Solution - The Square Table
ANSWER – AKBARKHAN

The 9x9 grid of transformed words contains 9 different categories of words, with 9 words in each category. Each category has its own transformation rule that has been applied to every word in that category. After finding all of the categories, the big insight of this puzzle is that the words in each category have a clearly associated word. A few of the categories strongly suggest that they have an associated word (collective nouns, sidekicks, world capitals).

CategoryAssociated WordTransformation
BirthstonesMonthAppend T, append first letter Caesar shifted by 2 and 1 change first letter to D
Collective nounsAnimalChange K's to T's, prepend first letter Caesar shifted by -1, prepend E, remove last letter
Main charactersMovieDrop first letter, double third-to-last letter, double last 3 letters, reverse
PokemonNext evolutionChange K's to R's, double first letter, add 2 N's after first letter
Roman godsGreek godChange R's to M's
SidekicksHeroDrop first letter, change A's and O's to E's
SongsArtistChange T's to V's, move 3rd letter to penultimate position, append an H
StarsConstellationChange second vowel to E, drop first vowel, swap last two letters
World capitalsCountryChange first letter to OD, change S's to ESS's

After discovering these properties, the next step is to fill in the question marks in the grid using the Guess box at the top. Since the grid contains the transformed original words, the "answer" to each one is the transformed associated word. The full grid is listed below with the transformed word → untransformed word → untransformed associated word → transformed associated word:

DUBYTTS
RUBY
JULY
DULYTLK
BBOBBOOCKCINIMO
DOMINICKCOBB
INCEPTION
NOINOIITPECN
ZBENESCHAMAIL
ZUBENESCHAMALI
LIBRA
LBER
MEMCUMY
MERCURY
HERMES
HEMMES
EOPARLIAMEN
PARLIAMENT
OWL
ENOW
SNNSLOWPORE
SLOWPOKE
SLOWBRO
SNNSLOWBRO
INHEENVDH
INTHEEND
LINKINPARK
LIKINPARNKH
ENWEESLEY
RONWEASLEY
HARRYPOTTER
ERRYPETTER
ODNTANANARIVO
ANTANANARIVO
MADAGASCAR
ODADAGAESSCAR
EZOEZOOSRESYE
KEYSERSOZE
THEUSUALSUSPECTS
STCSTCCEPSUSLAUSUEH
ODESSLAMABAD
ISLAMABAD
PAKISTAN
ODAKIESSTAN
EBCONVOCATIO
CONVOCATION
EAGLE
EDEAGL
KAMAPOLICREH
KARMAPOLICE
RADIOHEAD
RAIOHEADDH
SRESU
SIRIUS
CANISMAJOR
CNESMAJRO
EGGYNELSEN
FOGGYNELSON
DAREDEVIL
EREDEVIL
DMETHYSTTCB
AMETHYST
FEBRUARY
DEBRUARYTHG
VICTOMIA
VICTORIA
NIKE
NIKE
RNNROFFING
KOFFING
WEEZING
WNNWEEZING
VHSCIENVISEVH
THESCIENTIST
COLDPLAY
CODPLALYH
EQRAFTE
RAFTER
TURKEY
ESTURTE
UCKYBERNES
BUCKYBARNES
CAPTAINAMERICA
EPTEINEMERICE
DQUAMARINETCB
AQUAMARINE
MARCH
DARCHTON
PNNPIRACHU
PIKACHU
RAICHU
RNNRAICHU
ODRUESSESSELESS
BRUSSELS
BELGIUM
ODELGIUM
SUMSUMMIXA
MAXIMUS
GLADIATOR
ROTROTTAIDAL
LPHERAZT
ALPHERATZ
ANDROMEDA
NDREMEAD
MINEMVA
MINERVA
ATHENA
ATHENA
MNNMANREY
MANKEY
PRIMEAPE
PNNPRIMEAPE
APLOGIZOEH
APOLOGIZE
ONEREPUBLIC
ONREPUBLIECH
EDUEDUUDEH
THEDUDE
THEBIGLEBOWSKI
IKSIKSSWOBELGIBEH
ODMESSTERDAM
AMSTERDAM
NETHERLANDS
ODETHERLANDESS
CEMES
CERES
DEMETER
DEMETEM
RGELSU
REGULUS
LEO
EL
ESTALEIDOSCOP
KALEIDOSCOPE
BUTTERFLY
EABUTTERFL
DAPPHIRETUT
SAPPHIRE
SEPTEMBER
DEPTEMBERTUT
IMMYELSEN
JIMMYOLSEN
SUPERMAN
UPERMEN
ODAGREB
ZAGREB
CROATIA
ODROATIA
EHNWETSEN
JOHNWATSON
SHERLOCKHOLMES
HERLECKHELMES
DIAMONDTFE
DIAMOND
APRIL
DPRILTCB
PLERSI
POLARIS
URSAMINOR
RSEMINRO
IWNVIVVHAVWAAYH
IWANTITTHATWAY
BACKSTREETBOYS
BAKSVREEVBOYCSH
SATUMN
SATURN
CRONUS
CMONUS
RNNRARUNA
KAKUNA
BEEDRILL
BNNBEEDRILL
ENOSTENTATIO
OSTENTATION
PEACOCK
EOPEACOC
NEDNEDDRUDRELY
TYLERDURDEN
FIGHTCLUB
BULBULLCTHGI
LPHECENTAUIR
ALPHACENTAURI
CENTAURUS
CNTEURSU
DOPAZTVU
TOPAZ
NOVEMBER
DOVEMBERTPO
ODERUESSALEM
JERUSALEM
ISRAEL
ODESSRAEL
EBIN
ROBIN
BATMAN
ETMEN
ASLASLL
ELSA
FROZEN
NEZNEZZOR
EEFLAMBOYANC
FLAMBOYANCE
FLAMINGO
EEFLAMING
AUMOMA
AURORA
EOS
EOS
RNNRRABBY
KRABBY
KINGLER
RNNRINGLER
WODERWALNLH
WONDERWALL
OASIS
OAISSH
TEMMA
TERRA
GAIA
GAIA
PLLXE
POLLUX
GEMINI
GMEIN
RNNRADABRA
KADABRA
ALAKAZAM
ANNALARAZAM
DLEDLEEIFNNIWSELU
JULESWINNFIELD
PULPFICTION
NOINOIITCIFPLU
EMWISEGEMGEE
SAMWISEGAMGEE
FRODOBAGGINS
REDEBEGGINS
DPALTQP
OPAL
OCTOBER
DCTOBERTQP
ODUAGADOUGOU
OUAGADOUGOU
BURKINAFASO
ODURKINAFAESSO
HEJUDYEH
HEYJUDE
THEBEATLES
VHBEAVLEESH
ECDESCEN
DESCENT
WOODPECKER
EVWOODPECTE
ETUNTINDNES
UNKINDNESS
RAVEN
EQRAVE
JUPITEM
JUPITER
ZEUS
ZEUS
SVESSEDOURVH
STRESSEDOUT
TWENTYONEPILOTS
VWNVYONEPILOVESH
MNNMAGIRARP
MAGIKARP
GYARADOS
GNNGYARADOS
DERIDOTTRQ
PERIDOT
AUGUST
DUGUSTTCB
SETSETTABNAMRO
NORMANBATES
PSYCHO
OHCOHCCYS
IDDYKENG
DIDDYKONG
DONKEYKONG
ENKEYKENG
ODUENOESSAIREESS
BUENOSAIRES
ARGENTINA
ODRGENTINA
NTERSE
ANTARES
SCORPIUS
SCRPESU
HEWBECCE
CHEWBACCA
HANSOLO
ENSELE
PNNPSYDUCR
PSYDUCK
GOLDUCK
GNNGOLDUCR
PMOSEMPINA
PROSERPINA
PERSEPHONE
PEMSEPHONE
ERSHREWDNES
SHREWDNESS
APE
EZAP
ODOESSCOW
MOSCOW
RUSSIA
ODUESSESSIA
ENERSANDMAVNH
ENTERSANDMAN
METALLICA
MEALLICVAH
LDEBARNA
ALDEBARAN
TAURUS
TERSU
ANAANAATNOMYNO
TONYMONTANA
SCARFACE
ECAECAAFRAC
DARNETTIH
GARNET
JANUARY
DANUARYTLK

