It was cold inside the East Toronto Children's Orphanage.

Three grown-ups stood outside a door to a small room, having an important conversation. They spoke in loud whispers.

"It's going to be a challenge," said Nancy, speaking to the latest pair of prospectives. "They're good kids, they're smart kids, practically geniuses. But they're hurting, and they have every reason to be."

"We've read the file," said Édouard, squeezing his wife's hand.

"And we know it isn't going to be easy," said Elodie. "We aren't as naive as you think."

"That's an understatement," said Nancy. "These kids have seen the worst of it. They've been through the worst of it. And the behavior reflects that. It's hard enough to do what you're about to do, sit in a room with them and introduce yourselves, but understand that it's nothing compared to what you would be taking on by continuing forward. You are going to pour time and effort and money and love into them and they are going to hate you for it."

"You sound as if you're trying to discourage us," Édouard replied.

"If words are enough to make you want to stop, I absolutely am. The twins have met enough maybes by this point, and I don't want to make them sit through another introduction with anyone who isn't completely sure about what they're getting into."

"We understand," said Elodie. "And we appreciate that you care enough to do that. But we aren't what you think. We've read all the right books and had all the right conversations. There's a room in our home with two big beds and a pile of books and a shiny new computer-"

"A very nice computer," Édouard added, nodding.

Some of the tension from Nancy's face lifted, and she smiled, a tired laugh slipping out.

"I don't think either of them have ever used a computer."

"And we can't wait to teach them how," said Elodie. "As long as it takes. Everything else, too. Please. Let us try."

For one exhausting moment, all three stayed silent. After taking a careful breath, Nancy closed her eyes and knocked twice on the door.

"Dominique? Reese? They're here, if you'd like to come out and meet them."

A full minute passed, and no one answered back. Nancy had opened her mouth to call out again when two pairs of soft footsteps began to pitter-patter on the other side, Édouard and Elodie readying themselves.

The door slowly opened, a boy and a girl no older than seven timidly examining them through the small crack they had created.

Neither said anything.

"Hello," said Édouard, getting down on one knee. "It's nice to meet you."

"We've heard so much about you both," said Elodie, doing the same. "You seem like such wonderful children. Very brave and kind and smart. So, so smart. Those test scores…"

Édouard sneezed. Something plastic fell out of one of his long sleeves, landing in front of the two children and making a clunking sound.

"Whoops," said Édouard. "Can't believe I dropped my Rubix cube. How clumsy of me! Would you mind picking it up, Reese?"

Nancy's smile went away.

Reese slowly moved to pick it up, trying to hand it back. Édouard shook his head, smiling.

"You know, why don't you keep it? We have so many back home… have you ever solved a Rubix cube before, Reese? I'm sure you could do it. Puzzles really are the best way of getting to know a person, don't you-"

Nancy gently pushed the kids inside, shutting the door.

"Out."

W

BBQbae: welcome to day six everyone

BBQbae: our sickly sweet suffering continues

Kahn Feel: i'm starting to think it's a prank

Kahn Feel: a gag by god

BBQbae: pranks are supposed to funny, they involve jokes

Kahn Feel: we're the jokes

David10459: You know?

David10459: I was thinking

David10459: This JUROR kid probably isn't going to give up the answer to the puzzle because of his uh

David10459: problem

Chillaxian: It's art, David.

David10459: But from a strategic standpoint if you think that there is a contest past solving the puzzle (and everyone seems to) then spoiling the answer is the best chance you have of winning

David10459: Assuming Wonka doesn't actually have a secret answer sharing rule

David10459: If you are the first winner and you don't spoil you have to go up against the five people who were smart enough to outsmart the entire planet

David10459: If you do spoil, you only have to beat five really fast typers with good internet connections

David10459: I know what I would pick

the_ladwhocan: Argument: Wonka might be banking on the fact that everyone who wins might like the attention and not want to give up the fun of being one of the only solvers.

the_ladwhocan: Seems to fit with JUROR's mindset.

the_ladwhocan: The puzzle might select for this attitude, somehow?

