As I understood it, this week’s NPR puzzle is as follows. Think of a figure from the Bible with five letters. Move each letter three back, e.g., an “e” becomes a “b.” Find the Biblical figure which becomes an ailment after doing this transformation.
I figured this would be eminently amenable to some simple linux commands like I’ve done with previous puzzles (most are not, by the way). I was having a hard time doing these transformations in my head while I was driving, and the first names I tried came up empty, such as Jesus or Moses.
So I figured I could write a program to do the character transformations on each and every word and I could probably find a downloadable text version of the Bible. I didn’t find a pure text version, but I did download an HTML version, which is close enough for our purposes.
Then I was going to just keep the five-letter words and do this transformation on all of them and match against dictionary words. Then I would have taken just those matches and scanned by hand to look for words that are ailments, hoping there wouldn’t be too many matched words to contend with.
Finally settled on a different approach
That looked like a bit of work so I thought about it and decided there had to be a resource for just the figures in the Bible, and voila, there is, in Wikipedia, see the references.
Rot13 is a famous cipher (encryption is too strong a word to describe this simple approach), where A becomes N, B becomes O, etc. I had a feeling the tr command in linux might be able to do this but didn’t know how. So I searched for linux, tr and rot13 and found an example online. It was easy to adapt.
We need what you could call a rot -3. Here is the command.
$ tr 'A‐Za‐z' 'X‐ZA‐Wx‐za‐w'
So I put the text of the Wikipedia page of Biblical figures into a text file on my linux server, into a file called list-of-biblical-figures. It looks like this:
Adam to David according to the Bible Creation to Flood Adam Seth Enos Kenan Mahalalel Jared Enoch Methuselah Lamech Noah Shem Cain line Adam Cain Enoch Irad Mehujael Methusael Lamech Tubal-cain Patriarchs after Flood Arpachshad Cainan Shelah Eber Peleg Reu Serug Nahor Terah Abraham Isaac Jacob Tribe of Judah to Kingdom Judah Perez Hezron Ram Amminadab Nahshon Salmon Boaz Obed Jesse David ...
I was going to tackle just pulling the figures with five-character names, but the whole list isn’t that long so I skipped even that step and just put the list through as is:
$ cat list-of-biblical-figures|tr 'A‐Za‐z' 'X‐ZA‐Wx‐za‐w'
comes back as
Xaxj ql Axsfa xzzloafkd ql qeb Yfyib Zobxqflk ql Cilla Xaxj Pbqe Bklp Hbkxk Jxexixibi Gxoba Bklze Jbqerpbixe Ixjbze Klxe Pebj Zxfk ifkb Xaxj Zxfk Bklze Foxa Jbergxbi Jbqerpxbi Ixjbze Qryxi-zxfk Mxqofxozep xcqbo Cilla Xomxzepexa Zxfkxk Pebixe Bybo Mbibd Obr Pbord Kxelo Qboxe Xyoxexj Fpxxz Gxzly Qofyb lc Graxe ql Hfkdalj Graxe Mbobw Ebwolk Oxj Xjjfkxaxy Kxepelk Pxijlk Ylxw Lyba Gbppb Axsfa ... Ebola ...
So it’s all gibberish as you might hope. Then towards the end you come across this one thing and it just pops out at you. As is my custom I won’t give it away before the deadline. [update] OK. Submission deadline has passed. Ebola just really popped out. Going back to the original text, you see it lines up with Herod. So there you have it.
I double-checked and confirmed this also works on a Raspberry Pi. I’ve come to realize that most people don’t have their own server, but hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions have a Raspberry Pi, which is a linux server, which makes techiques like this accessible. And fun.
I show a technique for using a linux server such as a Raspberry Pi to solve this week’s NPR puzzle. A very simple approach worked. In fact I was able to solve the puzzle and write this post in about an hour!
References and related
HTML version of Bible: https://ebible.org/Scriptures/eng-web_html.zip
Biblical figures: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_major_biblical_figures
An earlier NPR puzzle solved with linux command line techniques