Month: August 2017

Challenge 4: A Google Earth Treasure Hunt — SOLVED

UPDATE 2017/09/23: We have winners! This challenge was solved by Humn, Euchre Mutt, Gareth McCaughan, and Irishpanda. The challenge is now closed, but feel free to discuss in the comments. View the solution here.

Here’s Challenge #4 for August 30, 2017.

A GOOGLE EARTH TREASURE HUNT

For today’s challenge, I’m trying something new: a Google Earth treasure hunt.

For this hunt, you don’t need a shovel. You don’t even need to leave your house. All you need is Google Earth (or Google Maps) and the mind of a treasure hunter.

This hunt was inspired by Forrest Fenn’s hidden treasure and the 1979 treasure hunt picture book Masquerade.

Imagine that I’ve locked away ten million dollars in a high security vault.* The vault is protected by a digital keypad. The correct combination is comprised of decimal latitude and longitude coordinates, accurate to two decimal points. To unlock my vault, you must identify four places in the world and correctly enter their coordinates. For example, if one of the places is the Great Pyramid of Giza, the full coordinates would be: 29.978763°, 31.134297°. We don’t need to be THAT precise, so we round to two decimal points to get: 29.98°, 31.13°. That’s the format I’m looking for when you submit your answer

To get Google Earth to show decimal values instead of degrees/minutes/seconds, click Tools, then Options. Under the tab called “3D View,” under the heading “Show Lat/Long,” check “Decimal Degrees.”

Here are clues to the four locations. Can you figure out where I’m talking about?

  1. Here, a babirusa lies in wait, as it has done for the last 40,000 years. It is the oldest of its kind in the world (that we know of as of this writing).
  2. In this wondrous museum that isn’t in England, Germany, or the United States, you can hear violins, drums, flutes, pipes, whistles, bells, chimes, pianos, xylophones, and even full orchestras. You can see the instruments being played, but you won’t find people doing the playing.
  3. General Sherman may be the largest of his kind, but who has the farthest reach? (Outward, not upward.)
  4. This (sort of) cave trail is home to the fairies, located within a tourist attraction in the United States that is advertised for hundreds of miles as the place you simply must SEE.

The winner is the first person to send the correct coordinates, numbered 1 through 4 to codemaster@codeaweek.com. You must guess all four correctly to be considered the winner. If you send a guess and it’s wrong, you must wait three days to send the next guess. (You can send sooner, but I will hold off replying to subsequent guesses until the 3-day window is over.)

If you’re not sure how to find latitude and longitude on Google Earth, watch this tutorial.

To ensure that you get the exact coordinates, pull them from the Google Earth pin of the place. In the above pyramid example, you would find the “Great Pyramid of Giza” pin and use that exact location’s coordinates.

Once a correct solution is e-mailed, I will publish a follow-up post, congratulating the winner and revealing the secrets of the code. You may post questions or theories in the comments, but DO NOT POST SOLUTIONS. E-mail them to codemaster@codeaweek.com.

— Tony Youngblood

* I don’t really have ten millions dollars or a vault. I barely have a checking account. The only prize is the thrill of the solve and your name in the Code A Week record books.

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Challenge 3: A Simple Calculation — SOLVED

 

Update 2018-01-04: We have a winner! Euchre Mutt solved the puzzle today. The puzzle remained unsolved for a whopping 134 days … a site record! … which means he is awarded 134 points on the Leaderboard. Euchre already had the number one spot by solving previous challenges. With the win new, it’s going to be VERY HARD to catch up to him! View the solution here.

Here’s Challenge #3 for August 23, 2017.

A SIMPLE CALCULATION

With this cipher, I hope to add a new encryption method to the playbook. If you formulate the correct hypothesis, you just might take away the prize.*

Some clues:

  1. It’s a substitution cipher.
  2. The ciphertext is 102 characters. The plaintext solution is 34 characters.
  3. What is 102 divided by 34, and what does that tell you?
  4. The plaintext solution is a quote from a famous mathematician.

The ciphertext is:

LCFBPDLED HCJJKAHFF TSNIGANRK GMBHJMQCO XETSSRVLZ CFDZOWVLP JJKFSRPCK BXFIVPWJO RSLYNXFSD HRHAOKQQK IJAEPFBUI QPZ

With CodeAWeek.com, I hope to release one cipher, puzzle, or mystery every Wednesday evening. Anyone can attempt to solve. The winner is the first person to send a correct solution and a description of the solve method to codemaster@codeaweek.com. Once a correct solution is e-mailed, I will publish a follow-up post, congratulating the winner and revealing the secrets of the code.

You may post questions or theories in the comments, but DO NOT POST SOLUTIONS. E-mail them to codemaster@codeaweek.com.

* “Prize” being figurative. Right now the only prize is the thrill of the solve and your name in the Code A Week record books.

 

SOLUTION to Challenge 2: Shedding Light

Congratulations to Bill Briere for solving Challenge 2, the first code to be solved on Code a Week!

I’ll reveal the secrets below, but if you haven’t tried your hand at solving it, read this first.

The ciphertext is:

gurjnlgbevtug
jebatfvfgbghe
aguryvtugbsge
hguhcbagurzvq
nojryyf

“Shedding Light” is a ROT13 cipher, one of the simplest coding techniques. To encipher a message, you number the alphabet where A = 1, B = 2, etc.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Then you take each letter in your message and add 13 letters. If the result is over 26, simply subtract 26. So, “A” would be “N”; “X” would be “K”; etc.