XxX_Blakin_XxX: wait

XxX_Blakin_XxX: WAIT

XxX_Blakin_XxX: I GOT IT

XxX_Blakin_XxX: WHAT IF YOU ENTER NOTHING

XxX_Blakin_XxX: HAS ANYONE TRIED THAT YET

XxX_Blakin_XxX: GUYS HAS ANYONE TRIED ENTERING NOTHING

XxX_Blakin_XxX: LIKE INSTEAD OF PUTTING IN AN ANSWER, IMAGINE THAT ONE MIGHT NOT PUT AN ANSWER AND HIT ENTER ANYWAY, IN COMPLETE DISREGARD OF THE NORMS GENERALLY ASSOCIATED WITH STANDARD DIGITAL TEXT FIELD ENTRY PROCEDURE

XxX_Blakin_XxX: SURELY NONE WOULD EVER THINK TO TRY SUCH A BRAZEN ACT OF ABSURDITY

XxX_Blakin_XxX: CHOCOLATE MAN TRULY IS THE MASTER OF TACTICAL SUBVERSION

[XxX_Blakin_XxX has been temporarily banned from chat.]

GW: One week.

Kahn Feel: I know he's being dumb but he sort of has a point with how easy people are thinking this would be

Kahn Feel: IIRC average person meets like 80000 unique people over the course of a lifetime

Kahn Feel: Can you really comprehend coming up with a truly original solution to a problem that literally everyone you've ever met couldn't solve after working as hard as they could for days on end?

5Gpants: yes

catayarn: yep

Gaimoo: absolutely

PoloCalendar: not understanding the problem here?

Kahn Feel: But also instead of 80k it's over two billion

Kahn Feel: Still not going to lie first thing I did was type in every possible variation of "WHAT I LIKE BEST INTO ME AND WIN A GOLDEN TICKET"

Kahn Feel: But yeah

Kahn Feel: EVERYBODY has tried entering nothing, chocolate, whatever type of candy etc and i still see people mentioning that seriously as a potential solutions and trying it

Kahn Feel: From a conceptual standpoint i'm not even sure you can have a puzzle that's both "good" and allows so many people to miss it for so long

Kahn Feel: probability-wise it has to be complex enough to where it could never feel intuitive or satisfying

gremlin_guard: That's the thought that keeps popping up in the back of my head too.

gremlin_guard: Still. Can't stop thinking about it. I really should be studying but I'm having too much fun messing around with this haha. It's fun watching everyone scramble around for an answer.

gremlin_guard: Don't even know what I want out of this anymore. Was hoping this would end before the end of the month but that ain't happening at this rate lol.

yatch: reminder that this is an advertising campaign

yatch: every hour you spend thinking about this puts another dollar in the pocket of Big Wonka

the_ladwhocan: Come on, we're all having fun.

yatch: begone, wonkashill

5Gpants: chill out shade, no harm done

5Gpants: if this was about the money they would have done it lottery-style like the first time

yatch: there's a fucking presidential inauguration tomorrow and the front page story of the NYT is talking about a candy contest that started almost a week ago

BBQbae: well if politics involved more magic internet candy riddles made by reclusive billionaire inventor kings maybe people would be more inclined to care

W

It was January 20th. Kalan Kare-Amil woke up in his nice bed and remembered that he was about to become the President of the United States.

He was still pretty surprised about it. One year ago, he had been nothing more than a mediocre mattress salesman, and now he was almost president. It had all happened very fast.

He had been driving home from a business trip one day when he saw a pretty woman standing on the side of the road. It was raining, and he didn't see any other cars that might come along to pick her up, so even though he was tired he decided to be a gentleman and offer her a ride to wherever she may have needed to go.

She accepted and stepped into his car, and luckily for him was headed in the same direction he was.

The dirt road he was driving on was dark and empty and lonely, and he couldn't help but sneak glances at her when he thought she wasn't paying attention. He tried to be respectful about it, only doing it occasionally during their long conversation.

She was wonderful.

She was wearing long white gloves, and had the most beautiful hair he had ever seen, shiny and neat in a way that almost defied belief. She showed her gums when she smiled and had nostrils so large and perfect that they made his heart pound in his chest.

