15
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Cheesening

Fellow agents,

I'm agent Sly Happershat of the Department of Unlikely Threats. One of our undercover operatives, whom we'll call "Snuggles," has infiltrated the infamous prankster spy network known as the T.I.N.K.L.E.R.S.*

Snuggles has uncovered their diabolical plan to fly hundreds of drones over a famous United States sculpture. Each drone will be armed with a can of off-brand Easy Cheese. The TINKLERS fully intend to SMOTHER THE MONUMENT WITH AEROSOL-PROPELLED STRINGS OF PROCESSED CHEESE FOOD!

Obviously, we can't let that happen.

We know WHEN the cheesening will happen. Ten days from today. But we don't know WHERE it will happen.

That's where you come in.

Snuggles has managed to sneak out a TINKLERS document that reveals the target monument and time of attack. Unfortunately, it is enciphered in a code we've never seen before.

Can you help us crack the code and SAVE AMERICA?!

Our experts report that the code is too complex to break without clues. We've asked Snuggles to gather more intel. But with every suspicious question he asks, he risks exposure as a government spy. And no one wants to be on the receiving end of the TINKLERS' dreaded tickle torture!

Each day, Snuggles will add one additional clue to help us solve the mystery ... until he is exposed or time runs out.

Here is the message. Will you help us?

RLLIR ESLKS TLETS TKLSS SKKNK KSSEE SLIRL SNKLS LLTLS STRES EKESS TELNS EIRNS LETLT ESLSE IRESS LILEE SKNKN KNLSS KTKSN ENNSL TEELE SSKLK KLKKS SREKI SSTNL SNKSR LKSEN SLIRE SSKRN SLIRL RESNS SSELS LILSS TIELS SKIEI NSNIL ISREL IEISS KKNNK SSNTI STTIS RKLIR ESTEI SSLSS KRNLI STLSN SSEKS ELISS NNNSS TTESL SSRLL ISTTN TTTTS RKRLK ISSLI RKRTS SKEKL KSRTT ILISK KSTET SSSEN ESESK ILKIS TINLI SKTNS RKLI

[Note from Tony. To be marked as the correct answer, you must solve the entire code AND identify the value of all eight code letters.]

Hints from Snuggles:

Day 1 (2018-01-27):

The message is enciphered in 8 unique letters, which when combined spell TINKLERS. I caught a glimpse of someone decoding from afar, and they seemed to be adding things together. Because of this, I suspect the plaintext is shorter than the ciphertext and that is it a homophonic substitution cipher.

Day 2 (2018-01-28):

I managed to smuggle out the coding alphabet with each character's corresponding number value. My theory is that each letter in "TINKLERS" represents a number, and you add them together to get a number for a corresponding alphabet letter. But how do we know when one plaintext letter ends and another begins? Perhaps there is something I am missing.

Click on the alphabet to enlarge.

coding alphabet

Day 3 (2018-01-29):

I think they're getting suspicious. I got Thompkins tipsy on wine coolers and was able to extract the values of 5 of the 8 code letters. The problem is, I just don't know WHICH letters. At any rate, I'm getting funny looks from some of the guys. I better lie low for a while.

1 2 3 5 10

The ciphertext has a space after every five letters, but I think that's just a ruse. There must be some way to demarcate one plaintext letter and the next. Maybe not all of the 8 code letters represent numerals?

Day 4 (2018-01-30):

I have to keep this short. They expect me back any minute. The "S" letter in the TINKLERS code alphabet represents a character escape. It does not matter if there are one, two, or three. Whenever you see an S or multiple S's, the preceding character code ends and the next begins.

Day 5 (2018-01-31):

For a second, I thought I had the case cracked. Pilkins let it slip that the target was Mount Rushmore -- more specifically: Teddy Roosevelt's mustache. Turns out he was just pulling my leg.

But I did learn a few things. The remaining two letters are operators -- that is, they somehow modify a nearby character.

One of the operators is the number 0. It adds a 0 to the digit directly preceding it. So a 5 followed by a 0 becomes 50.

Not sure about the other operator.

Day 6 (2018-02-01):

Today, the big bosses Squiggles and Marlene gathered all of us up into the meeting room. They had grave looks on their faces. I knew I was toast.

Squiggles said, "Fellow Tinklers, I come here to tell you that we have a rat in this organization."

I eyed the door. It was blocked by two hulking bodyguards. I held my breath, waiting for the inevitable.

Squiggles slowly walked toward a cupboard and fidgeted with something inside it.

He turned around, holding a cage. With a pet rat inside it.

"His name is Milton. He is our new mascot."

The crew cheered and then crowded around Milton. They made ewwing and awing noises.

I just can't handle the stress. This will be my last clue.

The other operator is "-", a negative symbol. It turns the character directly after it into a negative number. So if you have the string 15-32, then 1+5-3+2=5.

Adios

SPECIAL MESSAGE FROM AGENT HAPPERSHAT: Everyone here at the Department of Unlikely Threats owes a debt of gratitude to Agent DqwertyC, who cracked the code and clued us in to the target monument. If you haven't read his findings, please do so below. Now that we know the target ... well, to be honest, we're just happy it wasn't the Washington Monument or the Statue of Liberty or something. The particular sculpture in line for a cheesening ... honestly, we'll probably just let it be cheesed.


