Just how does one answer “who?”

Last fall when I was thinking of a way to generate a puzzle that could conceivably be of interest to anyone in the world and be solvable by anyone with no particular cultural bias (mostly), each attempt was blocked by the unreasonable result that if someone solved only part of the puzzle, they could guess the answer.

Needless to say, I found that unreasonableness, well, unreasonable. So I kept pounding at it until I arrived at a method that I think works as a way that you (as the solver) need to solve it, and guessing just won’t work.

How does one identify a who? Police the world over work with motive, means and placing the perp at the scene of the crime. Journalists strive to answer the 5Ws: who, what, where, when and why. In my case, I don’t care as to why, but you should care as to what, where and when.

For example, if I was to ask you to identify a specific pilot – with no other information available – you would not likely do it. However, if I was to give you the following three clues, you could easily get a name:

[Who] piloted an airplane for takeoff (what) from DEN (where) at 0731 on March 31, 2002 (when).

But if I leave off any one of the last three W’s, the problem becomes nearly impossible – if I didn’t include when, that would leave all dates and times, if I didn’t include where, that would include all airports, and if I didn’t include what, well, just how many people go through DEN on a particular day, anyway?

But by including all the Ws, you have the means to definitively place an individual at a specific location, performing a specific task, at a specific time – uniquely locating that one person out of the billions who have lived or are still living. Pretty awesome, eh?

So figure out the 3Ws, and you will identify who it is. There’s your clue.

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