Since our space probes and radio beams first plumbed the cosmos, mankind has sent into the void numerous notices describing our location. Today NASA announced the recovery of a golden object that crashed into the ocean yesterday from space. Scientists assume it has been produced by an extraterrestrial intelligence that has been observing us and our pastimes from afar, and is now telling us its location in turn. The world's greatest minds are in a race to decrypt this mystery...

  • The question: Where has this object come from?

Below is a photograph, courtesy of NASA:



As the puzzle has stagnated after very significant progress was made, here is a hint in case anyone is still interested...

@oldmansutton (building on @Deusovi, @Stiv, and a few others) has found the intended identity of 6 of the squares, though their answers for squares 4, 8, 13, and 15 need some minor tweaking. What remains for this step is a little bit more rebus work. Partial answers are welcomed, so I can see which squares are too obscure and need a hint. Squares 6, 11, and 12 would be a good next step, as they're simple visual representations/rebuses. You'll need to get all the squares identified before you move onto the next step (which should be an obvious one).

This is a direct photograph of the mysterious thing, so the image file and any metadata/steganography are of course irrelevant. What you see here is the only bit of the object that is of interest. As the object is detailed, you may find useful a higher-resolution photo on imgur, although the one above would probably suffice. The original full image I got from NASA (an approximately 10000x10000 lossless .png) can be found on Google Drive.

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    $\begingroup$ Ooooooo I like it lol oh and please tell me it was 3D printed :D $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ Not 3D printed but an 8.5 hour render in Blender... $\endgroup$
    – Anon
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ Ooof I feel the pain lol deleting this in 5 minutes to avoid extended discussion :) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ In fact at this moment I've been awake for 36 hours straight finishing this puzzle. So much for days off haha. Hopefully noone finds a mistake while I'm sleeping... $\endgroup$
    – Anon
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ Does anyone have Dr. Louise Bank's number? :) $\endgroup$
    – MetaZen
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 20:17

2 Answers 2


Partial answer - figured out how to 'read' the pieces

As msh210 notes in the comments, if we replace the shapes with their numbers of sides, we can fill in the remaining numbers from 1-16 to complete a unique magic square:

4×4 magic square

(Note that if we discard the 16, since its tile is missing, this looks suspiciously like a 15-puzzle.)

Each of the "images" on the tiles is made out of a 4×4 grid of small sections. These must be permuted according to those numbers to make sense. For example, here's the last one on the second row:

diagram of permuting images as described

The image shown here is a person standing next to a camera on a tripod.

This must be done for all fifteen tiles, and the resulting images themselves should probably be permuted in the same way.

  • $\begingroup$ @2012rcampion and Deusovi - great work so far! +1 $\endgroup$
    – Anon
    Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ Performing the same permutation on the final image (which may or may not be correct) gave me this image. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ @EngineerToast more important is figuring out what the individual images represent... $\endgroup$
    – Anon
    Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 13:14
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    $\begingroup$ This is intriguing. From the top line alone, I'm seeing a lot of rot13(zbivr gvgyrf urer - Nyvra, Entvat Ohyy, Gur Syl, Fcynfu...). Unsure if there's any mileage in that, but it might fit with 'observing our pastimes from afar'. Initial letters, anyone? $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 13:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Stiv There is mileage in your first observation. Additionally, this is much simpler than a lot of my old puzzles which were so overly-complicated most of them never got solved. Once this next step of interpreting the individual images is complete (partial answers welcome), there will be only one more step of the puzzle to go. Now after my hiatus I'm trying to produce actually solvable puzzles that are still a bit of fun (maybe...) $\endgroup$
    – Anon
    Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 14:57

Partial Answer

This is better as a comment to the existing answer, as it's more observations that might HELP solve (not an actual solution), but I can't comment yet.

I think @Stiv is on the right track, and have come up with several other names

Alien, Raging Bull, The Fly, Splash, Beauty & The Beast, ?, ?, The Cameraman, Man on Fire, ?, ?, ?, Planet Earth, War & Peace, and... The Birds? Maybe.


Looking at when the movies came out, I notice a lot of the years correspond to ASCII characters. IE., Alien came out in 1979, the ASCII character for 79 is the letter "O", Raging Bull: 1980 = "P", etc.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 You're on the money with 6 out of the 10 so far. Squares 4, 8, 13, and 15 need a little work. Re 8 rot13(qrfpevor jung lbh frr zber yvgrenyyl), Re 13 rot13(nyy gur bguref fb sne ner zbivrf), re 15 rot13(pna lbh or zber fcrpvsvp er jung lbh frr?). What you have to do once you've figured them out is a bit different to what you're envisaging though... $\endgroup$
    – Anon
    Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Anon re 13: rot13("V gnxr vg 13 vf jebat? V jnf guvaxvat Cynarg Rnegu, Trar Ebqqraoreel zbivr sebz 1974") I'll look more into these after work and the weekend, as time allow :) This is a fun puzzle! $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't know that existed haha, so that answers your question... The envisaged answer is almost identical though $\endgroup$
    – Anon
    Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ Also on square 13, rot13(gurer ner n srj bcgvbaf onfrq ba gvgyr nybar. Bayl bar bs gurz gubhtu NSNVX znxrf vg bagb terngrfg-zbivr-bs-nyy-gvzr yvfgf). That's the one to go with... $\endgroup$
    – Anon
    Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ Ertneqvat gvyrf 7 naq 12, gel whfg qrfpevovat yvgrenyyl jung lbh frr. Ertneqvat gvyrf 10,11 lbhe oenva znl or zvffvat fznyy ohg vzcbegnag ivfhny qrgnvyf ol abg er-vairegvat gur nccebcevngr ovgf bs gur fdhnerf. $\endgroup$
    – Anon
    Commented Oct 2, 2021 at 21:37

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