06 August 2011

Can your cryptanalysis skills help apprehend a vandal?

Most of you will remember the tragedy that occurred in 2007 when an interstate highway bridge spanning the Mississippi River in Minneapolis suddenly collapsed, killing 13 people.

This week a memorial in memory of the victims was unveiled.
The memorial includes a row of 13 vertical steel I-beams, each engraved with the name of someone who died in the collapse and a personal tribute written by relatives.

The names of 171 survivors of the collapse are engraved on a stone wall, which has a sheet of water flowing over it. The wall featured this message -- the one damaged by vandals -- written by survivors of the collapse:

"Our lives are not only defined by what happens, but by how we act in the face of it, not only by what life brings us, but by what we bring to life. Selfless actions and compassion create enduring community out of tragic events."
Within two days of the unveiling of the memorial, some scumbag vandalized it by removing letters.  Of interest, the letters removed were noncontiguous, suggesting that the malefactor was not taking them for the metal value of the stainless steel, but to spell a message - probably his name.

Authorities have subsequently received many requests for a list of the letters; today they responded:
The missing letters, in the order they took in the message: u, l, n, t, d, w, a, i, n, y, a, w, g, e, a, s, r, m, m, o, g, e. [a single comma was also removed, and the dot over the i).
I couldn't come up with anything.  "Stan awed uglier gym woman" certainly isn't relevant.  Perhaps you can do better.

p.s. - if you're going to tackle anagrams, I highly recommend taking advantage of specialized web resources, such as the page at Wordsmith.

Photo credit.


  1. Minneapolis residentAugust 6, 2011 at 10:15 PM

    The bridge has been open for quite some time. I believe it opened approximately 9-10 months after the collapse...

  2. You're quite right - it opened Sept 2008, one year after the collapse. It was only the memorial that was unveiled this week.

    Post amended. Thanks for the correction.

  3. Didn't make much headway beyond spotting a possible "dwayne"/"duane", however, my better half suggested that the answer to the riddle may involve a 180 degree rotation of the comma to form an apostrophe (thereby making the likelihood of a solution far less useful as evidence - "dwayne's [blank]" probably isn't specific enough to count as a clue).

  4. Don't overlook the possibility that the vandal simply took whatever letters were easily removed. It's quite possible (and even likely) that the culprit didn't arrive on the scene with proper tools and might have wanted all of the letters but was only able to take the ones which were easy enough to remove. That said, he/she might have taken the letters needed AND any other letters the came off easily "just in case" they might come in handy later.

  5. @constantine- a comma is not rotated to make an apostrophe, it's merely moved higher in relation to the letters.

  6. @Wombat- If one imposes an imaginary wheel on the name "Dwayne,s" between the letters e and s, then pegs the comma loosely to it, as the wheel is rotated 180 degrees the comma would revert to an apostrophe. No correction necessary.

  7. could the anagram be in the letters the person chose *not* to take, instead of those he did?

  8. It is a shame that, if the culprit(s), is/are caught, they would likely face minimal consequences.
    For these non-violent crimes, the stocks and pillory should be reintroduced to the corrections system.

  9. I agree that names are the most likely reason, but the problem, evidenced by the number of letters gone, is that it's likely more than one name (and possibly more than one thief). This makes anagramming a more difficult.


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