Once again, Sparkles the /unicorn seems to have gotten herself in a whole heap of trouble.

This time she appears to have been kidnapped!

oh where, oh where has
my unicorn gone? oh where
oh where can she be?

Can you help to track her down? Do you have what it takes to join the ranks of the Defenders of the Unicorn?

(If you are successful in your quest to save our /unicorn, please keep any answers and deciphered hints to yourself until January 2, 2022 UTC, or risk the loss of your new hat.)

  • 2
    Is the unicorn male or female? Because one note uses a male pronoun while another clue uses a female pronoun. Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 1:34
  • Ooh! A multi-stage challenge this time. /me likes.
    – Mureinik
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 3:15
  • 1
    @SonictheAnonymousHedgehog pronouns are now more consistent, I think Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 7:12
  • 1
    Can I raise a pluralization bug? It should be "(Twilight) Sparkle", not "SparkleS" :P
    – SPArcheon
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 10:41
  • 1
    @SPArcheon Mandatory deprecated comment about someone bludgeoning someone with a something for introducing a something.
    – Ollie
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 18:44
  • 1
    Are the dates you mention intentional? "until January 2, 2022 UTC" - are you fine with people cheating on the last three days?
    – SPArcheon
    Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 17:55
  • @SPArcheon I presume the challenge will end then Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 21:35
  • 1
    How do we know if its the same sparkles? They might be siblings, cousins, clones, or unholy abominations of glittery science? Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 23:18
  • 1
    I got a message "Unfortunately, the hat could not be awarded, because the user already owns hat" Can I get some other hat in exchange?
    – Dharman
    Commented Dec 25, 2021 at 16:00
  • 4
    @dharman you were just awarded a second (albeit invisible) Defender hat. To put it on, just take off your current hat. Enjoy! Commented Dec 25, 2021 at 17:28
  • Does everyone taking the quiz see the same questions in the same order?
    – outis
    Commented Dec 25, 2021 at 22:53
  • 2
    @outis everyone gets 10 out of 15 questions (randomly selected), in a random order. So quite unlikely that any two people get the same questions in the same order (I'll leave it to someone else to produce the exact odds of this happening) Commented Dec 26, 2021 at 12:38
  • @YaakovEllis: I think that'd be 1/₁₅P₁₀ = 5! / 15! = 1 / ∏(6…15) = 1 / 10_897_286_400
    – outis
    Commented Dec 26, 2021 at 20:13
  • 2
    I don't know how I missed this last year..
    – pinckerman
    Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 3:38

11 Answers 11


Since Winter Bash 2021 is over now, I'll now describe how I solved this puzzle to get the Defender of the Unicorn hat, in case anyone in the future is wondering.

Starting our search for Sparkles the /unicorn

Going to winterbash2021.stackexchange.com/unicorn leads us to the first part of our unicorn-saving journey. Here, we get an enciphered hint:




NFFU NF BU /tbwf-tqbslmft


This is a fairly simple cipher: just subtract one from each letter. So z goes to y, y goes to x. a loops around to z. The decoded hint is:




MEET ME AT /save-sparkles


In the HTML source code for this page is a haiku hint that will come in handy in the next step:

And another clue as well, that might be useful later: 

oh where, oh where has
my unicorn gone? oh where
oh where can she be?

Starting our recuse mission to /save-sparkles

Going to winterbash2021.stackexchange.com/save-sparkles gives us a more involved puzzle. (that page uses underlining instead of bold but I can't use underline in answers)

The kidnapper seems to have left notes on a piece of paper:
ir fsncif wcovcp
fwfa abierpmz hbwf rif
irctz ifchj bdrnv
nivcm iffemfttmz baabihfe
afwfatfe rivr nt
irx er b iffegnm
efgz erxi fboj tfoafv fba
ani vcm zrn rxi nt
Below this is some more mysterious text:
riof nqri b xciv dbtj praarx, xjcmf c qriefafe, gnmm rg traarx
rwfa fiemftt ed arxt aforaecih tvbvt rg hbpft hbmraf —
xjcmf c vacfe, ifbamz tnooffecih, vr qafwfiv vjf prniet rg ojfbvcih
tneefimz vjfaf obpf b wctcri, qcihcih ri pz ojbvarrp erra —
“xjbv ornme vjbv df,” c pnvvfafe, “dmcilcih ri pz ojbvarrp erra —
   rimz vjct bie irvjcih praf.”

rj xjfaf, rj xjfaf jbt
pz nicorai hrif? rj xjfaf
rj xjfaf obi tjf df?

