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Your final answer should describe the puzzle (more or less).

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    $\begingroup$ Are the "irregularities" in the 5th piece intentional? $\endgroup$ – Lukas Rotter Jun 14 at 10:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Lukas Rotter Yes. $\endgroup$ – noneuclideanisms Jun 14 at 10:30
  • $\begingroup$ @noneuclideanisms I do none the less think there is an error in the fifth piece. (Meaning the fifth below the line.) Something seems off in the one before it, too. (I think I have identified all the pieces below the line, and I have noticed another thing. I am still trying to figure out exactly what is happening above the line.) $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Jun 14 at 13:17
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    $\begingroup$ Duh. I should not have had such difficulty figuring out exactly what is happening above the line. $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Jun 14 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ (There is, and it's 15 characters, which just happens to be the number of characters in the title including the chaff. So I'm pretty sure that's what this is about.) $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Jun 15 at 16:12

I think the intended "final answer" is




Note that

the word BARCODE is spelt out vertically, starting at the first letter of the first word. This kinda describes the overall look of the words after transformation.

What's going on, in case the above doesn't make it obvious enough:

represent each letter by a square "on the baseline", plus a square above it if it has an ascender (bdfhklt) or below if it has a descender (gjpqy). Red for vowels, grey for consonants. Diacritical marks and other characters such as apostrophes are represented in kinda-obvious ways.

I initially thought there were a couple of errors in the puzzle. I no longer do, and I repent in dust and ashes.

I thought "caesium" had something wrong with its widths; in fact all that's going on is that the ae ligature is represented as something like 1.5x the width of an ordinary letter. (Thanks to Lukas Rotter for pointing this out in comments.) There's something a little odd about this -- in actual writing, or most printed text, all letters would be of differing widths; the only way you get "i" and "m" to be the same width is printing in a monospaced typeface (or typing on a typewriter), and -- as you can see in the transcript above -- then "ae" is also single-width. I dunno, maybe some typewriters have a way of moving the carriage half a unit in order to typeset ligatures like ae?!


for some reason, having found "shouldn't've", I never thought of "couldn't've" and "wouldn't've"; thanks to oAlt for pointing out their existence in comments. Arguably "shouldn't've" would've made a marginally better puzzle since then all the words would (I think) have been completely determined by their barcodes. But "couldn't've" and "wouldn't've" have the same second letter, which is all that's needed for the final extraction, so I'm not going to say that @noneuclideanisms shouldn't've used the word they did.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe the first vowel block of "caesium" is 1.5 units wide because it's cesium in AE? $\endgroup$ – Lukas Rotter Jun 14 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ Ooooo, nice. I was thinking the second block was too wide, but you're right: the first is narrower than expected, and your explanation must be right. $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Jun 14 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ Hmm, maybe the remaining one starts with a 'c' or 'w' instead of "sh"? Don't know if that was intended though, and that certainly seems ambiguous... $\endgroup$ – oAlt Jun 14 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ Hmm, that also seems perfectly possible, actually. I was hung up on the sh- version because I spent a little while thinking about rot13(FBHGU...) but indeed c- and w- also seem fine. The ambiguity doesn't really matter much since rot13(gurl unir gur fnzr frpbaq yrggre). $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Jun 14 at 13:41

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