It's been a month and half and I'm calling it: time to end the challenge and give the full solution.
Click the titles for links to the puzzles.
"Making a gentle introduction, clue 1 shows quite unrelated American regions excluding 1.
Find ? and go to the address www.alaricstephen.com/?
Initially I thought of giving you a hint..."
This was possible without noticing the hints, but I'll highlight them anyway. The first sentence is written in such a weird way because the initial letters of each word give you: MAGICSQUARE. I added in the last line later to hint at the initials in a cryptic way because people were struggling with this one.
If you look at where the states are on in the world you get something square like:
Putting the numbers onto these states we get:
The answer we are after here is Kansas7 since both are needed to complete the magic square (all rows, columns and diagonals adding to the same number).
From this point onwards we require both a URL and a password. On most pages they are related in theme so you can get a bit of a hint if you can get one of the bits.
Most people can get one or two of the sets quite quickly, but there is so much overlap that you need them all to solve it all. The set which proved the most difficult was the anagrams of Month abbreviations: Ram=Mar, Cot=Oct, Par=Apr and Yam= May.
We also had the first three letters of units of Time: MINute, YEAr, MILlennium and DAY. The first three letters of animals of the Chinese Zodiac: MONkey, DRAgon, SNAke and PIG. This leaves the Trig Ratios as: Tan, Sin, Cos and Sec. The number part was just to get it to a unique answer for the URL and it netted the answer 11869. When you get to the page you also need a password which is TAUrus, GEMini, CANcer, so Leo.
Here's the crossword:
1. Throttle! 
4. Construction material used to make an abode! 
5. Sounds like your vegetable will win the prize? 
1. We hear that the shop floor worker also owns the shoe shop? 
2. Flood ourselves in deodorant to conceal the smell. 
3. Build up an attack on Crete. 
Ok: here are the answers with annotation below the grid:
1. Throttle!  Choke- Double definition. Strangling someone, or the choke on a motorbike.
4. Construction material used to make an abode!  Anagram of abode for adobe, which is also a type of clay used to make houses.
5. Sounds like your vegetable will win the prize?  Homophone or carrot is karat.
1. We hear that the shop floor worker also owns the shoe shop?  Homophone of Clerk, or Clarks the shoe shop is owned by Clark.
2. Flood ourselves in deodorant to conceal the smell.  flo(OD OUR)selves
3. Build up an attack on Crete.  Anagram of Crete= Erect
The password clue:
"Password: Make sure your friend announces it's over. 
(Capitalise the first letter only.)"
To make sure is to "check". Your friend is your "mate". Checkmate is how you announce a game of chess is over. That ends up being a clue to the overall puzzle, as is the fact that the URL is asking for your move. A third move comes from the unusual grid coordinates that the crossword has. It is a chess puzzle. Let's look at it with just the highlighted squares:
These remaining letters are all conveniently chess pieces. The only mate in 1 is ra5, which is the correct ending to the URL.
This was simply the picture:
Sean (Connery) - n + half of a chu(rch) = Search
Flame - e + in + Goa - a = Flamingo
If you search Flamingo it will take you to the correct page.
Here was the picture:
This is a variation I've one in a physical treasure hunt in the past. The password at the bottom spells out braille in braille which is a bit of a clue. Taking the hint at the bottom we count that there are 121 digits, so rearranging them into an 11x11 square seems sensible.
Having all of each digit group up is a clue that we are on the right lines here. Getting rid of the rows and columns of 0s gives:
Which from our hint is presumably braille. Translating we get PUTTHISASURL. So alaricstephen.com/putthisasurl
Here we have a net of a cube. Most people printed it out and cut it up to get the QR code. This indeed does get you to the next page, but you need a password. The other faces will give you a letter each:
- Flag semaphore for U
- Hieroglyph of a mouth for R
- Be _ C is part of the periodic table for Beryllium _ Carbon. The missing element is Boron, so B
- Morse Code -.- is K
- Maritime Flags (yellow with a black dot) is I
Putting these together the only word is Rubik; the inventor of the Rubik's Cube. The whole thing was the net of a Rubik's Cube which was only two twists away from completion.
Ah a classic way of hiding a message which I learned from the Wide Window from A Series of Unfortunate Events, but with a prison theme applied to it. In retrospect I shouldn't have put this so far into the challenge, I'm quite proud of it. The audio file is a tap code which is how some prisoners communicate in lockdown. Here's a table:
The first series of taps tells you the row, the second tells you the column. So tap tap tap pause tap tap pause corresponds with M.
Translating the audio file we get wwwdotalaricstephendotcomslashescape. For the password the message has a number of spelling mistakes. Taking all the extra and missing letters in order gives tonight. So the hidden message the prisoners were communicating around was escape tonight.
"Here is the picture of an ongoing chess game in a legal position, which followed from legal moves. However the White King has been accidentally knocked off the board. Which space should it have been on and what sort of piece did black move last?
Which Square should the White King be on?
If black is in check then it must be black's turn, but notice that the bishop on a4 had to get there somehow which is surely impossible. However, the only way black isn't in check is if the white king is on b3, in which case, white has been checked by both the rook and the bishop, which is impossible. That's what makes this hard. What is the resolution?
Hint, An aptness for tricky moves. [2,7]
Format of answer: www.alaricstephen.com/[square][piece] e.g. www.alaricstephen.com/b3r
Password: A game ends after Black's third move with 3...Qd4 checkmate. Which square did White's first move end on?
Disclaimer, I didn't craft either of these puzzles, but they are both so good. If you are completely stuck then Google might be able to help."
Feedback from people that got to the end said that this was the hardest part of the challenge.
Here's a better explanation than I could do (with great diagrams!): https://www.chess.com/forum/view/fun-with-chess/where-is-the-king-retrograde-analysis
The answer we were looking for was c3p
The Cryptic Clue that I gave you was an anagram of An aptness = En Passant. This was a hint towards the main puzzle.
For the password the only game which fits the bill is 1.f3 e5 2.kf2 Qh4+ 3.Ke3 Qd4# All of those moves are unique given that the game ends with 3...Qd4# which I think is fantastic. So, f3 is the password. Everyone that I spoke to who got to this point just tried moves, which is fair enough I suppose.
"You have to train to be able to write like this:
The password is the relevant number."
The hint was the word train. Looking down a list of ciphers for train things we get the rail fence cipher. Playing around with decoders we get:
Putting the spaces and punctuation back in we have:
"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
admit imQediments. LQve is not love
which alters when it altQration finds
nor bends with the remover to reQove
o no it is an ever fixed mark."
The Q's are replaced with the word poem and this is sonnet 116 by the Bard.
"Cu frg o.be ab .macn yr dcidojrp.xrape@drymacnvjrm ,cyd frgp bam. C ,cnn aee cy yr yd. ojrp.xrape anrbi ,cyd yd. eay. ajdc.k.ev"
Props to the solver that didn't use Shazam on this one! This is a clip from a piece by Dvorak. Dvorak is also the name of a type of keyboard layout which is a rival to Qwerty. A cipher also shares the name where the letters from one keyboard are exchanged with those of another. Once again an online decoder would be handy and it produces:
"If you send an email to email@example.com with your name I will add it to the scoreboard along with the date achieved."
And here we come to an end. I had a fun few days putting this together!