You work for a secret organization, and recently the personal data of a terrorist leader has fallen into your hands. This would be great news, except for the fact that all the files are locked with a password. You know that this particular terrorist organization tends to implement a "three-strike" rule - after three failed attempts to enter the password, the data corrupts itself and is no longer usable. Luckily, the organization is as forgetful as it is crafty, so they've provided a hint on the password screen. The hint reads:

Hint 1: BFplmNVNbACLAMlrBgmDSllV iSTjfJsehRTgsRtM

Being a master codebreaker, you immediately open up QuipQiup and plug in the code. You take the result (NEw loGYGnPULPOliNs oF AllY HaD be Back I D saId O) and enter it as the password - no luck. The password rejects, and another hint is presented.

Hint 2: A failed attempt means you've either forgotten the password, or you're trying to hack it. Luckily, I've decided to play fair. Remember that it would be wise to pay close attention to the capitals.

Capitals! Of course! Heading back to QuipQiup, you remove each lowercase letter and solve it once again. You take your new result (NG TO THE CHINKS OF PURPRI) enter is as the password. Again, no luck - the password is rejected. This time, instead of a hint popping up on your screen, a warning message displays.

WARNING: You have one attempt remaining before the data corrupts. Remember, this data is a matter of life and death! Use your last guess wisely...

Can you crack the code and gain access to the data, or will you fail your third guess and render the data useless?

EDIT: First hint!

After some time with no results, you begin to focus on one aspect of the clue. Close attention to the capitals...close attention to the capitals...but what does it mean? Suddenly, something clicks with you. The terrorist leader said he's decided to play fair, but certainly not THAT fair! Either the capitals clue is a red herring, or there's more to the word than initially meets the eye...

And a QoL hint as well!

Everything outside the blocked text is just flavor. If you're trying to solve the puzzle, pay no attention to the QuipQiup results. It will only make you more confused.

EDIT: Second hint!

You don't have to be a secret agent/genius/master codebreaker to realize that the warning about life and death is some sort of hint (though it certainly helps). After many, many, many minutes of pondering the hint, however, you just can't figure out how it could possibly be used in tandem with the hint about capitals...

EDIT: Third hint:

As you stare at the letters, fruitlessly trying to forge them into something useful, your eyes begin to glaze and the letters all start blending together. Uh-oh. You try to blink it off, but to no avail. Perhaps what you need is a DiFfErEnT pOiNt Of ViEw...

EDIT: Fourth hint:

17 days. For 17 days, you've sat in your apartment, mindlessly toiling about in an attempt to discover the password. Your beard is overgrown. Your eyes are sagging. You're tired, hungry, cold, and alone.
But your organization needs you. So you press on. "Another angle...another angle..." And suddenly, it clicks. The initial text is only the first step in this process, and it doesn't require any software to convert at all. No, this isn't part of any typical cipher...it will, however, require some research. Better get started.

6/11/2015 Update: Hey, guys! I've opened a bounty on this puzzle as well as my other unanswered puzzle as a way of saying thanks for the bounty you helped me earn on this excellent puzzle. As such, I want this puzzle to be solved - my bounty shan't go to waste! If there are any questions I can answer to confirm whether or not you're going in the right direction, please don't hesitate to ask them in the comments. If I feel they don't give too much of the puzzle away, I'll be happy to answer them.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Luckily, I've decided to play fair". Playfair, you say? $\endgroup$
    – Tryth
    May 14, 2015 at 23:58
  • $\begingroup$ Ha! Good spotting. I can't see how it could be implemented though. $\endgroup$ May 15, 2015 at 1:33
  • $\begingroup$ Tryth, good spotting indeed... $\endgroup$
    – Bailey M
    May 15, 2015 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ Capitals as in "London, Paris, Berlin..."? $\endgroup$
    – BmyGuest
    May 18, 2015 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ BmyGuest, that's an interesting idea! $\endgroup$
    – Bailey M
    May 19, 2015 at 13:46

