Puzzle: A Holiday For Spies

Knock! Knock! Knock!

You recognize that knocking at once. No, it is not UPS. That’s the knock of Special Agent Jones of the CIA. Whenever the CIA has a tough code to crack, they always turn to You. After all, You are the finest cryptologist in the land.

Fortunately You have some coffee brewing (with a touch of holiday cinnamon), so You can be a gracious host.

You open the door and Jones enters. You exchange pleasantries with Jones. Yes, you both had a nice Thanksgiving.

You offer Jones a chair and pour him a cup of steaming spiced Columbian coffee as the Agent begins his story:

The CIA recently received information that a former Air Force Captain named James Powell had been in contact with several former spy leaders, now all imprisoned. Among those visited in jail by Powell were Jan Sullivan, Andy Wilson, and the infamous Klaus. All three are villains of the highest order. So the CIA decided to have a chat with Powell. That’s when the man disappeared. He was not seen again –until yesterday.

“We suspect Powell of being in the employ of the spies. He is a brilliant pilot, but also a bit of a crackpot. Powell is obsessed with conspiracy theories. Indeed, he was dishonorably discharged from the service after accusing several top officers of being ‘shape-shifters’ and chasing them around brandishing a baseball bat — all the while wearing a pointy tinfoil hat and screeching crazily.”

Jones shakes his head and takes a warming sip from his cup.

“On Tuesday the CIA received a tip that Powell was staying at the Luxor Casino in Las Vegas. When agents stormed his room they found it empty. Powell must have just cleared out. However, security cameras confirm that the man staying in that room was ex-Captain Powell.”

“Are you concerned Powell and the spies may be up to some new and dangerous scheme?” You ask.

“Yes. At the very least we want to know why he visited all the jailed spies. Of course, we got no information from any of that lot. They all say Powell is writing a book and wanted their input. A likely story! However, we’re making sure that those spies don’t get any more visits in the clink.”

What can I do to help?” You inquire.

“When we searched Powell’s room we found a coded note wadded up in the trash. Our computers could do nothing with it. So now, it’s up to you. We want you to decipher this thing as soon as possible. Perhaps this jumble of letters might just reveal the spies’ next nefarious plot.”

Jones hands You a folded paper. You feel a tingling in your spine.

“Just to be safe, let’s make sure that there are no more doomsday machines— or plans for doomsday machines— just lying about waiting to be stolen.” You suggest.

“The President confirms to me that everything is secure.” says Jones in a reassuring voice.

Somehow You don’t feel reassured. As Jones takes his leave, You open and stare down at the coded missive. Can You crack the code and prevent further trouble?


GMJAFKA UV CQDYDDU KPS OHSZZGIGH UNGN ZMX TPYDALNPNC KPDRK BK MMVZ LJ UBKXK IFSIWJ FY LOW CVTQUY FMM. SIOULY MHPXTK QGM IJREK QSB PJHSX GUIW FRNAQFARNX AZF ZESP QYFOB WVN VBJIAMBP LYLHU JYZKG QYMJ JPCM QJ UCW DFS. CQNHJ ZMPIDQVO AOLPY GTTAGRINX NXYRFX TEVXC VDWXUG CAP JHIU. STT RIAMPPW XVSH EVA PV. AGDYMZIU WWX KU NBDA MBP LRLF YGX JQJK XMRX KHLJ PKV JPO. SYLGURPE MRFFA ZFCDP MBODR RMN WC APUAOLJ GBKYHK QTB QS XQWUX UJO PSF.


These spies, are they all in the same facility? And on what basis have they been incarcerated?

ETA: Jan Sullivan, is this the same one who had been a CIA mole a few months ago? She ought to be in a Super Max jail, shouldn’t she?

You decide to take a break. Ugh. Hard to think about those spies who caused so much trouble in the past. Yes they are all in separate prisons. However, various legal tussles have kept them out of the toughest jails. Word has it that by January all three of these dangerous individuals will finally be locked up in various Super Max complexes. Jan is the evil temptress. Andy Wilson’s a master of disguise. And Klaus…he’s just a power-craving fiend who put half the CIA to sleep for a month last year. You hoped to never have to think about these criminals again. But now…

Well, perhaps it would be a good idea to get right back to work on this newest code before some other evildoer can join their infamous ranks.

