I, Charles Bucket, have decided to allow six children - just six, mind you, and no more - to visit my factory this year. These lucky six will be shown around personally by me, and they will be allowed to see all the secrets and the magic of my factory. Then, at the end of the tour, as a special present, all of them will be given enough chocolates and sweets to last them for the rest of their lives! So watch out for the Golden Tickets! Six Golden Tickets will be awarded to the first six minors to solve the puzzle I've placed on my wonderful whimsical WonkaWeb. This simple puzzle may be solved on any device with access to the Internet, no matter how slow. And the six smart solvers of my simply stupendous screen-based stumper are the only ones who will be allowed to visit my factory and see what it's like now inside! Good luck to you all, and happy head-scratching!
(Signed Charles Bucket, WonkaWeb URL attached below.)
"Children are worthless," said Grandpa Groinfogger. "Especially you."
Several feet away from the tattered mattress where his mother's father was slowly dying, Chili Floss sat on the hard wooden floor. He was reading a book about planes.
He turned the page, not looking up.
"Disobedient children are the most worthless children of all, remember. And you are being disobedient, by refusing to listen and enter the contest. So that makes you very worthless indeed."
"Your conclusion follows from the premises, Grandpa. Good job."
The room they shared was small and cramped, with no windows and one door that led directly outside. There was no electricity for heating and no furniture other than Grandpa's bed and a smelly bucket. A large pile of books rested in the corner of the room Chili slept in, all stolen from various libraries.
The room was dark, Chili only able to read by the light coming in from the many holes in the ceiling. He was scrawny, even for a nine year old, his naturally brown hair matted and covered with enough dirt to color it black. He was very malnourished, which he knew both from the books he had read on the subject and his reflection. His body was short and stunted: if given the opportunity to guess, most people would have placed him closer to five than ten.
"You're lazy and rotten and ugly. Enter the contest."
"No," said Chili, turning another page. "I don't care about candy."
"It isn't candy, you brat. It's chocolate. A lifetime supply."
"I don't care about that either."
Chili was lying. He loved food, and he especially loved candy, and he especially loved chocolate. He had been three when his mother died, and he had scrounged and stolen every calorie devoured since himself, meals sourced from trash cans and broken vending machines and unguarded dog dishes.
Food. There was never enough and there never would be. He lived in a city with many like him and most were stronger and faster and better at scavenging than him. The mayor of the city he lived in often gave speeches about the problems, about the need to pour bleach on food that was going in the trash, about the new advancements in architecture that would help to curb the terrible issue of Chili and his ilk trying to exist. Boulders on the sidewalks. Slanted benches. Hidden cameras in the big parks that detected if someone was trying to sleep there, automatically activating sprinklers and loud classical music.
Not even the good stuff. Chopin.
He tried to ignore his grandfather and get back to his book. It didn't work.
Reading wasn't an escape. Food was in the words too, and so were the people that got to eat it. Instead, books gave him the only source of fuel he had access to without restriction, hate.
He hated how much they ate. There were many children's books about miserable poor orphans supposedly like him, but they were always eventually fed at one point or another, always whisked off to a lives where stomachs stayed full. Magic banquet halls filled with floating pumpkin pies, fruits so gigantic that they could be lived in.
Chili despised the authors who wrote stories like that, where fictional children weren't allowed to stay hungry and miserable so he - a very real one - could better relate to them. Some books that weren't written for children were a little better about it, but not by much. Dahl's Chickens was one of the worst offenders, in his opinion. Oliver Twist was a needy loser who wouldn't have known good gruel if it bit him in the butt.
Books were still better than reality. He watched kids his age with quadruple chins waltz out of candy stores carrying more bars than he pictured himself ever eating and he hated them too. They ate gold while he ate dirt, and they didn't even know it, didn't have to.
Chili had eaten chocolate six times in his life, and each time had him locating the smallest child he could find, usually a girl much younger than him, and following them once they left the candy store. Each time he ran up behind them and pushed them hard to the ground, taking the procured sweets and dashing off. He was rougher than he had to be, always surprising himself with how much time he wasted kicking them over and over when he should have been running.
