I need your help again. My girlfriend Ada now has a job at a spy agency and there's a... situation.

Ada's boss called her into his office this morning. He was holding a weird tube with a button in the middle. It seems that it was a prototype shrinking-ray gun purloined from an unfriendly power. He needed to know if it worked. He pointed one end at Ada and explained:

  • If it didn't work, there was no harm done.
  • If it did work, then he would keep her safe in a little metal capsule until he got clearance to unshrink her with an anti-shrink-ray device that he had created for just such an emergency.
  • If anything went wrong - well, better her than someone at a higher pay grade.

Before she could react, he pushed the button. I told you it was near the middle, right? Well, he must have been holding the tube backwards because Ada was fine but he shrank to the size of a fruit fly.


Especially since her boss was part of the innermost inner secret circle at the agency.

And it gets worse! While she was telling me this, someone knocked on the door. She panicked, popped the capsule in her mouth, grabbed my apple cider and swallowed. BUT... it was only my friend returning a game cartridge! Now my girlfriend has an insider in cider inside her! Aaaaaah!

The capsule is going to "emerge" in 24 to 48 hours. We have to put things right as soon as possible. Ada's performance review is next week and her boss - probably royally ticked off - is somewhere in her small intestines. It's probably kidnapping, it's super disgusting and it breaks HR rules about seeing coworkers outside office hours.

Our only clue is a coded message on a piece of paper she found on his desk. She's sure it says where the anti-shrink-ray device is. The problem is that the agency's code is totally numeric and this is all words. Her boss is so paranoid he encoded the code! And only yesterday he was bragging that no one at the agency could decode his code code.

Ada's in the bathroom crying. I need to turn the words into numbers. The agency can take it from there. The only problem is: I'm dumb. HHEEEEELLLLLPPP!

Thanks in advance.

Oh, yeah. Here's the message:

Thy glass, Will! Show whilst I alone did. Thy glass will show o. How, thy worth? I never saw that since. Brass nor stone. Who is it? That. Who is it? That, that time. Of year, ah, wherefore? With infection, if the dull. Substance, I grant thou. Wert those parts of thee? This is his cheek: tired. With all these whilst. I alone did. When thou shalt. Be full! Many a glorious...

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    $\begingroup$ Admit it: You wrote this story just to lead up to the pun "insider in cider inside her" $\endgroup$ – Philipp Aug 6 '18 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Philipp Yup. Totally guilty. I made up the whole puzzle to lead up to it. In fact I was going to call the agency Enzaida so she’d have an Enzaida insider in cider inside her. $\endgroup$ – Hugh Meyers Aug 6 '18 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ Of course, the boss also started this whole fiasco, making him the inciter... $\endgroup$ – Joel Harmon Aug 7 '18 at 3:25
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    $\begingroup$ Another HNQ on puzzling.se that I thought was on IPS from the title... $\endgroup$ – berry120 Aug 7 '18 at 10:17
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    $\begingroup$ @berry120 Yeah, I wasn't all that happy with the title. I tried making it something to do with swallowing but I couldn't come up with anything that didn't sound like sexual innuendo. I settled on this "in reference" for old timers. $\endgroup$ – Hugh Meyers Aug 7 '18 at 10:35

The boss has encoded the numbers using:

Shakespeare's sonnets. Specifically, he has converted each number to the first four words of the sonnet with that number, while changing the punctuation in order to obfuscate the breaks.

For example:

The first number was 77. Sonnet 77 begins: "Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear." This corresponds to the "Thy glass, Will! Show" in the cyphertext.

The numbers are thus as follows:

Thy glass, Will! Show -- 77
whilst I alone did. -- 79
Thy glass will show -- 77
o. How, thy worth? -- 39
I never saw that -- 83
since. Brass nor stone. -- 65
Who is it? That. -- 84
Who is it? That, -- 84
that time. Of year, -- 73
ah, wherefore? With infection, -- 67
if the dull. Substance, -- 44
I grant thou. Wert -- 82
those parts of thee? -- 69
This is his cheek: -- 68
tired. With all these -- 66
whilst. I alone did. -- 79
When thou shalt. Be -- 88
full! Many a glorious... -- 33

My contact @hagfy (real name unknown) has identified this as the highly-advanced

"ASCII encoding"

...and has used enhanced decryption capabilities to obtain the final location of the anti-shrink device:


  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Nice work! I think your second 79 should be a 77, and your 64 should be a 69 though. That would give rot13("ZBZ'F NGGVP, ERQ OBK!" jura pbairegvat qrpvzny gb grkg) $\endgroup$ – hagfy Aug 6 '18 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ That was super fast! Thanks, guys! @hagfy Do you work for Absolutely Secret Counter Intelligence, Inc. too? $\endgroup$ – Hugh Meyers Aug 6 '18 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ Ada cried so much she barfed up the capsule. (Kind of a good news/bad news scenario.) The anti-shrink was just where the message said. We’re saved!! $\endgroup$ – Hugh Meyers Aug 6 '18 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ @HughMeyers I can neither 6 nor 21. $\endgroup$ – hagfy Aug 6 '18 at 17:10
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks, @hagfy The site I was using for reference used Roman Numerals, so I no doubt flubbed one or two of the numbers. And I can't believe I didn't think to do A.S.C.I.Inc's work for them! $\endgroup$ – EightAndAHalfTails Aug 6 '18 at 18:11

Wrap-up: The Making Of My Spying Girlfriend

This is not a solution to the puzzle, but provides notes from its poser. This type of answer has been approved by the community.