The room is quiet. But from a neighboring apartment You can hear muffled music playing. Is that “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”?

Before I get down to solving, what does Agent Jones have to say about how ex-Captain Powell was able to establish himself as having standing to visit these prisoners?

Etaoin Shrdlu isn’t turning out to be quite as useful as I had hoped. Maybe I can bypass him altogether.

Yo, it’s Biotop! I always love these puzzles, though I couldn’t solve them in a million years, I’m afraid.

The phone rings. The caller is Jones. The news is bad.

Early this morning Jan Sullivan, Andy Wilson, and Klaus all escaped from prison. “Escaped” may not be the right word. They vanished. Poof.

Witnessess reports are still coming in, but it does seem all three prisoners were outside in the yards of the various jails in which they were incarcerated when they disappeared. Some witnesses have mentioned a strange light, but details are scarce. Outside one prison there is a report of extensive damage on a farm. Is this related? Who knows? Massive searches are underway.

“I suppose you’ll be going down to investigate further?” You ask Jones.

A moment of silence on the phone and then this from Jones:

“I cannot go. I have to send Brown. He’s already left with a team to investigate. I’ve been called to Washington for a special meeting with the President and the Secretary of Homeland Security. But it’s not about these escapes. Something else monumental has gone down. The call I got late last night was rather frantic. I’ll find out what it’s all about when I get there.”

“Something more important than the escape of three notorious spies?”

Jones’ next comment sends a chill down your spine.

“Yes, but I’ve got a feeling that whatever I’m to find out might just relate to the missing spies,” he says in almost a whisper. “I hope I am wrong.”

You agree. And as You hang up the phone and return to the code that has vexed You these last few days, a chill again runs through your body.

Knock…

Knock…

Knock…

You open your door to find a very tired looking Agent Jones. The haggard man enters. He waves off your offer of coffee and slumps down into a living room chair.

You have never seen Jones look quite this bad. Patiently You wait. And finally, with a sigh, Jones begins:

“We have found no trace of the missing spies. All disappeared from their prison yards early this morning. Jan Sullivan was doing exercises when she vanished. Andy Wilson was on an early morning cleanup detail. Klaus had been shoveling snow. Furthermore, all three appear to have made quite an effort to be outside. Jan volunteered to be out early, something she rarely does according to guards. Andy Wilson impersonated his cell mate to get on the cleanup crew. We believe Klaus bribed a guard to get outside for snow removal.

“Reports from witnesses vary, but several claim to see a flash of light just prior to the vanishings. Searches of the area have proven futile. Dogs can get no scent. The spies are just gone. And what’s more, security cameras near the disappearances at all three prisons have malfunctioned. Heck, they were fried.”

“Do you have any theories? Any idea at all how as to how they did it?” You ask.

Jones hold up a hand. “It’s bizarre. Hold off any more questions until I tell you about my little trip to the White House this morning.”

Jones slouches a bit more in his chair and continues.

“As I told you, I met with the President and the Director of Homeland Security today. They told me of an even stranger event that happened last night. Even now I can hardly believe it. I had to get the President himself to give clearance for me to tell you this. Sigh.”

Jones gets up and pours himself some coffee.

“Guess I need this after all.”

You give Jones a sympathetic look.

“Last night a man entered a US Air Force base in Roswell, New Mexico. He was dressed as Santa Claus. There was a big Christmas Party on the base there last night, and somehow the phony Santa was able to get past security carrying a fake ID. We believe this man to have been James Powell.

“The man mingled at the party, even handed out a few presents. Then he slipped away from the festivities and into the securest area of the base. Somehow he entered a guarded hanger, stole an aircraft, and flew off.”

“He stole a special plane?” You guess.

