I'm a time traveller. In order to keep balance to the universe, it is my duty to preserve past, present and future.

However, the Bad Guys want to mess with our past to destroy humanity as we know it once and for all. They are usually trying to execute great leaders in the past, although our agents reported that they want to change their methods for the next mission.

Furthermore, we were able to prove a connection between American Intelligence Services and the Bad Guys. Finally, from a transcript of a meeting, we know that companies such as Brother seem to have adopted certain methods from the Bad Guys.

We have intercepted the following message from the Enemy:

Something dotty in the state of Rome.


Can you decipher this message for me so that we know their next target?
Bonus points if you can tell me their new method!

Hint 1:

Part of the encryption was done with Reality.

Additional Hint:

You have to be well-read (or able to use Google) to solve the whole mystery!

Third Hint:

We have now intercepted a message when they tried to assassinate Barack Hussein Obama (which we could prevent), the message was decoded to read 8 23 15 8 23, or H W O H W in characters. The title was alluding to Act 1 Scene 3 of a play.


The blurry/fuzzy image is due to it being a medium sized imgur picture. Using the same link without the m at the end will provide a high quality image. Nevertheless, the blur presents no issue to solving the puzzle whatsoever. There is no information hidden in the image that doesn't meet the eye.

  • $\begingroup$ Should we read anything into the fact the figure on the right is a tiny bit blurrier? Since it's a PNG, it's hard to imagine that to be a compression artifact. $\endgroup$
    – mr23ceec
    Jun 13, 2017 at 9:23
  • $\begingroup$ @mr23ceec This was not done on purpose. The image itself should also not be thought of an image. Just imagine a piece of paper with the title and the squares on it. I do not have access to my computer in near future, otherwise I would change the image to represent the piece of paper to avoid misconception. The lines separating the squares are relevant though. $\endgroup$
    – Narusan
    Jun 13, 2017 at 10:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If the source material is as suggested by other puzzlers (namely @Grumpyllama59) then we would really need to know which edition. There have been many, especially when you throw in modern translation. $\endgroup$ Jun 27, 2017 at 17:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MikeQ Line number is irrelevant. $\endgroup$
    – Narusan
    Jun 30, 2017 at 4:49
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Well, even with the numerical solution and the source revealed, I have no idea how to combine the two and neither does anybody else, it seems. I feel it's time for another hint, more detailed guidance or else a self-answer. $\endgroup$ Jul 3, 2017 at 19:09

5 Answers 5


20 1 7 3 20 1 7 3 is the decoding of the image(@GarethMcCaughan and @BlueWizard)

The part about Rome could be related to the Ides of March.

2017-3 is March of 2017.

Still working on what this might lead to. (I'm very new to puzzling)

Laying out what we have so far

8 23 15 8 23
Act 1 Scene 3
Barack Hussein Obama

20 1 7 3 20 1 7 3
Act 1 Scene 4

Thoughts on what we have so far

Obviously we're working with some sort of code here. I think the act and scene might work as a sort of key that might alter the numbers (which translate to letters) to yield whatever letter is needed.

With the Obama one, the scene number is 3 and the numbers begin to repeat after the third number and with the other one, the scene number is 4 and the pattern repeats itself after the fourth number.

Also "HWOHW" = 5 letters and Obama = 5 letters, so there might be a connection there. If so, we're looking for an 8 letter name ("TAGCTAGC" = 8 letters).

It could be a fustian riddle and that's why Shakespeare is relevant.

Another thought is that it is in the state of Rome. This could be a clue to use Caesar shift cipher, but currently this is yielding no clear results.

I think I'm getting close, but I might need one more nudge in the right direction.

I think "B. H. Obama" implies that the initials are important.

Scene 3 could mean index 3 which is the letter "O"...

Guess 1

Based on this I would say that scene 4 means index 4 which gives us "C" and since there are 8 letters it could likely be Calvin "Coolidge".

Guess 2

Act 1 = T
Scene 4 = C
TC could be Ted Cruz?

Getting Closer

Somehow this ties into Rome...

