Puzzle: A Spy in the White House

The beeping from your coffeepot alerts You that the brewing is complete. You pull away from your laptop computer screen and pour a fresh cup. Maybe coffee will help You focus. For the past couple of months You have been toying with the idea of writing an autobiography. You would begin with your humble birth and somewhat uneventful childhood, and then progress into detailing your exceptional career as the world’s finest cryptologist. Last night You finally decided to begin the project…but try as You might the words haven’t exactly been flowing.

Now You sit and stare at the keyboard again. Somehow that layout of letters, numbers and symbols can be ordered into amazing novels, gripping adventures, detailed technical information and more. They say an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of keyboards would eventually type out all of Shakespeare’s plays. They would also type out every one of his plays in perfect code…eventually. Sigh. Right now You could use a bunch of monkeys to just help You get started. Your head swirls and the keyboard seems to start spinning too. Ugh. Maybe it is time to take a break…

Knock! Knock! Knock!

You answer the door and find Special Agent Jones of the CIA at your door. Uh oh. Jones usually only visits when the CIA is stumped by a difficult coded message. That’s when they turn to You.

You exchange greetings and pour Jones a cup of the freshly brewed Costa Rican blend. You offer Jones a seat and the Special Agent tells You his story.

Agent Lynch of the CIA had been working undercover trying to infiltrate a group of spies. Several weeks ago the man disappeared. Such vanishings are not unusual in undercover work. It was assumed that Lynch would contact the CIA with information at some point. He did. A week ago Tuesday Lynch appeared at the door of the CIA offices in Reston, Virginia. He stumbled into the reception area and collapsed to the floor. The poor young man had been shot through the back. A trail of blood led from a nearby park to the door. Lynch died moments later. But before the unfortunate man expired he said the following:

“They have got a spy in the White House…”

Jones pauses in his tale to take a sip of coffee.

A spy in the White House! That is serious business. A thorough investigation of anyone with any connection to the White House was immediately instigated. Every man woman and child received intense scrutiny. The work paid off, and it was discovered that a man hired on recently as a janitor was actually not who he was supposed to be. The suspect was going by the name of Henry Weeks. The CIA learned that the real Henry Weeks had been killed years earlier in a fire in Nevada. This man was an imposter.

Agents raced to the White House and confronted Weeks, who tried to escape. He was cornered in the West Wing. As the CIA men approached with weapons drawn, the false janitor took a suicide pill, and died on the spot!

Exhaustive research over the past few days has produced no results. Studies from security cameras show that Weeks, who began work at the beginning of June, has seemed to do little other than clean. The White House has been checked completely, and has been declared free of any kind of danger. No listening devices have been planted. No bombs, poisons or the like. And no one has been able to identify the man posing as Weeks. The CIA has no idea what faux-Week’s agenda might have been. As a janitor he would have had no access to state secrets. Who was Weeks really? What was he up to?

“Are there no clues at all?” You inquire.

“Two clues,” Jones replies. “A large circle was tattooed on the dead chap’s chest. Our experts say it was done within the past year. And we also found a coded message in the janitor’s pocket.”

“What makes the CIA think the tattoo is of importance?” You ask.

Jones shrugs his shoulders. “Last year, after a shoot-out near the Pentagon, we had a dead spy with a large L-shaped tattoo on his chest. This man was also never identified. The tattooing work seems identical.”

You sigh. “I suppose the CIA wants me to try and decipher the mysterious coded message, right?”

“Yes, Our team has had no luck breaking the code, so we are again coming to You. Just think of it as another chapter for your book,” says Jones with a grin.

So can You be a hero again?

*LJ93 0IR1

RSE 7KID8~ 6+B TU R9 UQ@,J

PH*I*9M 19H E!I89Z FO2!R*C*9*RI A*K*7*E*~ Y8 I!+T&:8 1N@SG6 %!W $1J O1 AD2L C9 I9PQ38,~TX= =ZYP $E+UO*:&3! N1HTY

XLU7 $RJ G=,1NK7 !F=OI~RS9Q K2 M=W6 D9G ~L!R R!B=7 2K= X.= 51S 1SO Y+=L&3U*F=6 V1 +CGO AR


P1 19H QW73 7AZ%=JA 2L’3 1XU U-19D +YO2YQS=CO B@3=N $RJ RU H!GRRE &P U$E1HK Q1P8 $=VAF8RH*9Q DITW@GT! 6L:E=27 31 7+AJX

,1U3&J2 IU C2 7SB TQ*$?NM!2!?6 S1,3!K HP %8Z9;KXH9A** &B=9!8 GTH*S&R –WA.A2IT J1T.S!E

The large circle was on the chest of the dead man in the White House, not on the dead agent in Reston.

