgrain joins between the upside down P and an O and an upsidedown W
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 11:24 AM on October 27, 2016

I am also playing around with GIVE THANKS WITH YOUR WHOLE HEART FOR ... etc
posted by amicamentis at 11:39 AM on October 27, 2016

I was getting close...

"THE FATHER SON AND HOLY GHOST AWAIT ME IN TURBO HEAVEN"
But I have IIKL left over.
So maybe time for another tack
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 11:44 AM on October 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

Here is my sinister looking rearrangable letters file if anyone wants to have a play with matching woodgrain up.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 12:24 PM on October 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh oops. I apparently had to approve sharing, or somesuch. That might be a terrible way to share that file. Oh well, it's probably the best I can do for now, since I'm supposed to be working on actual work.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 1:10 PM on October 27, 2016

Here is my sinister looking rearrangable letters file

Very cool. Thanks for setting this up!
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 1:11 PM on October 27, 2016

I think I fixed the sharing so now it won't ask me everytime someone wants it and you can just have it. I THINK!
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 1:19 PM on October 27, 2016

I have no suggestions, but it does sort of make me want to create some inscrutable art that looks like it must mean something and drop it off at a thrift shop. It's not totally impossible the creator did the same thing...
posted by Jon Mitchell at 2:42 PM on October 27, 2016 [8 favorites]

UPDATE:

So I went back to the thrift store just now and bought the piece (only \$3! Much cheaper than I remembered from yesterday.) The back is completely blank - I was hoping for a name or maybe something small I overlooked yesterday.

Being solid wood, it weighs a ton. The previous owners did a nice job attaching picture wire on back for hanging. I asked some of the staff at the store but they had no further info about where it came from. It had been discounted in price at least once so it had probably been there for awhile. I wish I had more information to share beyond that. Thank you all for your help! You guys are great. Keep the guesses coming!

P.S. I've started to refer to the piece as Turbo Heaven.
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 3:43 PM on October 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm starting to eye those two W's

...you know, looking back at my list, W is abnormally high in the letter frequencies, and M is abnormally low. It would be totally reasonable for one (or both?) of the W's to be an M.
posted by mekily at 6:52 AM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

After playing around with the letter blocks for a ridiculous amount of time, based on shading and grain I'm seeing PRAY, FAITH, KNOW, WHO, and ALONG. This is just a guess, though; I'll keep trying different combos!
posted by amicamentis at 9:50 AM on October 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I played around last night. I saw that you can get all of "beauty," "eagle," "soar," and "spirit" at once, and started searching for inspirational, faux-indigenous quotations about eagles, beauty and spirit. Didn't get anywhere - but there are a lot of possibilities.

I still don't think any of that makes for a key.
posted by Miko at 7:42 PM on October 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Trying to match up the different letter styles, I can make a few vaguely plausible names with a bit of a Dutch / Belgian flavour. Maybe it's a collection of names that was jumbled up?
posted by lucidium at 5:45 PM on October 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

With those words people are finding, I wondered whether it might be some translation of paraphrase of Isaiah 40:31 ("But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles").

You can get "wait upon the lord soar like the eagle" or a variety of similar things but you have a bunch of letters left over that I can't make do anything.

I'm pretty convinced the two lower-case ts are crosses. It would be very convenient to have a sentence that is exactly 48 characters long, so that seems a way they might have bookended it to fit the space.

By matching grain I'm 100% convinced that the sequence "is" and "ki" are in there. I am nearly as convinced that the sequence "we" is there too. I could believe that the "ki" is "king", and also that we have a sequence "ti" (possibly "ati").
posted by lollusc at 1:22 AM on October 31, 2016

I got a bit carried away and made this a few days ago with the blessing of Hey Dean Yeager! and the mods, but have had no internet until today.
So for the obsessives, uh, here you go. http://projects.metafilter.com/5057/Turbo-Heaven-Simulator

posted by quinndexter at 3:54 AM on October 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

Hey Dean Yeager!, are you able to post some more pictures of the art? Some of the color variations I can't tell if it's the angle of the piece and the light or if it's in the art itself. Thanks!
posted by amicamentis at 6:34 AM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

We need high res electron microscopy!
It must be solved!

Actually closeup pics of each square under good strong light might make the woodgrain matching easier.

This is very reminiscent of the qwantzle which I don't know if it ever got solved.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 7:15 AM on October 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

Are you able to post some more pictures of the art?

Absolutely! I will take more tomorrow morning and post them to Imgur.

Actually closeup pics of each square under good strong light might make the woodgrain matching easier.

I only have my iPhone but I will try to get the best quality close ups I can of each letter.

If anyone has any other photo requests just let me know.

We'll crack this nut yet!
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 2:14 PM on October 31, 2016

Also, I've been thinking about possible matches in the woodgrain:

If the complete message was painted on a piece of plywood and then cut into the individual 48 blocks, the woodgrain could be matched up and the message decoded. But if the 48 blocks were cut FIRST and each chosen at random from a pile to be painted, the odds that the same side of the plywood was used for each letter gets pretty slim, right? Judging by the edges of each block and the cleanness of the cuts, I think it might be the latter of those two scenarios. None of the painted edges show saw marks or chip-outs.

I'm still going to post more detailed photos, don't worry. They may not be the Rosetta Stone we need, though.
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 2:45 PM on October 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

I hadn't thought about the pre-cut block theory, and that does sound highly likely. What does it look like from the back?? Is is blocks, or is there a cover over them?
posted by amicamentis at 6:00 AM on November 1, 2016

Ok, I made a new album on Imgur that has closeups of each letter. I've titled each of the closeups by row and number (so top row/first block = 1-1, second row/first block = 2-1, etc.) and they should be in order. I've also included photos of the back and a side view.

I also took some measurements (which may not be helpful, but who knows?) Overall the piece is 32.5" tall x 30.5" wide x 1" deep. Each block is approximately 4" x 5". The frame is flush with the blocks; there's no lip or overhang.

I may have spoke to soon about saw marks and chip-outs, too; there are definitely some edges that show some wear, and a few where you can make out paint from a mystery adjacent letter on the edge of the block.

Let me know if you would like anything else. I look forward to hearing what you come up with!

(We are confusing the hell out of people on Imgur right now, btw.)
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 10:46 AM on November 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've been at work almost constantly since you posted these (and imgur is blocked here!)

We'd been pondering the pre-cut block thing here for a bit because, to be honest if I were building this I would cut the blocks , then sand them and check for square and then paint them.
It's a little encouraging to hear that maybe that's not what happened.

Mind you, even if you did do it that way there might be hints of meaning in the order that they were painted.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:09 AM on November 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

and imgur is blocked here!

How best can I get them to you? Can I email you the files? MeMail you the files? Dead drop a USB stick?
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 5:58 AM on November 2, 2016

Oh, I can get them at home (which is where I should be doing this sort of thing anyway) but I've not been there for more than about 5 hours a time in the last few days. So I was just saying that I hadn't yet looked at the edges to confirm or deny my theories.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 7:40 AM on November 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

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