“Oh, special all right. The aircraft was a rebuilt alien flying saucer. Using parts from at least three UFO crashes, military specialists had actually constructed a real alien spacecraft. Indeed, much of the technology inside the saucer is not understood. However, experts think the saucer is undetectable by radar. They believe it can fly at unheard of speeds. And get this. They think that someone aboard the craft might be able to “beam up” someone from the ground.”

You stare at Jones. Your mouth hangs agape. “Beam someone up? Like in Star Trek– ‘Beam me up Scottie’?”

Jones nods soberly. “It turns out the President had no idea about this Area 51 program at all. The military now says they were waiting to tell him about the saucer after they had tested it. Whatever. I can tell you the President is livid!”

“So you think that Powell beamed the three missing spies up into the UFO?” You can hardly believe You are saying this.

“Right. Brown reports that the damage to the farm outside of the Mississippi Federal Prison is a giant crop circle. We don’t know if such circles are near the prison in Virginia or the one in Missouri. But we won’t be surprised if we find them.

“I’ll get another more detailed briefing tomorrow. Perhaps I can answer more of your questions then. However, it now appears that the spies are in control of an alien spaceship and they probably have some very advanced technologies we can only guess at.”

You don’t know what to say. Your head is swimming. Can this ludicrous story be true?

Jones looks at You and laughs weakly. “Hard to swallow, isn’t it? I keep thinking this must be some kind of dream. But right now the only hope we have is to find out where the saucer is being kept. If we can do that, we can attack the spies on the ground and perhaps end this nightmare. Unfortunately we have only two clues. One is the coded note you already have. The second is another coded message found written in a Christmas Card. That card was discovered this morning in Andy Wilson’s cell. The nation is relying on your codebreaking genius to save us.”

Jones hands you a cheap looking Christmas card. On the cover is a Kinkaidesque snow-covered cabin with the words “Home for the Holidays” enscribed in gold lettering. You open the card and view another encoded message:


NDJBJHI TWBROK NLGBO QAGF OZZCDT XDR NY ZQAWVGIZ KL GX QDX Y QGDB OQTP JOH. QBGU UE LYO GOG RUUKN IJ SLAV HX JFPD SY RXW QHLC JM. CQNA MQ ZUVULL JZUL JF VKYE UG UQ SHVOT. MUMYB AWP JS SERRNPP QE DEZE OMRX XUXP GBPI ADPSSZVVUN OB JZXHTS XVSP RIWK GYQT ME. VGEFBD PALCPEZMPA SMU NM CXJGA HU ZG NSMNXS IA- ID PINGFUN FJHI!


  • More information has come to light about Captain Powell. Turns out he had at one time been working at Roswell on the alien ship project. When superiors realized Powell was losing his marbles, they gave him less important tasks. This just seemed to infuriate the unbalanced man, and he finally went “over the edge”.

  • Powell’s psychiatric profile is interesting. While he does not seem to be a malevolent sort, he is in a frame of mind where he might easily be manipulated. Perhaps he doesn’t even understand what he is doing. Still, some former associates privately admit Powell may have been the best pilot at Roswell. He could have even been the one to test fly the saucer, had he not had a complete meltdown.

  • Powell’s only friend at Roswell was a civilian who did electrical work on the base. This man, Joseph Flanders, was frequently seen in deep discussion with Powell at a local bar. Though only a support worker, Flanders was also friendly with several of the men on the Roswell base. Seemed to have a crackling wit and a pretty sister. Flanders even attended the recent Christmas Party at the invitation of some of the officers. Flanders has not shown up for work since Saturday. He has not been seen at his apartment. His sister is in a panic.

  • The saucer is powered by a strange battery that never dies. This energy source could be a boon for mankind. Or a curse.

  • A goverment scientist named George Stone is an expert in alien technologies, having worked on the downed crafts for many years. He had warned that he suspected that there were potentially dangerous weapons on the UFOs, and that rebuilding a saucer might be very risky. He felt that once this spacecraft was revived, we should proceed very cautiously lest we mishandle or misunderstand the bizarre technology onboard.

