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After a long night of stargazing, your best friend left you a cryptic note. A single sentence is written on the note, in beautifully printed cursive:

I softly gazed nigh a lit, dull skyline, contemplating a dismayingly frozen future.

What was your best friend up all night looking at?


Hint #1:

The tag is there for a reason, guys. Seriously, anything that you think could be the answer is not. You will know you have found the answer once you do. The sentence was chosen to sound akin to stargazing, but if you start parsing it for meaning you've already gone way too far.

Hint #2:

Recently, there was a puzzle about a specific 'international animal' whose format was similar, albeit certainly not identical, to the format of this poem. This should key you in on how to read past the words.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's the watcher on the wall! Winter is coming! $\endgroup$ – Spacemonkey Sep 1 '15 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ (sigh), the cryptogram tag would have helped from the beginning. grr, grrr i say ! $\endgroup$ – moonbutt74 Sep 1 '15 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ @moonbutt74 I'll withhold that information for a bit longer, but I'll reiterate that you'll undeniably know the answer when you discover it. There will be no guessing, no bending of rules to fit the answer, not uncertainty. It will be 100% obvious! $\endgroup$ – Bailey M Sep 1 '15 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ @AE We've already established that winter is coming! :P I wonder if I can set a record for the most deleted answers on a single question... $\endgroup$ – Bailey M Sep 2 '15 at 20:34
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    $\begingroup$ Needs more hint. $\endgroup$ – A E Sep 9 '15 at 16:54
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I've tried using the initial letters of each word and running it through just about every decryption I can find. The only thing that comes close to looking like English is the result of an Affine Cipher decryption (coefficients A=7, B=9) which gives:

LF Hive of Zvoss

But unless he was looking for

Low frequency electric beehives on an Irish technology website

I'm fairly sure that this is NOT the correct answer.

Hint #2 seems to be referring to:

A small mammal? in which the answer was found by counting the characters on each line.

In this case, there are too many characters on the single line or even after the last comma for the same technique to be applied, so I would assume that the number of letters in each word is important. Counting these gives us:

1 6 5 4 1 3 4 7 13 1 11 6 6
Unfortunately trying to map these numbers to letters with A=1, B=2, etc. gives:
A F E D A C D G M A K F F
which is no more enlightening.


However I now determined that the correct answer is:


enter image description here]
Alpha Centauri

This answer is found by:

Totalling the scrabble letter values of each of the letters in the words in the poem and then converting these back to letters with A=1, B=2
I = 1 -> A SOFTLY = 1+1+4+1+1+4 = 12 -> L GAZED = 2+1+10+1+2 = 16 -> P NIGH = 1+1+2+4 = 8 -> H A = 1 -> A LIT = 1+1+1 = 3 -> C DULL = 2+1+1+1 = 5 -> E SKYLINE = 1+5+4+1+1+1+1 = 14 -> N CONTEMPLATING = 3+1+1+1+1+3+3+1+1+1+1+1+2 = 20 -> T A = 1 -> A DISMAYINGLY = 2+1+1+3+1+4+1+1+2+1+4 = 21 -> U FROZEN = 4+1+1+10+1+1 = 18 -> R FUTURE = 4+1+1+1+1+1 = 9 -> I

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  • $\begingroup$ nice try though! $\endgroup$ – A E Sep 3 '15 at 6:40
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    $\begingroup$ First spoiler sounds like a cool name for a game or movie. $\endgroup$ – McMagister Sep 3 '15 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ Mapping each word to a number, then to a letter, is a good approach to this. Don't give up! $\endgroup$ – Bailey M Sep 9 '15 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ Yo, you're almost there. Look at your original mapping as compared to what it would need to be to produce this result - specifically, the words that produce the same result and especially the ones where it's very close. You might find your discrepancies there. $\endgroup$ – Bailey M Sep 9 '15 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ @AE no, any maths to be done will be in base 10. $\endgroup$ – Bailey M Sep 9 '15 at 20:45
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He's referencing

the inevitable heat death of the universe. If the universe keeps expanding, which scientists predict will happen, what heat there is will be spread out in an increasingly large space. Entropy increases to the maximum and the temperature will drop to around 1 degree Kelvin (any water remaining that hasn't irradiated to photons etc. will be in solid form by now).

The skyline is dulled by

pollution - both light pollution and regular pollution, speeding up the increase of entropy towards the inevitable maximum.

I admit it's a little far-fetched, though.

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Here's a ninth incorrect answer to this riddle, but at least we will finally address the phrase "in beautifully printed cursive" and share some ideas.

What makes cursive unique? How can we come up with an answer that relies on the handwriting style? Loops (and other features) are dependent on the friend's handwriting, so let's first look at the letters i,t,j, and x. These are the only letters which require a second stroke, which makes them unique (since cursive is used to avoid such extraneous strokes). We can ignore capital letters because the only one used -- I -- requires just one stroke.

Number of pen-to-paper contacts during writing (per word):

1 2 1 2 1 3, 1 2, 4 1 3 1 2

Letter placement relative to i,t (no j,x in note):

1 3t2 5 1i2 1 1it, 4 4i2, 3t5ti2 1 1i4i4 6 2t3
or
4 t 8 i 4 i 0 t 8 i 5 t 5 t 0 i 4 i 4 i 12 t 3

I played with some of these numbers and this skymap but found nothing notable. However, it's quite possible that the answer is not an astrophysical object (or clouds, or planes, or satellites, meteors, UFOs, rain, snow, sleet, birds, a dragon, blimps, hot-air balloons, etc.)

Next, we could consider letters which reach above or below the normal height of letters like a, c, e, i, etc. We could classify letters as tall (b, d, l, etc.), deep (g, j, p, etc.), and f (f, f, f, etc.). Then, we could just speculate wildly:

The Centauri Constellation

because

Only six letters are omitted from the note (b,j,q,v,w,x). Centauri has six stars (though so do Brahe and Corvi, and others...), so obviously it's a fitting answer to this riddle.

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  • $\begingroup$ What if you consider f as requiring 2 strokes? $\endgroup$ – Gordon K Sep 8 '15 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ Cursive is not unique. A plaintext version of the single sentence would suffice as a method of solving this puzzle. You've actually ended up fairly close, but it's not because of the method you used to solve it... $\endgroup$ – Bailey M Sep 9 '15 at 13:17
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He stayed up all night staring at a picture of his...

(ex?) girlfriend named Dallas [or some other name that matches to a city with a distinct skyline], who has apparently given him the cold shoulder.

Technically this works even if it's not a picture, but the couple is drifting apart, but I tried to think of an actual star with a name along these lines and I'm drawing a blank. (I was aiming for the other definition of "stargazing")

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I think your friend stayed up all night looking at a

Constellation

Reasoning:

If each word maps to a letter then there must be 13 letters in the answer, and 'constellation' is the only 13-letter word I can find which fits the theme of astronomy.

It's also possible that he spent the night gazing at some

Bachelorettes

I've come to this view because of the

Dastardliness

of the puzzle!

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