Everything about her made him happy, and that included the conversation they had. As a matter of course, all mattress salesmen lived lives of betrayal and quiet desperation, and rare was the occasional where they could converse with someone who truly meant them no harm.

They didn't speak about anything special: the weather, their favorite types of candy, recent news of the poor helicopter pilot who had crashed into the Great Pit and been chewed to tiny bits by the Fleshlumpeater. But the way she spoke was what mattered. She exuded kindness and thoughtfulness with every word, and he couldn't help but love her for it.

They had been driving for one hour when a bright orange light appeared straight ahead in the distance. The woman began clutching her nose at the horrible sight of it, and Kalan slowed his car so he could take it all in.

A school bus had broken down and burst into flames on the side of the road, and a large crowd of children stood just far away from it to stay safe, watching the fire slowly lose in battle against the pouring rain.

It seemed like there were about as many kids outside as it might take to fill up the bus, which was good, because it meant that they weren't still on it. But Kalan couldn't make out a single adult among them - the driver might have perished in the accident, he guessed - and whether he did or not he knew that he would absolutely have to stop and check. He took his foot off the gas pedal and stepped on the brakes.

The car did not stop. It did the opposite of that, which meant that it sped up.

He began to get extremely nervous, as all the children were inconveniently lined up in a straight line that matched up perfectly with the trajectory of his car. While Kalan didn't know much about kids, he had once heard that they weren't especially resistant against oncoming traffic.

He pressed the brake again, and the car sped up more.

He pulled the emergency brake, and the car sped up more.

He turned the steering wheel as far to the right as he could, and the car continued to go straight. It also sped up.

He honked the horn. Instead of a blaring sound, a calm voice with no clear origin spoke to him, informing him that his car was going to speed up. It did.

He screamed. The voice told him to relax. His car sped up.

He looked over at the woman, who had begun to scratch her head and sniff the air wildly in what he could only assume was desperation. He then turned back to the children, who hadn't moved.

He closed his eyes and prayed to the same cruel god that did nothing but watch as he and his fellow mattress men swindled and cheated and ripped enough tags to make their fingers bleed.

There was a bump, and a thump, and a bump-thump-thump-bump-bump-thump.

After awhile, the bumps and the thumps stopped, and so did the car. As soon as it did, Kalan opened the door and raced into the rain, not checking on the woman or even himself. He was crying and heaving with fear and anger and all the other terrible emotions that people sometimes had after accidentally killing several dozen people.

He ran to the spot where he was sure the bumps and the thumps had started, but there were no children there, whole or otherwise. There was also no bus.

The woman ran up behind him as he scanned the street, asking him if he was fine. He told her that he was more concerned about the children, and she asked him what in the blazes he was talking about.

Looking closer, all that could be seen in any direction were rocks. The road was covered in teeny-weeny pieces of gravel and pebbles and jagged rubble, but no children.

He ran to his car without saying a word to the woman, checking the front. It was perfectly undamaged and blood-free. His tires were no different.

The woman ran over to him once again and he babbled to her in tears, horrified. He told her what he saw and felt and did and why he was going to have to go home and hang himself with premium 300 thread count 100% Egyptian cotton sheets.

She grabbed his hands and told him he was being silly. There had never been any fiery bus or inconveniently-placed arrangement of road children. He had only run over some rocks.

He told her she was the one being silly, and she challenged him to provide evidence to the contrary. He took a moment to think about it.

There was no bus. There was no fire. There were no children, only rocks. His car was fine, and neither one of them were injured. He was tired. Very tired. He was the kind of tired that made people crazy. He thought he had seen a bus and fire and children, but the woman who was with him - the woman who wasn't tired or crazy - had not.

There were two possibilities. The first was that he had hit some gravel in the road dropped by a careless delivery driver, and imagined something that wasn't there.

The second was that magic was real. He giggled at the thought. How ridiculous!

He tried apologizing to the woman for acting so strange, and she shushed him and rushed him back inside his car so they could be out of the rain.

To his surprise, she wasn't angry with him, only concerned. She told him he was working too hard, and begged him to try to clear his head and take a proper break.

The rest of the drive passed by without incident. He kept apologizing for giving the woman a scare, and she kept asking him to stop, telling him that everybody made mistakes once in awhile, and that he definitely wasn't a bad person.