A couple of things that stick out right away:

The red letters spell out: Red herring no solution here!!
The underscored letters spell out: Spies always win!

A couple more:

Bold - Nothing
Italic - Tricked you sucker hahahaha

Actually, the red letter message ends with a “!?” So MAYBE it has relevance? Perhaps how the letter or character is formatted affects how the following, or preceding, letter is decoded? Or else tells you what is relevant?

Jones arrives this morning looking tired and grim.

“Any luck with the coded message?”

You shake your head. “There are one or two interesting points about this…but it is hard to know where to go. I’ve found several embedded spy taunts, of course, but whether there is anything else to those I can’t really say. The random punctuation is absurd. The characters are many and seemingly haphazardly scattered. There is little if anything to go on. It’s a jumbled mess.”

“A jumbled mess, just like this case,” mutters Jones.

“And yet,” You continue, “I believe there is a discoverable message here. This code can be cracked like any other.”

“I admire your optimism,” says Jones as he takes a sip of coffee. “But I sure wish I had more to go on when I meet at the White House today with the CIA Director, the President , the VP and a number of their top advisors. I promised them results because we had our top cryptologist on the case.”

“I’ll devote every waking hour to this,” You promise.

Jones also tells You about another lead in the case that has gone bust. The last anyone at the Agency had heard from Agent Lynch back in May, he was going to meet some probable spies at Freddy’s Bar on 18th Street NW. Lynch suspected that the bar was a hangout for members of the criminal espionage community, not to mention an illegal gambling den. After Lynch’s death, the CIA decided to raid the bar and arrest several of the occupants for suspicion of spying and gambling. Unfortunately, yesterday evening’s raid failed. When the CIA and DC Police got to the dingy tavern they found the door locked and a sign stating “CLOSED FOR REPAIRS” crudely tacked up at the entranceway. The shuttered bar had been abandoned completely— as recently as yesterday morning according to all indications.

“Somehow the spies must have been tipped off we were coming,” declares Jones angrily. “How they could have known, I don’t know. Ugh. On Wednesday afternoon I had told the President and his aides that I really expected a good outcome from this operation. Now I have to report our utter failure. Sigh. This is not a meeting I look forward to at all. I suppose there is a small chance one of our other longshots will come home later this morning and I’ll have something positive to report. But it would sure be nice if You solved the coded message puzzle before 3:00 this afternoon. More than nice…”

Jones finishes his rant and his coffee. He exits to leave You to your work. You realize he is under a lot of pressure to crack this case. If the spies took all the trouble to get one of their own into the White House, they must have diabolical plans indeed.


Puzzle author has no power at home due to severe storms that hit Virginia on Friday night. Tree actually on roof of home. Puzzle story will continue once power has been restored (unless someone solves it first). Power not expected to be on for several days. Storm to somehow be worked into story. Thanks.


With luck, the power loss screws with spies as well.

In the meantime, I’m not sure if this
is important or not, but the following symbols are
**not present **in the code:

( )# { }|< > "

Currently stuck on some notions, but something
to work on with pen and paper and near a fan.

If you remove the filler messages Nauplius mentioned, you’re left with:

*LJ93 0I1

R 7KI8~ 6+B U 9 UQ@,J

9M 19H !I89Z FO2!9*I A7~ Y8 !+T&:8 1@SG6 %!W 1J 1 A2L C9 9PQ38,~*X= =ZP +U:&3! 1TY

XL7 $RJ =,1K7 !F=I~R9Q K2 M=*W6 D9G ~L!R R!B=7 2K= X.= 51 1 Y+=&3F=6 V1 +GO R

1Z!CL 4EO! Q &9$ Q’OI 6I J= U &^~TM 91UITTG

P1 19H Q73 7Z%=JA 2L’3 1XU U-19D +Y2Q=CO B@3= $RJ U !GRRE &P *U$1K Q1P8 $=VF89Q DIT@T! 6L:=27 31 7+JX

,1U3&J2 U C2 7SB TQ*$?M2!6 S1,3!K P %8Z9;KXH9* &B=98 GTS&R –WA.2IT J1T.S!E

Your spirits soar as the power returns after several days in the dark. Of course, the stifling heat, lack of running water, no internet, no phone, no Kindle, no TV, and a fridge full of spoiled food didn’t help matters. And somehow You were still supposed to be working on solving this stupid code. Frankly if the power hadn’t come on this morning You would probably have tossed the message and your notes into the trash.

But now, things seem better. Thank heavens for air conditioning.

Knock! Knock! Knock!

You open your door and find a disheveled looking Agent Jones.

“Hello, Jones,” You say. “Is your power still out?”

Jones shakes his head as he enters. “No, that’s not it. My home never lost power. I’m just quite upset that our latest promising lead fizzled. We were one step behind the spies again.”

