The Smashing Mystery Riddle Is Resolved: When Purple Rain Meets Felix The Cat

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Vitaly Friedman loves beautiful content and doesn’t like to give in easily. When he is not writing, he’s most probably running front-end & UX … More about Vitaly ↬

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You know how sometimes during one of those late conference evenings somebody brings up a seemingly ridiculous topic and then the entire conversation seems to circle around it? That’s exactly what happened at SmashingConf Freiburg when suddenly the entire conversation was about how famous books and movies could be represented in an emoji, and it turned out to be a pretty decent cliffhanger for this particular Emoji Riddle. These riddles can be quite addictive and annoying, can’t they? With seven mischievous riddles published over the last few years, we’ve learned a few lessons along the way. At this point, you might be used to endless, mischievous, tricky, mean, time-consuming and intricate Mystery Riddles, and the latest one wasn’t any different.

Can you think of a movie that could be described as one emoji? Or a song? Perhaps a book? That’s exactly what the Mystery Riddle is all about. And cats, obviously.

These riddles can be quite addictive and annoying, can’t they? With seven mischievous riddles published over the last few years, we’ve learned a few lessons along the way. At this point, you might be used to endless, mischievous, tricky, mean, time-consuming and intricate Mystery Riddles, and the latest one wasn’t any different. It had to be playful and challenging, and take at least 45 mins to resolve. In the end, the first answer to the new riddle came in after 1h 48minafter the (slightly delayed — sorry about that!) announcement.

All You Need Is Cats!

In the past, we’ve prompted readers to change filenames, search for Twitter handles, and construct words out of letters and play hide’n’seek. Since the new riddle was dedicated to the new relaunched SmashingMag, we wanted it to be connected to the site, and specifically to the most prominent characters on the site: the 68 sneaky cats scattered all over it.

In fact, we wanted to hide clues within the cats (well, that sounds a bit weird) early on, but we couldn’t figure out an interesting way to move from one level to another. Besides, we wanted animated GIFs to contain some clues as well.

Now, you know how sometimes during one of those late conference evenings somebody brings up a seemingly ridiculous topic and then the entire conversation seems to circle around it? That's exactly what happened at SmashingConf Freiburg when suddenly the entire conversation was about how famous books and movies could be represented in an emoji.

Indeed, it's a quite unusual conversation starter, but it turned out to be a pretty decent cliffhanger for this particular Emoji Riddle.

In the end, we combined emoji and cats in a new edition of the riddle. Admittedly, our dear friend and Mystery Riddles designer Guillaume was a little bit confused when we explained the idea to him, but after a few weeks the GIFs were pretty much done. All we then had to do was to wait for a couple of months for the site to be relaunched.

So, how does it work? Well, let's go level by level and find all of those nasty hidden clues — and announce the winners, of course!

Level 1: What Am I Dreaming About?

The rules were quite clear. The riddle is basically a series of animated GIFs which contain a hidden key. Each animated GIF poses a question stated in the file name, and the key is always an emoji. The job then is to find all the emoji as fast as possible. That's only a part of it though. You would also need to find a way to get from one level to the next level. However, as stated in the announcement, there was no need to leave the page, or buy anything in the shop or sign in. It was supposed to be enough to look closely — look closely and watch out for cats.

What am I dreaming about?
May your emoji knowledge be with you. Figure out how to get to the next level. The answer is staring right at you.

Alrighty, so let’s get to work then. the filename of the GIF is what-am-I-dreaming-about.gif. There aren’t that many characters in the GIF, yet it seems that only one of them is actually sleeping (or at least trying to fall asleep) — after all, our main character is drinking coffee.

Mystery Riddle Level 1
Most readers were exploring the coffee cup, the books, the poster and the sleepy cat.

So could it be the cat sleeping and therefore dreaming? It does have a pillow on the sofa as well. Okay then. What else do we see in the picture? We see a lamp, a table, some books, sun, a poster with a king displayed on it. Oh, but wait a second: why is the king blinking? Is it a sign? In fact, the text below says "The history of England," so what king could it be? And how is it related to the original question? Sneaky!

Richard I
Richard I was King of England from 6 July 1189 until his death. He was called Richard the Lionheart because of his reputation as a great military leader and warrior. Image source:

Well, if we try to connect the dots, or ask around anybody who is familiar with the history of England, or just think about famous kings somehow related to cats, you'll find a remarkable resemblance between the person in the frame and Richard I of England. In fact, Richard I also was called Richard the Lionheart because of his reputation as a great military leader and warrior. Hold on! Lion... isn't lion actually one of the big cats — in fact, it's the second-largest living cat species after the tiger!