It felt good. They wore shoes with laces and had pocket phone computers that they carried with them that were worth more than everything he and his grandfather owned and then some. They slept in beds and got told very often that somebody loved them. That made it fair, then, that they experienced the sliver of pain he could provide. Of course it did.
He always held the Wonka bars in his hands and told himself that he would savor it and make it last and he never did. It was too good, it was too much. They fell down his throat like rainwater.
"Shut up. All worthless children love chocolate. Enter the contest."
"No," said Chili, turning another page. "And I don't see why you care. You'll be dead, soon enough. No amount of chocolate will change that."
Grandpa Groinfogger had not left his bed for many months. Chili had paid attention to his symptoms and stolen a medical textbook, diagnosing him with an unknown type of mid-stage cancer. Chili didn't care about his grandfather, but he had informed him of what he thought was happening, and he had been promptly told to stuff it.
It was good timing. Chili had recently begun to think about heading to an adult and going to an orphanage and ending his life as a problem. It seemed like a good plan, on the surface. He would get food and shelter. He would start growing again. He might even get one of the phone computers everybody but them seemed to have.
He decided that he would go at some point, but not immediately. The first and less important reason for the delay was that he didn't like the idea of formal education, of being told what to read instead of choosing himself. He disliked the concept even more than he did the hunger. The choice was important to him, even if he had trouble explaining why.
The real reason was because he wanted to watch Grandpa Groinfogger die. He would go after that.
"You're an idiot. You don't know anything. The chocolate is just there so worthless children like you will pay attention and enter. The real prize is the tour."
Chili stole newspapers and magazines too, and he had seen the contest mentioned. It was on the front page. The owner of Wonka Industries and the king of the sovereign micronation of Wonkaland, Charles Bucket, was holding a contest.
It was simple. There was a puzzle that could be taken by anyone under the age of eighteen, available from any machine with access to the internet. The first six who could solve it would win a "Golden Ticket", which would earn them both a lifetime supply of all Wonka products and a tour of a country that hadn't been seen by outsiders since 1964. After seventy years, it would welcome only those six, as well as two parents and guardians to accompany them to the factory.
Chili hadn't allowed himself to read more of the article than that. He recognized the rare feeling that popped up in his heart as hope, and it needed to be quashed.
He had seen what hope did. When he had still been able to walk and occasionally find temporary work, hope forced Grandpa Groinfogger to spend every last dollar he earned on lottery tickets. They were shiny pieces of paper covered with cherries and numbers and lies. It was the only time he'd ever seen him smile, right before he started scratching. Never did he win anything more than a token - nobody ever won anything big from them, Chili had already figured out - and never did he stop buying them, no matter how angry he had been at the previous loss.
"Again, I don't care."
Grandpa Groinfogger coughed and spat. Chili always gave his grandfather the newspapers when he was finished with them, and in spite of sickness he always read them to the last word.
"Think, idiot! A man who isn't named Wonka owns Wonka. The last time they ran this contest, they held a competition for the worthless children who made it to the tour, and the winner, Bucket, he inherited the company, everything. Now Bucket himself is old, so he wants to do it again. To find an heir. That's the real prize and everybody knows it. That's the only way you ever leave this place."
He didn't let the new information affect his judgement. Chili didn't have a computer or access to one, and untold millions were probably solving the puzzle as they spoke. He had read a book about statistics. His odds, if we were to try, were not bad. They simply didn't exist.
It was better not to try. Not to give into the delusion like all the other problems. The Golden Tickets were no different than any of the tickets his grandfather had bought. Lies.
"Answer me. Enter the contest. Win."
"We don't have a computer. And I don't know how to use one, anyway."
"Figure it out."
"No. Leave me alone." He turned another page in his book despite having not finished the one he was on.
His grandfather laughed.
"Fine. Stay worthless. But keep reading the papers with me. Watch them. If they have pictures, watch the way they smile, and tell me you want to keep sitting there."
Chili didn't respond.
"You'll see them smile, and you'll get up and find a way to win. I remember what it was like watching them find them, all those years ago. You aren't ready for it."
"Shut up. Die already."
"One million times worse than watching them get to eat chocolate. One billion, maybe."
