84 Solves   &   125 Attempts


by Janice Heng

A plausible first line of approach is to sort the story fragments. There are enough contextual clues for teams to determine which fragments go together, in what order, and corresponding to which of the seven given cases.

Upon closer reading, teams should recognise some familiar encoding techniques. The NATO phonetic alphabet is probably the most obvious, but curiously specific descriptions (of the double-breasted coat, for instance, or the shipman’s body) should also prompt closer examination and thus realisation.

The case titles also suggest which encoding method is used, making it easier to disambiguate between binary (The Mainframe Caper) and morse (The Lantern Murders), for instance.

To provide confirmation, the text is formatted such that one encoded letter occurs per paragraph. Furthermore, the original snippets of text were given in alphabetical order by extracted letter(s). This provides confirmation for teams which start by spotting the extracted letters rather than by reordering.

Case One: The Retired Officer
NATO phonetic alphabet
I knew it was going to be a busy day for the Mike Noir Detective Agency. M
That's me, by the way. The rain was scouring the city like an overzealous washerwoman and the newspaper's front page had some old Yankee officer disappearing in suspicious circumstances. Suspicious. Y
She was a classic femme fatale. Very femme, very fatale. They said she was called Sierra because she was as frosty as the mountains and about as likely to kill an unprepared man. S
I put my shoes up on my desk for the classic detective silhouette. "Takes two to tango, Miss." T
This wasn't the job I'd bargained for all those weeks ago. Each click of her high-heels on the grimy concrete was like the echo of a coolly-discharged gunshot. E
"Calm down, Romeo," she breathed, like something which breathes in an ominous yet compelling manner. R
"That Yankee officer you're looking for…" Y

Case Two: The Silent Stockbroker
American Sign Language
"Not a very... relatable fellow," said the firm director. "The sort who drinks tea with their pinky sticking out, you know. Posh. Rhymes with banker." I
"Quite," said the detective, glancing at the photos on the dead man's desk. In one of them he was giving the photographer the fig sign open_in_new. "Well, let's meet the rest of his team." T
The detective glanced at the late stockbroker's colleague, who had curled his fingers along the top of his thumb and was inspecting his fingernails with an air of extreme boredom. E
"Look here, sir," he began. The witness was now buffing his nails against his suit lapel, his thumb resting between his ring finger and pinky. M

Case Three: The Lantern Murders
Morse code
She examined the body – third one so far. A single splash of blood, and then a long smear, as if something had been dragged away. Very curious. A
. –
Beside her, the local inspector hovered anxiously – his curiosity soon becoming impatience as she showed no sign of wanting to discuss the case. "Ahem. Ahem. Ahemmmm. Ahem," he tried, to no avail. His concerned assistant offered him a cough drop instead. F
. . – .
She blinked once, slowly. "What do you mean, they haven't found the light source? This is the fourth murder!" T
She rapped the table, a single sharp crack; the inspector shifted nervously. E
But then, behind them – a high-pitched beep, a digital squeal, another beep. The tension in the air had been cut as cleanly as that poor second murder victim's throat. They both turned to stare at the hapless assistant, who was swiftly but all-too-belatedly switching his mobile phone to silent mode. R
. – .

Case Four: The Sailor's Secret
He glanced at the dead man's shattered watch face: 7:15. M
The late shipman's left arm was flung out to his left and above his head, as if waving; the right arm, in contrast, lay oddly straight by the body's side. "Well then," he said, standing back up. "Let's start talking to the crew, shall we?" E
"Let's see," muttered the boatswain, checking the log. "West and southeast..." S
He flipped the page. "Yes, and then west and southeast again. Bizarre." S
"But that means... 7.30 p.m…" A
He paused. "Or, wait, a mirror image? 4.30 pm, surely?" G
That image surfaced in his mind again: the body's strange sprawling stance, that outstretched hand... If only the boatswain hadn't gone missing as well, he thought.

(refers to the body in the first snippet)

Case Five: The Disappearing Scientist
Atomic symbols
The lab held few traces of its erstwhile occupant, but suggested plenty of chaos, she thought, stepping forward and nearly tripping over a retort stand that was lying unceremoniously on the floor. Scattered papers damp with some suspicious liquid. Shards of broken glass everywhere – very dangerous, someone had better look at it. A cracked jar lay on its side, flooding the bench with still-brown iodine. I
"What had the professor been working on?" she asked. The lab assistant glanced around nervously; then, satisfied that no one else was around, replied: "Ah, well, she was into molecular gastronomy, recently: hot water baths, liquid nitrogen, all that sort of stuff. She used to say that if science didn't work out, she could go into the food business!" N

Case Six: The Mainframe Caper
"A thousand?" she asked, trading an incredulous glance with the sergeant. "No wonder your employee left. And it took your company this long to come to the police?" H
1000 = 8
"Yes, yes, okay, yes, I know, it sounds ridiculous, but you have to understand the constraints the team was working under…" Beside her, the sergeant rolled his eyes discreetly. O
1111 = 15
"Yes... Yes... No, no, look here, I said–" L
1100 = 12
Deciding to leave the manager to his phone call, she headed over to where the sergeant was inspecting the missing programmer's desk. It was a mess of wires – someone clearly hadn't heard of cable management – but more curious was the overloaded multiplug. Every surface had something plugged in, yet only the first two sockets were switched on; the other two were switched off. L
1100 = 12
The sergeant frowned, recalling what they had seen earlier. "You're saying he always left the switches on? All four? All the time?" O
1111 = 15
"Yes... No, okay, yes, correct…" The janitor broke off, nervous. W
10111 = 23

Case Seven: The Invisible Heist
"Couldn't just rob us, had to leave their mark, too," the museum director said with an angry gesture. The investigation team contemplated the spray-painted front door: three splotches, crudely forming a right-facing arrow. After a few moments, the museum director sighed. "Let's take a look inside, shall we?" O
o .
. o
o .
"Take a closer look at that window," said the constable, gesturing. "Only the top-left pane was cracked. Why? If they were simply trying to break in, they should have gone for one of the lower panes. Or even one of the panes in the middle row, if they couldn't tell where the latch was. But surely even the most amateurish of robbers wouldn't think that a window opens at the top." A
o .
. .
. .
Yes, the sculpture heist had been unexpected, to put it mildly; but the disappearance of the museum director, a mere week later, was even more so. "Obvious signs of a struggle," the constable said, holding up what had once been a smart double-breasted coat. Four of its buttons had been torn off, leaving just one on the top-left and one on the bottom-left. K
o .
. .
o .


A quick Google should reveal that there is a Nancy Drew mystery, volume #12 in the series, titled The Message in the Hollow Oak. The volume after that, #13, is The Mystery of the Ivory Charm, giving us the final answer IVORY CHARM.


- REDDOThunt -

© 2017