by Chris Harris
How to Solve
The twelve photographs are all images taken from Google Street View then blurred to varying degrees. With a bit of squinting and a little research, the exact locations the photos were taken from can all be deduced. They are, in the order given:
- Bunkerville, NV (36°46'30.2"N 114°14'57.6"W)
- Dansville, NY (42°33'57.8"N 77°42'43.8"W)
- Fredericksburg, VA (38°17'46.5"N 77°30'39.2"W)
- Choteau, MT (47°49'11.9"N 112°11'21.2"W)
- Tempe, AZ (33°24'58.4"N 111°56'10.6"W)
- San Buenaventura, Chihuahua, Mexico (29°51'12.1"N 107°26'40.7"W)
- South River, Ontario, Canada (45°50'40.3"N 79°22'49.6"W)
- Deeth, NV (41°04'08.2"N 115°18'01.3"W)
- Davidson, Saskatchewan, Canada (51°15'58.0"N 105°59'42.6"W)
- Fort Collins, CO (40°32'20.6"N 105°05'47.9"W)
- Ladson, SC (32°59'43.6"N 80°05'25.7"W)
- Live Oak, FL (30°20'31.6"N 82°58'42.8"W)
Once one finds all or most of the locations and maps them, they may see a pattern:
All of the locations together form a roughly circular pattern–except for one location.
That one location also happens to be the one photograph that was not blurry at all–it was in focus. This, combined with the title of the puzzle and some other hints in the flavortext, should lead the solver to realize that the other locations form a giant ellipse–and the in-focus location is in fact one of the two foci of that ellipse (f1). Naturally, the challenge is to locate the other focus point (f2).
How to do that? Using the standard definition of an ellipse, the total distance from f1 and f2 to any spot along the ellipse must be constant. An issue is that different formulas give slightly different answers for absolute distances on Earth. Plugging in the ellipse locations and using great-circle equations should get one close enough to correct location to find the answer.
Fortunately, there’s an easier, non-mathematical way, as suggested by the flavortext. By fiddling around with Google Maps’ “measure distance” function, one can drag lines around freehand until the spot is found. To make it even easier, once the solver gets close, they may notice that the total distance from f1 and f2 to each point is exactly 2020.00 miles–“20/20” being both thematically relevant as well as the name of the business at the first focus point.
Doing this will lead to a very specific spot outside of Evansville, IN. If one uses Google Street View one last time to look at that spot, they will discover a very prominent statue there:
Thus the final answer is the Santa Claus emoji, 🎅.