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Mystery Pic: Questions Unasked & Answers Unsolicited

by minnesotan


In the Month of Relaxing, Neopia received some exciting news: the Mystery Picture Competition returned after its three and a half month long hiatus! (Maybe the Lenny Conundrum has some hope after all? Heh, we can dream.) Although the Mystery Picture Competition is back, regular participants will have noticed it has undergone some changes.

Not only has the weekly schedule for the Mystery Picture Competition changed, but the competition has also been made a lot more difficult than it was before its disappearance… which means you’re in need of tips now more than ever, right? ;)

For starters, you’re probably asking, “why should I even bother with the Mystery Picture?” Admittedly, the Mystery Picture may not be worth your time. If it’s quick Neopoints you’re looking for, then you can stop reading now. I’ll come right out and say it: the Neopoint prize is typically not very large (usually less than 10,000 NP; but sometimes over 20,000 NP), the item prizes aren’t usually very valuable, and you might waste hours of your time looking for the answer. Well if it’s a time waster you’re looking for, the Mystery Picture Competition is absolutely the game for you. The best part is that winning the Mystery Picture Competition can earn you a shiny new trophy to show off in your trophy cabinet. Occasionally it can have a nice payout, too; it’s entirely possible you could win the full multimillion Neopoint prize pool all for yourself! Who knows, maybe someday there will even be an avatar prize….

Without further ado, let’s proceed to the Q&A. :)


Q: How does the Mystery Picture Competition work?

A: The Mystery Picture Competition is actually quite simple. The “mechanics” of the Mystery Picture Competition are this: you’re given a zoomed in square of pixels and asked to find the image on the website in which the pixels can be found as presented. Don’t be fooled; it’s not as easy as it sounds. Not that it sounded easy in the first place, but the point here is that it’s not an easy task.

One of the reasons the Mystery Picture Competition is so difficult is that the square of pixels comes from a very small region from the actual picture. Historically, the number of pixels shown in the Mystery Picture Competition has been decreasing throughout the time that the competition has been going on. To give you an idea of this, before its hiatus, the rounds were consistently a nine-by-nine pixel region, whereas now they tend to be four-by-four or five-by-five. Although at the time of writing, there has been a nine-by-nine round as well as an eight-by-eight round since the Mystery Picture Competition’s return.

Q: How has the Mystery Picture Competition changed since before its hiatus?

A: There a few differences now that the Mystery Picture Competition is back!

1) The competition got off to a rocky (re)start, being on an unpredictable schedule. Thankfully the Mystery Picture Competition is now operating on a predictable schedule again, hooray! However, the Mystery Picture Competition now runs half as often now as it did before its hiatus. Formerly, the Mystery Picture Competition was on a Tuesday/Thursday schedule, but now there aren’t new rounds on Tuesdays. Rounds are now judged and posted only on Thursdays. (Note that the calendar on the Community Hub has not been updated to reflect this change.)

2) The Mystery Picture Competition has been made more difficult, eek! Prior to the competition’s hiatus the images were consistently nine-by-nine pixel regions (before that they were twelve-by-twelve, and before THAT they were even larger!) but now they tend to be a frustratingly diminutive five-by-five, though will occasionally run larger.

3) Before the competition’s hiatus, the images had a heavy bias towards item images. There’s now more variety (more on this later), and at the time of writing there has not yet been a round with an item as an answer since the competition has returned.

Q: So uhh... how do I even begin?

A: A good question! I personally like to start by resizing the given 150 by 150 pixel image back down to its original size so that I can see what I’m actually going to be looking for. Of course, this isn’t necessary; it’s just one possible method. If you’d rather simply zoom out to see the image a bit smaller, or want to skip that entirely and just go by colors, you don’t need to read the following paragraphs.

Resizing the image while keeping the colors in it unchanged can be tricky, so I’ll provide you with the process I use, but feel free to find your own way!

I use GIMP to resize the Mystery Picture image; I haven’t found a reliable way to do so in Photoshop. First, copy and paste the Mystery Picture image into GIMP. Next, go to Image -no tags here- Mode -no tags here- Indexed… and click “Convert” while keeping the default options. Now you need to use the Scale Tool, and you should make sure it has “Interpolation” set to “None.” With those two settings changed (technically you should only need to do one or the other, but I do both just to be sure), you can now resize the image as you would any other with no color loss! :)

As of the time of writing, there’s been one round (see round 1385!) with weird cropping for which resizing it was particularly difficult. For this round there were two options: either crop the given image yourself and go with a four-by-four region OR extend the colors along the edges and resize it to six-by-six. The former is less work, but the latter makes searching for the answer easier.

