POPQuiz #3 Results: Decrypted. Or…Knowledge is Power.

Let’s shed some light on our patent research enigma, shall we?  Image by  Gerd Altmann  from  Pixabay .

Let’s shed some light on our patent research enigma, shall we?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

POPQuiz #3 Results: Decrypted. Or…Knowledge is Power

Whew! Well…that was harder than expected.

But that’s the case with riddles and puzzles – they always seem easier if you’re the one making them up.

I’m sure that will be the case with this year’s competition in Bucharest – but who knows? You might prove us wrong. But of course, you’ll have to be there to do it. (And yes, there is still time to register. Not much, however – Patent Olympiad 2019 is next month!)


It’s been a while we posted POPQuiz #3, so here’s a reminder of the challenge for this POPQuiz. Once again, thanks to POPQuiz reader Henk Pattyn, who contributed the idea for the challenge.

You may recall that the challenge required you to first solve the following riddle.

On a shore that gave birth to a field

The love of a William revealed

A crack team of two

A cloak red + blue

And ideas: more breaking than making.

Once you had solved the riddle, you would then have the information you would need to answer the search questions. And of course, this being Patent Olympiad’s POPQuiz, we of course wanted you to flex your search muscles.

1. Who are the two?

2. One of the two has patents: old, and new. What is the number of the most recently granted patent?

3. The other of the two does not seem to appear in the patent literature, despite an impressive record of successful innovation. What could make this person’s patents easier to find, if those documents existed?

4. What was the original career of the person in question 2?

5. Where are the two now?


One of us on the team was rather pleased with the riddle, but worried that it might be too obvious. She was wrong.

That’s what happens when you have full knowledge and you are trying to hide information – all the patterns look obvious to you, so you try even harder to be obscure.

An appropriate problem, perhaps, given the field of our POPQuiz #3 riddle.

So we dripped out some clues. If you still want to try the puzzle, stop scrolling down this page and go check out the original post and the followup clues. The answers are after the break – below our old-timey photo below.


Hidden in Plain Sight

Obfuscation was always the game.


The key to unlocking this challenge was realizing that the topic general subject area of the POPQuiz was the field of cryptography (also known as cryptology), and in particular, the subset of the field known as cryptanalysis.

Once those insights were made, then it became a matter of looking for specific people in the field that were:

  • somehow paired (“a crack team of two”),

  • associated with a place that had something to do with a body of water (since shores are edges of places like rivers, lakes, and oceans)

  • associated with a place that had to do with the “birth” or beginning of something,

  • had something to do with a “William” – a famous William, perhaps, or the name of one of the pair,

  • who were associated with working on something relating to “red + blue”

  • known primarily for breaking things – in this case, breaking codes.

So, Did anyone find the key?

We are pleased to say they did.

We had three POPQuiz respondents who successfully cracked the puzzle. One of the respondents was IP_Octopus, another who wished to remain anonymous, and a third who may have remained anonymous by accident. (Feel free to email us to tell us who you are.)

The answers revealed

1. Who were the two?

The two we were looking for were

  • William Frederick Friedman (1891–1969)

  • Elizebeth Smith Friedman (1892–1980)

    Both were pioneering cryptologists who lived in the United States. They were married. Both were brilliant codebreakers who used their skills to help the US government during both World Wars and solve a long-standing issue in the history of English literature – the authorship of the works of William Shakespeare.

    They met at Riverbank Laboratories, a private research facility founded and run by textile millionaire George Fabyan. Because of their work, Riverbank Laboratories would later be called the birthplace of American cryptology by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). William Friedman led the team that cracked the Purple cipher, a Japanese cipher used to cloak high level diplomatic communications during World War II.

    William Friedman, born Wolf Friedman, also happens to have a Romanian connection. His father was a linguist and a translator who was originally from Bucharest – the city of Patent Olympiad 2019.

2. One of the two has patents: old, and new. What is the number of the most recently granted patent?.

William F. Friedman has several patents, the most recently granted being US 6130946, entitled “Cryptographs” (granted Oct. 10, 2000; filed Oct. 23, 1936). IP_Octopus correctly identified this document as the most recent granted patent.

Another patent, US 6097812, “Cryptographic Systems” was granted the same year on Aug. 1, 2000 (filed July 25, 1933).
Both applications were suppressed for decades by the NSA.

3. The other of the two does not seem to appear in the patent literature, despite an impressive record of successful innovation. What could make this person’s patents easier to find, if those documents existed?

The spelling of Elizebeth Friedman’s first name is unusual, as the most common spelling of the name is “Elizabeth” or sometimes, “Elisabeth”. The unconventional spelling is attributed to Elizebeth’s mother, who apparently loathed the idea of her daughter ever being called “Eliza”.

