I will start this puzzle with a review of my all time favorite book.

This book is about architecture and city planning by authors who worked at a university. Here in the book, there are over 200 chapters. Even though this is a fairly long clue, I won’t discuss all of the chapters.

Parking is considered a problem, and this book has a section in which the author recommends limiting the amount of space given to car parking to 9% of the total land. As cars would be less convenient, they recommend a system of mini-buses instead. The idea of small country towns is seen as important. They can easily fall apart, so must be protected. Everyone considering opening a shop should consider where it is truly necessary, to form a shop web. : Right now, there is a problem, as the authors see it. Neighborhoods are all spread out without boundaries, they need to be more identifiable.

Large and small towns need to be balanced in proper distribution, the authors say. And of course, don’t forget the web of shopping, which also depends on distribution. No subculture should be completely separated or homogenized, thus it should form a mosaic of sorts. Good town distribution contributes to this. Usually, it helps for the subcultures to have a boundary of sorts. Actualizing these plans requires a web of public transportation, so people can get around with ease. Giant cities with no wilderness is no good, in fact, there should be “fingers” of country and city, each less than a mile wide. / Every town needs a ring road, so cars can drive out there without interfering with life inside.

As I was saying before, the authors worked at a university, so they were always thinking about the 9% parking. Lets not forget that they thought big too: one of the theories in the book is that the world must be divided into independent regions. Each region of the world must be independent of the others. X-cept that the regions on a smaller scale (the subcultural boundaries) must be less strict. AND never forget the importance of country towns. (and the ER.)

I figure that’s enough information to get you going. But if this isn’t enough for you, read the book yourself. You might be able to see there what I am talking about here. And don’t say I forgot to tell you what the title of the book is. This puzzle has multiple stages. The first stage's answer will lead you to the second one. The final stage will tell you my favorite color, which is the question this riddle is asking.

It may help you to look at pages xix-xxi of the book itself

If you need a hint to get started, here it is:

The roman emperor was a bit of a shifty fellow. Just take a step forward, because things make much more sense in the present.

New Hint:

You can use wikipedia if you need to...

  • $\begingroup$ In "And never forget the importance of country towns", should the "And" be "AND"? $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2016 at 0:37
  • $\begingroup$ @randal'thor Thanks for pointing that out! I was thinking "and the ER" would be interpreted as "N D ER," but your way is much less of a stretch. $\endgroup$
    – margalo
    Oct 17, 2016 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ You could give some more hints because the it's still not clear what to apply the caesar cipher to... $\endgroup$
    – Sid
    Oct 18, 2016 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Sid I've added another hint... $\endgroup$
    – margalo
    Oct 18, 2016 at 22:50
  • $\begingroup$ So that lists all the patterns in the book some of which are listed in the review above. I am a little stumped by what to do with the cipher. It seems very unlikely that any text in the book just happens to yield instructions when decrypted with some step. Yet the instructions seem to suggest that. So I am inclined to think some of the plaintext in the puzzle description is actually ciphertext. Oddities: Repeated references to 9% parking at a university and a shopping web. Odd pattern of ":" and the "/" in text. Steganography tag and images that start every chapter in the book $\endgroup$
    – sriram
    Oct 19, 2016 at 3:52

2 Answers 2


Partial Answer

Second Clue:

OP provided a link to the text of the book whose name rand al'thor found in the First Clue partial answer, and referenced specifically pages xix to xxi. These pages give a table of contents of sorts to the chapters, with a brief descriptive name for each chapter. These chapter names resemble the text of OP's "book review", and not coincidentally, the indicated pages include chapters 1 to 26. All of this suggested a mapping of review text to chapter numbers, and then to letters.

Matching text from the review to chapter numbers, and keeping the extraneous looking odd punctuation, gave me a series of chapter numbers and punctuation marks. I'm including some items in brackets here that reference review text (see notes below), but that don't seem to belong in the plaintext we find later - I'm guessing this may be important for the next stage of the puzzle.

Here's what I got:

paragraph 1: 22 20 6 [*A] 19 : [*B] [15?] 14
paragraph 2: 2 19 [2?] 8 2 13 16 [3!] / 17
paragraph 3: 22 1 1 13 6 [*C]

After putting all that together and doing some conversion,

(1->A, ..., 26->Z) and omitting [bracketed items] gives us a cipher text:

OP gave a hint, which we now apply.

"roman emperor [...] shifty" -> Caesar cipher; "Just take a step forward" -> +1.
Doing so on the cipher text gives:

That seems entirely relevant :) so pretty sure we're on to something here.