Q: There are so many images! Where do I look?

A: This is actually a two-pronged question. First you need to know where to find images, then you need to decide which images to examine.

Most people you ask will tell you they use Dr. Sloth’s Image Emporium and Jellyneo’s Item Database. These are excellent resources and you can find links to them at the Community Hub under Fan Sites. If you don’t like going off-site, that’s okay; the off-site resources aren’t necessary, but they can make finding images easier. Some people prefer to just wander the site for images anyway! Try a few different methods and see what works best for you.

As for which images to look at, that’s a more difficult question to answer. As previously mentioned, immediately prior to the Mystery Picture Competition’s hiatus the answers were heavily biased towards items. This is no longer the case however, and at the time of writing every round since the hiatus has been from what can be considered a Neopian location. That is, places you can find on maps or in the navigation bar at the top of every page. More specifically, this includes dailies (e.g., Tiki Tack Tombola), PHP games (e.g., Sakhmet Solitaire), world locations (e.g., The Neopian Neggery), major site pages (e.g., your inventory), and similar places. If you’re hoping to solve a Mystery Picture, clicking random things around the site could just land you an answer!

Although there has been an obvious pattern in the Mystery Picture Competition answers recently, this answer would be incomplete without mentioning where answers came from in the past and may be taken from again in the future. Some of these places include (but are not limited to): Items, Games Room Click to Play Icons and game screenshots, Caption Contest images, Shopkeepers (both official AND user shops), and Shop Blogs. Coincidentally, these are all available categories at Dr. Sloth’s Image Emporium -- except for items which you can find at Jellyneo’s Item Database.

Q: Five pixels by five pixels? That’s too small. HOW?

A: Yeah… five pixels by five pixels is really small. If you’re having trouble seeing five-by-five regions, it may be due to your computer’s monitor. You’re simply not going to be able to see a five pixel by five pixel square on your fancy new Retina Display well enough to solve the Mystery Picture Competition, sorry. (If you can, please give me your eyes…) You’re going to want a monitor with a fairly low number of pixels per inch. Exactly what this means is quite technical and outside the scope of this article, but basically, use a sizable screen with a fairly low resolution. (By today’s resolution standards, at least.)

Q: I’ve found an image that appears to match. What now?

A: Now’s the fun part! You need to zoom in on the spot(s) that you think match, and compare the pixels.

The pixels are usually an exact match with a region of the image which is the correct answer, but sometimes the colors can differ. Look at rounds 1381 and 1382 and try to find where the pixels match the image.

Round 1381 should be pretty easy (provided you’ve found the correct image on the Spotlights page) since the colors are exactly the same. Round 1382 is a bit more difficult since the colors are actually different. Do you see how the colors differ?

Matching the pixels is a skill which comes with practice. (You’ve got plenty of past rounds to practice with!) Once you’ve found where the pixels match, go ahead and submit your answer. Good luck!

Q: I’ve definitely found a match, now what do I submit as an answer?

A: It’s usually fairly obvious what to submit as an answer. If it’s the main image from a page with an official title, go ahead and submit that. You do not need to describe where in the image the pixels are found.

If the answer is not obvious from the image, you should try to keep your answer short while being as specific as possible. Do this by using important keywords. The prize script is very good at matching your answer to the correct one even if they’re pretty different, so don’t worry too much about submitting a wrong answer.

Q: I answered a Mystery Picture round correctly, but didn’t get a trophy or item / only got a bronze trophy. How do you get a gold trophy?

A: In order to get a trophy and the item, you must be in the first 250 people to submit the correct answer. Like the Better Than You contest, the sooner you submit your answer the better your trophy. Getting a gold trophy is incredibly difficult, as you have to be one of the first ten people to submit the correct answer. If you want a gold trophy, you’re going to have to catch the Mystery Picture as soon as it goes up and find the answer really fast!


That’s a wrap on the Q&A. Hopefully all your major questions were answered!

Whether you’re returning to the Mystery Picture Competition now that it is back up and running or if you’re brand new to the game, hopefully this guide has given you tips on how to tackle those pesky pixels. Even though this competition may be challenging, there are few greater feelings than perfectly matching up the pixels to the correct image after a long search. Solving the Mystery Picture Competition could prove to be very rewarding, especially once you see that shiny trophy sitting in your cabinet. Good luck, and most importantly, have fun!

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