This was the simple answer we were looking for. However, this possible search strategy assumes that Elizebeth’s name would be spelled correctly on the application. It also assumes that her name would not have been obfuscated or cloaked in some way. IP_Octopus made some good suggestions for dealing with name obfuscation their answer to the question.

4. What was the original career of the person in question 2?

William F. Friedman started his career as a geneticist.

His early years as a geneticist, working on the problem of how information is coded and transmitted between generations, may well have been key to his later insights as a code-breaker.

5. Where are the two now?

The two are buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, West Virginia, USA. As IP_Octopus rightly points out, one could say the Elizebeth Friedman is “scattered to the winds” as she had her ashes strewn over her husband’s grave. Both names are on the gravestone, however.

Solving POPQuiz 3: Encryption, riddles, and the language of obfuscation

I suppose that wasn’t very fair of us, to hide the meat of a patent search in a hard puzzle shell. It was certainly reflected in the number of submissions we received. the patent search portion itself wasn’t a hard one. Given the international nature of Patent Olympiad, one might ask if riddles are fair game at all.

We think patent searchers are up to the task.

A Familiar Problem in An Unfamiliar Context

A POPQuiz that relies on a riddle is likely to be more difficult for a person whose first or primary language isn’t the language of a riddle.

Riddles and hints, after all, are often involve wordplay and deliberate obfuscation. Often, the wordplay in riddles relies upon shared culture and language – so an understanding of the multiple meanings of a word or phrase in a text can be key to unlocking the riddle.

Patent searchers can have an edge with problems like these, however, since we deal with with attempts at obfuscation all the time. As much as we may not expect it in a blog post about patent search, obfuscatory language is a common strategy used for cloaking ideas. Unusual phrases or coined terms can make documents for a particular technology less findable for searchers, especially novice or lay searchers who may restrict their searches to terms they already know. Experienced searchers, however, often rely upon strategies and tools to deal with the problems of obfuscation, unfamiliar jargon, foreign languages, or terminology that may have changed over time. Sadly, we applied no classification codes to the riddle. Perhaps we could have supplied those as clues, too.

Possible Paths to Solutions

We believed that techniques for solving the problem of obfuscation – or even just unfamiliar jargon– might come in handy for a POPQuiz of this type.

Automated and AI-based tools might have been useful (we didn’t test them on the riddle), but manual techniques were likely to be enough. For people familiar with the idioms of the English language, some associative and lateral thinking may have been enough. A systematic approach might have involved compiling lists of synonyms, examining dictionary definitions for alternate meanings, and searching for groupings of terms taken from the riddle. A semantic search run on the nouns may have also pointed to cryptography as field. Since we didn’t test automated systems, I can’t really say. (If anyone wants to do this test, feel free to let me know about the results in the comments.) The riddle was a tiny sample of text, after all.

Such strategies would likely have suggested the idea that the riddle had something to do with codebreaking, as the terms “crack”, “cloak”, and “breaking” often co-occur in the popular literature of cryptography. In some ways, solving this puzzle required some of the skills of codebreaking itself – looking for a patterns in a coded message that might correspond to a pattern in an uncoded message.

What CAN THIS CHallenge tell you about our Exam?

Well, I can say that we will neither confirm nor deny that a riddle will be part of this year’s competition.

If it is included, it will occur in the section we call our Patent Search Obstacle Course. Like many real-life obstacle courses, the challenges are meant to be moderately challenging but doable for our competitors. They may, however, include hazards that lead you in the wrong direction or trip you unexpectedly. Taken in combination, the series of obstacles may make for a gruelling sprint.

The Obstacle course will be an opportunity to flex your competitive muscles on a range of strategies for solving patent search problems. Your skills for dealing with obfuscation or unfamiliar jargon may come in handy, as well as your ability to examine a search request to identify the most useful terms or concepts for formulating a search. So don’t leave those skills at home.

Not that you would, of course.

Thanks for playing…AND BEARING WITH US

We love the fact that you’re enjoying the POPQuiz challenges. We’re enjoying doing them, even if it’s taking me (Cathy) a little while to finish writing up all the answers. I must admit I’ve spent far too long reading about the Friedmans instead of finishing this post. I do highly recommend the additional reading, however. It’s fascinating.

Once again, please don’t be shy about sending in your suggestions for POPQuiz at info@patentolympiad.org. This one from Henk Pattyn was fun for us, and we hope it was fun for you.

And do keep in touch. Remember can also connect with us via social media using any of the channels below. We’re on Instagram, too, but we’re not good at updating it. See you again soon…or perhaps at Patent Olympiad 2019?