XxX_Blakin_XxX: IT'S BEEN UP TWELVE HOURS
XxX_Blakin_XxX: THERE MUST BE AT LEAST A BILLION PEOPLE GUESSING
XxX_Blakin_XxX: HOW HAS NOBODY SOLVED THIS YET
BBQbae: nobody tell that blakin that we already all figured it out
XxX_Blakin_XxX: fuck you
XxX_Blakin_XxX: AHH I WANT MY CHOCOLATE FACTORY AND I WANT IT NOW
GW: Stop spamming the chat with all caps, Blakin. Second warning.
BBQbae: you aren't even a minor, it isn't like you actually could claim the prize
XxX_Blakin_XxX: the website literally just ASKS you if you are under 18
XxX_Blakin_XxX: surprised it doesn't want my parent's permission
BBQbae: i'm sure they are going to want to verify if you solved it
BBQbae: not that YOU have to worry about that possibility lol
XxX_Blakin_XxX: well i was going to invite you to my factory when I won but that's cancelled
BBQbae: love you too
yatch: i tried plugging and unplugging my keyboard for fifteen minutes, it doesn't work if anyone's curious
gremlin_guard: I've been stuck at an airport for the last twelve hours, and my inbox blew up with notifications the moment I turned my phone on. I'm young and also not a history buff. Could anyone super knowledgeable about Wonka/Wonkaland/Bucket give me the rundown on what's happening?
XxX_Blakin_XxX: tl;dr: chocolate man bad
the_ladwhocan: I've read a decent amount of Wonka stuff. I'm busy finishing something else right now, but if you give me a few minutes I can give you a summary. Do you know much about the first contest?
gremlin_guard: Not much beyond the basics.
David1: I don't think the solution is going to be as simple as just guessing a password. Would have been brute forced by now.
XxX_Blakin_XxX: wow, really, you think?
XxX_Blakin_XxX: wow never would have guessed
GW: Last warning, Blakin.
XxX_Blakin_XxX: that message wasn't even in caps
XxX_Blakin_XxX: UNLIKE THIS
[XxX_Blakin_XxX has been temporarily banned from chat.]
GW: See you in three days, Blakin.
the_ladwhocan: Best summary I can manage with the time I have: By 1940, the largest and most financially successful confection-producer in the world is Wonka's Chocolate Factory (later known as Wonka Industries), owned and headed by Willy Wonka.
the_ladwhocan: Wonka is known for quality and originality, coming up with new advancements in candy-tech unseen up to that point. Competitors do what competitors do and try to imitate, but they can't, so they steal, sending in spies to see how they make it.
the_ladwhocan: Wonka himself loses it once they start selling replications of his ideas. Fires his entire staff and announces that his factory will be closing forever.
yatch: good story, I liked it
the_ladwhocan: Shut up
the_ladwhocan: But about three years later, the factory starts loading up chocolate into trucks and taking orders again. And the stuff is just as good and just as popular. But the gates to the factory were still closed, not counting the product coming out.
the_ladwhocan: Were the workers secretly rehired or replaced? Nobody could find out. How were they still making chocolate?
the_ladwhocan: Such is the modern consensus, yes. But at the time that level of automation (10K+ workers to none in less than a couple years) was unthinkable.
the_ladwhocan: Time marches on until 1964, nothing changing. Wonka sends out a letter to all major newspapers announcing a contest: five golden tickets (literal gold-colored tickets) inside Wonka bars, and everybody gets a lifetime supply of chocolate and a tour of the factory.
the_ladwhocan: It was pandemonium. People died trying to get these tickets. Forgeries, fights, small riots in certain cities, 24/7 news coverage at a time where that was a BIG deal...
the_ladwhocan: Five winners eventually revealed themselves, all children. One was Charles Bucket. Others were Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Veruca Salt, and Mike Teavee.
BBQbae: Was it a rule that they had to be children? I don't remember
the_ladwhocan: He never said that they had to be kids, but the media statement went out seemed to imply that it only would be.
the_ladwhocan: "I, Willy Wonka, have decided to allow five children — just five, mind you, and no more — to visit my factory this year."
the_ladwhocan: The fact that all were is seen as evidence that it might have been fraudulent or that they might have been pre-selected.