Guess 3

Tiberius Claudius Nero

Guess 4

Thanks @JamesCoyle! The answer is Marcus Tullius Cicero

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "Something dotty in the state of Rome" is a lot like "something is rotten in the state of Denmark" which is a line spoken by Marcellus in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act I $\endgroup$ Jun 23, 2017 at 17:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Act 1 could be index 1 which is H. So now we have "HO", but still need to figure out how to get the "B" $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2017 at 17:52
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Marcus Tullius Cicero? $\endgroup$ Jul 15, 2017 at 18:00
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't really feel right after everyone else did all the leg work. I'd suggest @Grumpyllama59 update with the answer as they put the second half of the puzzle together. $\endgroup$ Jul 15, 2017 at 23:54
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ So the baddies communicate the target of assessination by looking for a famous line in some play, said by someone whose first name is somewhat similar to the target's first name, then use the act and scene to pick two letters from a string of letters that is encoded as bits? Meh! I wonder how often they kill the wrong one. (Well, maybe it's valid encoding, bit I don't think this was solvable in its original form. In my opinion, the puzzle would have worked better if you had included, say, five examples of intercepted messages to define the pattern and then told us to crack a sixth one.) $\endgroup$
    – M Oehm
    Jul 16, 2017 at 8:10

The new method of taking over the world is

Donald J. Trump

Hints in Text

I'm a time traveller. You're from the future and want to save the world.
the Bad Guys. Common trump slang for referring to everyone who is against him. Might also mean "the Russians" which the U.S. has a history of referring to as "bad guys".
destroy humanity. Trump got access to nuclear weaponary big enough for destroying the world.
execute great leaders [...] they want to change their methods. Instead of killing a president just become one.
American Intelligence Services and the Bad Guys. The Russia-Affair of Trump.
companies such as Brother. Might refer to the brothers Charles Koch and David Koch who own massive oil and chemistry companys.
Something dotty. Trump definitely seems to be dotty (according to my dictionary - sorry i am no native speaker)
state of Rome. Maybe this refers to any global super power. Back in the good old days this was rome. But now it might refer to the U.S.
About the hint:
Part of the encryption was done with Reality..- Trump has a distorting effect on reality

About the image

One can read the image as binary.

reading row wise 10001000 00000000 10101010 00110011 01110111
decimal: 136 0 170 51 119

when reading column-wise:
10100 00001 00111 00011 10100 00001 00111 00011
decimal: 20 1 7 3 20 1 7 3

The 2017 at the very beginning seems suspicious.
But I don't know what to do with the 320 other than 2017-03-20. Wikipedia lists no mayor world events for this date and also OP said, that the date is coincidential.
I suspect that this might be the year the attacker will strike. It also might be a date in the future since you are a time traveler and "past" and "future" are indistinguishable for you.

On Steganography: I analysed the large version of the image using Photoshop and the image seems to not have hidden anything. No low color trickery and no no pixel which are not purely white and black.

Other Ideas

1) maybe the pixels represent a landscape. But i don't know any landscapes or buildings with four free-floating elements.

2) "Something Dotty" might refer to the female name "Dottie". The 1979 movie "Escape to Athena" has a character named Dottie Del Mar but that's far fetched.

  • $\begingroup$ Your first attempt is pretty good. I don't understand how you did the conversion into decimals though... For example, column-wise you identified 8 binary numbers and only 5 decimal numbers. $\endgroup$
    – Narusan
    Jun 23, 2017 at 15:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well, my first attempt (using columns, as seems to be standard for yellow-dot steganography) gave two repetitions of 20,1,7,3. That doesn't seem to me like it tells us anyone's target. Converting to letters gives TAGCTAGC which might be a fragment of DNA sequence but tells me nothing. Given the stuff about time, maybe this signifies 2017-03-20 plus number 173, but that likewise tells me nothing. All of which is why I am stuck :-). $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Jun 23, 2017 at 16:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ (Other thoughts that have led me nowhere: Rome->Caesar->Caesar cipher, but TAGC doesn't yield anything useful on shifting the letters; Rome->Latin->ISO-Latin-1 or similar character set, but this inspires no clever thoughts.) $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Jun 23, 2017 at 16:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think "something dotty" is just hinting at yellow-dot printer steganography. Either your 16 should be another 20 or I'm very confused by about something. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Jun 23, 2017 at 16:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That's part of puzzling. Tomorrow I might have another look at this problem again $\endgroup$
    – BlueWizard
    Jun 23, 2017 at 17:55

Extremely partial answer

The hints seem to me to point very strongly to

something resembling the yellow-dot steganographic watermarking done by most colour laser printers. ("Companies such as Brother"; and someone with the unlikely name of Reality Winner was recently caught by this means, having leaked secrets from the NSA.)