The next step is to look at the words underneath the grid. There is exactly one word from each of the 9 categories. Changing each word to its transformed associated word yields a US city. Reading the first letters of the US cities spells AREACODES. The area code for each of the cities can be used to index back into the 9x9 grid above and pull out a letter, using the first digit as the row, the second digit as the column, and the third digit as an index into the transformed associated word at that position.

ENNERANSEKANSARBOKANNARBOR734ANN[A]LARAZAM
RGLERIGELORIONRENO775ODUR[K]INAFAESSO
EABARREBARRELMONKEYELMONTE626DOVEM[B]ERTPO
MAMSMARSARESAMES515ODRO[A]TIA
NOSNOSSWADKCAJACKDAWSONTITANICCINCINNATI513OD[R]OATIA
ODAESSHINGTONDCWASHINGTONDCUSAODESSA432I[K]SIKSSWOBELGIBEH
DMERALDTGFEMERALDMAYDAYTON937PEMSEP[H]ONE
UIGILUIGIMARIOERIE814EQR[A]VE
SMOVOHHSMOOTHSANTANASAVANNAH912E[N]SELE

Reading the letters extracted from the grid using the area codes gives the answer, AKBARKHAN.


Author's Notes

  • The original idea for this puzzle was to write a puzzle based on Sporcle, but when I started constructing it, it morphed into this totally different thing. The Guess box is the last remnant of the Sporcle idea.
  • There's a lot going on in this puzzle, but the hardest part of the construction by far was finding well-known US cities that only had a single area code (and whose first letters spelled AREACODES).
  • I initially had a list of a bunch of potential categories that included all of the final 9 except for movie characters. As I was combing through city names and area codes, I noticed that Cincinnati started with a repeated trigram, which seemed like a nice transformation mechanic. Then I removed the repeated trigram and noticed that reading it backwards almost spelled Titanic! After that I knew I had to add in a category with Titanic as an answer.
  • On the other hand, Roman gods and Greek gods was the very first category I came up with, so Ames/Ares was a really lucky coincidence that allowed the puzzle to have at least one category with a very simple transformation.
  • This puzzle was fully written before it was given a title. Since the puzzle itself is not at all thematic to our hunt, we came up with the title "The Square Table" just to connect it somehow. The story text for this puzzle was written later and inspired by the title.

Stats

  • 120 solves
  • 640 incorrect guesses
  • Most common incorrect guess: AREACODES (guessed 120 times)
  • First solve: Aviation Laws in 2 hours, 45 minutes, and 55 seconds