GW: Other coincidences have also been noted.
gremlin_guard: Such as?
the_ladwhocan: He's probably referring to them all being caucasion.
XxX_Blakin_XxX_52: bastard only cared about white chocolate
[XxX_Blakin_XxX_52 has been permanently banned from chat.]
GW: Try to evade again and I'll permaban your main account too.
GW: Please stop.
the_ladwhocan: I don't want to get sidetracked on this, but I've heard this theory before and I don't think it's as persuasive as it might appear.
the_ladwhocan: This is the strongest version of it: "All five kids were white. About 12% of the world population is white. 0.12 x 0.12 x 0.12 x 0.12 x 0.12 = 0.00002. It's way more likely that this didn't happen and Wonka cheated somehow to prevent non-white kids from winning than it was to have just worked out that way, which demonstrates that the contest was partially or totally rigged."
the_ladwhocan: This has some problems. Right now in 2034, Europe consumes 50% of the world's chocolate. The US alone is another 20%, with Africa responsible for less than 3% (which is especially sad considering that the Ivory Coast alone produces about 40% of the cocoa bean supply, but that's another conversation and I'm already off on a tangent). This disparity was probably waaay worse in the sixties, too.
the_ladwhocan: Plus, white people statistically are (and were) more likely to hold more wealth, which meant buying more chocolate and having more chances to buy a bar with a winning GT.
the_ladwhocan: Wonka not accounting for these factors (he didn't seem to mind the rich kids having the much better chance of winning?) definitely holds some screwed up social undertones and can be criticized, but I don't think it's fair to immediately call it rigged and him a hard racist on the sole basis of all five kids being white. I think these are better described as societal problems than they are Wonka's personal faults.
BBQbae: so it wasn't rigged?
the_ladwhocan: Oh, I'm not saying that.
the_ladwhocan: I personally think it was, actually. But the race thing isn't great evidence for it and we'll probably never know for sure.
the_ladwhocan: To continue on: all five winners plus five guardians were allowed to enter the factory.
the_ladwhocan: What we know from this point on is based on only three sources: the interviews that all four of the parents gave immediately after exiting the factory, a book written by Salt published about a year after the fact, and a long series of blog posts written by Teavee forty years post-tour
yatch: you uh, know your wonka, huh
the_ladwhocan: Guilty as charged.
yatch: also mashing hard on your keyboard doesn't work
yatch: at least the way I did it
the_ladwhocan: The Salt book is four hundred pages and considered close to useless as a source of useful information. The first ninety percent of the book is an autobiography and a lot of what she wrote about her tour experience is definitely fabricated and the rest of it is probably fabricated.
the_ladwhocan: It's the worst thing I've ever read. Over one dozen ghostwriters have come out over the years claiming to have written what ended up being one or a few chapters of it, and the accepted theory is that Salt's family kept hiring ghostwriters who wrote full drafts that they weren't happy with. So they took whatever part of every draft they found acceptable and jammed it together in a single book and then let Salt herself (who, remember, was in primary school) edit it as much as she wanted before publishing it themselves through a vanity press they bought.
the_ladwhocan: It doesn't even have an ending. I'm not kidding. It ends in the middle of a long run on sentence making fun of how fat she thought Augustus was.
the_ladwhocan: The initial interviews gave us most of what we had to work with, but they were contradictory on some details and not super clear, the parents being as emotional as they were. And some of the details they did agree were… unreliable.
the_ladwhocan: Some of the stuff they said is BATSHIT, but it was given some credibility at the time because they all mostly agreed on it.
the_ladwhocan: Now most agree it was a scheme cooked up by Beauregarde's father (a car salesman) to discredit Wonka, going off the "if you tell a lie, tell a big lie" concept.
the_ladwhocan: Still, what is universally agreed upon is that the kids went inside, and were eliminated one by one in a game Wonka had set up in advance.
yatch: is game really the right word for it?
the_ladwhocan: It wasn't framed that way, but that's what it was. Kind of an "ignore the devil whispering in your ear" thing. Wonka kept tempting the kids to break the rules he had set for them during the tour, and ones that didn't (all but Bucket) were not allowed/able to continue the tour.
