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I'm kept inside a boxy cage.
A prefix for the modern age,
I make the messages you create
fly at a supersonic rate.

Now that box has me and my friends
inside a box with rounded ends.
You can find us in all your letters,
we make communication better.

But look! One friend is now set free!
The one that's a minute, a second, a year.
Freedom is sweet, but my dear friend.
Alert someone before we're spent!

The answer is a word.

There are some tags that would apply but might be a little spoilery. I'll add them if nobody gets the answer.


Edit: I came up with a couple of hints that continue the story of the poem, so I added the "story" tag. Mind you that it's definitely possible to solve the puzzle just with the poem, but I think this will make it even more... puzzling, which is of course my intention. Here's the first one:

The following day, my friend hadn't returned yet. However, our captor didn't seem too concerned with it. When he approached the box, I took the opportunity to ask him about it:

"Oh, you're so naive, little one", he said. "Your friend didn't escape; I let him go. The plan wouldn't have worked if he had stayed with you all."

"Plan? What plan?", I asked, but he walked away, ignoring me.

Edit 2: Added one tag, removed "enigmatic puzzle".

Edit 3: Hint!

I tried asking our captor again what plan he was referring to. He seemed to be in a more talkative mood:

"You're just bait, that's what you are. We're only using you to capture other, bigger creatures."

I was puzzled. "What kind of creatures?"

"Rodents, insects, reptiles. That's what we're looking for".

"Why not birds?".

He thought for a second, and then said. "We may catch some birds. Parakeets, for example. Those are pretty. But we're not wasting time on pigeons or eagles or storks." He looked at me mockingly. "Anyways, that's more than enough talk for today".

He left again, and I was more confused than ever before.

Edit 4: Another hint!

The title, as lame as it looks, is a clue.

Edit 5:

The poem describes something quite literally. Finding out what it describes is the riddle part of the puzzle, but that's not the final answer.

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Update

My Final Guess

It is

Pattern (@Henrique Valle but in singular)

  1. Stanza

    The Prefix of the modern Age "E" (@1848, @Astralbee) in a boxy Cage [e]

  2. Stanza

    Me and my friends refers to a "." and the "t" that will show up in the third Stanza. The box with rounded ends are parantheses which leaves us with [e](.t) so far (@Henrique Valle and @insert_name_here)

  3. Stanza

    is his friend minute,second,year (@Astralbee again)-> time ->t set free which brings us to our final regex pattern [e](.)t

  4. Getting the word

    if we use the pattern on the whole poem we end up with "p att ern" so i guess i missed something for excluding spaces in the poem and the answer is "pattern"

  5. Final correction

    As already suspected my second stanza interpretation wasn't quite right but got the job done. The intended solution would've been "a-z" or "A-Za-z" in a box [A-Za-z] in a box with rounded ends ([A-Za-z]). This is our capture group which now also deals with the two spaces i encountered. Complete Pattern: [Ee]([A-Za-z])t

My two previous guesses

News/Information and Address

can be found in the edit history. They didn't contribute to the final answer and make this post way too big.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Puzzling Stack Exchange! Good thinking outside of the box (pun may or may not be intended), but this is unfortunately not correct! $\endgroup$ – NudgeNudge Feb 4 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ You pretty much got it, congrats! Although rot13(gung jnf abg gur cnggrea V jnf guvaxvat bs, juvpu unq n-m vafgrnq bs gur crevbq (juvpu svgf "zr naq zl sevraqf" n yvggyr ovg orggre naq nyfb trgf evq bs gur oynax fcnprf)). But I think that's good enough for a checkmark :) $\endgroup$ – NudgeNudge Feb 8 at 11:24
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    $\begingroup$ That explains the Box inside the Box^^ I figured i was missing something but my regex was a bit rusty :D Should i just add it to the answer ? $\endgroup$ – Dragonchild Feb 8 at 11:37
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah! Go ahead. $\endgroup$ – NudgeNudge Feb 8 at 11:42
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    $\begingroup$ Awesome! The pattern also works with the second part, if you want to add it to your answer! (i completly missed that there is only one character between e and t in rodents, insects, reptiles and parakeets T.T) $\endgroup$ – Henrique Valle Feb 8 at 12:04
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I think the word might be:

EAT

I'm kept inside a boxy cage. A prefix for the modern age, I make the messages you create fly at a supersonic rate.

