The puzzle consists of two sets of crossword-style clues written in a cipher in which pairs of funny symbols from a five-symbol alphabet correspond to the letters A through Z. (U and V are identified, so that there are 25 letters.) For simplicity, the correspondence is "base 5" and "order preserving", so writing the symbols as 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, we have A = 00, B = 01, ..., Z = 44. In order, the symbols are the bottle, the zigzag, the cylinder, the cane, and the person.
Several of these clues are ambiguous at first, and a cursory examination of the answers yields no discernible pattern. Realizing that the cryptogram used for the clues was probably not tacked on at random, the solver should write the answers in the same way. At this point a pattern begins to emerge, as the solver notices that KNEE becomes 20230404 while CPU becomes 023040, for instance.
Indeed, each answer to a clue in the top set pairs off with an answer to a clue in the bottom set such that the bottom word is obtained by removing the first and last symbols of the top word when the two words are written in this cipher. Thus, the pairing of symbols into letters in the bottom word is offset from that in the top word (clued by "syncopation" and "off-beat"). Take the two leftover symbols from each of the top words, and convert back to letters. These letters in order spell the answer, OLYMPIC GAMES.
Deciphering the text yields:
leg joint disorderly crowd dirt eaters ark builder pursue stealthily divine cyclist sense vocal accompaniment element one fifteen researcher bob pie ingredient force open apply friction to dozes off family game show gerald sussman and stephen gould hair style heart of a pc holy chant lambda follower latex temp file of the kind in question shade without hue well known
And the answers pair off as follows:
|leg joint||KNEE||20230404||24 = O||023040||CPU||heart of a pc|
|disorderly crowd||MOB||222401||21 = L||2240||MU||lambda follower|
|dirt eaters||WORMS||4124322233||43 = Y||12432223||HYMN||holy chant|
|ark builder||NOAH||23240012||22 = M||324001||RUB||apply friction to|
|pursue stealthily||STALK||3334002120||30 = P||33400212||SUCH||of the kind in question|
|divine||GUESS||1140043333||13 = I||14004333||JAYS||gerald sussman|
and stephen gould
|cyclist||BIKER||0113200432||02 = C||11320043||GRAY||shade without hue|
|sense||FEEL||10040421||11 = G||004042||AUX||latex temp file|
|vocal accompaniment||BACKUP||010002204030||00 = A||1000220403||FAMED||well known|
|element one fifteen|
|LAZAR||2100440032||22 = M||10044003||FEUD||family game show|
|pie ingredient||CRUST||0232403334||04 = E||23240333||NODS||dozes off|
|force open||PRY||303243||33 = S||0324||DO||hair style|
2006 MIT Mystery Hunt