GW: Which is a very nice way of saying that they were all physically injured and/or disfigured.
the_ladwhocan: Mildly disfigured.
BBQbae: ten feet tall and thin as a wire = mild disfigurement
gremlin_guard: And he got away with this?
the_ladwhocan: He owned a multi-billion dollar corporation and all the injuries were technically caused by the children not following the rules. Salt and her family were the only ones to even try to sue, and that didn't get far.
the_ladwhocan: We don't know what happened at the end of the competition, but Bucket won and Wonka (who was a recluse without any family) declared him his heir. Bucket and his family moved to the factory and never left, as far as we know.
the_ladwhocan: They kept making chocolate, along with more new innovations in candy, but the gates to the factory stayed closed. Wonka's competitors were eventually driven out of business or absorbed, which gave them a worldwide monopoly on the chocolate business.
the_ladwhocan: Of the fifty attempted corporate-owned micronations that tried to secede from various western nations in the late eighties/nineties, Wonkaland was one of only two to end up succeeding (and that depends on whether or not you want to call Urkeldelphia a success).
BBQbae: hey come on number one exporter of suspenders!
yatch: and human suffering
the_ladwhocan: Wonka passed away in 2005, which we only know because Bucket decided to hold a public funeral for him
the_ladwhocan: also the only time Bucket has been seen in public, having become as much of a recluse as Wonka himself was
the_ladwhocan: His family wasn't present, notably.
BBQbae: btw if any of you have ever seen that amazing gif of all those people crying while they lower a chocolate funeral casket into the ground that's where that's from
gremlin_guard: I thought that was from a movie?
BBQbae: we are living in the chocolate dystopia timeline and i couldn't be happier about it
the_ladwhocan: And that brings us up to now, where early last morning Wonkaland sent out a bunch of verified emails to various news sources with a website link and the promise of a second contest. Six golden tickets this time, and the same promise: a lifetime supply of chocolate and a tour of the factory. But with Bucket's age, the assumption is that the real prize will be the same as it was when they held the original contest: to become Wonka's heir.
the_ladwhocan: The format isn't the same: you don't need to buy any chocolate, just solve (presumably) one puzzle.
the_ladwhocan: The site itself (not including an entry page that asks the user to confirm that they are under 18) is just a picture of a bucket and the words "INPUT WHAT I LIKE BEST INTO ME AND WIN A GOLDEN TICKET" with a text field underneath. So it's probably just guessing the right password.
yatch: come on inspect element, don't fail me now
BBQbae: it will
the_ladwhocan: The number six is also on top of the bucket, and most of us think that it's just saying the number of tickets left. We'll know for sure when (if) people start to come out with winning tickets. It's been half a day no one has so far.
GW: Wait, six? I haven't actually tried it yet. Wasn't it five the first time?
the_ladwhocan: Yes. If there's a reason for the increase, nobody knows what it is.
BBQbae: think about it. it's the sequel, sequels always have to be cooler than the original. six is bigger than five so it's cooler
gremlin_guard: What happened to the other kids, btw?
the_ladwhocan: Nothing good.
the_ladwhocan: Gloop committed suicide at nineteen, and Beauregarde followed him about a decade later. Parents mentioned both kids having suffered from severe depression following the contest.
the_ladwhocan: Salt inherited her father's company and had a heart attack in her forties linked to opioid abuse.
the_ladwhocan: Teavee dropped off the map completely until the blog post: His parents did a very good job of avoiding the media in spite of his "condition", they got a name change and moved to another country.
the_ladwhocan: His series of blog posts (about 100k words, very long, "Liquor Isn't Quicker") is the exact opposite of what Salt wrote and I recommend reading it unironically. It's an extremely thoughtful retrospective on the contest and what he (as an adult and a father) saw Wonka's philosophy to be and why he thought it was damaging.
the_ladwhocan: Gave us a plethora of new info on what the factory is like, and also strangely agreed a small amount of Salt's (and the rest of the parents, who again most people believe were making stuff up) most outlandish claims (people have different opinions on this: google "Oompa Loompas" if you want the full picture). My take on this is that Teavee is a much more reliable author than Salt or anyone else but managed to become convinced of some of the lies over time and that's the opinion of most serious wonka scholars
BBQbae: "wonka scholars"
BBQbae: fuck you, that's not a thing
the_ladwhocan: He died several years ago of intraocular cancer. (The fact that all entrants died in the same order as they were eliminated in the contest has been the source of several conspiracy theories, which I personally don't grant any legitimacy.)
the_ladwhocan: I think that's the big stuff.