So what does it all mean in the context of the riddle? If it's the cat dreaming, maybe it's dreaming about becoming a king, or a lion, or both? Well, that seems to be a good guess. But what are we now supposed to do with this piece of information? Do we plug in the answer somewhere into an URL, or on Twitter, or anywhere else?

Now, if we read the announcement carefully again, it states that to move to the next level, we don't need to leave the page at all, so the answer must be somewhere around here. In fact, "the answer is staring right at you." Hmmm. Clicking on cats doesn't seem to help. Heck, even clicking on buttons doesn't help! And that button that's supposed to do nothing? Can it be trusted?

Heatmap of that infamous button. Large view

When it comes to Mystery Riddles, it's probably a good idea to pay attention to pretty much every single detail stated on the page. Many readers fearlessly clicked on the animated GIF of the first level, hoping that something will actually happen, but nothing was hidden there. That button on its own indeed did nothing (why would we lie to you?!), but it might have guided you in the right direction.

In fact, what if we explore that button in a bit more detail, perhaps in DevTools, or just by going "view source"? Bingo! Meet the infamous cat number 4 on the page, designed in plain ASCII by Felix Lee, conveniently hidden in the source code. In fact, it does stare right at you. How come you didn't see it?

Hidden path to the next level.
The path to the second level was hidden in the source code. Indeed, the answer was staring right at you.

The hint confirms our guess! Indeed, the right answer is the King 👑, or the Lion 🦁, so let's write them down. As you will see, you will need both to find the final answer. We'll get there.

Finding the right emoji wasn't particularly difficult and it was supposed to drag readers into the game, yet moving forward to the next level required a little bit of tinkering. In fact, some readers on Twitter discovered the right answer quickly but gave up figuring out how to move on to the next level. That was a slightly more difficult part indeed.

Right. Now, the hint also provides us with a guide to the next level, which is the second GIF. Also, we are supposed to search for moving cats. Okay, let's tackle that one next.

Level 2: What Movie Am I Watching?

In the second GIF, we have a character watching a movie with popcorn and some fruit on the table, and indeed a quite animated cat sitting nearby. There is a little hint saying Ludovico on the table and a clock moving forward.

What movie am I watching?
Level 2. What movie am I watching? The answer is, as always, an emoji. Large view.

Well, as it was initially stated, the answer is an emoji. So what movies can be represented as emoji? After all, it has to be connected with the hint somehow. Grapes, watermelon, sofa, windows, TV box… Well, if we search for Ludovico, perhaps we'll get a clue?

As it turns out, if we just search for Ludovico movie, we don't get very far, as there are a few famous Ludovicos that were featured in movies. But if we start playing with various combinations, we might get the right answer: when oranges meet clock meet Ludovico, the answer might be only… that's right! "Clockwork Orange"!

In fact, Ludovico Technique is the name given to the aversion therapy Alex is subjected to in the movie. There is a reason why there are oranges at the table after all! The correct answer is 🍊 although ⏰ would work, too.

Wasn't that hard after all? So, what about level 3? How do we get there? Well, we are supposed to watch out for animated cats. Of course, they could be hidden in an article somewhere in the archives, but that probably would be too mean. Could they be slightly more visible?

Well, hiding animated cats in an old article would be way too mean indeed. In fact, if we browse around the site, we just might find two prominent animated cats. One of them is sneaking around in the checkout at times, observing a flying bird (cat-loader):

In fact, if you happen to catch the snapshot and explore the SVG file in detail, you'll find a little message guiding you to the next level. Ah, isn't it wonderful that you can hide secret messages into SVGs? Try that with PNG and JPEG! But that one isn't easy to catch!

Cat preloader
A hidden message with a hint on how to move to level 3, hidden in a cat preloader.

However, what about the riddle page? The hint said there is a moving cat somewhere on that page, too! Well, if we look around the page, we won't find any animated GIFs or SVGs or (oh my!) Flash embeds. But is it really the only way to produce an animation? Ah, hold on. If we look into the footer, the cat in the right bottom corner seems to be quite active, doesn't it? And if we resize the window, doesn't it start moving towards the bird? Bingo!

Behemoth the Cat
Behemoth the Cat, trying to catch the bird.

If we study that cat in particular, famously named after Bulgakov's Behemoth character in "The Master and Margarita," we'll find a message guiding you to the next level sneaked there as well!

Apparently, our answer is correct, and the clue to the next level is "find a singing cat first." Okay then, let's move on to the third level!

Level 3: What Song Am I Listening To?

We see our character driving a car with a cat that seems to be as excited about getting somewhere as the driver is! Perhaps it's because they are listening to a song they both like? Now, what song could it be?