  • This afternoon Stone was Christmas shopping with his wife at an outdoor mall in Phoenix. He was just buying a Christmas cactus from a plant salesman when suddenly, in a flash of light, he disappeared. Jones suspects the spies have “beamed up” this expert to force him to help in their nefarious schemes. Other scientists who are familiar with the craft have been ordered to stay indoors until further notice.

  • Jones has expressed some concern for You. These spies have real grudges against You and they might get it into their heads to beam you up as well. Better stay indoors…and away from open windows. You claim You are not afraid.

  • Reports of strange lights in the sky have come in from Maine, Maryland, and South Dakota. This may not mean anything as such witness accounts are rather common. Still…

  • Finally, a search of Joseph Flanders’ apartment leads investigators to conclude he has skipped town. It even appears Flanders tried to destroy some papers in his fireplace. However, he must have hurried out too quickly. The burning job was not completed. A singed but readable encoded note was found in the embers. This note links Flanders conclusively to Powell and the spies. Here is the coded message:


OMBWCBWN YV YCKR QF WWSSREW SR UUK CMF. ESPN SKSCLY DWM BW MPN AXKUAZ BJ LEHMR VL FGJ FMQ. GSQIXSLIEHU XDUWHUVLPPHG KC UFMZ. AIEVIXEOM QJSULV QPG ST. GWCZ OLSWDPS RH JSJJIJ HX RFRQ VTQN UIFN. KXNZVO JBNVJTNB CZM FVBKV T’ZRK FAJ ERCI YLGH PEGDGJ JOE.


Two more probable “beam-ups” are being reported:

  1. Emma Flanders. She is Joe Flanders’ wickedly beautiful sister. Agent Jones now believes Emma was an accomplice in the saucer heist. Indeed she was at the Roswell Christmas Party with Joseph, and may have distracted soldiers guarding the UFO hangar. Today, as she was being led from her home by police, Emma Flanders evaporated into thin air.
  2. Olaf Aaronson: Aaronson is a brilliant physicist at Oslo University. After leaving his office yesterday he disappeared. This vanishing was accompanied by a brilliant light seen across Scandinavia. As a cover story, the CIA is blaming a failed Russian missile launch for this widely reported light show. They hope this fiction will help keep the press and public from the frightening truth.

Jones stops by with word of two more scientists who have vanished. Things do not look good. If the spies are able to force these people to figure out and fix the alien technologies, we are all in a heap of trouble. Jones also brings another coded message, which was found in the trash at Emma Flanders’ apartment.

You and Jones discuss the case over several cups of organic “Rainforest Blend” coffee. Jones finally tells You he has to get back to the office. Just as you both reach the foyer, there is a knock. Someone is outside.

You open the door cautiously. But this time it is UPS. The deliveryman is holding a box. Oh how nice. One of your relatives has sent You a box of Harry & David “Jumbo Royal” pears for Christmas. They really are quite tasty fruit. How thoughtful!

Jones steps out the door and You follow to sign for your package. Suddenly the light outside grows very bright and You catch a glint of something in the sky!

Fortunately your reaction is fast. You grab Jones by the collar and pull him backwards into your apartment. You both crash inside to the floor. Outside You see the UPS driver bathed in a blinding light, and then he is gone, as is your box of pears.

“Stay back!” You order Jones. You slam the door and both You and Jones retreat deeper inside to the safety of your living room.

Jones quickly phones for help, and shortly an Air Force fighter jet is patrolling the skies overhead. All is clear. The saucer is gone.

Agent Jones pounds his fist into his hands. “This has to stop,” he says. “This has to stop now!”

You promise to work full-time on the codes. Christmas shopping will have to wait.


HXDMRMJF WV KLYM ARP TGF RHAMPPFIV H YCT EFE. JUT’ZLKGXIGV YZW IF BWKHDXW JQTK UJFT. PM ZNKEG WWJX XCS XZH’OOV YQQR JO. UVKEC KN TQMDMAB OLZHBJ K WMF WETPER HWV OCUJGTQP CPBSE. XWLNR BQA VWLYHAPVU GRC JH ERFPEGOQEMP WK GG BSUI. TUJDB EQT SY ARKG SID SYA LOOE GJKU CSJEF.


