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You've just passed your field test, and are now a fully certified PATROL officer! Your mother would be so proud of you right now! You're introduced to your new partner, a well-respected but sometimes crotchety senior officer named McGregor; you've heard he's really tough on newbies. As you sit in your new desk for the very first time, a flowery madman bursts through the window and starts monologing.

Piteous PATROLers, it pleases the Purple Pimpernel to perform a piece of puzzlery, a plaque presents. Prepare to play, "Place of the past. Paucity of ports and prairies. Plentiful peaches provided." Portentous prose, a portion of partial puzzle, possibilities populate. Perhaps a presentable path? A pregnant pause, people peering puzzled. Perhaps possibilities prevaricate, Pourquoi?

Apologies, Purple Pimpernel passed a portion, a pugnacious plague, pestilent and pugnacious! In Pennsylvania's patchy past people pray. Physicians pontificate, postulate and prevaricate. Pustules, pigmentation and pain persist! Powerless PATROL Padfoots pursue pathogens. Paint a portrait of prosaic policework. Preserve peace while past phases into present and populace perishes. Puissant Pimpernel! You proclaim, provide a path. Perhaps, perilous but pure to prevent the pugnacious problems posed to Paradise? Pick up potent patterns, the path progresses!

This parley is not purely perfunctory patter, punctuated with plosives. Proud productive PATROL-patsies may potentially perceive and emperil the plot. Prognostication not positive, proponents of painstaking preparation prove poor in pell-mell proceedings. Prove the Purple Pimpernel prescient, a prodigal and potent prestidigitator, or preserve the population!

Provenance, PATROL persons pondering, preparing points of pressure, promoting postulates and passing parochial pronouncements without proper prudence! Perspicacity provides perception, perceive and ponder "A pretty penny parlayed to prodigious position, primed and plumped for pouring, a pithy proclamation for past pugilists, Pericles pales proudly." A Person of passing prominence, pipe proud upon portrait; picture of pastoral pride. Peoria proximate, Presidential!

Powers pass. Provided the Purple Pimpernel prevails, Paradise plunges precipitously. Paradox preventative procedures under pressure. PATROLers probe penetratively at the problem's pores, posing panaceas as past's path points irrepressibly to present. Pondering people, places-- parents pasteurized by paradox, poor patrons of patrons of police parties posited perpendicular to presence. The Period of Probity passes as Past's pseudopods push up, peruse pesky punctuation, provide possib*<thunk>*

His speech is interrupted, you see your newly assigned partner (suddenly that word leaves a foul taste in your mouth) lower his tranq gun, and start walking briskly towards Medical. "Wait!" You shout, "Why'd you shoot him, he wasn't done with his speech, and we need to save history."

McGregor keeps walking "That was going to last another twenty minutes, and we need to go back to stop the infection, book this guy and meet me there, if you're worthy of your stripes."

Can you show McGregor that you deserve to be on the force?

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    $\begingroup$ For perfection, this puzzle would preferably have been penned by PentlePurplePain. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Oct 12 '16 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Randa'thor or PengineerPoast :P $\endgroup$ – Beastly Gerbil Oct 12 '16 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ Why? What's wrong with Pconibulus? $\endgroup$ – Ian MacDonald Oct 27 '16 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ I think at this point we have discovered the answer to the final question. The answer is "no". $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Oct 31 '16 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ Using punctuation in a spoken puzzle is not a cool move :/ $\endgroup$ – ffao Nov 1 '16 at 14:00
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Preface:
Purely poetic. The puzzle presented paints me positively perplexed. Please permit me to provide the path to perspicuity.

McGregor is:

traveling back to the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863; the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Previously proposed by Gareth McCaughan, we should:

Take a look at punctuation and convert it using Morse Code. Commas are dots and periods are dashes. Other punctuation are separators.
,,.,"...",,.?,.,?
,,,!.,.,!...!,.,?,!
,.-.,-.,,!
,,,!,",,,.",;.,!
.,..','.,--,.,',,

Translated into plaintext:

Four score and seven ye(n)r(i)
I believe the 'n' was a mistake and the 'i' is one dot off of an 's'. This is where our villain was cutoff.

But how did our hero catch all this from a spoken monologue?

"People of PATROL possess pretty preposterous powers of punctuation perception and puzzling prowess." – Dan Russell

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    $\begingroup$ Too many repetitions? JJJ twice, for instance. The combination JJJHKKIKHH looks particularly unpromising. I wouldn't bet heavily against it, though. $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Oct 29 '16 at 1:22
  • $\begingroup$ I noticed that too. I was thinking that it might not be a substitution cipher, but I don't see any clues that would hint to what we might use.. or what a key might be. $\endgroup$ – Tommy Grasman Oct 31 '16 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps, possibly: "People of PATROL possess pretty preposterous powers of punctuation perception and puzzling prowess." $\endgroup$ – Dan Russell Nov 1 '16 at 15:39
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    $\begingroup$ Congratulations on having either more patience or better guesswork than me. I think the punct->Morse translation scheme you adopted, which turns out to be right, would have been number five or six on my list. (I never tried any of them, having decided that there would probably be more things to try than I could be bothered with.) $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Nov 1 '16 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ Oops, made a transcription error as I added the last couple lines as a hint, well done solving it anyway. $\endgroup$ – Sconibulus Nov 1 '16 at 16:14
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(Particularly partial proposal, perhaps providing puzzlers with panaceas for parts of the problem. Perhaps.)

This puzzle is pretty painful to ponder: persistent plosives perplex perusal. Perhaps poll from period to period, producing ... ah, screw it, I can't be bothered. Let me try again.

Perhaps we should

count words in sentences. This gives 16,15,9,4,6,4 for the first paragraph (if we treat "..." as part of a single sentence even when it has embedded .?! at least), which isn't obviously helpful. (E.g., converting to letters in the obvious way we get POIDFD.)

Or we could

take "peruse pesky punctuation" as a hint and perhaps ignore everything but punctuation. That gives

,,. ,"..." ,,. ? ,. ,?
,,,! '. ,. ,! . . . ! ,. ,? ,!
,. -. ,-. ,,!
,,,! ,",,,." ,;. ,!
. ,. . ','. ,--,. ,',,

where line breaks correspond to paragraphs in the original and spaces to sentences in the original (with, again, the convention that sentence breaks inside quotation marks don't count). Maybe there's an obvious way to interpret this as Morse or something, but I'm not seeing it.

One problem (which may or may not really be a problem) with that second possibility is that

this whole monologue is supposed to have been spoken which would make it (I think) impossible to tell what many of the punctuation marks actually are. E.g., I can't imagine how someone listening to the monologue could know whether what comes after "Apologies" is "," or ";" or ":" or "." or "--".

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  • $\begingroup$ In this future, pause lengths and sentence intonation is precise enough that punctuation can be deduced aurally :) $\endgroup$ – Sconibulus Oct 31 '16 at 15:37
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McGregor wants to travel back in time to

intercept the madman just before he enters the window; the madman is the Purple Pimpernel himself, who has just infected the PATROL officers with his plague (by spluttering at every 'p'). He plants clues as to when and where the officers should go back in time to find the origin of the plague (Peoria, a place without ports or prairies, etc), and the officers would bring the plague there themselves unwittingly, confounding any possible investigations with apparent paradoxes (which the madman is even so confident to warn the officers about).

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