I’m pleased to announce the now-official winner of the Smithsonian’s Great American History Puzzle: Jeffrey Davidson of Mountain View, California! When we notified Jeff of his win, he replied by telling us the story of how he first got into puzzles. Apparently it’s partially my fault!
Jeff says that, when he was just sixteen, he attended the the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Connecticut. I was actually at the same tournament (my one and only personal peek into the world of competitive crosswording!) hosting a little trivia night and handing out the trophies to the tournament winners at the final awards ceremony. Jeff says, “I credit that night for hooking me on puzzles and introducing me to the community of puzzle addicts that I’m now a proud part of. So it’s truly great to come full circle and be a part of another contest of yours.”
I also sent out a congratulatory email to the other solvers who, like Jeff, deduced the correct answer in remarkably quick fashion…but didn’t submit it quite as speedily as he did. I’d like to reiterate my congratulations here: my sincerest admiration to everyone who defeated The Great American History Puzzle, either as a whole or in part. In my mind, that’s something to be proud of, and I hope you all had fun.
With that in mind, we’re hoping new solvers will discover and take a shot at these puzzles at their leisure in the days and weeks ahead, even if the Grand Prize has officially been won. So I’m going to give away the first password, the one from the in-magazine puzzle that opened the contest and unlocked the puzzle website. Tell your friends they can now try all nine of the Web puzzles without having to meander through a past issue of Smithsonian magazine.
Here’s how the first puzzle worked. The coded message could be deciphered using “Jefferson’s greatest creation”–that is, the Declaration of Independence, which invented America as a nation. The clue about Jefferson “measuring his words carefully” meant that the solution lay in counting words and letters in the Declaration, and the instruction “When first, finish with Honor” meant that “When” had to be the first word and “honor” the last in your count. For example, the coded symbol 5-2 represented the second letter of the fifth word in the Declaration: the ‘f’ in “of.” Once deciphered, the message read:
FAMOUS LAST WORDS WILL HELP YOU TRACE THE HIDDEN AMERICAN ICON ON THIS MAGAZINE’S COVER. THE BIBLE VERSE ON THE ICON LEADS TO TWO PAGE NUMBERS. READ THE RED CHARACTERS THERE BACKWARDS TO UNCOVER THE PASSWORD.
The “famous last words,” hidden in small letters in the cover Jefferson mosaic, read, “THOMAS JEFFERSON SURVIVES.” (These are the purported last words of Jefferson’s onetime political rival John Adams, who died on July 4, 1826 — the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration! — unaware that Jefferson had died only a few hours before.) Tracing those words in connect-the-dots fashion did indeed produce the outline of an American icon: the Liberty Bell (which, incidentally, was used to toll out news of Adams’s and Jefferson’s deaths).
The Bible verse on the Liberty Bell (“Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”) is from Leviticus 25:10. Sharp-eyed readers who examined pages 25 and 10 of the magazine found red characters scattered in the “folio” information at the bottoms of those pages, where the magazine’s name and date typically appear. When read backwards, they spelled out