Scrawled on the back of the note is written:
qaroffe vr /_____-_____-___-______-___-______-___/3463333
Can anything be done to save poor Sparkles?

Something can be done! Let's decode the kidnapper's notes. This cipher is not a simple Caesar cipher, but it does seem to be a sort of substitution code.

The cipher used here was familiar to me because, *sigh*, the cipher used here is very similar to the way certain models of Cisco Wi-Fi routers attempt to obfuscate their configuration. They used to just have it in plaintext, but then someone found some security issues with the way config files are handled, so Cisco just obfuscated the contents of the config file a little bit.

Anyways, what's happening here is that each letter in the messages has been replaced with another letter uniformly. For example, all ws have been replaced with xs. We can easily find most of the mappings with a known-plaintext attack. Remember that haiku from a section ago? Some of the text in the the second note matches up to that. Compare:

rj xjfaf, rj xjfaf jbt
pz nicorai hrif? rj xjfaf
rj xjfaf obi tjf df? 
oh where, oh where has
my unicorn gone? oh where
oh where can she be

With this, we can learn what most of the letters are. We see that from the first word, o maps to r, h maps to j, and so on. Here's what we can decode so far (decoded text is in bold):

no esuine wicvim
ewer raneommy gawe one
noisy neigh abouv 

unvim neeemessmy arrangee
rewersee onvo us 

now eo a neeegum
eegy eown each secrev ear
run vim you own us 

once uqon a winv bash morrow, whime i qoneeree, gumm og sorrow
ower enemess eb rows recoreing svavs og games gamore 
whime i vriee, nearmy succeeeing, vo qrewenv vhe mounes og cheaving
sueeenmy vhere came a wision, qinging on my chavroom eoor 
whav coume vhav be, i muvveree, bminling on my chavroom eoor 
   onmy vhis ane novhing more.” 

oh where, oh where has
my unicorn gone? oh where
oh where can he be? 

qroceee vo /_____-_____-___-______-___-______-___/3463333

At this point, let's look at what the underlined letters form: ne?er-gonna-run-aroun?-an?-?eser?-you

It's pretty easy to guess that it's going to form never-gonna-run-around-and-desert-you for seasoned Rick Ashley enthusiasts, but for those who don't know so much about the lyrics of hit pop songs, we can make some easy inferences about letters: for example, with abouv, it's pretty easy to guess that vs should be replaced with ts. With this method, we can decode the 9 remaining letters to get this great poetry:

no equine victim
ever randomly gave one
noisy neigh about 

until needlessly arranged
reversed onto us 

now do a needful
defy down each secret ear
run til you own us 

once upon a wint bash morrow, while i pondered, full of sorrow
over endless db rows recording stats of games galore —
while i tried, nearly succeeding, to prevent the mounds of cheating
suddenly there came a vision, pinging on my chatroom door —
“what could that be,” i muttered, “blinking on my chatroom door —
   only this and nothing more.” 

oh where, oh where has
my unicorn gone? oh where
oh where can he be? 

proceed to /_____-_____-___-______-___-______-___/3463333 

Going to winterbash2021.stackexchange.com/never-gonna-run-around-and-desert-you/3463333 (the link is different for each user) gives us the final challenge: a 10 question quiz.

Not running around or deserting sparkles

At this stage, you need to answer 10 questions correctly to "free the unicorn". These are various trivia questions about the Stack Exchange network. Once completed, you earn a Defender of the Unicorn hat, and Sparkles the Unicorn is freed!

  • 1
    Cool! This is the same way I figured it out, every bit, except I didn't know that the hint was in the HTML source of the previous page...funny! :)
    – user1091571
    Commented Jan 5, 2022 at 16:54
  • 2
    Just to add, even if someone had completely missed the hint or forgotten about it (like me), it was still possible to decipher it by making the guess that the word "unicorn" had a very high probability of appearing in the text, and solving on from there.
    – nobody
    Commented Jan 6, 2022 at 22:54

This question:

Approximately how many page views do the Stack Exchange network get per month?

Treats all of these answers as wrong: "838.7M", "838M", "839M", "838700000", "838000000", and "839000000", despite them being listed on stackexchange.com as the correct answers. Here's a screen recording of what happens when I try.

It says we can't share answers to the questions, but I think this is okay because these weren't accepted as correct answers to the question at the time this was posted.

  • 1
    There was a different page that cited a different number. Possible accepted answers now include your source as well. Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 7:11
  • 4
    "but I think this is okay" - you are willing to take this risk? Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 7:11

According to Area 51, there are ten site proposals that are currently in beta:

Ten proposals

However, when I enter 10 as the answer, it's judged as incorrect. I randomly entered a higher number into the box and it was judged as correct.