Jones tells his tale. On Friday Jones met with the President and others at the White House. While the report was not good, Jones had been able to offer one ray of hope. One set of fingerprints found at Freddy’s Bar belonged to a disreputable disbarred lawyer by the name of Sharon O’Day. Ms O’Day had recently been released from prison after serving time for assisting in money laundering. Perhaps O’Day was doing similar work now for the spies.

Jones told the gathering at the White House about this lead. If her parole officer had any idea of the location of Ms. O’Day, then perhaps they could get enough information from the crooked attorney to break the case. Such talk lifted spirits in the White House. Everyone in the room expressed optimism that perhaps the spy case might soon be solved.

Unfortunately, that evening the severe storm hit. It took until Sunday morning to discover where Ms. O’Day had been staying. CIA agents then got a warrant and entered her apartment in Vienna, Virginia. But they were too late. The place had been vacated… and from the looks of it vacated rapidly. Ms O’Day was gone with no clue to her current whereabouts.

“It appears we have failed again,” Jones sighs. “There are going to be a lot of stern looks on my next visit to the White House. I wish I knew how those spies keep anticipating our moves.”

Poor Jones. You feel bad that You let a little thing like a power failure get You down.

“I’m afraid I haven’t done much with the code,” You confess. “It has just been too hot to be able to think. And the thing is such a jumble of symbols, letters, and numbers that I have not even the foggiest idea on how to proceed.”

“Maybe I can help,” Jones replies. He produces a piece of paper from his pocket. “This was found wedged in the couch cushions in Sharon O’Day’s apartment.”


W5 Y8 :Q NH2 3-E; 2MZZI*NT! 8B*S*:K Y! 7AX=RE AV1A V*S*:L D9 %1E8Z5AT


T@3-KX VS36TL 3K! 7^*E*L9:! **R**E*R*TTVS C3 QW IS+A6 J’WQD 8C!9H*UU 1P AZ$Q+89PQ9:! $DB

G7-NXA~1X 5YA=F1AT; *O*Z+S’F *U*U T*I*BO9! N!63 2-E3 S73C&,2!*19 Y8 9I=$

Well, the (hard to see) green letters say GREEN AINT SQUAT! The underlined letters say NO WAY JOSE!, and the bold letters say NEER.

But also, none of the “words” as far as I can tell consists of only one letter. That makes me wonder if the first (or last or whatever) letter of the word indicates which of a number of schemas the word is encoded into. Or something. Maybe the code just doesn’t use a and I.


Never mind.

I’m guessing that one or more of these messages is likely the key to a substitution cipher.

Looking at the first ciphered text I see that all the non-alphanumerics have ASCII values < 32.

I need some tea to progress further

Actually, all the ASCII codes are more than 32, but they all seem to be less than 94 (^). This makes me wonder if everything might be ROT-47ed at some point.

Sorry, I should have said >= 32

Agent Jones brings disturbing news.

All of the following is classified material released to You under strictest security guidelines:

Last night an experimental and dangerous anti-global warming machine was stolen from Georgetown University. While guards watched the Washington DC fireworks show from the front door of the Science Building, thieves slipped in the back and stole this large climate changing device.

The machine is described as looking like something out of a science fiction movie. It is a large gun-shaped object on an enormous base. It must have taken several people to move the thing out. This complex machine has been one of our government’s most secret projects. It was developed by Professor Ada Higgins at Georgetown with the assistance of a team of expert aides. Results have not been as expected.

The device has been tested three times. In 2009 it was first activated in an attempt to lower temperatures on the East Coast by one degree Fahrenheit. Things didn’t work out well and the result was a string of massive “Snow-pocalypse” blizzards. Oops. The machine went back to the shop for more work.

Last year a similar experiment was tried, this time on a US Navy ship supposedly safely out in the Atlantic. Hurricane Irene was the accidental outcome. Back to the drawing board.

Three weeks ago, on an uninhabited atoll in the Pacific, the temperature was successfully lowered in a small area by about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, unintended consequences from that test probably led to last week’s record heat and storms in the United States.

In a meeting at the White House last Friday night, President Obama ordered that the device not ever be tested again until it could be certain that no freak weather nightmares would result as a by-product.

Sadly, it is believed that this crazy climate machine is now in the possession of the spies. Police found another coded note at the scene of the crime. One of the thieves must have dropped it during the theft.


.R=G7K V6H P&^O $NGV 893Z9^8 VE PEJA9388 6=,RZT3G

I! :Y84RS C=J&A7! Y! :G9TC2 54RX$ UO72*SM6

Z=U!UF8Z A-E2 P*+%M9! 21 *L892 08VU &Q L892 4S*5~D

7T:,87Z R!*S6 C=&R~N

P4 2-H E7 QSF8B9W=X3 $H86 9EW %B AIJ ID,P; Y! ^D9 LWESL D9 !Q! P1ZZS***!**TG 8WQD C!*92KX

*Text of a letter received by the White House this past Friday:

***To the US Government,

As you probably are aware, we spies are now in control of a terrible weapon that could freeze your cities, even now, in the middle of the summer. We do not wish to do this.