5 Answers 5


Looking for the capitals in it I started with the ISO 3166-1 Alpha-2 Country Codes, and the list of capital cities from Wikipedia yielding this table: enter image description here

Giving me the second jumbled string:


(Shoutout goes out to Alexander Wigmore who came to the same conclusion I did while offline about the space)

Decoding the first string using a Playfair cipher with I = J and the key text LIFE yields:


Decoding the second string using a Playfair cipher with I = J and the key text DEATH yields:


To show an example of the second cipher at work:


All of the letters are entered into the tableau starting with the letters of the key and then the rest of the 26 letters. If a letter would be listed a second time because it was already listed in the key, it is omitted. The letter I is equivalent to the letter J for the purposes of Playfair. Other implmentations just omit Q.

Each pair of letters in the input text forms a rectangle. The opposite two corners of the rectangle are the decrypted text.

See how RD decrypts to PA in the first image. The second image shows how ZL is decrypted to WO. PA decrypts to RD as it is the opposite of the first image.

enter image description here

I did not know the rule that duplicate letters just stay as they are SS -> SS. This is why I was concerned that there were duplicates after my first step decoding.

Here is my full handwritten Playfair solution:

enter image description here

Notice the interesting bit about UH -> PA in the first tableau. When the two characters are in the same column the character above is chosen, wrapping to the bottom if required. When they are in the same row, the character to the left is chosen, wrapping around to the right if required. The opposite action is taken when encrypting.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Spot-on, my friend. This is fine work! $\endgroup$
    – Bailey M
    Jun 12, 2015 at 3:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ And even still, some ciphers replace W with VV, for whatever reason. This is, of course, correct. Well done! (Man, if only you had guessed that to begin with - it is, of course, the second-most popular password in America...) $\endgroup$
    – Bailey M
    Jun 12, 2015 at 13:03

I think I've cracked it!

Leading on from Leppy and AJL:

I suddenly remembered that odd space in the initial encoded string. I used the keyword life as a Playfair filter on the first half: (OWUHSSYMSCFR) and Death as the filter on the second half (RDSSZLPA) and got:



  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It really sounds like the answer. And having two messages to decode with two different keys is what I thought. Even though, I don't understand how you got your answer. Would you mind explaining it a bit more? $\endgroup$
    – Masclins
    Jun 12, 2015 at 8:33
  • $\begingroup$ @AlbertMasclans Using LeppyR64's initial logic, which related each 2 letter combo from the original string to the country codes, you can get the first letter of each capital of that country. However Leppy negated the space, re-doing the logic myself, this time with the space however and correct filter usage using the Playfair filter with the keywords for each side of the string, that generated my answer. $\endgroup$ Jun 12, 2015 at 8:38
  • $\begingroup$ +1 Good work making the final leap. Ultimately when you finish the puzzle you should update your answer to contain the whole solution. Your answer is dependent on the answers of others, if I were to have deleted my answer your answer would be missing quite a bit of detail. This is why @AlbertMasclans wanted you to flesh out your answer. $\endgroup$
    – LeppyR64
    Jun 12, 2015 at 11:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I see you've fleshed out your answer now LeppyR64, so all props to you, well done. $\endgroup$ Jun 12, 2015 at 11:34
  • $\begingroup$ You of course get a +1 for finding the correct answer, independently of Leppy's final step. :) $\endgroup$
    – Bailey M
    Jun 12, 2015 at 13:04

It's a recursive puzzle. The answer is not to think linearly. Run the capitals only from the HINT 1 through the cipher again.

