Over here! Hey! People! Thank goodness. I managed to escape. I was held captive in a Keerg spaceship hovering high above the continental United States. They pointed on different places on a map and made me tell them the names of the cities, which they wrote down using their peculiar Keerg spelling. I think it was some kind of reconnaissance mission while they prepare for an eventual invasion.

The good news is that I managed to make a copy of their plan and escape. So if we can decode the place names from these Keerg squigglies, we'll know the order in which they will attack and we'll be able to prepare some defences. On my way out I saw a screen with giant crosshairs over Arizona, so I'm pretty sure the first attack will take place somewhere in that state. Anyway, here is the list.

  1. χεξετλ
  2. χεραςκͷχβα
  3. γκρωκα
  4. δισωκω
  5. κωνα
  6. λβγκͷ
  7. λγτμαπωκι
  8. λωκροβλ
  9. λωλεξγκε
  10. λωξωκιξβι
  11. λωςκβθςτι
  12. λωφιλαβ
  13. λωχμωλελτι
  14. μεζυληβςκ
  15. νεκλςνυςτ
  16. νμιζεςκωλ
  17. νυκρωςκ
  18. ξβοβυτ
  19. ξβουρω
  20. πεξβγνιρελ
  21. πηβγπε
  22. πͷδιτε
  23. ργλζθβςταλ
  24. ριλωςψαραλ
  25. ςκγραλ
  26. ςκεκμιβκ
  27. ςκωζυ
  28. ςνιλκω
  29. ςνͷκεπυ
  30. τιρωςναλ
  31. τρεζρωςκ
  32. τωλαλεκε
  33. υρωςκι
  34. φβολκω
  35. ψετηςτι
  36. ωςκβαξγνιρελ

Can you figure out the targets of the attacks?

  • $\begingroup$ From what you heard of their language: Is the language bound to vocals and consonants in one cipher? like Asian names/language or are vocals and konsonants differed? $\endgroup$
    – user52327
    Nov 6, 2018 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Jannis Won't answer this quite yet, but I'll make it into a hint if nobody cracks this in a day or two :) $\endgroup$
    – Jafe
    Nov 6, 2018 at 11:32
  • $\begingroup$ I'm just asking because i was trying to fit Tucson or Phenix into the first 1 and has this idea the language system isn't quite based on ours $\endgroup$
    – user52327
    Nov 6, 2018 at 11:36
  • $\begingroup$ Am I correct that rot13(ͷ nccrnef gb or napvrag terrx)? $\endgroup$ Nov 6, 2018 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ @CodeLikeBeaker It is the Greek letter digamma. It is not used anymore in modern Greek. $\endgroup$
    – jarnbjo
    Nov 6, 2018 at 21:31

3 Answers 3


Step 1:

If we assume that the aliens are using a phonetic transcription, which is also common in many non-latin earthly writing systems, it is pretty easy to match Phoenix, the capital of Arizona, to the first place name. Phoenix is e.g. in Russian transcribed as Финикс, literally Finiks, just as it is pronounced and not using a 1:1-mapping of each character. We then get χ=f, ε=i, ξ=n, τ=k, λ=s.

Step 2:

Replacing the known characters in the second place name, we get fiραςκͷfβα and probably together with α being the Greek letter for a, it already seemed quite obvious that we could make something like Filadelfia or Philadelphia out out this.

Step 3:

After giving the rest of the characters in Philadelphia the most obvious mappings, number 13 already shows up as sωfμωsiskι which looks very much like San Fransisco. We now have the first case of one letter mapped to a complex phonem. The letter ω first seemed to be like 'an' or 'en', or perhaps as a nasal vowel (IPA ɑ̃), but later it is shown to also be used e.g. for 'ing' (in Washington), 'am' (in Tampa) or 'on' (in Boston).

Step 4:

With the characters in San Fransisco mapped, many other place names are now obvious and there are only a few characters left to map. It becomes clear that ς is used as a voice marker in front of the consonants κ=t, τ=k and ν=p to create their voiced counterparts d, g and b.

This leaves us with the following list of places:

  1. Phoenix
  2. Philadelphia
  3. Atlanta
  4. Washington
  5. Tampa
  6. Seattle
  7. Sacramento
  8. St. Louis
  9. Cincinnati
  10. San Antonio
  11. San Diego
  12. San Jose
  13. San Francisco
  14. Riverside
  15. Pittsburg
  16. Providence
  17. Portland
  18. New York
  19. New Orleans
  20. Minneapolis
  21. Miami
  22. Milwaukee
  23. Las Vegas
  24. Los Angeles
  25. Dallas
  26. Detroit
  27. Denver
  28. Boston
  29. Baltimore
  30. Columbus
  31. Cleveland
  32. Kansas City
  33. Orlando
  34. Houston
  35. Chicago
  36. Indianapolis

  • $\begingroup$ Yep, this is correct. Nice work! $\endgroup$
    – Jafe
    Nov 7, 2018 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ @jafe There were several letters, which I had to bend quite a lot to get something reasonable, e.g. ω as I already mentioned. What was your intentional meaning of e.g. that character? Also the ͷ character seem to be used for quite different purposes. $\endgroup$
    – jarnbjo
    Nov 7, 2018 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ My idea was that rot13[ͷ vf "nal ibjry jvgu genvyvat y" (ry/vy/ny rgp.), ω vf "nal ibjry jvgu genvyvat anfny" (ra/vat/nz rgp.) naq υ vf "nal ibjry jvgu genvyvat e" (re/be rgp.)]. The idea comes from languages like Sanskrit (which has vocalic r and l) and Cantonese (which has a vocalic "ng"). $\endgroup$
    – Jafe
    Nov 7, 2018 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ @jafe I see, but then you are not particularly consequent with ερ in name 2, ιρ in 20, γρ in 25 or ιρ in 30. $\endgroup$
    – jarnbjo
    Nov 7, 2018 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ With "trailing" I mean specifically in the syllable coda. If the following consonant's in the beginning of the next syllable I just treated it as a regular consonant. Does that make any sense? $\endgroup$
    – Jafe
    Nov 7, 2018 at 21:11

Here's a start:

The written language may be based on sounds, but in a different way than ours.
If the first word is Phoenix, then χ=ph, ε=e or similar, ξ=n, τ=k, λ=s.
The second word is long, but also starts with χ and appears pretty long. As a pure guess based on this, it might be Philadelphia. The letter breakdown is: χ=ph, ε=i, ρ=l, α=a, ς=d, κ=softer, longer e, ͷ=l, χ=ph, β=ee (don't know why this wouldn't be used in Phoenix), α=a.
This would make entry #3 something along the lines of [_di_da] or [_de_da]

Of course, there are many other possibilities, such as the aliens writing right to left, bottom to top, non-phonetically, etc.

I'm probably also not gonna get too much farther, being a Canadian who is unfamiliar with the specifics of US geography.


Partial answer:

Obvious bits that might help:

1. The places on the list is made up of Greek alphabet. May have something to with the language tag
2. The list is sorted.
3. There are 36 places, which is a square number. (might help?) (anything to do with some stories where the number 36 is involved?)
4. Perhaps each Greek letter refers to one in the English alphabet? (cipher tag)

Less obvious bit:

A lot of places have "ςκ" in it (e.g. 2, 14, 25, 26, 27)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ A couple of things you can add: rot13(Gur erirefr a yrggre nccrnef ba gur yvfg bs cynprf ohg vg'f abg va gur terrx nycunorg.) Also rot13(Xrret vf terrx va erirefr.) $\endgroup$
    – NudgeNudge
    Nov 6, 2018 at 12:48

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