Over the past few years our brave team of spies has been engaged in a war with you. We could go back and forth on whose fault this all is, and we’d probably just have to agree to disagree. So let’s move beyond the “blame game.” Let us move to higher ground.

We want to offer an olive branch and our deepest hope that we can all live together harmoniously in the future. To that end, we’d like to make the noble offer of the return of your anti-global warming machine in exchange for the release of a couple of friends in your custody. Our former leader Klaus and his faithful henchman Andy Wilson have repented of their spy past and now just want to live out their lives in harmless freedom. If President Obama will pardon these men and allow them to rejoin society at large, we promise to return, undamaged, the Higgins device.

Once these fine men have been pardoned, and our lawyer confirms their freedom, we will bring the machine back to Georgetown University. We must also receive legal assurance that no spy will be punished for any actions regarding this unfortunate but necessary matter.

Of course, if our peace-loving friends are not released, we will have no choice but to chill you back to the ice age. Please understand this is not our intention and we will feel simply awful if we have to resort to this course. We are offering a truly Win/Win alternative for everyone. Please answer by next week.

Best Wishes,

The Spies**

You throw your copy of this idiotic spy offer to the floor in disgust. Jones gives a small laugh.

“Pure nonsense, of course,” says the Special Agent while You continue to fume. “The spies should know there is no way we’re going to release that murderous duo. Klaus and Wilson are two of the most notorious villains in our prison system.”

You regain control of your emotions and take a sip of coffee to help calm down. “So Klaus is involved in this latest spy plot,” You respond. “That makes sense. We have been finding these coded spy messages all too easily. As you know, half the fun for Klaus is inventing codes we can’t solve. He wants to show his intellectual superiority, even from behind bars. I bet he has been somehow orchestrating this whole caper and telling his men to leave behind their coded notes just to dare us to beat him.”

“That’s our supposition too,” Jones agrees. “We sent agents down to talk to Klaus and Wilson yesterday. Of course, they’re acting all innocent and promoting their ‘reformed’ personas. Klaus says he no longer wants to control the world. He’s just happy as co-manager of the prison laundry. Andy Wilson claims to have found religion. He kept trying to hug us and offer little handmade flowers as a peace gesture. Ugh. Our agents report they could just feel that smug scoundrel Klaus sneering at us from behind his false smile. But we couldn’t get anything out of either of the prisoners.”

“So what’s the Government’s plan?” You ask. “I can’t imagine we’ll free the two spies.”

“It’s tough,” Jones replies. “This is an election year and having our cities frozen is not going to go over well for the incumbents. On the other hand, the freeze machine was ordered and developed by the previous administration. Neither side wants this political hot potato during this critical time. But no, of course they are not going to free Klaus and Wilson.

“We have two chances. Our plan calls for us to trick the spies into thinking we are going to release Klaus and Wilson. Hopefully, we can get them to bring the freeze machine to some sort of rendezvous point. Perhaps there we can trap the whole lot of them and reclaim the Higgins device. It’s a longshot to be sure. We’ll have to play our cards very carefully.”

“Can they really freeze our cities?” You ask.

“Maybe not. We met with Professor Higgins yesterday at the White House when we developed our plan. Higgins actually does not think that the spies are technologically savvy enough to operate his machine. It’s a very complicated thing involving something called “reflective matter’ and the "pseudo-animation of God particles.” I couldn’t understand all the scientific gibberish. However, Higgins does admit that the spies might cause all sorts of random meteorological havoc if they try to use the machine.”

You do not like the sound of any of this. Not at all.

You slump back in your rocker and grimace. “You told me we have two chances. Other than this dangerous phony swap, what is our other chance?”

Jones looks at You. “You are our other chance,” he says solemnly. “You must crack that spy code. Our nation is depending on it”
Can You do it?

I really hope you’re not relying on me to solve this. But I’ve been giving it a go every now and then. There’s got to be something related to all the punctuation. That’s weird. These symbols though, as far as a quick look-see tells me, are still not in the messages: ( )# { }|&lt; > ". Now, [ \ ] and { | } are separated by 32 in ASCII, which might mean something, or it might not. Or I’ve been wondering if everything is related to the keyboard, like shift all the letters up to the next level. But then I don’t get how there’d be letters and symbols, except for the pound sign. And who knows if the underlining and all that means anything at all. And I know the last message is trying to tell us something to help us figure all this out, but who knows what?

Also, just out of idle curiosity, how long would it take a professional cryptographer to figure this out?