To solve this puzzle, teams needed to transmit a nine-letter English word via five three-letter English words, which would be scrambled in transmission. There are many ways to do this, and we didn't have a “correct” solution in mind, but successful teams often used one or more of the following observations to get their code across.
Here are two simple example codes that we saw teams using:
UNDERSELLthen the odd letters would be
U D R E Land teams might send
BUG EDS FRY PEA SLYThe receiver could alphabetize their words and read off the middle letters to get
U D R E L
UNDERSELLthis could be done by transmitting
DEL ELS RUNThe remaining two words could be used to convey additional information (for instance, the first two letters of the given word) but some teams were able to reconstruct their word without doing this.
When teams successfully transmitted their 9-letter word, we gave them the answer, which was JOUST.
For curiosity's sake, here is the list of words we used at the hunt:
Finally, a few teams asked about whether the words used in the puzzle had to be English. The puzzle is a little trickier when we require English words, but it turns out to still be interesting when we're allowed to send arbitrary strings!
In fact, this puzzle was inspired by a computer science contest problem called Parrots, which allows you to send any string you like with your parrots. On the flip side, that puzzle is harder in other ways (for instance, your scheme must work with 100% probability). Take a look if you're interested in the other interpretation!