BBQbae: omfg i looked it up it's a thing
the_ladwhocan: Like if you didn't know anything about it that would probably be good enough to have you understand everything, if you really were dead set on not knowing anything else.
the_ladwhocan: I would still probably read the book, and they have a documentary on the subject.
gremlin_guard: Thank you!
yatch: inspect element failed me
gremlin_guard: Google gives me two documentaries, which should I go with?
the_ladwhocan: THE FIRST ONE
David1: The second one was fine, people overexaggerate how bad it was. It's probably more accurate in most ways also.
the_ladwhocan: fuck off
David1: The stage play was good too imo.
the_ladwhocan: West End or Broadway?
the_ladwhocan: FUCK OFF
GW: First warning, lad.
"Thank you, Liz."
Ned Brillbusker stood in front of a long wall of paintings, a professional expression on his face. He was tall and thin, his characteristic beard as white and poofy as it ever was.
Ned was the most famous and recognizable reporter on the planet, so it was only natural that he be the first to interview each winner. The BBC's Deluxe Air-Zamboni was capable of reaching any part of the globe within the hour, and the ride from London to the Gulf of Guinea had taken less than twenty minutes.
He didn't care very much about silly non-horrible candy contests, and secretly he wished that people would have wanted to see him report on what was really important, like the latest horrible war, or the new horrible sickness that only affected babies, or the latest horrible baby war. No one watching at home could have detected his horrible disinterest, however. He was a professional.
His voice sounded the way good chocolate tasted.
"Twenty hours after the release of the Wonka puzzle, it finally happened here, in the capital city of the small island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe. The number on the WonkaWeb has shrunk to five, and a single name has been posted in recognition of the winner. The name of the fifteen year old boy to have been the first to solve the puzzle and receive his golden ticket may be familiar to those keeping up with the art world: Jekssimil Uxío Rocha de Ozodbek Reveles, most commonly known as JUROR."
With the hand that wasn't holding a microphone, Ned turned and pointed to the walls around him, all cameras racing to capture as many good shots as they could.
The styles of the paintings varied, covering everything from classical to pop. There were portrait pieces and collected splotches of ink, soup cans and detailed city landscapes and sexually unawakened farmers holding pitchforks.
"JUROR was discovered by his art teacher at the age of five, the only son of a divorced Brazilian banker. He came to international attention only months later following a collaborative project undertaken together with Banksy II, and was given permission from the government to cease formal schooling as to allow him more time for his art."
Every piece had a blank spot. It was small in most works and took up the majority in others, but no painting was finished, at least some fraction of the canvas completely untouched by paint.
"While a full list of his achievements would be too numerous to recount here, JUROR is perhaps most recognized as the founder of Truncatism, a new artistic movement focused on placing value on incompleteness."
Ned walked to the right and a teenager came into view. He was of average height and build, wearing a long smock coated in several layers of paint. His head was shaved, save for small messy circular patches spread throughout his scalp, the hair in those spots long and dark. Only his left foot had a sock, and only his right shoelace was tied. One-third of a temporary tattoo of a rhinoceros sat menacingly on his forehead, the horn incomplete.
Ned nodded at the young man, holding a microphone to his face. JUROR did not seem very intimidated by or even interested in the attention he was receiving.
He was not smiling.
"For a creator such as yourself, does this-"
JUROR shook his head.
"I'm no creator."
Ned blinked, surprised but not phased. His philosophy as an interviewer was to treat everyone as if they were intelligent and respectable, even children and people who couldn't whistle. Even if he thought someone was being silly, he made sure to ask questions that took them as seriously as he could.
"The wall behind you would seem to say otherwise."
"I'm an artist," JUROR clarified. "Artists are destroyers, not creators."