When he dropped her off, before she got out of the car, she leaned in close to him and spoke in a low voice. She said that he had been very helpful, and that she was going to give him a marvelous present. It wasn't one he would be able to see, but it was going to help him. She kissed him on the cheek, said goodbye, and left the car.

He stayed in the car alone for several minutes afterwards, wanting to appreciate the moment. Interestingly, while looking at the spot her lips had touched in the mirror, he noticed that it was tinged a light shade of blue. She hadn't been wearing blue lipstick, if memory served.

He arrived home soon after. Four red pigeons shrieked and perched themselves on his shoulders, but he did not brush them away. He suddenly felt confident. He felt like he could do anything, and for the first time since he could remember, he liked himself.

The confidence stayed with him, and so did the pigeons, which never left his arms even to eat or drink. He didn't know why they stayed there, but he could only assume they were attracted to his newfound confidence. They must have left to feed themselves while he slept, he reasoned.

The next day he quit his job and burned his home to the ground. It was all holding him back, he realized. He was sure his confidence would naturally forge a new, better life for himself.

With his last dollar, he went to a gas station and bought a Snozzberry Surprise, his favorite in the Wonka line of Dongleriffic Delights.

While he was eating it, the clerk told him he should run for president, and he couldn't help but agree. He gathered the signatures very quickly. Everybody said they appreciated his confidence, and that they would definitely vote for him.

None of the existing parties would let him join due to his overwhelmingly high confidence, so he created the Pigeon Party. His platform was very simple. He was confident.

The incumbent and his main opponent in the election, Fay L. Yurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, gave an impassioned speech the night of the election imploring the electorate to vote for the candidate who they knew they could believe in.

They didn't. They voted for the candidate who believed in himself. Kalan received 99.45% of the national vote, winning every district and electoral vote possible.

That was how he ended up inside a hotel in Washington D.C. the morning of that January 20th, preparing his inauguration speech. He was excited about it. It was only three words long.

After deciding to take a break, he sat down, turned on the television, and caught himself up with the news. The second Golden Ticket still hadn't been found, but he was confident that it would be. Since he was about to be the president, the contest concerned him very much, as did many other things. He had to know all about what was going on everywhere in the world, in China and Brazil and Wonkaland and even Alaska for some reason.

A man pointed a gun at Kalan's head. He sighed. It was happening again.

When Kalan first won the election, he joked to himself about the idea that a man from a mysterious secret society, or a woman from an evil giant corporation, or a turtle from a foreign turtle government might come and threaten his life, promising to spare him only on the condition that he swear to fulfill from horrible secret plan they had for him.

As it turned out, this sort of thing really did happen. The first time it wasn't so bad, and neither was the second. But the man who came to him that morning was the fifty-seventh and frankly he was sick of it.

"I'm sorry," said Kalan with a yawn. "I'll tell you the same thing I told the rest of them. I'm too confident for this. You'll have to write a letter to your representative like everyone else."

The man put the gun down. He saw that Kalan believed in himself, and knew instantly that threats wouldn't work.

"Will you listen to reason?"

Kalan thought about it.

"I probably should. But pointing guns at people isn't a very reasonable thing to do, is it?"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Almost-President. But I had to. My message is important. If you didn't listen to me, we would all be in trouble."

Kalan didn't take him too seriously. That was what they all said.

"Who are you with?"

"I represent the Department of Anti-Astronomy: We Really Hate Stars and Related Things."

Kalan knew all about the Department of Anti-Astronomy: We Really Hate Stars and Related Things. It was created by President Gilligrass in 1964, and was the agency of government responsible for making sure that the people of the nation did not go about stargazing or learning about the cosmos. It made sure that people knew that astronomers were horrible criminals and created wonderful parties every year where everyone who was convicted of astronomy was fed to an enormous crocodile on live television. It was terribly great fun.

They also helped ensure that other countries did not practice astronomy either, which they achieved through financial incentives, tariffs, threats, and wars. Three out of the eleven baby wars that had ravaged the world in recent years were the indirect result of these policies, as absolutely necessary as they were.

