A friend of mine, one of those world-traveler, rugged outdoorsman, live-out-of-a-tent-and-backpack sorts, has just sent me an interesting email:

From: [email protected]
Subject: Check out this pic! Guess where I am?!
To: rubio@[redacted]
Date: 04/08/17 11:33 AM

Dude, check out this epic pic:

It's pretty awesome, isn't it? I think we captured the scene perfectly.
That's obviously just a thumbnail; for full resolution, open the attachment!
I'll see you in a couple months, man - keep it real!
    — WG



Where the picture should have been I just saw a blank space, but I know sometimes embedded images don't work all that well; good thing he provided the attachment. I figured I was just a click away from seeing an amazing photo in all its full-res glory. But on opening the attachment, instead of finding an image I found ... well ... I'll just show you what it said. Since one of you apparently is partially to blame for this, it's only fair you help me figure out where my friend is!


Yo, I know you like puzzles. One of the guys I'm with out here is a puzzler himself — he's even on that puzzle website you were telling me about. Anyway, he helped me put together a bit of a puzzle for you. See if you can figure out how to get through my trail of clues to find my picture and figure out where I'm at!

The trail begins with some clues for you to figure out....


1: One thing leads to another

  1. I heard you sing Flying High Again? (5)
  2. Weird old camel’s place in Maryland. (2*,6)
  3. 904
  4. IIX857, a synthetic hormone, makes a heavenly body. (####,8)
  5. Unusual array: song, nose, tongue, ear, eye, or skin, maybe. (1,7,5)
  6. Perhaps a stout tankard made of hot and heavy metal with an edge. (3,5)
  7. A measure of temperature just above zero? (3,6?)
  8. (½)(12)=6 (4,5)
  9. A vehicle full of blind drunk denial heads west on Rodeo Drive for date, maybe. (8,4)
  10. Live! Exit around center aisle! (5)
  11. Strike her head suddenly, then bug-eye; then, almost unendingly wrong, start sprinting thither. (6’1,10)


2: Looking for connections

Those weren't just simple standalone clues.
There are sets of answers that go together. Figure out how, or your trail ends here!

1 & 4 & 11
2 & 5 & 7 & 10
3 & 8
6 & 9

Do you have a hunch how these are connected?
Blaise de Vigenére says: C M P X V G V P V :)

I'm going to call the way these are connected, LINKINGS.
When you're sure you know how LINKINGS work, proceed to ...


3: Follow my lead(s)

Taking your final answers from Part 1, collect all the letters from all the answers together. Sort them alphabetically, discarding duplicates. You should end up with 13 letters. They are your key to unlock the next step:

  $\small\texttt{LFCHA A̕DBJZVZB TP WRZLHRZ O}$

If you've got the right answers from Part 1 ...
If you've correctly figured out the LINKINGS for Part 2 ...
If you've deciphered the code above ...
If you're reading me Loud and Clear ...

Then you should be able to figure out what to do with the following leads:

  • You're going to need 5 specific letters, and I've just given you what they are.
  • You're going to need a grid to put them in, and I've just given you what it looks like.
  • There's only one way the letters can go into the grid.
  • Make sure ALL your letters make it into the grid!

When you've got everything up to here squared away, proceed to ...


4: How to unlock the solution, from A to Z

You've filled in a grid, more or less. Time for the next step.
Take the grid's outermost letters and sort them alphabetically, discarding duplicates.
They're now your key to unlock the next clues:

Ypw'pt becsvzlz yevf gc jjpt ujiaq nzgcybfvmkmyzp amr zqyz ajb jvliua. :)