Thought Process is as follows:

QuipQuip cipher algo must be correct otherwise the terrorists would have know it was an intrusion rather than a forgetful operative so the data would have been wiped. With that in mind, the operative likely forgot a second step in the decoding process, so the answer is either that only the capital letters in the decoded hint are the answer or only that the decoded letter capitals need to be decoded again to find the password. Third option is the negative, so that capitals need to be removed but that would be too complicated for a forgetful operative.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Puzzling.SE! Please could you elaborate this answer to explain a bit more about what your solution involves? $\endgroup$ May 14, 2015 at 22:33
  • $\begingroup$ Updated as requested $\endgroup$ May 14, 2015 at 22:40
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for editing! I think I misunderstood your answer the first time - sorry :-) $\endgroup$ May 14, 2015 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ This is a fun answer, but I promise you there is a real puzzle to be solved here. Aside from the hints, the rest is explicitly flavor. :) $\endgroup$
    – Bailey M
    May 14, 2015 at 23:43

I've tried a few things, but think I'm going down a pointless rabit hole, but thought I better share my ideas so far anyway:

Thought process so far: I've tried using the original uncyhphered hint, both without and with capital letters, generating the following:

Lower Case:

plmblrgmll ijfsehgst



Running with the idea of capitals

I compared them to Airport short-codes and removed each airport shortcode and have this data:

Lower Case (unsolved letters):

g ijfseh


Gustavus, AK (GST)


Marshall, AK (MLL)


Bangalore, India (BLR) capital of India's southern Karnataka


Palembang, Indonesia (PLM) Palembang is the second-largest city in Sumatra Island after Medan and the capital city of the South Sumatra province in Indonesia


Bloemfontein, South Africa (BFN) Bloemfontein is the capital city of the province of Free State of South Africa;

Upper Case (unsolved letters):



Brindisi, Italy (BDS) Brindisi is a city in the region of Apulia in southern Italy, the capital of the province of Brindisi

I tried plotting the capitals on a map:

enter image description here

backwards capital letters just for fun


  • 1
    $\begingroup$ NV is the abbreviation for the state of Nevada, USA. It's capital is Carson City. nb is the abbreviation for the province of New Brunswick, Canada. It's capital is Fredericton. I don't know if that helps or further muddies your search. $\endgroup$
    – LeppyR64
    Jun 11, 2015 at 12:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Airport codes aren't going to get you there, but you're on the right track. Just to be clear on one thing, so that you don't pull ALL of your hair out - there are two main steps to this cipher. When you conclusively finish the first, your text will still look jumbled until you complete the second (which is far more straightforward). $\endgroup$
    – Bailey M
    Jun 11, 2015 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ Going the wrong direction? 2-6-16-12-13-14-22-14-2-1-3-12-1-13-12-18-2-7-13-4-19-12-12-22 9-19-20-10-6-10-19-5-8-18-20-7-19-18-20-13 B-F-p -l -m -N -V -N -b-A-C-L -A-M -l -r -B-g-m -D-S -l -l -V i-S -T -j -f-J -s -e-h-R -T -g-s -R -t -M- Odd Capitals: ACAMSSM odd lower: mgmisegs Even Capitals: BFNVNLBDVTJTR Even lower: plblrlljfjht $\endgroup$ Jun 11, 2015 at 16:04

Dunno if I can just blatantly steal from LeppyR64... But off of what he has:

When decoded using the Playfair cipher using the keyword life, I get(drumroll please) MY PASSWORD IS SCSSVAHZ

Maybe I'm completely wrong, though. I couldn't use death in any way. And of course, since I can't solve very many ciphers myself, I used an online decoder. Oops. Heeheehee...

Edit Using the countries and capitals work didn't work on the password to translate it into a word. Perhaps it should remain as a random-seeming string?

  • $\begingroup$ You can certainly try :) I was thinking about the Playfair cipher too, but I haven't quite sussed it out yet. I'm not even sure that what I've got is 100% correct. $\endgroup$
    – LeppyR64
    Jun 12, 2015 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ You're painfully close!! Read the clues again, read Leppy's post again, and see if you can make this last leap. :) $\endgroup$
    – Bailey M
    Jun 12, 2015 at 3:46

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