I think this is the letter E, as in the prefix on e-mail, and other internet-related things. Email is much faster than "snail mail". Also the upper-case 'E' kinda looks like a boxy cage, especially if back-to-back with a backwards one -

Now that box has me and my friends inside a box with rounded ends. You can find us in all your letters, we make communication better.

The letter A perhaps, as this is also found in email addresses in the form of the @ symbol, which is an 'a' inside a "rounded" cage of sorts.

But look! One friend is now set free! The one that's a minute, a second, a year. Freedom is sweet, but my dear friend. Alert someone before we're spent!

I'm guessing this is the letter T which in many computer applications and programming languages represents time (hours, minutes, seconds).

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  • $\begingroup$ That's a really good guess! And you're right in at least some of your assumptions, but there's a little bit more to it than that. To be more specific: lbhe thrff qbrfa'g dhvgr svg gur frpbaq fgnamn. Jung jbhyq or "zr naq zl sevraqf"? $\endgroup$ – NudgeNudge Feb 4 at 13:50
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My guess is

Patterns

Hint/Edit 4 makes me think of:

Regular expressions

From the poem:

"I'm kept inside a boxy cage."

Inside a computer

"A prefix for the modern age,"

You can use look for prefixes with a pattern starting with $

"I make the messages you create fly at a supersonic rate."

You use them to search data quickly

"Now that box has me and my friends inside a box with rounded ends. "

You can wrap them up with ( )

"The one that's a minute, a second, a year."

You can use a pattern to find strings representing dates

About the plan

Regular expressions use a pattern ("bait") to find ("catch") full words and strings ("Bigger creatures").

That's what Hint/Edit 5 is about.

The plan describes the process of matches, but doesn't say explicity what is the thing.

The next line of the "captor"...

...gives an example. One patter could return "rodents", "insects", "reptiles" and "parakeets"; but not "pigeons", "eagles" or "storks".

I don't know if there is a specific pattern i should find to tie all the things up, but one that works would be /.*e.*t.*/, that looks for a word with an "e" before a "t"

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  • $\begingroup$ You're so, SO close, especially at the end. If you put your conclusion together with @Astralbee's reasoning, you may have it! $\endgroup$ – NudgeNudge Feb 7 at 21:46
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how about...

ELECTRON/ELECTRICITY

I'm kept inside a boxy cage

BATTERY

A prefix for the modern age

E-MAIL, E-CIGARETTE...

I make the messages you create fly at a supersonic rate

physical layer of the internet transfers electrons

Second paragraph:

same ideas as the previous two hints

Third paragraph:

Maybe refers to a battery/power leak?

Extra hints:

Stored energy generated from a power plant is siphoned off to be used to power homes, devices...ect

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  • $\begingroup$ Still not close! Will probably add some more hints tomorrow, so far @Astralbee's answer is the closest one. $\endgroup$ – NudgeNudge Feb 4 at 20:20
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Partial answer:

Continuing from Henrique Valle's answer, I think the riddle describes

a specific regular expression.

However, I'm not quite sure what it is yet.

I'm kept inside a boxy cage. A prefix for the modern age, I make the messages you create fly at a supersonic rate.

Per @Astralbee's answer, this could describe the letter E. "I'm kept inside a boxy cage" could indicate that it is inside square brackets (a character group), making the expression so far [e].

Now that box has me and my friends inside a box with rounded ends. You can find us in all your letters, we make communication better.

I'm not sure what "me and my friends" is referring to, but "inside a box with rounded ends" could mean that the entire expression is now wrapped in parentheses.

Based on the third stanza, my best guess for E's "friends" would be punctuation marks, but that doesn't seem to fit (why would they be E's "friends"?). If this is correct, they could be used to make a negative lookahead (i.e. something like (?![e])), but that would be useless without more letters, and the brackets around e would be completely unnecessary.

But look! One friend is now set free! The one that's a minute, a second, a year. Freedom is sweet, but my dear friend. Alert someone before we're spent!

