Creating the Challenge
Peter C. Johnson, M.D., artist, and president and CEO of Scintellix LLC, is the creator of all of GEN’s Cryptogram Challenges. This latest Challenge is similar to an earlier one in that they both involve ELISAs. But, as Dr. Johnson notes, “ELISA REDUX was designed as a monochrome to accentuate the irony of its substantially greater difficulty than the previous, multicolored ELISA Cryptogram Challenge.”
For the Challenge, Dr. Johnson embedded a cipher (algorithm for performing encryption and decryption) based on the cells in a standard ELISA plate.
“In this latest edition of the Cryptogram Challenge, a follow on to last year’s ‘MicroArray Challenge,’ I wanted to once again highlight the magnitude of information that is buried in biological imagery,” explained Dr. Johnson.
“As experimentalists, we always try to reduce test variable and potential interpretations to the simplest form possible. The Cryptogram Challenge: ELISA REDUX reveals that even when we do so, the potential for multiple interpretations remains.”
The Cryptogram Challenge is the first in a series of puzzles that will appear in GEN that will leverage the information represented in multiple types of biological experimentation readouts.
“Subsequent Challenges will grow in difficulty and will be used to continue to highlight the enormous amount of information that we need to filter from our experiments in order to derive correct conclusions,” continued Dr. Johnson.
But ELISA REDUX itself was a toughie. Dr. Johnson provided 11 clues before the Challenge was solved. Indeed, the eleventh clue, “Only transparencies between 4 and 54 encode for letters,” was the clincher, at least for Steinhardt.
“The last clue made it a solvable problem because the number of guesses we had to make was small enough so that we actually could test them,” explained Steinhardt.
Collman, however, thought that “the critical clue was not the last clue but the clarification of the seventh clue to mean that the ROYGBIV spectrum number indicated that everything was green and that was four. Once you had the spectrum number, the number of possibilities from then on was pretty small.”
Both men said it took about 24 hours to solve the Challenge, spread out over the ten weeks that the Challenge ran.