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My friend Rodney Waddler is currently travelling around Europe. Over the course of eight days, he intends to visit eight different European capital cities - one each day.

On Day 1, Rodney sent me the itinerary for his trip, along with a photo of him standing on the aeroplane stairs before boarding, captioned "Here's a clue!" - I figured this meant I should interpret the listed triplets as three-letter IATA airport codes, but some of them represent airports that are outside of Europe or don't exist at all!

I'm totally stumped - how can I work out which cities he's visiting? (And how on earth does he expect me to work out where he is on Day 1 - he's given me nothing to work with at all?!) Perhaps you can help me...

TASK: Identify the eight European capital cities that Rodney is visiting, with a step-by-step explanation of how these can be deduced.

Day Itinerary
1
2 → GRV →
3 → JLT → MTH →
4 → CVR → FFR → CRT →
5 → SCK → LRG → PRN → JSH →
6 → PLS → WRT → QVQ → DSH → MRN →
7 → MNT → DLL → LGM → HVN → RGG → NMD →
8 → DND → PCH → PST → FSS → PLS → WTH → STP →

Hint 1:

I've been very formal in this write-up, calling my friend by his full first name throughout - but I usually shorten it...

Hint 2: (to share a remark made in chat)

After a short conversation with Rod, I received confirmation that these letter triplets are definitely not IATA airport codes - he just wrote this 'itinerary' in such a way as to resemble them. So now I'm thinking I definitely need to do something to each triplet to make them 'readable'...

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    $\begingroup$ Cairo -- obviously... theres a pyramid! ;D $\endgroup$
    – Ankit
    Jun 17, 2021 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe a dead end (and everyone who's tackled this beforehand probably already noticed it), but rot13(Abar bs gur pbqrf pbagnva ibjryf, juvpu vf xvaq bs hahfhny fvapr VNGN pbqrf pna irel jryy pbagnva gurz. Lbh pna znxr fbzr jbeqf ol vafregvat ibjryf (creuncf k ibjryf jurer k vf gur nzbhag qrabgrq ol gur yrsg ahzore va gur ebj), ohg gurl qba'g nccrne gb cebqhpr nal pburerag cuenfrf.) $\endgroup$ Jun 20, 2021 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ V jebgr n cebtenz gb bhgchg rirel ebg-a naq fuvsg-a. Ng yrnfg bar pbqr unf ab inyvq fuvsgf gb na nvecbeg naq ebg-a qvqa'g frrz gb pbagnva nal cnggreaf. DID frrzf gb ehyr bhg yrggre vafregvba. Fb ab yhpx. Gur ulcuraf va gur grkg ner bqqyl cynprq naq gur cerprqvat yrggref fcryy 'frrq 1'. $\endgroup$
    – Amoz
    Jun 20, 2021 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ Ofwfs njoe xibu J tbje bcpvu RWR; J hvftt uifsf jt FRVJWPRVF. Cvu uif sftu ibwf b mpu npsf nbudift up tpsu uispvhi, jg uijt jt uif sjhiu ejsfdujpo. $\endgroup$
    – Amoz
    Jun 20, 2021 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ rot13(Gurer nera'g znal yrggref gb nanylmr, ohg gur serdhrapl bs pbafbanagf qbrf va snpg ebhtuyl zngpu gur serdhrapl lbh jbhyq rkcrpg va n grkg / va qvpgvbanel jbeqf. Vs guvf vf gur snpr, gurer fubhyq or fbzrguvat gryyvat hf juvpu ibjryf gb vafreg naq jurer gb vafreg, ohg vg frrzf yvxr gurer'f abg zhpu ninvynoyr...) $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2021 at 18:19

1 Answer 1

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The capitals Rodney visits are ...

... London, Madrid, Warsaw, Lisbon, Zagreb, Prague, Tirana and Athens.

How?

Lukas and Amoz have made some useful observations in the comments: All three-letter codes in the message consist of consonants only. The consonants have a fairly regular distribution that about matches letter distribution in actual words.

These codes can be expanded with vowels only to get English words. Those words have a three-letter synonym. For example DND → dinedate; PCH → epoch → age; PST → pastago. Each synonym differs from the previous one by one letter.

What's with the "aeroplane stairs"?

That's a hint towards word ladders, of course. And my friend's name, ROD WADDLER, is an anagram of WORD LADDER.

And the cities?

There are now eight independent chains. Each can be extended at the front and the back to give two three-letter parts of a capital. (Ever notice how so many capitals in Europe have six letters?)

For example, the last chain starts with ate and ends with end, from which we can make ATH → ate → ... → end → ENS: Athens. The first day has only one step from the first part to the last part. This must be London.

In detail:

                LON
                DON -- London, United Kingdom

                MAD
GRV groovy      RAD
                RID -- Madrid, Spain

                WAR
JLT jolt        JAR
MTH mouth       JAW
                SAW -- Warsaw, Poland

LIS CVR cover LID FFR offer BID CRT crate BIN BON -- Lisbon, Portugal
ZAG SCK sack BAG LRG large BIG PRN apron BIB JSH josh RIB REB -- Zagreb, Croatia
PRA PLS pulse PEA WRT write PEN QVQ equivoque PUN DSH dash RUN MRN mourn RUE GUE -- Prague, Czechia

TIR MNT mount TOR DLL doll TOY LGM legume SOY HVN heaven SKY RGG reggae SKA NMD named AKA ANA -- Tirana, Albania ATH DND dined ATE PCH epoch AGE PST past AGO FSS fuss ADO PLS plus ADD WTH with AND STP stop END ENS -- Athens, Greece

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  • $\begingroup$ You are within touching distance of the true mechanism here (+1 for spotting what the itineraries actually shroud)! You have correctly identified one of the city-day combinations at present, and have named another correct city on an incorrect day... Take another look at Day 8 - you have all intermediate steps correct on that one... but IATA codes are not involved at all. Think more about the city you have already correctly attached to that day... hopefully things will become clearer then! $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Jun 22, 2021 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ (You also have all intermediate words correct on Days 5 and 6 - once you crack 8 entirely, you should be able to crack those next! To confirm other translations that need changing: groove, court and amount are not the intended triplet translations; and Day 3's synonyms need different words...) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Jun 22, 2021 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ Ha! And I thought I was being clever here. I also thought of rot13(guerr-yrggre pbhagel pbqrf), but couldn't make it fit, but now I see rot13(EHF naq RAT). $\endgroup$
    – M Oehm
    Jun 22, 2021 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ You really are very closely to nobbling this! There's an 'aha' moment ready to jump up and strike you! Look at the first and last words on Day 8... I'll leave it at that for now! $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Jun 22, 2021 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ Ah! (That was the first part of the Aha! moment.) $\endgroup$
    – M Oehm
    Jun 22, 2021 at 14:17

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