Now earlier I mentioned omitting some [items] because they didn't seem to fit.
The reason I took them out is because, with them in, here's what I get:

VTF?S : ?ONBSBHBMPC / QVAAMF?    (ciphertext)
USE?R : ?NMARAGALOB / PUZZLE?     (plaintext)

which puts in some extra stuff that doesn't seem to belong. But since the trail seems to come to an end if we don't consider these leftovers, let's look a little more closely at where they came from.

First, there are sentences in the "review" that don't fit any of the chapter descriptions:
    [*A] "They can easily fall apart, so must be protected."
    [*B] "Right now, there is a problem, as the authors see it."
    [*C] "(and the ER.)" - (I suspect this parenthetical is intended to be left out).
These sentences would fit into the ciphertext/plaintext at the locations of the 3 ? s. But with no corresponding chapter, they can't be included in the numeric->alpha->Caesar translations - so are they just extra text we should ignore, or do they hide some other meaning?

Next, I think each remaining sentence in the review text should map to a single chapter number, but there are a couple sentences that could arguably reference two different chapters:
    [15?] "Neighborhoods are all spread out without boundaries, ..."
                seems to reference 15, while the remainder of that sentence is clearly 14.
    [2?] "And of course, don't forget the web of shopping, which also depends on distribution."
                The first part clearly is 19, but the last clause may reference 2.
Including these adds the extraneous looking N and A to MARGALO.

And finally, [3!] marks the sentence about "fingers" of country and city, which is unambiguously a reference to chapter 3.
This adds the B to the end of MARGALO.

Having solved this much, I don't see any clear indication of what to do next.
And the leftovers in this clue don't mean anything to me.
Any ideas??

  • $\begingroup$ If we assume that N is actually an M, the answer could be "AMBER". But then "They can easily fall apart, so must be protected." and "Right now, there is a problem, as the authors see it." have to correspond to "agricultural valleys" and "ring roads" (non-respectively.) $\endgroup$
    – mr23ceec
    Oct 21, 2016 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ Possible that the favorite color is the green of the user picture? $\endgroup$ May 19, 2017 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ rot13(Gur 'O' vf pbeerpg. Jr'er fhccbfrq gb tb gb uggcf://ra.jvxvcrqvn.bet/jvxv/Hfre:Znetnybo/chmmyr gb trg bhe arkg pyhr: "Lbh'er nyzbfg gurer... Erzrzore gung n cnggrea ynathntr vfa'g whfg nobhg n pregnva ynathntr, yvxr ratyvfu va guvf rknzcyr. Nyfb, xrrc va zvaq nyy gur cubgbf va gung obbx...") $\endgroup$
    – caPNCApn
    Nov 12, 2021 at 8:00
  • $\begingroup$ rot13(V qba’g xabj jung vg zrnaf ohg va gur Cnggrea Ynathntr obbx vg pbzcnerf gur hfr bs n cnggrea ynathntr gb Ratyvfu cbrgel naq gur rknzcyr vf n cbrz nobhg n ebfr, juvpu vf Serapu sbe cvax. Gur cubgbf va gur obbx ner oynpx naq juvgr (rknpgyl; rnpu cvkry vf rvgure #ssssss be #000000) ohg n pnfhny tynapr xvaqn oneryl tvirf gur bcgvpny vyyhfvba bs cvax gvagrq znlor v qhaab) $\endgroup$
    – caPNCApn
    Nov 12, 2021 at 8:01

Partial answer

First clue:

reading all the capital letters in the review (excluding "I" where it doesn't begin a sentence) gives THE PATTERN LANGUAGE ALEXANDER.

So the book being reviewed seems to be

A Pattern Language.

The hint tells us

that we need to use a Caesar cipher, but I'm not sure what we have to apply it to.

Also some of the punctuation in the review is a bit weird. This is probably relevant.

  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps the "and" in the last sentence was meant to be in all caps and the last word is Alexander, the book's author. (Or one of the authors, rather.) $\endgroup$
    – M Oehm
    Oct 15, 2016 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ @MOehm Yep, I thought of that too. Maybe we're supposed to focus on Alexander more than the other authors? $\endgroup$ Oct 15, 2016 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ It may be worth mentioning that the review does in fact somewhat accurately describe the book. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Oct 15, 2016 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder if it's relevant to the puzzle, that volume 3 was published before 2, and volume 1 was published after? Timeless, indeed. $\endgroup$
    – mr23ceec
    Oct 17, 2016 at 14:54

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