One big problem with the Department of Anti-Astronomy: We Really Hate Stars and Related Things was that they produced many commercials and other forms of propaganda that taught people to hate anything with the word "astronomy" in it. Since they had neglected to include themselves as the single exception to the rule, it meant that they were very unpopular, and thus frequently had difficulty in securing funding.

"Have no fear," said Kalan. "I recognize the importance of your work, and I have full confidence that you'll receive the money you need to continue operation. However…"

"However?"

"Maybe you should change the name."

The man looked hurt.

"But we like it. It's fun."

"I know, but search engine optimization-"

A bulletin flashed across the television, and both men turned to see what was happening.

The second Golden Ticket had been found.

W

Somewhere in the suburbs of Auckland, New Zealand, Ned Brillbusker stood in front of a well-dressed family. There was a father and a mother and four sisters, each with their own designated trophy case standing behind them.

The house was very cloudy.

Ned listened to each of the girls speak about themselves. They all had a lot to say.

There was Manaia Jewel, the youngest. She was thirteen, and she had won the award for Maori Influencer of the Year for four straight years. She had fourteen million friends on social media, and was objectively more important than everyone else.

There was Mariana Jewel, the second youngest. She was fourteen, and she had started ten small businesses. She was famous for creating global solutions through disruptive innovations that were impacting critical industry operations, synergizing incentives via deliverable ecosystem leverage upgrades in the way that best appealed to Chillenials.

There was Makareta Jewel, the third youngest. She was fifteen, and was considered the most impressive young academic to have ever lived. When she was three, she had been awarded a Chillenium Skates scholarship on the sole condition that she never leave academia, which she happily accepted. She had obtained every bachelor's degree and every master's degree, and was in the process of finishing her seventieth PhD.

Finally, there was Marama Jewel, the fourth youngest. She was sixteen, and she was the most famous astronomer hunter there ever was. With the permission of the government, she had tracked down and slain thousands upon thousands of astronomers, and had a starring role in the popular reality television show "Astro-No-More".

"A little competition is excellent for children," said Mr. Jewel, who had finally finished explaining everything that his children - and therefore he himself - had accomplished. "I have four wonderful daughters because of it."

"The trick is to withhold affection," said Mrs. Jewel. "If you give it out willy-nilly, it becomes worthless. If you want to to mean something, you can only give out a little at a time, and only when everything is done perfectly. And heaven forbid you give it to more than one child at once."

"I understand," said Ned, who did not. "But you still, in the three hours since I have arrived, have not answered my very simple question. Which of your daughters was the one to solve the riddle and win the Golden Ticket?"

After JUROR had solved the puzzle, as proof, his name and place of birth appeared at the top of the WonkaWeb, immediately above the bucket puzzle. It did not give out his full name, only putting the word 'JUROR'.

For everyone without a convenient nickname, however, it seemed the system had a different naming convention in place: to abbreviate only the first name and write the complete surname.

This meant that on the WonkaWeb, it said "M. Jewel."

"That is an interesting question," said Mr. Jewel. "Almost as interesting as me. Let me tell you more about myself. I was born-"

Ned moved the microphone in front of the girls.

"Which one of you won? And where's the ticket?"

"It was me," said Manaia, not looking away from her phone. "Ask any of my followers. They'll tell you."

"She isn't much of a team player," said Mariana. "Her incorrect claims need to be recontextualized in full view of an emerging Golden Ticket market, all metrics having been considered. It's easy to see that while she evolved vertically in what can only be called a horizontal economic landscape, I'm the only one who understands the diagonal thinking that was necessary to solve the puzzle."

"If you look at it from a marketing perspective, sure," said Makareta. "But if you want to think about this from any academic field or sub-field with a smidgeon of intellectual value, it's obvious who put the pieces together. Literary criticism says it's me. Art design says it's me. STEM says it's me. Formal logic? Don't make me laugh. It's a contest of intelligence, Mr. Brillbusker. And everyone knows that intelligence is always directly proportional to someone's academic accolades."

"I will cleanse this world of skywatchers," said Marama.

Ned sighed. While recovering the air lost to his exasperation, he inhaled more of the giant cloud covering the ceiling of the house, finally recognizing the smell.