You sit alone in your apartment, afraid to leave lest the spies beam You up into their flying saucer. The air is stale. “What’s the point?” You think angrily. “Even if I solve this case, the spies will probably just get freed again. Why waste my time…?”

The phone rings. It’s Jones.

“Some of our leading scientists think that if a person is wearing a tin-foil hat, the spies won’t be able to beam that person up to their saucer,” Jones reports.

“Great,” You respond. “Now I’ve got to go around wearing a stupid metal hat just to leave the apartment.”

Your frustration grows.

“Any luck with the codes?” Jones inquires politely.

“None. And frankly, this is too much stress for one individual. Doesn’t the CIA have some super computers or highly-paid cryptologists who can solve these things? Why does the world always have to depend on me? I’m sick of trying to solve these codes. Even if I do, there’s always another spy. Always another doomsday machine. Enough!”

Jones can hear your frustration seething through the phone lines. He apologizes and hangs up.

You feel bad for responding to your friend in such a manner. Still, You are only human. The cryptic codes on your desk seem to mock You. Your head swirling, You pick up your cup of instant decaf coffee. It is cold now. Still You slurp it down. If You want to go to the store to get some real coffee, you’ll have to make a tin-foil hat. Damn! Angrily You pick up the codes and fling the papers across your room. Exhaustion finally takes over as You collapse onto your bed and fall into a deep sleep.


You awaken with a start. Somewhere a clock chimes twelve. Three figures stand before You.

“Who are you? What are you doing in my apartment?”

“The other two are the Ghosts of Puzzles Present & Future,” says the figure closest to You. “I am the Ghost of Puzzles Past.”

You: No. You are nothing but some undigested decaf coffee. I knew I shouldn’t have drank that old brew.”

Ghost of Puzzles Past (GPPa): OHHHHH! I see You are peeved. But look back at the many puzzles You have solved. Have You not saved the world from time machines, weather devices, giant rabbits, hyena flu, and more? Were You not at some time frustrated then? But You persevered! The world is a better place because of You.

You: Oh I suppose so. It’s just that I can’t get a handle on the current code.

GPPa: Remember You once said “A good code-breaker counts everything that can be counted.” Recall many years ago when that idea helped You solve the case of the bomb in the bear. Have You counted everything this time?

You: I tried counting. It may have worked for other codes. But what about here? What else am I supposed to count?

The Ghost of Puzzles Present steps forward.

GPPr: Aye. Ye have not seen the likes of me before. But remember, there is nothing new under the sun.

You: Why not just give me the solution? That would be a very charitable thing to do in this season of giving.

GPPr: No, I am only the puzzle. The solution must come from You. What do You see in the current code?

You: It’s not a standard cryptogram. I can detect nothing from letter frequencies. There are apostrophes that don’t seem right. There are single letter words that should decode to either “A” or “I”, but I can’t find out how. I see an instance of a two-letter word where the letters are the same. Seems impossible. And I don’t know what to do with that mysterious dash or with the possibly uncoded word “Joe”. I’ve looked for coded words that I might expect to see in the text. I’ve even tried to decode the words backwards. What am I missing??

GPPr: You are so close to a solution. Sometimes it’s just a matter of doing those things in the right order.

You: Ummm…ok. By the way, who are those two wretched imps under your cloak?

**GPPr: **They are the Puzzler’s demon children. The boy is named “Misprint” and the girl is called “Red Herring”. Fear them both —but especially fear the girl.

You: Ugh. Is there nothing anyone can do for them?

**GPPr: **ARE THERE NO SUPER COMPUTERS? ARE THERE NO HIGHLY-PAID CRYPTOLOGISTS?

You cower as your own words are used against You.

You: And what if I simply give up?

Now the third dark-robed figure approaches. It points at your computer screen. Suddenly You see images of spies running the world. You see enslaved people ruled by Klaus and Jan Sullivan. The horror is overwhelming.