  • Q: Infhipqe ugbbnbcb vzovv e abvqv dq fjtwb-obok kyiov #255,153,051? (4,7,6)
  • V: Xmeh fic cmwi aqise
  • E: Boxp wwggv Dzkpikw ugfwt. (5)
  • J: Nasv svq pzlz (5)
  • A: Ao gbbuaqk Nmlojsnqa qipqtbeiiz qwjxmvftil ua Sdzpy, Ppxidvc. (5)
  • B: Kyru pyunrf fic cmwi vgzpvm dovt
  • X: Uaactpjas gcmevuyo dos cr Iyrfzxyn nkrs ecstdcs. (5)
  • W: Wrsqzdk Nsnecc Aoucfg wovvl tqnrvmq fpnpwivbx hc. (5)
  • Q: Nu Hmdry yvq a eqrsql’g mjgcf. (5)
  • W: Tidg hyz disux, kxhs kcc njpxp
  • U: Swinr pbtx, kxhs epkbft (3)
  • D: Mjvgkn: gn fzmafrbtz. (2)
  • N: Sjzxp oyiv jd pbtx wzr
  • V: Umsnlgr bqrbrbcr’t didqeoxz. (5,3)
  • B: Io Tsuq, n blhzes qj ugervm aatgw umawwzqtff mv hvcczlcf krqfnzct. (5)
  • Z: Cbuwqgf Qcvw bpzia QFDE NnosvwKqahvm jebfize nbu Amrnwpi Aas ivaes Liiz bf Xdsljcrw. (5)
  • M: Pcnvpdma gzk bik dl pbkr. (6)
  • O: Oyiv ouo gtsu bnfk jle
  • T: Rezf V qcpc VJKM
  • N: evunvgtjpjw() ieogkcr dtiifrr joycl qzmdszfr. (2)
  • C: Tig zmdl tzmqt dnym
  • I: Swinr pbtx, bqahy xjuf
  • N: Rmugvvm wet qv va, csicypt. (5)
  • A: Tidg cez alvg itqise
  • I: Kebpmvs vb "Rtc-azg, Wqd!" (3)
  • K: Owocr QT gpmauvpn, cppjcevbx kjadg fmonav xmhftivf. (5)

Bv, fic mpti btvbx. Tmu xqr'b wacn rfau vs la jwkc rhju cmf, oik D'k psqzqpvbx dr npy.
  mushf: k-C-L-Y-t (rro)

Whew! What comes next?


5: Things aren't always black and white

Four of your answers from Part 4 are, well, colorful.
It's time to add some color to those LINKINGS! Here's how:

Sort your colorful answers alphabetically by the index letters of their corresponding clues.
Then apply these cryptical directions* to the answers in their sorted order, to find which clue (and thus what color) goes with each LINKING. $$\def\T#1{\small\text{#1}}\begin{array}{rcl}\hline\T{first clue}&~~~~&\T{painlessly behead}\\\T{second clue}&&\T{no novice in speech}\\\T{third clue}&&\T{cut to the core}\\\T{fourth clue}&&\T{remove hind end; make bland; remove hind end}\\\hline\end{array}$$                     * They're cryptic-like more or less, but not necessarily entirely fair. Deal with it. :)

The fifth LINKING also has a color; its color is: SILVER.
When you've found the colors for all five LINKINGS, proceed to ...


6: Hex marks the spot

For an effective hex, one must put the right things together in the right way.
It's time to use something I gave you in Part 4.

There are numbers, 1 through 5:

  • Each has a location.
  • Each location identifies a LINKING.
  • Each LINKING identifies a hex code.
  • Each LINKING also has a color, which itself identifies a hex code.
  • XOR the two hex codes together.

Find the values for 1 to 5.
Put them together to find an image that should look very familiar
... but with some things missing, and some things new.

Useful URLs (among plenty of possibilities):

One more thing:
My friend wants me to tell you this message before you continue. He was going on about some Lord of the Rings quote — something about a phial, and light, and Eärendil’s star, and that his message was like that only the opposite? He's weird sometimes.
Anyway, he says, "King DEDEDE says OOOOOOh when he drinks his C0C0A0." I have no idea what he's talking about, but he made me promise to put that in here so there you go.