"Cotton candy," he said.

"What?" asked Mrs. Jewel.

Ned ignored her. The Air-Zamboni power shields that were used to prevent other news agencies from getting the first scoop wouldn't hold much longer.

"Is there anyone else here? Anyone at all?"

"No," said all six Jewels in perfect unison.

Ned's eyes narrowed. He snapped his fingers, and a BBC intern ran over and kneeled at his feet.

"Igor," said Ned. "Do a search on the Jewel family."

Mr. Jewel sighed. "Ugh, fine. If you really must speak with her…"

Mrs. Jewel ran to cover his mouth. Ned shook his head.

"Igor, inform Mrs. Jewel that the BBC Air-Zamboni is equipped with trained bees, and that Commonwealth law gives me the unilateral authority to fire upon anyone who dares to intervene with the timely process of newsgathering."

"Mrs. Jewel, the BBC Air-Zamboni is equipped with-"

"Please, Mr. Brillbusker," pleaded Mrs. Jewel. Be reasonable. You can't possibly expect us to give in like this. She isn't presentable."

"The people of Britain pay the Telly Tax and they expect results. My job is to deliver," said Ned. "Be you god or devil, you shall not intervene in the sacred dissemination of public information."

After biting her lower lip, Mrs. Jewel pointed to a door at the end of a nearby hallway, she and her husband leaving towards the kitchen in tears. Ned had the camera crew follow him as he went inside.

He went down many stairs, the cloud getting thicker and thicker, until he reached a door that itself revealed a bedroom. Not seeming very concerned about their parents, the children followed.

A teenage girl lay flat on an empty concrete floor, surrounded by wrappers and boxes and metal sticks and pen-like devices of all shapes and sizes. There was no bed and no desk and no anything aside from her and her strange smelly possessions.

Her appearance and manner of dress were unimportant. There was only one thing about her mattered.

She was vaping.

"Hello," said Ned.

She continued to vape.

"She won't answer if you speak like that," explained Manaia, who was still looking at her phone. "The question needs to involve vaping or she won't acknowledge you."

"I don't have any questions about vaping," said Ned. "I want to know who she is and how she won the ticket."

"Her name is Mahuika. She's seventeen, so she's the oldest sister out of all of us. She vapes," Manaia said.

"She vapes," said Mariana.

"She vapes," said Makareta.

"She vapes," said Marama.

"I vape," said Mahuika.

Mahuika vaped. Ned coughed.

"Your father said he only had four daughters."

"Four wonderful daughters," corrected Makareta.

"Oh."

The cameras went around the room. All the vape flavors were Wonka-branded.

There was nothing odd about a seventeen year old who was vaping. Vapes were, as everyone knew, legal for anyone of any age all around the world, including babies. Still, it wasn't as if vapes were marketed towards babies, even if certain whiners liked to pretend otherwise. People who thought that breast milk flavored e-juice and pacifier-shaped vaporizers were intended for anyone other than adults were reading too much into it.

"We don't know how she did it. She has a phone, and she does things - goes to school and all that - but only if it can be related back to vaping somehow. She probably just wanted the lifetime supply of WonkaJuice."

"Mahuika," said Ned, testing the boundaries. "Were you vaping when you won the Golden Ticket?"

"Yes," said Mahuika.

"Did vaping assist you in solving the puzzle?"

"Yes," said Mahuika.

"May we see the ticket while you vape?"

"Yes," said Mahuika, pulling the Golden Ticket from her pocket and waving it over her head while she vaped.

"She won't give it up, if that's what you're going to do next," said Makareta. "We've all tried. Usually she'll do basically anything if you offer her a new pen or something, but not with this."

"She has an excellent grasp on the market value associated with the product," said Mariana. "I tried holding a business-to-business podcast webinar explaining how coopetition might satisfy the needs of both of our clients, but it proved less than effective."

"I see," said Ned.

Ned's electronic watch beeped. The other agencies had broken through the shields.

"It seems that we're out of time. Have you anything else to say to everyone watching, Mahuika, while you vape?"

"I vape," Mahuika said.

She did.

"I'm Ned Brillbusker with the BBC, signing off."