Lightning Strikes Cryptogram Winners Twice

Team Solves a GEN Puzzle for the Second Time

For the first time since the series of contests began in November 2008, the same individuals have won prizes for successfully figuring out the answers to two different “GEN Cryptogram Challenges.”

Adrienne Halupa, PhD
Adrienne Halupa, PhD

Last fall, Adrienne Halupa, Ph.D., project manager/research associate in the department of chemistry at the University of Toronto, and teammate Stephen Ross, senior software developer at Devlin eBusiness Architects, cracked the code embedded in a 96-well plate image.

Now the two Canadians have done it again. No small feat, to which the roughly 900 other Cryptogram Challenge, RNAi-2 registrants would attest! After seeing the 14th clue, Adrienne and Stephen nailed down the correct response: “You Hone a Signal.”

GEN, its partner, Scintellix, and sponsor, Invitrogen, part of Life Technologies, wish to congratulate Adrienne and Stephen for their outstanding accomplishment. The winners received two awards: a $1,500 cash prize and the choice of an advanced laboratory instrument from Invitrogen. They decided upon the Countess® automated cell counter, which they are generously donating to the University Health Network in Toronto.

Peter C. Johnson, M.D., president and CEO of Scintellix, as well as the artist who creates all the puzzles, told Adrienne and Stephen that he could not wait “to have you two take on the next one. What the Cryptogram Challenges have taught me is how smart the people are out there who are solving them,” he said, “and you are both the leaders in that category right now because you’ve solved two.”

Eureka Moment

When asked when they first realized they might have the answer to the Cryptogram, Adrienne called it a “Eureka moment. It was like `how come we didn’t get that sooner.’ I was seriously concerned that somebody would submit the answer before we did.”

Stephen Ross
Stephen Ross

“About four clues back from the final clue, it was like a carrot in front of a donkey. It was maddening because it was right there but we still couldn’t seem to grab it. It was tricky because of the short solution,” Stephen said.

Since this was the second puzzle solved by the pair, GEN was curious if the team took a different tack in attacking the two cryptograms.

“What I like to do is to keep a grid going and then I color code the different parts of the grid according to the clues that are revealed,” said Adrienne. “I try to keep track of things this way because not every single spot can be a letter.”

“We have different approaches,” pointed out Stephen. “Adrienne tends to  organize the information. I usually begin with a Perl script and put everything into a computer. Then I start monkeying around with all the different possibilities. That served me well in the first one.

“This time I abandoned that about halfway through when I could see that we were doing better just looking at the spreadsheet. The nice thing about what Adrienne does is it’s easy for her to share it. We function collaboratively. I can always benefit from what she’s done. She tends to instinctively line things up in ways that work really well.”

Adrienne and Stephen agreed that it took about 30 hours to solve the Cryptogram.

One of the themes emanating from GEN’s Cryptogram Challenge is that virtually all of the contests have served as team-building tools. Based on interviews with all Challenge winners, it’s become clear that at least two people have been involved in solving every puzzle (except for Jason Jens’  recent success in deciphering a Cryptogram during a one-day marathon session).

“I think that’s a key part of the whole exercise,” said Adrienne. “It’s just like bouncing ideas back and forth between one another in the lab. You know you can’t really do it in isolation if you’re going to do it well. The GEN Cryptogram Challenge feels like the same kind of thing. And that’s what makes it so much fun.”