What other beta sites exist that didn't go through the Area 51 process, or for which the proposal doesn't exist? Stack Overflow in Japanese was one such, but it was one of the 59 sites that left beta this month.

  • 2
    If I had to guess, this is because two additional proposals, Substrate and Proof Assistants currently also meet the reqs for beta, even though they haven't technically entered it yet.
    – Joe Kerr
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 2:46
  • 2
    Hmmm I'm split on whether this is a bug. It's awkward to have other sites included in the count that Area 51 knows nothing about, but technically, you could find this answer yourself with the API...
    – animuson StaffMod
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 2:47
  • 2
    Going to be more flexible with the answer here Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 9:42

There seem to be several inconsistencies with the question

When was the first Developer Survey?


the first annual surveys did not seem to be called "Developer Survey". Whether this is relevant or not seems to be inconsistent between this question and another question of the quiz.


the year in the survey name does not seem to coincide with the year when the survey started.

I may be wrong, of course.

  • 3
    Making the question clearer - relates to the year when it is released, as well as title fix Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 9:47
  • To verify, as I've somehow managed to get it wrong three times, the answer is just the year in the format YYYY, right?
    – Jacob B
    Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 8:06
  • 1
    @JacobB yes, that worked for me.
    – wimi
    Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 8:08
  • 1
    oh geez, I've tried too many answers to count, I've surpassed a healthy dose of rick-rolls, and I do believe I'm more lost than the unicorn I'm trying to find.
    – Jacob B
    Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 10:09

The question:

How much reputation do you need to earn in order to be able to downvote?

Meta Stack Exchange differs from the other sites. Since the question doesn't specify a specific site, I would think both answers should be correct.

  • 4
    Plus, it says at the beginning that the hat is to be earned on Meta Stack Exchange, so under that context the right answer is 100. Also, private beta sites and CS50 don't have a reputation requirement for downvoting. Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 7:53
  • 4
    Making the question more specific such that the correct answer should not be ambiguous Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 9:44
  • 1
    @YaakovEllis That works too! Appreciate the effort put in to make this fun challenge!
    – Tot Zam
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 19:46

server-side is misspelled as sever-side in one question.


I’m sure I might be really bad at following directions, but in case it needs any immediate status review to be obscured elsewhere because it’s existing revelation there may not be desirable…

This has seemingly already been revealed in the Hat List thread: Winter Bash 2021 Hat List 😷 🎓 ??

  • 11
    This seems to be the second "unknown trigger" for the hat.
    – smitop
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 23:45

At least one of the quiz questions (mentioned in another post here) has a large number for an answer and accepts it as decimal (such as 42000000), but not your typical floating point literal format (such as 4.2e6), which seems an oversight.


I think that one question while technically correct could be made more clear.

The question asks when network sites stopped going to the main meta site for their meta needs (now meta.stackexchange.com). But, based on the info I could get Stack Overflow got its site-specific meta after every other site in the network got one. The correct answer is indeed technically correct, but perhaps it could be reworded to make it clear it is asking about the creation of Stack Overflow child meta site.

  • 1
    I hear what you are saying. But I am satisfied with the current wording. Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 11:58

Clicking submit does nothing:

  • 1
    Any console errors? Seems like it was working at least part of the way, since you got to the sixth question. Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 7:32
  • Oh yes! @YaakovEllis Uncaught ReferenceError: StackExchange is not defined at watch-expression-1.devtools:1:32 Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 7:32
  • 1
    Try disabling your browser extensions Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 7:33
  • @YaakovEllis Doesn't work. Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 7:35
  • 1
    watch-expression-1.devtools is not something that is being served from the site, as far as I know. I suspect that it is local to your browser. Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 7:36
  • @YaakovEllis Strange Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 7:41
  • @YaakovEllis I tried it on a browser which I virtually never used, still the error Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 7:42
  • @YaakovEllis Wait, there is no error, I tried on Microsoft Edge, which I virtually never used. No error but same behaviour Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 7:44
  • @YaakovEllis This appears to be the same bug that I reported on Dec 26th.
    – Rob
    Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 10:01
  • @Rob Same problem! Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 11:04
  • 2
    I had that problem too, I needed to wait the time limit to play again. Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 12:33
  • 1
    I had to wait for the two hour limit too, but when I played again it froze after a few questions.
    – Rob
    Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 14:57

Update, Sparkles is back: https://winterbash2022.stackexchange.com/visit-sparkles

In 2022 the URLS only lead to modified Rick Rolls:

Server rotates between several selections from a list.


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