Next there appears an image of a figure lying prone upon a bed covered by a simple sheet.

You: What’s that?

The ghost motions You towards your mouse.

You: I get it. You want me to right-click and drag the cover off that figure with my mouse. No. I won’t do it! I promise I will not give up! I will solve the code. Just allow me to help the world escape the dreadful pictures on that screen!

You grab at the cloak of the Ghost of Puzzles Future.


You suddenly awaken to find yourself holding your bed curtain. The vision is thankfully over.

After picking the coded messages up off the floor, you call Jones to apologize for your rude behavior earlier. Perhaps you can learn something from this bizarre dream.

Agent Jones stops by. He is wearing a rather unfashionable metal cap.

Jones tells You of a carjacking in Iowa that went wrong. A man stole a Toyota in downtown Des Moines after forcing the driver out with a gun. Fortunately, an alert police officer saw what was going on, and soon the chase was on. The carjacker eventually lost control while doing 90 in a residential zone. The car crashed into an outdoor Christmas display and the desperate thief was horribly impaled by a large luminous candy cane. Death was instantaneous.

“How tragic,” You say.

The driver was eventually identified as a suspected low-level spy. In his pocket was found this coded note:


HSSZ VOKYS ZX XVITSV WWRU CRKFE JUZ. ZAHF GZG SDM SXIPC RXF CP GJOE. MUR TAXTK SKS JV XX SL FODRO DOX’BMX WUALIGEM HWVU XKG IDYT KSSR QH YAGCT’UF BZ. GYBVNV NJ LMZA HUKA NKATOZK ISFYNT RWA LOO JCXGPQE IPJDF. BPMGU BZA VX THQFN QOPEY V“UXOHURI VJGG BSUI.” UKQSEHH WZ JULNI YHN JNAU KFIZFL IQHCO PH KSAOF PUS DAYF SPSTW VC XO AWCB OKHRVAHPUA UZN JU EKIW RI JKUV PSZ!


What a crummy Christmas!

You’d spent the last few weeks trying to solve the evil spy code…so of course You didn’t have time to do any shopping for gifts. Should You even attend your family’s Christmas gathering?

Yes. You felt it might be good to be around friends and kin. Anything to get your mind off the nefarious spies! A family Christmas Party seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.

Alas, there were more than a few raised eyebrows when You arrived at your uncle’s house empty-handed.

(It’s not a standard cryptogram. I can detect nothing from letter frequencies.)

You took a good bit of teasing over your tin Christmas hat. And then your cousin’s wife surprised You with a new colorful holiday wool cap that she had knitted for You. It was really quite cute --so festive with its dancing snowmen and prancing reindeer. However, when everyone went outside for the annual family photo by the plastic Santa, You had to refuse to wear your present. After all, You couldn’t safely be in the yard without your tin hat. Your cousin’s wife seemed very hurt.

(I see an instance of a two-letter word where both letters are the same. Seems impossible.)

And your mind kept returning to the spy case no matter how hard You tried to avoid it.

(A good code-breaker counts everything that can be counted.)

Then your little nephew climbed into your lap and asked You to read The Night Before Christmas. How sweet! But just as You got to the part about the clatter on the lawn, You glanced out the window and caught sight of a strange aircraft flying over the neighborhood. Next there was a blinding light! Acting on instinct, You flung your nephew and yourself to the floor in a boisterous roll that sent the family Christmas tree toppling into the punch table. Turned out it was only your uncle with his jumbo flash camera. Probably a weather plane outside. Oops. Your nephew cried for an hour.

(What else is there to count? What am I missing?)

When the family gathered to watch a traditional holiday Christmas movie, You hoped it would be It’s a Wonderful Life. Instead someone had selected Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. You found it very hard to be a good sport.

(Is something not in the right order? Am I even counting correctly? I mean there is only one way to count. 1…2…3…)

At the end of the evening You refused an invitation to the family “Countdown to the New Year” party on Thursday night. You are not looking forward to New Year’s Eve or 2010 at all. Perhaps 2010 will be the “Year of the Spies”.