Level 3: What song am I listening to?
Level 3: What song am I listening to? Large view.

If we look closely at the GIF, we'll find a couple of clues. We see the text "Monday" passing by in the background, and all of the houses seem to have a purplish color. Could it be a hint? Even the ribbon on the wrapped gift has the same color. Well, that song has to be represented with an emoji, so that's where some emoji knowledge probably would come in handy.

If you start looking around in the database of all the available emoji, you may find a couple of options (and that's actually a great lil' game to play over an evening with friends!). But, unfortunately, there aren't that many options that would work well with that GIF.

If you put together Monday and purple, what song can you possibly think of? Perhaps "Monday Monday" by The Mamas & The Papas, or "Monday Morning" by Fleetwood Mac or "Blue Monday" by New Order. But they aren't particularly purple, especially the last one. However, could it be a reference to "Manic Monday" by The Bangles, written by Prince?

"Purple Rain", a performance by Prince.

And then since it's raining, and the color is purple... Could it be "Purple Rain" by Prince? After all, as our coffee table reference of emoji states, there is a magical purple rain emoji ☔, also known as "Umbrella With Rain Drops." Could that be it?…

As stated in the hint, we need to find a singing cat first though. Where could it be hidden? Well, you don't have to search very thoroughly for that one — the cat seems to be singing on the "Membership" page, so let's see what it actually hides.

The singing cat, hidden as a barista on <a href=''>Membership pages</a>.
The singing cat, hidden as a barista on Membership pages.

Yay! The guess is confirmed, so let's write down the emoji and move on to level 4. The next one seems to be slightly more difficult, and we are supposed to find Felix The Cat first. Well, there's no stopping now. Let's keep going, and move on to level 4!

👑 🦁 🍊 ⏰ ☔

Level 4: What Did I Put In The Box?

So we are landing in front of the door of what looks like an ongoing party. There is a thunderstorm outside, and we see a rocking chair, with the building number 42. The question stated in the file name is "What did I put in the box?", so apparently we need to figure out what gift our little friend has prepared.

Level 4: What did I put in the box?
Level 4: What did I put in the box? Large view.

Now, admittedly it could be... anything! If we look through the previous riddle levels, we could pick up some clues, but it's really not conclusive.

Now, these riddles usually don't have random objects in them, so there might be some connection with the rocking chair or 42? But how is it all connected to emoji? The rocking chair could be connected to the mother in the movie "Psycho", so potentially 🎥 or 🚿 could work.

42 on the house door might stand for Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". As we know, it's the "answer to the ultimate question of life, the Universe, and everything", calculated by Deep Thought over a period of 7.5 million years. According to the book, the correct answer would be indeed anything, so our first guess might have more accurate than we thought!

Indeed, one right answer would be an asterisk, or a non-existing towel emoji, or a rabbit 🐇, or a book 📕, or the movie "Psycho" (🎥 🚿), or perhaps a conference ticket 🎟. After all, we are planning on going to the conference in San Francisco. So could the answer really be anything you want it to be, or in the language of emoji, any emoji of your choice? We've got to confirm it!

Well, the hint mentions Felix the cat, now how can we find him? With dozens of cats scattered all over the site, finding that one cat might mean going through a good number of pages. That would take too much time though. Fiddling with the URL doesn't seem to help either. So what now? Where could it be hidden?

Felix The Cat, 1959, The Magic Bag. Video source.

Well, if we think about Felix The Cat, what do we think of? Well, it's a cartoon star character from the silent-film era, with a black body and white eyes. In the very first episode, it carries a magic bag as if it was delivering something.

Well, the only thing Smashing Magazine delivers is books, so what about the printed books page? Hmmm. Nothing. Wait a second. If you think about black and white, you might be thinking about... print, right? Could it be that poor Felix is hidden somewhere in the print... stylesheet? Bingo! It's hidden at the very bottom of the printouts! Indeed, we didn't even have to leave the riddle page! Meet Felix, the cat #5.

Felix the cat, hidden in a print stylesheet.
Felix the cat, hidden in a print stylesheet.
Clue in Felix the cat
Every cat opens a bag at some point. The clue to the next level was hidden in Felix the cat.

With a little bit of fiddling around in Network panel in Devtools (or the print stylesheet), we can find the URL for our one-and-only Felix the cat. When we explore the source code, we'll find a hint to the next level, and indeed any emoji would be accepted! Well, rabbit would work just fine, too:

👑 🦁 🍊 ⏰ ☔ 🐇

Now, the next level is the last level, but it's also a tough one. There, apparently, we need to watch out for all the fine little details within the GIF. Well, let's get right to it!