Moving on!


7: Being hexed may leave you feeling down

Part 4 gave you answers from A to Z.
Part 5 used four of them.
Time to use five more.

As you look down at your notes you should notice that some of your answers to Part 4 seem familiar from Part 3: some exactly, and some in part.
Now would be an excellent time to put what's missing into the image found in Part 6.
You'll find, as you write things down, that you're able to fill about 4½ columns using 5 answers.

That's another five answers down ...


8: Feeling down might lead to a cross word or two

Cross six more answers off the list.
(Do I really need to say more?)

By the way, remember the theme of this puzzle you found way back in Part 2?
The six entries you just crossed off? Yeah....


9: Be of good cheer — the end is near!

Eleven entries left. They spell out the key that will let you decipher the final text below.
If you're not sure how to find that key, it may help to remember where they came from and what I've told you about these entries previously.

(Tfh "cldc ld", en'h g tzqy!)
(Qsq "txcdra", irl dkxxn)
Zkzoky ^^ klmt lnljr.

Iy sfy'de kyrhunz nyme, yho'mi som nyi dizbk oqy — viekdamocefihhj!

Ef tacj taign psg sailpp htpv juleyu mz tay xvud B arzq yho zr Bakn 6 tsypeykixy, xrtibt yii sze xggxk sjorvq ig nyi pptx. Klmt xggxk sjorvq rxjiieegnj xte ictxgrx C gvambmvh kon... ueh zop, uk pmsm, C'd vqaws ks feef psg wayii ut bm.

Csak uuto mt Iuix 7. Defydfqr mbfwq fbpv ezspyiw? Uf mbv kdiw C xehe ril ams t nptuctf tvaslqfvp pntqpq gkcu, xtoly nsglw vv xte thjaqrl zfv fhx Xfaz ceovw zufvvvqd hhv xtrhoxl rioy. Z amnm sfy fo plzxq, ig iihqr, mbv E-L egnic xemnvve fhl veoh hz klasx zzzq agmnids, uok qmkx nyi adw hlqnekyu iztkcvw xopyi gmsx, ueh fhx ymiz nngsidew yexdixm ltbek wrwq - sh ck paodm cmwe qRoBj Tay iieuen zw, brxxzgfaufp, e bnz cdkgr mux. M fhbhb cau'ef rkdex nyi tizbvv delicyfihh zw m ghiu mypkimiyegn fzqr mbv xtufveeul B jlx un mbv iyabf sspy.

Bz psg'rx uj snsxmjmhe tm Z ey, tauk iypms jtat bh klq diuu qgsm vv hdiocek kon HLXE.
Fhlxiftbhx enonn klq ckijwiokx rrp chhjmpekcek vuln klmt wjrh, ihtn ciftxl xsqs bh klmt xggxk siuti, mnw qyc?


Hope you enjoyed the puzzle, and the picture.
Happy trails, dude!
  — WG


So, I couldn't even get the first bits done!
I could really use a hand, and since my friend had *ahem* some help... it seems only fitting that I get some too.

Can you help me figure out:
What is this a picture of?
Where is my friend?

Part of a entry: I, for one, welcome our new ...
Metapuzzles answer: What word does the very last letter you solved for represent?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ (For other solvers: There's a spreadsheet here if you'd like to contribute.) $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 21:09

1 Answer 1


This answer is half a record of my solution path and half the "intended" solution path.

Here is the spreadsheet used to solve.

Thanks to Silenus and Sp3000 for the help solving.

Part 1


These are all

clues to more words. For instance, 1714 ASTEROID is SY, EXIST could be BE, and HITHER'S ANTITHESIS could be YON. But what about the rest? There seem to be too many options. Hm... let's continue on for now.

Part 4

Wait, part 4? Yes. A couple educated guesses (armed with the knowledge that the Vigenère key is alphabetical) reveal the key to be abceimnorvy. That reveals a ton of clues, but let's not worry about those just yet. We know that the key from 3 is also alphabetical, and a superset of part 4's key.

