Fortune Cookies Solution

How it works

The first step is to decode the fortunes themselves. Looking at the fortunes should reveal:

  • Each fortune cookie references a historical tragedy.
  • Looking up each tragedy's year in the Chinese Zodiac results in an animal.
  • Each animal corresponds to one of the Combos listed in the menu.
  • Indexing lucky numbers into the corresponding fortune reveals a section in the menu.

The resulting set of data is:

Fortune Event Year Animal Menu Section
Doom awaits you at Ford's Theater Abraham Lincoln's assassination 1865 Ox Seafood
This day is one that will live in infamy Pearl Harbor 1941 Snake Dessert
Your journey's return will be ruined by a piece of foam. Columbia disaster 2003 Ram Beef
An iceberg looms in your immediate future. Titanic 1912 Rat Rice
The new year will destroy the world's computers. Y2K 1999* Rabbit Soup

*Even if they call this January 1, 2000, it's still before the Chinese New Year. (And yes, Columbia happened on the Chinese New Year, which is fine to call it 2003)

Decoding the Menu

The next thing to look at is the Combo section: Pick one each of any combination of items adding to your preferred price. This is the instruction for the next step, making it a knapsack problem: pick a combination of items from each section that adds up to the price of the associated combo. There's a trick to each section that makes it not just brute force:

  • Rice: All the prices are binary multiples of 85 cents, so the answer is trivial.
  • Soup: The total price ends in 5, and there's only one price that ends in 5, so that item must be used. Then, dividing by 10 the total is odd, and there's only one odd price, so that item must be used.
  • Beef: Many of the items end in 9 cents, and the total ends in 0, so you can't use any of them.
  • Dessert: 5 of the items end in 9 cents, and the total ends in 5, so you must use all of them.
  • Seafood: Only two items aren't used, so it's fastest to add up all 11 items and subtract out what's missing.

This leads to the following sets of items from each section:

Beef

Ram Combo $30.50
Udon Beef $5.10
w. Szechuan Style $5.10
Cashew Beef $6.10
Hot and Spicy Beef $6.90
Scallion Steak $7.00

Seafood

Ox Combo $23.30
Egg Foo Young w. Shrimp $1.60
Smart Clams $1.70
Rice w. Fish Fillets $2.00
Cleopatra Squid $2.10
Moo Shu Shrimp $2.80
Crabs And Lobsters $2.90
General Tso's Shrimp $3.00
Butterfly Shrimp $3.40
Hunan Style Shrimp $3.80

Rice

Rat Combo $21.25
Oyster Fried Rice $0.85
Pearl Balls $6.80
Roast Pork Fried Rice $13.60

Soup

Rabbit Combo $25.45
Niboshi $4.15
Pork Yat Gow Mein $4.40
Hot and Sour Soup $4.60
Vegetable Soup $6.00
Chicken Meatball Soup $6.30

Dessert

Snake Combo $33.65
Steamed Pears $3.50
Exhilarating Tarts $4.29
Fortune Cookies $4.30
Chocolate Custard $4.99
Chocolate Spring Roll $5.29
Special Favorite $5.49
Coconut Custard $5.79

Decoding the Combos

The individual menu items are numbered, leading to indexing again. For each of the items that is part of the combo, index into that item with its number on the menu. That should yield this message:

USEITEMCOUNTSSORTBYDEATHTOLLS (Use item counts sort by death tolls)

The death tolls tie back to the fortune cookie events. Using the number of people who died in each of them gives them an ordering, of events, and thus an ordering of menu sections:

Event Deaths Menu Section Subtitle
Abraham Lincoln's assassination 1 Seafood Made all fresh for you
Pearl Harbor 2350 Dessert Greatest selections
Columbia disaster 7 Beef Specialties of the house
Titanic 1517 Rice Great with any dinner
Y2K 0 Soup We start the meal right


The number of items used in each section gives a number to index with, so it's just a matter of what to index into for the final indexing. The only data in each section that hasn't been used is the Engrish subtitle below each section. Indexing and ordering that gives ARIES, the final answer. (The one sign shared between the two zodiacs)

Solution

ARIES

Design notes

  • The logic puzzle step is pretty vulnerable to writing a computer program to solve- I did one myself to verify the uniqueness of the solutions. However, in the one playtest I saw where one person worked on a program while the rest worked them out by hand, the manual solvers got the answer faster.
  • Having the final answer be a proper noun with some more common anagrams was somewhat deliberate, though the answer is obviously thematic if you actually see it. I didn't mind seeing guesses of ARISE and RAISE, since they usually got it not long after that
  • On the subject of guessing, at least one person guessed all twelve signs in both zodiacs on the Zodiac-themed pregame puzzle. It worried me a little bit since, while that didn't work for that pregame puzzle, it would have worked for this one. (Changing the answer to IN BED was shot down for being too guessable)

GC notes

The takeout sign and delivery guy to drop the puzzle was decided in the last week, which is why it didn't figure in to the puzzle proper. Some teams were disappointed that they weren't actually getting Chinese food, though one of the beta teams went to a nearby Panda Express to solve the puzzle.