These are license-plate designs from the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, with the state names removed. Find out what state each plate represents.
Each plate has letters in exactly two of six horizontal positions. That is, if you list the plates vertically, there are six columns of letters that can be read down (though each individual plate only has letters in two of the columns). So, alphabetize the plates by state (District of Columbia comes after Delaware), list them vertically, and read down the columns. You'll see the following twelve names (two to a column):
NORTHWEST TREK / FOTA ORANA / SHUBENACADIE HEMKER / FEATHERDALE DAVID FLEAY / COTSWOLD CAVERSHAM / MOLE HALL BALLARAT / CURRAGHS
These twelve names are all the names of wildlife parks. The answer to the puzzle is WILDLIFE PARKS.
What follows is the list of plates alphabetized by state:
(AL) N C (AK) H A (AZ) OE (AR) O V (CA) R D (CO) R M (CT) AE (DE) AK (DC) T V (FL) IR (GA) NE (HI) H B (ID) DS (IL) AR (IN) W A (IA) E H (KS) F L (KY) S A (LA) T L (ME) ML (MD) E A (MA) A R (MI) T A (MN) R Y (MS) S T (MO) E F (MT) HE (NE) UA (NV) KB (NH) ET (NJ) H M (NM) N O (NY) AE (NC) R L (ND) DC (OH) C C (OK) A E (OR) O U (PA) A T (RI) L R (SC) SH (SD) FD (TN) E R (TX) WA (UT) OI (VT) LA (VA) T O (WA) E G (WV) LH (WI) A L (WY) D S
2006 MIT Mystery Hunt