Part 3

Time for more educated guesses! Just adding two more letters (L and S) gives the message LEADS P̕ROVIDED TO UNRAVEL X. Well, it seems like the "leads" will be helpful if we want to do any "unraveling"... and we need five letters... let's take LPTUX! (Er, LP̕TUX. Apparently P brought a diacritic along with it.)

The message mentions 5x5 grids... and we need 5 letters... Hey wait, those letters are pentominoes!

And this is where the puzzle finally starts to pick up. Suddenly, we can do a lot of things!

Parts 2 and 3 (again)

We can decode the part 2 message with the keyword PENTOMINO(ES) to get the confirmation, NICE HUNCH.

We can assemble those pentominoes into a 5x5 grid into exactly 1 way (up to reflection/rotation).
blank grid

We can solve the rest of the part 1 "subclues" and fit the answers into the pentominoes crossword-style.
partially filled grid
(And we get the message "MAYBE CLEAR" for confirmation, which currently describes our thoughts on the puzzle!)
We can decode the part 3 and 4 messages the "right way". Speaking of part 4, it's time to solve some clues...

Part 4 (for real this time)

We have 26 clues to solve. Luckily for us, 11 of them are from part 1. The rest are regular (non-contrived (usually)) cryptic clues. (Details on the sheet.)
We also have an image.
enter image description here
This'll be important later.

Part 5

Four of our solutions from the part 4 clues have colors: YELLOW, GREEN TEA, BLUES, and DEEP SAFFRON PRIMER. The instructions tell us what to do with them: remove Y/OW, remove GREEN and take a homophone, take the centre letter, and remove DEE/R from the edges and SAFFRON from the middle.

This gives us letters: ELL, T, U, and P (prime). That's four of our pentominoes! We can now assign colors to them.

colored grid

Part 6

Look up the colors in each location based on the letter of the pentomino there. They look slightly different from the actual colors of the pentominoes. XORing them together gives us ASCII values kh30K, which lead to this image:

Part 7 and 8

By this point, you may notice that CLEAR and MAYBE are solutions to two part 4 clues. And so are MCMIV and ERYON, which read downwards. We can cross off those words, then add letters in the edges of the X to cross off 7 more words: YES, MESSY, IS, SO, VISON, ALESI, BASSO. (All the added letters are S, incidentally.) This completes the grid (and gives confirmation for missing part 1 answers, if you're missing a clue or two).

Part 9

We've used all clues from part 4 but the ones copied from part 1. Those clues' letters are EGIKOPRSUWY, which anagram to KEY IS GROW UP.

Decoding part 9 with GROW UP gives a helpful message that GROW UP is a cluephrase, not the literal key. So we try MATURE... and it works!
It gives us a confirming message:
enter image description here

Part 9

So, we do what the message says. Take the "down" words, find their clue letters, make them alternate capital and lowercase, and we get this:

enter image description here

Well, I guess I should've expected that.

Now what?

Let's see, what information have we not used? There are the three hex codes DEDEDE, 000000, and C0C0A0. There's the centre square of the d-pad.

And... there's the steganography tag. The image isn't all the same shade of white. Coloring the image in the colors provided gives this nice picture:
enter image description here
Of course! It's a polar bear blinking in a snowstorm, and that's why we couldn't see it. And polar bears live at the north pole, which is Rubio's friend's location.

One Last Thing

So, what do we do with the D-pad? Ignore everything else, as the note says. We have four arrows, all of which have an S. This must be a sort of "compass rose", though of course every direction points south. Meaning the center would be the north pole itself, with the letter N. That means north is the answer we need for the upcoming metapuzzle.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Huzzah! Nice teamwork, and thank you for patiently slogging through the rougher patches. I can now tell my friend I know exactly where he is, thank you so much for your help! $\endgroup$
    – Rubio
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 5:35

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