Level 5: Where Do I Want To Go?

Okay, there is quite a lot happening in that one. We see the character next to a fireplace late at night, and next to him not just one, not just two, but three cats nearby; one of them is playing with a ball very skillfully. We also see a cheesecake in front of us, with some candy, but we won't get trapped in that one — we know that cake is a lie already.

Level 5: Where do I want to go?
Level 5: Where do I want to go? Large view.

Well, let's explore what we see. We see a book on the shelf labeled "IT". Well, perhaps that's a hint to the main prize? Where do we want to go? Well, we do want to go to San Francisco, so maybe that's the clue? If we search around on the site, we might go to the Events page and perhaps search for cats there, e.g. Yoda The Cat?

Meet Yoda the cat, our mascot for SmashingConf San Francisco.
Yoda the cat
Yoda is quite generous these days, handing off an extra bonus key. However, it's not the right clue to pass the level.

Oh well, "Good try, but you aren't quite there yet. However, you are getting an extra point for discovering this one ;-) 🐱 is your key!". Well, that's still something, a bonus point is great, but how do we pass that final level?

Let's take a closer look back at the GIF. And let's take a closer look at the mystery riddle page. Where could we possibly want to go? And why does the character wear a scarf although he is sitting inside? Is it because it's that cold? Doesn't seem to affect cats though. Hmm, interesting!

Oh, wait a second. "IT" has a few references. Obviously, it means "IT" as we know it, but could it be a reference to the book "IT" by Stephen King? The cats seem to be quite playful, and one them is actually juggling a ball! And that scarf — it's a red one! Could that be a reference to the book "Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern? Maybe the answer is 🤡 or 🎪? How can we confirm it?

The cover of ''Night Circus'' by Erin Morgenstern.
The cover of ''Night Circus'' by Erin Morgenstern.

Oh hold on for a second. That last "Circus Tent" emoji looks familiar. If we look in the right upper corner of that mystery riddle article, isn't it right there? Let's examine it!

Hint hidden on a Membership page.
The last hint was hidden in the circus icon used for Membership.

Voilà! We made it! The Mystery is now resolved! Now, if we collect all of the emoji, this is what we'll have:

👑 🦁 🍊 ⏰ ☔ 🐇 🤡 🎪 + 🐱

Wow, that was quite a journey! Well, indeed, that was a journey for a good number of people. We've received tweets from people who plan to set up a Mystery Riddle party just to solve the riddle together, others left an open bar holiday party for it and some folks would even team up in groups!

Mystery Solved! And The Winners Are…

To be perfectly honest, having spent an hour observing the tweets after the riddle had been announced, we were getting nervous and skeptical about its difficulty — just like the last time. We were expecting at least one hour to be necessary to find all the clues. It worked though.

It took Dawid Gaweł, Łukasz Łabędzki and SkiX who teamed up to find a solution together 1 hour and 48 minutes to find all the keys and tweet them out. Just minutes later, we started seeing many tweets containing all the clues, and we must admit that some of them must have been copied and pasted since all the keys were identical in them. Still, others were quite different, especially because the “anything” emoji could literally be anything.

Based on this, here are the winners of the mystery riddle:

The winners have been contacted! Unfortunately, I couldn’t find original tweet by Thomas Lin, so any help would be appreciated. If we missed your tweet for some reason, please send us the URL to your original solution @smashingmag, and we’ll update the list of winners!

Congratulations! Thank you to everyone who participated! We hope we didn’t waste too much of your productive work time (and didn’t cause too many headaches either).

Behind The Scenes

Just like the last time, we worked with talented Guillaume Kurdjian on a series of animated GIFs for the riddle. All designs were a series of iterations to make the overall riddle not necessarily perfect, but just right. So a big “thank you!” to Guillaume for following through and being so enthusiastic and kind about all the changes made.

Guillaume Kurdjian ```

Guillaume Kurdjian is a 24-year-old freelance illustrator and animator from Nantes, France. Guillaume likes to experiment with stuff on his computer and climb trees.

Waiting for round 3 already?
Are we waiting for the next round already?

So this is it! It was quite a journey, but we hope it was worth it. We are really sorry about all the unproductive hours that you spent while trying your best to solve the riddle. Well, kind of. Now, are you ready for the next round? ;-) Stay tuned!

Huge thanks to Alma Hoffman, Ali Spivak, Sandra Persing, Barry Munstersteiger and Chris Wright for helping out with figuring out just the right clues for all of these levels. You are smashing indeed.

Further Reading

Smashing Editorial (vf, mrn)