This puzzle is a cross-post from my puzzle blog. (Link in profile.)

Update: 2018-01-31. I fixed a typo in the code. Thanks to @DqwertyC for helping me discover it.

*(Team of Incurable Ne'er-do-wells, Knaves, Lollygaggers, Egregious Rascals, and Scallywags)

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  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Personally, I really want to see the cheesening happen :P $\endgroup$ – Quintec Jan 28 '18 at 16:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Part of me does too! $\endgroup$ – Tony Youngblood Jan 28 '18 at 18:22
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I keep opening this puzzle wanting to give it a shot, but that picture at the top keeps sending me to my fridge! $\endgroup$ – Phylyp Jan 29 '18 at 16:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ :-) Easy Cheese is brain food. $\endgroup$ – Tony Youngblood Jan 29 '18 at 16:58
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ If it is too complex to break without clues can we just sacrifice Snuggles and get all the clues now? $\endgroup$ – James Khoury Jan 31 '18 at 1:45
15
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Finally, an answer (which I got barely before the last hint, but didn't type fast enough).
The TINKLERS are going to cheese:

The Bean, in Chicago, at 3:46pm

How I got there:

Looking at different character counts, we have the following distribution:


      Count | Doubles | Triples 
 T:      32         6         1
 I:      32         0         0
 N:      29         3         1
 K:      41         6         0
 L:      48         3         0
 E:      37         3         0
 R:      23         0         0
 S:      91        24         3
 

This leads me to believe that the character 'S' is some sort of flow control character, instead of a numeral. My best guess so far:
Single S - Character separator
Double S - Word separator
Triple S - Line separator  

Update: Hint 4 half-confirmed this, by saying that the S is a character separator.

Working with this, we have the message:

RLLIRE
LK
TLET
TKL
KKNKK
EE
LIRL
NKL
LLTL
TRE
EKE
TELN
EIRN
LETLTE
L
EIRE
LILEE
KNKNKNL
KTK
NENN
LTEELE
KLKKLKK
REKI
TNL
NK
RLK
EN
LIRE
KRN
LIRLRE
N
EL
LIL
TIEL
KIEIN
NILI
RELIEI
KKNNK
NTI
TTI
RKLIRE
TEI
L
KRNLI
TL
N
EK
ELI
NNN
TTE
L
RLLI
TTNTTTT
RKRLKI
LIRKRT
KEKLK
RTTILI
KK
TET
ENE
E
KILKI
TINLI
KTN
RKLI

From hint 6:

One character adds a 0 to the previous character's value. We can figure out which is the multiplier by looking for a ciphertext-character that is never at the start of a plaintext-character. The only character that meets that is I.

One other character is an operator, though of what sort I'm not sure. My best guess is that that character is R, because it never appears as a double, and there are no lines that consist entirely of Rs, and because R is never followed by an I, and after fix by OP, never appears at the end of a character. This means R does something to the value of the next character. My best guess is that it makes that character hold a negative value.

Using these assumptions, I:

Wrote a java program to brute force all permutations of values for TNKLE (knowing they were valued at 1, 2, 3, 5, and 10). I also took the resulting value of each character mod 40, because there were no possible combinations that wouldn't overflow. Then, I just cycled through all combinations until I got to one that generated readable text! (I know totally inelegant, but hey, the CIA should have supercomputers, right ;) )
This resulted in the following values:

 T: 3 
 I: Multiply previous by 10
 N: 1
 K: 10
 L: 5
 E: 2
 R: Next value is negative
 S: Character delimiter 

This revealed the message:

comradepranksters,westrikechicago.at1546,weshallcheese...thebean!
Adding spaces and capitalization, this becomes:
"Comrade pranksters, we strike Chicago. At 1546, we shall cheese... The Bean!"

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  • $\begingroup$ if L is 1 then TTE-L is a 2 letter word ending in a? I don't know any. if L is 9 then EE-LIRL-NKL-LLTL is 3 letters and a number or punctuation?(LLTL is 27+L) $\endgroup$ – James Khoury Jan 30 '18 at 1:45
  • $\begingroup$ @DqwertyC, interesting theory! All I can say is that tomorrow's clue will either confirm or deny at least one thing you proposed. $\endgroup$ – Tony Youngblood Jan 30 '18 at 2:09
  • $\begingroup$ @DqwertyC, your answer just helped me discover a typo in the code! Fixing now. $\endgroup$ – Tony Youngblood Feb 1 '18 at 5:13
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, I fixed it. There was an E missing near the beginning. The beginning now reads: RLLIR ESLKS TLETS. Can you guess what part of your answer made me realize my mistake? $\endgroup$ – Tony Youngblood Feb 1 '18 at 5:30
  • $\begingroup$ Infront of I is atleast once every other character (expect R) this means there would be some 50 or 100 values which are not in the alphabet. Which means the other character has to be some sort of subtract. Anyway KIEIN NILI infront of them are the characters K, E, N, L so if only 1 2 3 5 10 are possible atleast one has a value above 50. $\endgroup$ – Doomenik Feb 1 '18 at 13:24

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