I believe the first two lines are referring to a period (as in "a period of time"), which is the wildcard character in regular expressions. "Set free" means that it is outside the brackets, and possibly also the parentheses. I'm not sure what the last two lines are referring to, though. Excluding E's "friends" (whatever they are), the expression is now ([e].), or ([e])..

Hint 1

The expression ("plan") presumably wouldn't work as intended with the . inside the brackets, as that would match a literal . in place of the e instead of acting as a wildcard character after it.

Hint 3

As Henrique Valle's answer says, these are probably examples of strings the expression would or wouldn't match. ([e].) alone wouldn't fit, since it matches "eagles" and "pigeons". ([e].t) (or, equivalently, simply e.t) is the easiest one I could find that would, but there has to be more to it than that, since it doesn't make use of the brackets or parentheses, and I'm not sure where the t would come from or what you would do with that expression.

Hint 5

I'm guessing the regular expression described by the riddle will either match the answer or symbolize it somehow.

I know I'm missing a big part of this, probably related to the second stanza, since

without additional characters both inside the brackets and outside the parentheses, one or both of them would be useless. If the second stanza was all I was missing, it would have to add to both of these.

It's possible that

the parentheses (which are called "capture groups" in regular expressions) are just to symbolize that the text that it's matching, or whatever is represented by it, is getting "captured"

but that would have to be part of the final answer somehow, or else it would make part of the riddle's reasoning dependent on the hints to figure out. For now, I'm stuck here.

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  • $\begingroup$ Great job, you're almost there! But, rot13(Gung rkcerffvba jbhyq pncgher "rntyrf" naq "cvtrbaf", jbhyqa'g vg?). The only thing I can say is that each stanza is "independent", describing a different part of the first step of the solution. $\endgroup$ – NudgeNudge Feb 8 at 6:51
  • $\begingroup$ @NudgeNudge Whoops, I originally had a slightly different sentence (and rkcerffvba) and changed it without thinking. Edited that part. $\endgroup$ – insert_name_here Feb 8 at 7:36
  • $\begingroup$ Just thought that the last line of the poem, "Alert someone before we're spent!" (as in money) could be a reference to the metacharacter $, that fetches the end. I don't know how it would help, since either every exemple ends with an "s"(even the wrong ones), or we're supose to look for the singular form, in which case "Reptile" doesn't end with a 't' $\endgroup$ – Henrique Valle Feb 8 at 11:45
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Is it

CODE ?

"I'm kept inside a boxy cage" refers to either

The computer or server on which program code is saved or runs

or

The program window of any IDE or editor that is used to write code

"A prefix for the modern age"

I interpreted this as a preface of the computer age rather than a prefix to an actual word. Our modern lifes, buildings and production methods wouldn't be possible without computers and the code that runs on them in the form of applications.

"I make the messages you create fly at a supersonic rate."
Honestly not sure about that one...

"Now that box has me and my friends inside a box with rounded ends." refers to

A Smartphone or tablet computer with the aps running on them.

"You can find us in all your letters, we make communication better."

This means Unicode and the emojis it contains. Emojis only started spreading over the world with the first Unicode enabled devices and messangers.

"But look! One friend is now set free! The one that's a minute, a second, a year."

This could be a time code

Hint 1:

"Your friend didn't escape; I let him go. The plan wouldn't have worked if he had stayed with you all." For client-server applications or distributed systems you need to run part of the code on a server (or several) and another part on a client (or several) computer. Without "letting the code go" to another computer, you cannot have distributed systems.

Hint 2:

It has something to do with computers. Code runs on computers.

Hint 3:

The code is supposed to capture Rodents, insects, reptiles. For the rodent I could only come up with a computer mouse and the driver needed to run one, but I guess that's too far fetched. The insects are computer bugs and the reptiles could refer to the programming language Python. There is even a runtime compiler for numerical Python called parakeet.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Puzzling Stack Exchange! Well done for trying to fit all the lines and hits with your answer, but unfortunately it's not the right one (although it's a good line of thinking, that's all I can say right now). I'm trying to think of some hints that won't give much away, maybe I'll add some later! $\endgroup$ – NudgeNudge Feb 7 at 13:42

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