Snakes on a Ferry
How It Works
Each team is presented with 5 different snakes, each with different striped patterns and backgrounds. The background colors were blue, green, pink, tan, and yellow. In addition to all of this, there is an irregular spacing pattern between certain stripes.
Solution Part 1
The first step in solving the puzzle was noticing that the stripes on each
snake were resistor band colors. Each stripe resolved to a single 0-9 digit,
and astute teams should have noticed that each stripe actually came in pairs.
Each of these number pairs would form a letter (e.g. 05 is 'e').
The message on each snake was:
Blue: I come prior to tan
Green: I am after a tan snake
Pink: I am after a yellow snake
Tan: I come before a pink snake
Yellow: Im after green snake
Solution Part 2
The messages on each snake formed a simple logic puzzle instructing how to
order the snakes. The correct order is:
Blue, Tan, Green, Yellow, Pink
Solution Part 3
Now that there was an order to the snakes, the only piece of data left for teams was the irregular spacing on each snake. The fact that there was a specific order to the snakes was supposed to clue teams into actually laying the snakes next to each other to observe how the spacing worked for all of the snakes. Teams were expected to make the leap that the presence of a stripe indicated a bit (where every other stripe was all 1s to assist in lining up the snakes), and that the answer was encoded in binary. Translating the stripes to letters, the snakes should have looked roughly like:
I COM E P R I ORT O T A N
ICO MEBEF OREAP INKSN AKE
IAM A F TER ATA N SNA K E
IMA F T E R GRE E NSNAK E
IAM A FTE RAYEL L OWS NAKE
Treating the blue snake as the most siginificant bit, this should result in the following number sequence: (15)(16)(8)(9)(4)(9)(15)(16)(8)(15)(2)(9)(1), which, when converted to letters, spells "OPHIDIOPHOBIA" which is of course, a fear of snakes.
This puzzle was really just an inside joke for GC; we began planning for this year in late 2006, a month or two after Snakes on a Plane debuted in theatres. When we had settled on having teams take the Bremerton ferry, Lee and I began joking about having "snakes on a ferry."
At one point, Nick and Erik asked me what I was working on, and since I had no puzzle ideas they started pressing me to come up with something. I remembered the snakes on a ferry joke, and offered to make that happen. GC had joked about using snakes-in-a-can, so I worked on a way to make this happen.
Incidentally, the final puzzle was pretty close to the original idea (the one part of it that was different was that I made sure the message fit 'perfectly' in the stripes, where in the original there was noise at the end). In playtests it was a fairly fast solve, so for the beta I made the logic puzzle much harder (the puzzle was closer in difficulty to the Interrogation Claw puzzle's). Our beta testers didn't really care for this since the logic puzzle was really a one person activity and teams tried to find signal in the extra variables. I re-simplified the riddle afterwards, which worked out well since the snakes I bulk ordered were about 10 inches shorter than the ones we used in the beta.
I was sorely disappointed that most teams didn't pick up on the joke until they saw the t-shirt. I had been hoping for Snakes on a Plane jokes in calls to GC all weekend. Generally, most teams didn't have too much trouble with the puzzle, and thankfully the ferry kept the teams that blew through it occupied.
I did find it weird that almost all teams thought the blue snake was white.
I also apologize for having the second most annoying answer to input into the phone system.