(Countdown to New Year’s Day…?)

Time is running out.

(Countdown…)

I, for one, welcome our new spy overlords.

I’ll keep plugging away at it but so far I have no idea. Maybe the new clues will help.

Just wanted to let you know someone is reading this and working on it, even if I don’t really have much of a chance of solving it.

Thanks, badlyburnttoast! It’s good to know there is someone trying to save the Earth! And You can do it! You can…


You can solve it! You’ve done it time and time again.

You know that the spies’ codes may look complex, but they are usually rather simple. It’s just a matter of figuring out what to do. And counting. It’s always about counting.
1, 2, 3…
A, B, C…
You resolve not to give up!


But beware. Disaster is very close. Very close indeed!

I’m terrible at these things, and at the same time thrilled.
I will be watching…and thinking…and watching…and thinking…

Ah, finally got it.

Rumor has it that everybody who’s anybody is going to be in Rapid City tonight; maybe there will be some sightseeing in the caves of Mount Rushmore on the evening’s agenda? … And this correspondent detects a hint of romance among the spies!

I’ll post a followup later, but I thought I’d give Agent Jones & co. time to arrange their invitations to the best New Year’s Eve parties South Dakota has to offer.

Three Cheers for Omphaloskeptic! Rah! Rah! Rah!


Your call to Jones changed the plan for many in the CIA on New Year’s Eve. Dozens of agents stormed hotels throughout Rapid City and scores of celebrating spies found themselves spending the first day of 2010 in jail.

Jones and a large party of elite CIA agents then prepared to storm a cave complex deep below Mount Rushmore. You were invited along.

Just after midnight while the underground spies drank heavily and toasted their leader Klaus, the raid began.

The caverns were a mass of spies, equipment and prisoners. The villains were quickly apprehended. It did your heart good to see a large burly CIA agent dragging Klaus and Jan Sullivan out towards the waiting squad cars. Each hurled curses and threats as they were led past You.

You responded with a cheerful, “Happy New Year!”

Finally the search party reached a huge cave containing the elusive flying saucer. As agents marched towards the strange craft, Captain Powell appeared at the doorway to the vehicle.

“The shapeshifters! They are here!” he screeched.

Before anyone could act, Powell disappeared inside the craft which lifted and flew deeper into the maze of caves.

“There’s got to be a back exit,” cried Jones. “We have to stop that saucer!”

But the spaceship was too quick. It buzzed through the back part of the cavern and out into the night. Unfortunately for the demented Captain Powell, he misguided the saucer. In his panic the expert flyer managed to somehow clip the nose of George Washington as he tried to maneuver past Rushmore. The UFO crashed to the ground and exploded. Its secrets forever lost.

All prisoners were freed and over 300 spies were taken into custody this night. Andy Wilson was not found in the caves. The supposition is he either was not at Rushmore, or that he was on the doomed saucer.

Thus ends another case. As You take off and chuck your tin foil hat, You feel a sense of relief and joy. Perhaps this will indeed be a happy 2010.

Here’s a description of some of the things I tried (including a description of the cipher):[spoiler]Biotop’s dream-sequence questions are pretty similar to the ones I had. The punctuation and/or spacing is of course an issue, but at first I set that aside and looked just at the letter frequencies. As Biotop notes above in the dream sequence, the monograph frequencies indicate that it’s not a single-substitution cipher: all 26 letters appear in each of the ciphertexts, and the ratio of the most to least common letter frequencies is about 4:1, which is far more uniform than expected for an English cryptogram. The digraph frequencies show a little more structure, and in particular there seems to be some information in the consecutive-letter differences. I spent some time trying decryptions taking letter-pair differences to a cryptogram, but the resulting frequencies were still too uniform for English. I tried to estimate a Vigenère key length, but that didn’t seem to be going anywhere either.