"Would you mind explaining what you mean by that, Mr. JUROR?"
With three fingers, the boy touched the spot on his forehead where the horn stopped, thinking.
"An empty canvas, a blank page... is infinity. Infinite possibilities, infinite directions. All an artist does - all one can do, if they are being truly honest - is subtract from that. This reduction brings about lesser infinities, or even finiteness... this loss can only be interpreted as destruction. There is no alternative view, in my opinion. No work of art can ever hold the significance of a single sheet of untouched paper."
Yes, Ned silently reminded himself. This was how children really spoke. Definitely. Yeah.
"You do not understand," said JUROR, Ned's brief silence speaking for itself. "That is fine: examples are the lifeblood of art. What did you have for breakfast this morning?"
"A bowl of cereal."
Ned was an educated man, so he knew that all cereals were really made from the little curly wooden shavings produced by pencil sharpeners. Still, he enjoyed the flavor. Earthy and light, in the good way.
"Did you finish your cereal?"
"Yes," answered Ned. "I always finish my cereals."
"A shame. The best cereals are of course unfinished... each flake of sugar left unconsumed is an experience condemned to the depths of imagination, a labyrinth of endless potential, a fall that..."
JUROR stopped talking, closing his mouth. It took Ned a short moment to understand that he had prematurely ended the line of conversation for the purposes of art.
"About the Golden Ticket, then."
JUROR reached into a pocket in the front of his smock and produced a shiny piece of paper. He held it up. Like most tickets, it had words on it.
"Would you mind reading it to us, Mr. JUROR?"
"Not at all."
There was silence. Ned understood.
"Please do so."
"I cannot, unfortunately."
"Bucket has a rule about sharing the information, I presume. It isn't any surprise, if one thinks about the nature of the contest. Do you think-"
"No," said JUROR. "I am illiterate."
"Oh," said Ned. "If you wouldn't be offended, please give me the ticket so I can read it."
JUROR gave Ned the ticket. All cameras zoomed in towards his face, and he read.
"Greetings to you, the intelligent solver of this perfectly simple puzzle! I shake you warmly by the hand! Tremendous things are in store for you! Many wonderful surprises await you! For now, I do invite you to come to my factory and be my guest for one whole day — you and all others who are amazing enough to have found the answer and gotten a Golden Ticket. I, Charles Bucket, will conduct you around the factory myself, showing you everything that there is to see, and afterwards, when it is time to leave, you will be escorted home by a procession of large drones. These drones, I can promise you, will be carrying enough delicious eatables and WonkaLand products to last you and your entire household for many years. If, at any time thereafter, you should run out of supplies, you have only to call me on the telephone and inform me, and I shall be happy to refill your cupboard with whatever you want. And if anyone ever attempts to steal your ambrosian confections or in any way threaten your copacetic candy consumption, you may also call me and my delightful drones will proceed to erase them from the face of the earth."
"In this way, you will be able to keep yourself supplied with tasty morsels for the rest of your life. But this is by no means the most exciting thing that will happen on the day of your visit. I am preparing other surprises that are even more marvelous and more fantastic for you and for all my beloved Golden Ticket holders — mystic and marvelous surprises that will entrance, delight, intrigue, astonish, and perplex you beyond measure. In your wildest dreams you could not imagine that such things could happen to you! Just wait and see!"
His eyes briefly scanned the rest of ticket before handing it back to JUROR.
"What remains are instructions specifically for the eyes of the ticket holder, so I shall not finish it."
"Thank you," said JUROR. "You've gotten it."
"It seems that we are running short on time. Have you anything left to say, Mr. JUROR? A tiny morsel of a hint for the world to chew on, perhaps?"
"I couldn't give one even if I wanted to," JUROR said. "I only solved it on accident. I was on my computer, you see, and I hadn't…"
JUROR once again stopped talking for the purposes of art, turning around and walking into another room. He gave Ned a little wave without looking back. He was not smiling.
"It seems that concludes our interview. Five Golden Tickets remain, and the world waits in anticipation to see who shall be next to solve the puzzle and secure the second."
He paused, almost forgetting to properly close. A rarity, for him.
"I'm Ned Brillbusker with the BBC, signing off."