[4:39 am, bites nails and breathes heavily as she races to her brother's house while calling him]
Come on, answer Bill, wake up, please!
[No answer, but she whips into his driveway and barely gets it in park before she's banging on the door.]
Bill, wake up! Bill! John's in trouble. It's me, Cathy!
[Bang, bang, bang!]
[in shock at the intensity of the banging, quickly throws on his robe and opens the door]
John's in trouble! I need your help.
[seeing the tears streaming down Cathy's face]
What hap...
[Bursts into the room and half-collapses onto her elbows on the kitchen table with her forehead in her hands. Between sobs, she says]
He's been kidnapped and is being held for ransom for $10 million! It happened yesterday when he left work and I just found out. I was texting him right before but I didn't realize what was going on til now. You are the only one I've told.
[looking concerned, grabs her phone off the table and skims through the texts for details, reading and muttering some of it out loud]

First part of text messages Second part of text messages

Accessible version of the above conversation (for those who cannot view images):
4:44 [Current time at top of screen]
Friday, May 20, 2022
5:01 PM John: Hey honey, long day, on the way home. Stopping for gas. Maybe we can watch our favorite Friday show and relax on the couch with some wine?
5:05 PM Cathy: Sounds good. Missed u today. Cooking dinner now- ur fave!
5:05 PM Cathy: Mwah
5:30 PM John: I wanted to call you but phone dying. So sorry but looks like I won't be home til late tonight. Just found out about a fire I've gotta put out for our biggest client. :( Please don't wait up for me. I'd so rather be there! Xoxo
5:33 PM Cathy: No!! Wow, I didn't know you had the power to resist lasagna, and on a Friday night!? Sure that fire can't burn til Monday? Or even tomorrow? Babe your job is starting to be too much.
6:08 PM Cathy: Sorry babe that was rude of me. I was just so looking forward to our impromptu dinner date. I totally understand. I'll put your food in the fridge. Don't work too late! I love you
6:45 PM Cathy: On 2nd thought do you want me to bring you dinner? I was thinking about swinging by moms anyway.
7:01 PM Cathy: I guess your phone is still dead. If you get hungry let me know and i will deliver yummy homemade lasagna with garlic bread. Mmm it was delish!
Saturday, May 21, 2022
4:12 AM Cathy: Babe where are you!? Just woke up and saw you never came in. Are you still working!? Please tell me ur ok!
4:12 AM John: Hello Cathy check your email

[sniffing, and in a squeaky, sobbing voice]
He would never say "Hello Cathy". That must be from his kidnappers.
[A few seconds of silence go by as Bill processes the gravity of the situation]
I printed the email. Here it is! Bill, I have no idea what he is talking about! The whole town knows that we can afford the 10 million, but we aren't holding it in cash! And we have no personal vault, at least not that I'm aware of. I'm scared! If we go to the cops, he says they will kill him, so I've ruled that out. What can we do!?
[Another round of tears well up in her eyes and threaten to spill out]
You are the smartest and bravest person I know. What do you think we should we do!?
[gazes in deep thought for a couple seconds and then looks at Cathy with determination in his eyes]
Let me read the email...

Saturday, May 21st, 2022 at 4:13 AM

From: John <[email protected]>
To: Catherine E. Taylor <[email protected]>



I do apologize about last night. I know that you're plenty worried about me. Please don't worry- I'm fine, but dear, some trouble has found me.

Three or four guys surrounded me by the gas pump, then put me in an old van. They made me text you the contrived story out of fear because they can't stand cops.

An even ten million to free me! They will not back out on that promise.

The codes below are very lengthy. Enter them correctly and be careful.

Any key press activates the main screen. Then the display shows you a prompt:
"Enter 12-digit Key #1: |", cursor blinking.

Enter all 8 codes/keys below in order, pressing enter after each one, and put the $10 million in 2 large suitcases.

1: 518523028209
2: 969088403258
3: 084459044981
4: 504113595077
5: 104342609340
6: 959106565058
7: 511603142509
8: 999585103944

As you know, the system is particular and there is zero space for error, or it will lock you out for 12 hours. If you have problems, use the vault manual. It is in that box where I saved our old love letters, which is between the two exposed pipes in the basement.

I will email again with the drop-off location after you reply confirming that the money is ready. Please act fast. I know I can count on you.

Whatever you do, do not contact the police. They made it crystal clear that they won't hesitate to kill me if any cops are involved.


Just three hours later John was safe at home and the kidnappers were in police custody with a long list of charges.

What did Bill do?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Whew! I'm glad we at least get a happy ending before the puzzle is solved ;-)! +1 $\endgroup$ May 29, 2022 at 14:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That's a very long smartphone. Need a very long pocket for it. $\endgroup$
    – WhatsUp
    May 31, 2022 at 17:37

1 Answer 1


Here's how Bill saved John:

"As you know, the system is particular and there is zero space for error, or it will lock you out for 12 hours. If you have problems, use the vault manual. It is in that box where I saved our old love letters, which is between the two exposed pipes in the basement... I know I can count on you."

Note that there is a pipe character | at the end of the subject line in the email, and then another after "Enter 12-digit Key #1:" in the email body. If we just take all the letters in between the pipes (excluding all the spaces and other characters), and count sequential characters using the numbers in the codes (and let 0 be a space), we get the following message:

"Idiots not pros red roof house behind Theater off bates Ave tell cops covert Enter bAsement door"

So Bill relayed that message to the police and they completed the rescue.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ How did you choose/identify the bolded words in your first paragraph? $\endgroup$
    – fljx
    May 29, 2022 at 18:23
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ They just jumped out at me as possible clues for how to solve the puzzle. We needed to rot13(pbhag gur yrggref orgjrra gur gjb cvcrf, jvgu mreb ercerfragvat n fcnpr.) $\endgroup$
    – SQLnoob
    May 29, 2022 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ I could have easily picked out the following: " zero space" "between the two exposed pipes" but how did you do the following?: "letters" "count" $\endgroup$ May 30, 2022 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ Just a hunch :shrug: rot13(Pbhagvat yrggref vf n pbzzba rabhtu srngher bs gurfr xvaqf bs chmmyrf. Whfg frrzrq yvxr n angheny nccebnpu, naq gurer jnf ernyyl ab ernfba gb zragvba "yrggref" va gur fgbel rkprcg gb uvag ng gur fbyhgvba.) $\endgroup$
    – SQLnoob
    May 30, 2022 at 17:04

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