I see no sign of yellow-dot steganography in the actual image here.


there are a lot of things that look like JPEG artefacts even though the image is actually a PNG. Perhaps they carry some sort of information? But that seems like "steganography" rather than "cipher", contrary to the tags here; and perhaps they're too close to invisible to get information about if, as instructed, we're thinking of this as a piece of paper rather than a computerized image as such.


perhaps there is intended to be some relationship between the pattern of squares here and the patterns of dots used by those printers. But it doesn't look to me as if the one particularly matches the other.

Note that

the pattern of squares itself (as opposed to any funny business in its low bits) has even less information in it than meets the eye, because its left and right sides are the same. (Perhaps subtle differences between the left and right sides are where the real information resides?)

  • $\begingroup$ You are indeed very close to the solution of the first part! How does the type of stenography you mentioned in the spoilers work? $\endgroup$
    – Narusan
    Jun 13, 2017 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ Are you going to elaborate on this point? Are you lacking time and/or interest? Or are you stuck and should I give more hints? $\endgroup$
    – Narusan
    Jun 15, 2017 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I have no further ideas beyond what I've already posted. The obvious ways for this to work the same way as the yellow-dot thing are (1) for it to use yellow dots or some similar hardly-visible hidden thing, or (2) for it to use the same encoding as the yellow dots do somehow, and so far as I can tell neither of those is the case. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Jun 15, 2017 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ I think BlueWizard lost track a bit. Do you want to continue as you have found the 20 1 7 3 20 1 7 3? $\endgroup$
    – Narusan
    Jun 23, 2017 at 17:37
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I agree, it looks like he did. But -- forgive me! -- I really don't see how there can be enough information in "Something dotty in the state of Rome" + "20 1 7 3 20 1 7 3" to yield a convincing answer. I may well be missing something neat. I'll continue to think about it, of course, but I'm no further on than I was a week ago. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Jun 23, 2017 at 18:53

Weak at best but I thought it was an interesting idea. :P

Ok so we've established decoding the image gives us the numbers 20 1 7 3 20 1 7 3. It seems strange that it repeats. If it were some sort of cypher it would likely mean the target is some 8 letter word where the first 4 letters repeat which just seems unlikely.

However, I thought it may be a simple case of overthinking things so I tried doing some other things with these numbers.

If we translate the numbers into their corresponding letters we get: T A G C

At first glance not much help at all. But if we think all the way back to high school we remember that:

These letters represent the four chemical bases of DNA: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T).

With that in mind, I conclude the target may in fact be:

Watson and Crick.

  • $\begingroup$ Until the DNA bit, you were pretty good. (That was a red herring). Someone else has already found out that Something dotty in the state of Rome refers to Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 4 (Something rotten in the state of Denmark). Maybe you can do something with that. $\endgroup$
    – Narusan
    Jun 29, 2017 at 21:07

The image decodes to:

The Number (55)

How I approached this solution:

Copying the picture to another layer and rotating it 180°
Then mergeing the two pics & taking the black squares only, yields this Final Picture

enter image description here

Although I'm Not sure this is the intended answer
Maybe their new method is giving Codenames to who they want to kill, so the intercepters won't know who there target is.

  • $\begingroup$ Great efforts. However, I think you are a bit overthinking it. I recommend reading the hint carefully, consulting the internet and especially the news. I can tell you that the cipher tag refers to this part of the puzzle. $\endgroup$
    – Narusan
    Jun 11, 2017 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ I have provided another hint to lead you into the right direction. $\endgroup$
    – Narusan
    Jun 11, 2017 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ Well, the same figure could also be read as "SS", hopefully not SchutzStaffel, but the Secret Service. No idea what this would mean though. $\endgroup$
    – mr23ceec
    Jun 13, 2017 at 11:01
  • $\begingroup$ @mr23ceec An image can be modified in multiple ways to represent letters, especially such an abstract version as the clue provided in the question. As long as you do not know the method of cypher, trial and error will lead to many possible solutions, yet you have no idea which one is correct. $\endgroup$
    – Narusan
    Jun 13, 2017 at 11:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Talal_Sharaa Gareth is quite close... $\endgroup$
    – Narusan
    Jun 15, 2017 at 20:28

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