Eventually I turned to known-plaintext approaches. I got lucky and used the correct approach first, which saved time. Because I didn’t trust the spacing (or even the direction; as with Biotop’s comment, the strangely-apostrophized words made me think the ciphertext might have been reversed), I checked each crib against every position in the cipher. Because of the structure in the digraph differences, I subtracted the crib from the ciphertext. (So a Caesar cipher would have given a constant shift; e.g., subtracting ciphertext NODXV from crib KLAUS would give DDDDD.) I didn’t expect a Caesar cipher, but I looked for results that had fewer distinct shifts than expected. I tried several of the spies’ names—POWELL, SULLIVAN, WILSON—without success, forward or backward. ROSWELL worked, though, finding matches


TQUYFMM  and  OLPYGTT  (in cipher #1), and  YVYCKRQ (in #3)
    with corresponding shifts
CCCCBBB       XXXCCII                       HHGGGGF


with three or fewer distinct Caesar shifts. The second match looks amusingly like Roman numerals, but I guessed that the first and third matches, with the descending sequences, were the real code. A look back at the ciphertexts shows that TQUYFMM occurs spread across two words, “CVTQUY FMM.”; likewise YVYCKRQ occurs as “YV YCKR QF”. So each space in the ciphertext adjusts the Caesar shift down by one. Continuing this way I successfully decoded the sentences these strings appear in (to “OURINSI DE MANINNE VAD ATELLSUST HATA NAL IENSPACECR AFTHA SB EENR EC OVERE DANDRE BU ILT ATROSW ELL.” and “GETOUTOF RO SWEL LA SSOONAS PO SSI BLE.”, the first sentences in ciphers #1 and #3), but after the period the code changes. The final “word” in each of these sentences is shifted by just 1 letter, so I guessed that each sentence reset the code. Trying that for the rest of the sentences decoded all of them to misspaced but readable English.

It turns out that the spacing is just reversed for each sentence: “GETOUTOF RO SWEL LA SSOONAS PO SSI BLE.” has word lengths (8,2,4,2,7,2,3,3), and reversing this to (3,3,2,7,2,4,2,8) and respacing gives “GET OUT OF ROSWELL AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.”.[/spoiler]

Jones, Brown, and You share a late round of coffee this New Year’s evening. Though the case is solved, there is a gloom in the air this frigid January night.

“I should have noticed,” You say glumly as You take a sip of hot Sumatran.

Jones and Brown both shake their heads.

“We were there at the raid too,” Jones replies. “In the excitement it was quite easy to miss.”

For it seems the “large burly CIA agent” who led Klaus and Jan Sullivan from the caverns of Mount Rushmore was no agent at all. It was Andy Wilson in disguise. The three escaped in an idling squad car and vanished into the night. This stolen vehicle was later found abandoned deep in the Black Hills.

“Look on the bright side,” continues Jones. “We have apprehended almost 400 spies. Even if those three remain at large, they’re on their own. Without any spy support they’re about as dangerous as mice.”

“What’s more,” interjects Brown, “We caught Emma and Joe Flanders. And while Emma isn’t talking, Joe has been singing. He claims that almost all the spies were in Rapid City. The spy ring is quashed for a very long time.”

Jones notes that Joe Flanders has also told the CIA that the delusional Captain Powell had been tricked into helping the spies. He was even led to believe that all the CIA were aliens and that the spies were the last hope for humanity.

“This was one of the most difficult codes ever,” Jones says. “You should be proud to have solved it. The world will be forever thankful for your efforts.”

You force a smile. Indeed You do have a lot to be proud of this new year.

“And I have a surprise,” says Jones. He pulls out a small parcel and hands it to You. You open it and find inside a single Royal pear.

“We found your box of pears in Klaus’ office in the caves. Though it looks like the spies ate all the others, there’s still one left.”

You look at the lone pear and suddenly laugh out loud. Your friends join You and the mood lightens.

“Let me split this among us now,” You say. “We truly do have a lot to be thankful for in 2010. We are blessed.”

You slice the pear and hand a piece to each of your friends.

And as You chomp into the delicious fruit You do indeed feel happy and hopeful.

Brown sums it up best:

“God bless us, everyone!”