Stretching the Truth

It’s all about your Perspective

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Here is puzzle to make that will keep them baffled right up until Christmas. Then on Christmas day, after they’ve received their big clue, they’ll wonder why they were so blind and unable to see the writing that was right in front of their faces for weeks. It’s a good one! One of the long-term exhibits at the Boston Museum of Science puts this one into perspective. Another incognito Mad Wrapper visit to the science museum pays off with interest!

Acme Reader And GiftMy original implementation was somewhat complicated by the fact that the text editors of the time did not have the features of today’s text editors. Although for me at the time this was an interesting project, for most people it would be impractical and somewhat difficult to accomplish. At the time I was required to program directly in my printer’s native language called postscript, a somewhat strange programming language that would be interesting only to a somewhat seasoned curious software engineer. Luckily, today we have good simple to use document editors that can quickly and easily produce words that can be manipulated into any shape or form we desire.

Like a Rubberband

Have you ever drawn something on an extra wide rubber band then stretched it out so your artwork deforms into hideous proportions such that it is nearly impossible to recognize. Then, if you hold the end of the stretched rubber band right up to your nose and sight down the length of it, your drawing transforms back to normal proportions. Microsoft Word has a wonderful feature called WordArt that lets you do this to print on a sheet of paper.

The goal of this puzzle is to stretch the words of your message so far out of proportion that they are impossible to read from any normal viewing angle. To hide your message further it also helps to clutter up the page by placing a second stretched message rotated 90 degrees on the page. For fun you can fill up the Christmas card sized page with tiny background text. This background text could be anything you like. In the example below I fill up the page with “MapWrapperStrikesAgain”. You could type in a red herring message that leads everyone to improper conclusions. (It’s fun to be cruel!) Or you could repeat a hint such as “The key to your success has everything to do with your perspective.” (Not too big of a hint!)

Your printout can be any size you would like as long as you are careful to make the key parts of the message completely visible. This depends a lot on the size of the boxes you plan to use to hold the gift. I think it would be great to repeat a 2½ inch by 3¼ inch pattern on a 3 foot length banner paper to make some nice tartan plaid wrapping paper for larger boxes. In the example below, I’ll show you how to make a small sheet of wrapping paper on a single 8½ by 11 sheet of paper. This is a great size to wrap up a compact disk jewel case (that does not necessarily need to contain a CD).

Feel free to choose your own colors. I chose red green and blue for a Christmas flavor but the message will be hidden better if both messages that cross at 90 degrees are made the same color.

I use Microsoft Word for my example.

Step 1. Lay down a background.

Now fill up the page behind your messages with tiny blue 8 point text. Again, I used the Times Roman font just to make everything on the page consistent.

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Step 2. Fill the page with your main message.

Insert WordArt containing a message with 2 or 3 dozen letters in it and repeat the message three times across the page. It would be nice to repeat this three times vertically but my version of WordArt will not let me insert that many letters into one message. Size 14 is probably a reasonable size. I like the Times Roman font for this project because the serifs at the corners tend to really drip down when the lettering is fully stretched. It really throws off the untrained reader.

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Set the color to red (and a black outline looks nice) and change the font so all text is the same height.

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Now pull the top and bottom to stretch the text out to a little over 3 inches which is the height of an 11 inch page. Then copy the image twice to completely fill the page. Depending on the type of printer you own, you may expand the margins out to minimize the white border

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Step 3. Fill the page with an upended message.

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Insert some green WordArt
and rotate it freely until it runs up and down the length of the page. If your vertical message is not especially important then it does not need to be read in it’s entirety. If this is the case, then it does not need to be repeated, but make sure there are at least 100 characters up the page.
Set the letter heights to be uniform and stretch it to around 2½ inches or about the page width.

Then copy the pattern to completely fill the page. And once the page is full, change the “text wrapping” to “behind text” for all of the green WordArt images.


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Step 4. The Acme Wrapping Paper Reader

Reading this wildly stretched text is much too difficult for most people to figure out how to read without a few clues. As with most Mad Wrappings, an explanatory poem or some simple written directions would suffice, but it is always more fun to build a contraption to solve the puzzle. Thus I created the “Acme Wrapping Paper Reader.”

I took an old milk carton and cut it’s top off squarely enough that it would stand while upside down. I then cut ½ inch by 2 inch notches into each edge on the open end of the carton such that when it is turned over, it looks like a tall table with short stubby legs. Next, into the top of this “table”, I cut a ½ inch hole just big enough to insert a night-light (or Christmas light) socket and bulb in order to LongViewICanSeeItilluminate the inside of the box. I then decorated the box with interesting things like “Acme Wrapping Paper Reader” and other phrases to clue people into using this to read their gift tags.

After some fumbling around, eventually someone figured out to put the “reader” over the gift tag, turn on the bulb, then hunch down to peer into the slot at the message. Since this forces the recipient to look at the tag at an excessive angle, the message suddenly becomes obvious.

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