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It's a disaster at the farm!

Overnight, some nefarious individual has stolen an animal. You're not sure which animal, but you're sure that when you went to bed there were ten, and now there are only nine. The remaining have all been rounded up into a grid of fields in the centre of the farm (exhibit-a). You find a message nailed to the fence. It's written in a famous agricultural-themed cypher, but you still can't seem to make heads or tails of it. Refer to exhibit-b for a copy.

Nine workers on the farm are huddled together acting a bit cagey. You try to eavesdrop on them, but you can only jot down what seem like pretty irrelevant snippets of conversation. You realise that you have not been as sneaky as you thought. They each hand you a cryptic piece of paper with two letters as they leave. You add these to your notes against their corresponding snippet (exhibit-c)

Task: Identify the missing animal.

All required information can be found from the images. The above prose is entirely irrelevant and only slightly contrived.

Exhibit A

exhibit-a

Text Description

A three by three grid, each containing an animal.

  • Top Row: Chicken, Cat, Horse
  • Middle Row: Dog, Cow, Frog
  • Bottom Row: Pig, Owl, Sheep

Exhibit B

exhibit-b Text description unavailable

Exhibit C

exhibit-c

Text Description:

  • ... the neighbour was looking a bit suspicious ... [K/S(dot)]
  • ... was talking to the homeowner, but she ... [Y/P(dot)]
  • ... No, we just disembarked the other day... [G/Q(dot)]
  • ... seems like a lot of work for a smoothie ... [N/H(dot)]
  • ... but the printer had no ink ... [I/R(dot)]
  • ... plenty of scuba action, was a great holiday ... [M/O(dot)]
  • ... just another example of my toxic luck today ... [W/T(dot)]
  • ... crazy child, started crib biting last night ... [U/D(dot)]
  • ... was set up as an offshoot of the main office ... [A/E(dot)]
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1 Answer 1

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The missing animal is a ...

... goose.

Let's start with Exhibit B.

The "agricultural-themed" cipher is the pigpen cipher, so called because the strokes resemble animal pens. The "porcine penetentiary" from the title hints at pig pens, too.

The cipher text doesn't make use of the diagonal pens, i.e. the letters S to Z. And if we decode the mesage, we don't get anything useful:

ANHJ NRECL AGJNRFJ H NRPE HEO DPRAL ORAE ANQE GJ DPRAL FK

(Chances are that this is a monoalphabetic substitution. We could visit quipqiup now, but that would neither be much fun nor very sportsmanlike.)

Now listen to the farm hands (Exhibit C).

Each of the phrases hides an animal sound:

... the neighbour was looking a bit suspicious ... horse K/S·
... was talking to the homeowner, but she ... cat Y/P·
... No, we just disembarked the other day... dog G/Q·
... seems like a lot of work for a smoothie ... cow N/H·
... but the printer had no ink ... pig I/R·
... plenty of scuba action, was a great holiday ... sheep M/O·
... just another example of my toxic luck today ... chicken W/T·
... crazy child, started crib biting last night ... frog U/D·
... was set up as an offshoot of the main office ... owl A/E·

There's a sound for each animal in the pen.

Finally, examine the animals (Exhibit A).

The undotted and dotted letters from Exhibit C refer to the pigpen cipher. Replacing each animal with the letter pair corresponding to the sound, we get a new decoding table:

    W │ Y │ K     T·│ P·│ S·
   ───┼───┼───   ───┼───┼───
    G │ N │ U     Q·│ H·│ D·
   ───┼───┼───   ───┼───┼───
    I │ A │ M     R·│ E·│ O·

Wrap it up.

With that table, the message decodes to:

WHAT HONKS WITHOUT A HORN AND GROWS DOWN WHEN IT GROWS UP?

To "grow down" means to get soft feathers on one's body as a duck or a goose would. But ducks quack and we want an animal that makes a honking sound, so the answer is goose.

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Perfectly answered! $\endgroup$
    – Johnson
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 23:16

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