Thus, the message “HAT” becomes “UNG”.

ROT13 is a form of the Caesar Cipher, in which a shift of fixed length occurs, just not necessarily a shift of 13. What makes ROT13 the most popular form of Caesar is the fact that 13 is half of 26, the number of letters in the English alphabet. To decipher, you can perform the same operation that was used to encipher. That’s not the case with any other shift length.

For example, using a shift of +4, “A”=”D”. To decode, you have to reverse the operation and subtract 4.

But using a shift of 13, you always get back to where you started. Here’s a great article on how the Caesar Cipher helps to understand the concept behind Modular Arithmetic.

So what’s the solution? Give it a try and scroll below to see the answer.

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thewaytoright
wrongsistotur
nthelightoftr
uthuponthemid
abwells

Formatted, this becomes: “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” ― Ida B. Wells

Challenge 2: Shedding Light — SOLVED

UPDATE 2017/08/16: This cipher was solved by Bill Briere, approximately ten minutes after I posted it! The challenge is now closed, but feel free to discuss in the comments. View the solution here.

Here’s Challenge #2 for August 16, 2017.

SHEDDING LIGHT

The encoding technique is extremely simple. Dating back to ancient Rome, it will be the easiest cipher challenge I’ll EVER post on Code A Week.

Given the events of the past week, I felt the plaintext should be a quote from an American civil rights patriot.

The ciphertext is:

gurjnlgbevtug
jebatfvfgbghe
aguryvtugbsge
hguhcbagurzvq
nojryyf

With CodeAWeek.com, I hope to release one cipher, puzzle, or mystery every Wednesday evening. Anyone can attempt to solve. The winner is the first person to send a correct solution and a description of the solve method to codemaster@codeaweek.com. Once a correct solution is e-mailed, I will publish a follow-up post, congratulating the winner and revealing the secrets of the code. At this stage in the game, there are no prizes except the thrill of the solve.

You may post questions or theories in the comments, but DO NOT POST SOLUTIONS. E-mail them to codemaster@codeaweek.com.

Too easy? Try your hand at Challenge #1: The Expert’s Curse.

Challenge 1: The Expert’s Curse

With CodeAWeek.com, I hope to release one cipher, puzzle, or mystery every Wednesday evening. Anyone can attempt to solve. The winner is the first person to send a correct solution and a description of the solve method to codemaster@codeaweek.com. Once a correct solution is e-mailed, I will publish a follow-up post, congratulating the winner and revealing the secrets of the code. At this stage in the game, there are no prizes except the thrill of the solve.

You may post questions or theories in the comments, but DO NOT POST SOLUTIONS. E-mail them to codemaster@codeaweek.com.

Here’s Challenge #1 for August 9, 2017:

THE EXPERT’S CURSE

While attempting to solve the fourth part of Jim Sanborn’s CIA headquarters sculpture Kryptos, I theorized what seemed to me like a novel method.* It didn’t work. But I liked it so much that I decided to make a cipher of my own. And that cipher is “The Expert’s Curse.”

Here are a few clues:

  1. The solution (aka plaintext) is fewer characters than the code (aka ciphertext).
  2. The numbers 2 and 13 are significant.
  3. It is not a substitution cipher. Every character in the plaintext is in the ciphertext, unsubstituted.
  4. I present the ciphertext to you in five rows. The first thing you need to do is break up the text into a different number of rows. I won’t say how many, but it is more than five.
  5. Solving does not involve any of the following manipulations to the ciphertext: reversing, turning upside down, rotating right or left, switching rows or columns, or following a pattern (i.e. moving diagonally or moving down two rows and over three columns, etc).
  6. Some characters are the treasure map, some are the treasure, and some are both. The rest fill the gaps.
  7. The solve method bears some relation to a play mechanic in a popular, two-player guessing game created over 30 years ago. Perhaps it’s even older.
  8. The end is at the beginning of the end.

Here’s the code. Happy hunting!

GQNEZNBPARCMWTQSDZLRRIPHQYJGDPKRFX
SEZACCNJTHVOPUHFFREAZXSKFGOIRVJKPE
IXBOXUORQDZIRNWENDLCBGXFMKRADGSJJU
QCIUDHOIZLLYAACFKNTWLWGVXJENBHYLBO
CUMIFORVCZGPPABMWFDEYXHLNDTSNOLQT

* I thought the method was novel. However, after further research, it appears to be related to a known technique, although there are features I have not seen before.

Origin Story

Kryptos

I’m a Nashville, TN based writer, musician, and maker who is enthralled by secret codes. I caught the crypto bug when I interviewed Elonka Dunin for a Here & Now radio story about her quest to solve Jim Sanborn’s C.I.A. headquarters sculpture Kryptos. Kryptos led me to Forrest Fenn’s treasure hunt, Simon Singh’s The Code Book, and a world of cryptography.

While attempting to solve the fourth section of Kryptos (unsuccessfully, of course), I came up with various theories, some of which felt novel. I soon realized that coming up with ways to hide information was fun! My aim for this website is to release a new cipher once a week, using a different method for each. Some will be easy (hopefully). Some will be hard. Some will employ classic techniques. Others will employ original techniques.

I will begin with a puzzle called “The Expert’s Curse,” to be released on Wednesday, August 9th, around 7:30pm Central Time. At this stage in the game, there are no prizes except the thrill of the solve and a winner announcement on this site. To submit a solution, send an e-mail to codemaster@codeaweek.com with the solve and how you solved it.

Tune in tomorrow for the first cipher, and happy hunting.

-Tony