Caution: This post may contain spoilers.


I wasn't going to do a wrap-up on this one but I suddenly remembered a few of the difficulties I had putting it together so I thought I'd share in the hopes that it may help someone else who in a similar situation.

As @Philipp so wisely guessed (it looked for a while as if his comment was going to get more votes than the puzzle) this all came from the gag phrase in the middle. Well done, @Philipp! We were in the midst of a heat wave (what we call a canicule here in Swiss Romande) and I was performing an experiment regarding the effect of apple cider on global warming. All was going well until the classic poem There Was an Old Lady popped into my head as I was reaching for my glass. You may recall that this Old Lady had a "spider inside her". Spider... inside her... cider... I tried to resist but I have a terrible weakness for wordplay.

Creative steps

Alcohol and nursery rhymes aren't a great foundation on which to build a puzzle. Nevertheless, I persevered.

I had "insider in cider inside her". My daughter's favorite Magic School Bus episode involved the bus shrinking and being swallowed. I decided to steal this idea. I needed a narrator to deliver the line, a girl to be "her" and an insider who gets shrunk. Oh, and a puzzle of some kind.

To make it compelling, I wanted to make it necessary to solve the puzzle (which I didn't have) in order to avert disaster. So: girl spy swallows boss, her job is on the line, her boyfriend narrates. Ages ago I wrote a "narrated" puzzle called "My Puzzling Girlfriend". decided to use those characters and a similar title.

The constant problem was that the story part kept growing. I learned how difficult it can be to be brief.

The first idea was that the girlfriend was a "good" spy. A "bad" spy shrank her boss and it was her fault. She captured a coded message for an antidote... too long.

Girlfriend shrinks boss by accident. But why would she be pointing a shrinking device at her boss? How does she know about an antidote? Where does the puzzle come in? (The puzzle I didn't have yet. Dang.)

Start over. Girlfriend has a nutty boss who tries to test a shrink ray on her but shrinks himself accidentally. He planned to unshrink her after the test. He made a puzzle to keep the unshrinker secret because... SPIES! I'm starting to wonder what was in my apple cider because at the time I thought this made sense. (Still no puzzle ideas!!!)

I'm now thinking: narrator and Ada go to office. Dialogue with boss. Accident. Put boss in capsule. Funny bad guys attack. Ada swallows boss. Beat bad guys. Search office. Find note. Can't solve. Way. Too. Long.

I rearranged. I pruned. I condensed. I made the narrator so panicked he almost forgot to give the puzzle. I ended up with what I felt was about the upper limit of what I could expect someone to read before getting to the real puzzle (which I still didn't have).

Logistical steps

Spies have codes. I decided make this a code. I needed to go from letters to numbers or vice versa. Maybe because this all started with a poem, I thought about numbered poems. Shakespeare's sonnets have an unambiguous numbering (Milton's, for example, are in two editions with different numberings) and he wrote lots so I could go for ASCII encoding rather than the A-1, B-2 that I originally planned.

I needed a short message since it takes four words to signal a single letter. I left the spaces out of the message because it looked weird to have so much repetition. I wanted the numbers not to look too random so someone would think to try ASCII decoding them. I made sure that typing the first few words into Google would get you to the answer. Even with a knowledge tag, it's not fair to expect people to recognize the beginning of random Shakespeare sonnets.

I was prepared to offer up a couple of hints if people didn't think to Google. I planned to reveal that the agency was called Absolutely Secret Counter Intelligence, Inc. to clue ASCII. I had some clues to suggest the boss was a Shakespeare fan. In the end these were not needed but it's good to think about hints beforehand.


This was all about Google: making sure the sonnets were readily available online, making sure there were no alternate numberings. The ASCII charts are readily available with hex, octal, and decimal numbers.

Your thoughts/mental process

I really didn't think this was going to work very well. I went at the whole process the wrong way around. I had a puzzle with everything except a puzzle. I think it would be very easy to go very wrong with this sort of thing. I'm glad people seemed to like it in the end. If I thought it would be so popular, I would have spent more time on it. Possibly without making it any better.


Edit. Tighten it up. If your puzzle involves a story or a poem, make them as good as possible but don't waste the reader's time. Use whatever tools you have. Humour helps.


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