Donnie and Violet are Ivy-League college students, and don't have fancy names or costumes or anything. But they do have superpowers and are attempting to track down and stop whoever is trying to steal the university's magic that gave them those superpowers, so they suppose that makes them superheroes.

The duo enter an out-of-the-way lab. They are supposed to meet someone here, a BioSci major named Lester who claims to have information, but it seems they have beaten him here. The only living things in the lab are a drooping ficus plant and a couple of literal lab rats crawling around their cage.

They wait for a while. Donnie leans against a desk and closes his eyes while Violet wanders around, examining the cabinets and such.

Ten minutes later, when Donnie is ready to give up and leave, Violet calls him over. Taped to the screen of a computer is a piece of paper. Donnie gestures and the paper flies to his hand. Violet gives him a look, and he tilts it so they both can look at it.

The paper, a computer printout, reads as such:




"It's a...coded message, I guess," comments Violet.

"Why would he leave this?" asks Donnie, "Was he kidnapped? Taken somewhere?"

Violet rolls her eyes. "I can't imagine he'd have time to print it out," she says. "Still...what does it mean?"

Where is Lester?


Clue 1

"Why are you reading that so hard?" asks Violet.
"Just mentally doing some character counts," answers Donnie. "Even without knowing the word lengths, I don't think this is a straight Caesar cipher."
"Makes sense, with the '3' in there. So you think there's an extra step?"

Clue 2

Violet stares at the message some more, then looks around. "You know..." she comments, "why was it on the computer?"
"What do you mean?
"I mean," Violet continues, "if he wanted us to see it immediately, he could have just taped it to the door or put it on the counter or something. This computer's a little bit out of the way. Maybe there's something more to that..."

Clue 3

"The second part, the part below the line..." Donnie mutters.
"What about it?" Violet asks, peering at the paper again.
"If it's a message, it's a weird one. There are only eight unique letters in it."
"...And if it was meant to be just a second part of the message, there would be no reason to have the line there. So what is it?"

Clue 4

Just copy and pasting the relevant bits from Matt's attempted solution and my comment:
The letters of the second line are U, D, L, R, N, S, E, W. They seem to indicate directions: Up, Down, Left, Right, North, South, East, West. Look at Clue #2 and ask yourself what grid of letters could be related.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Hint would be appreciated please! $\endgroup$
    – Bella Swan
    Oct 1 '19 at 10:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I have a feeling I know where this ends up, but all my attempts to decipher have failed so far $\endgroup$
    – Matt
    Oct 3 '19 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ Does the decryption involve following directions on a rot13(pbzchgre xrlobneq?) $\endgroup$ Oct 6 '19 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ @ThePuzzlingPlatypus Yes. $\endgroup$
    – Exal
    Oct 6 '19 at 22:05

This is not a complete solution. I am going to drop some of my scratch here in case it inspires someone else.

On the subject of the cipher:

The first line is the cipher text, and the second is a sort of encoded solution.

I have noticed that

The letters of the second line are U, D, L, R, N, S, E, W. They seem to indicate directions: Up, Down, Left, Right, North, South, East, West. The direction string is 3 characters longer than the cipher text with the ellipsis omitted. So I then grouped adjacent directions from the same family. There are 3 of these: NE, NW, and SW.

Applying the decryption:

Using hint 4's reference to hint 2, I applied these directions to the positions of letters on a standard QWERTY keyboard layout.

E D A L U R R Z O O N U F Q H 3... D N R NE R E L NW D S R W U S L SW d e s p i t e a l l m y r a g e ...

OR "despite all my rage ..."

So, the answer to the question "Where is Lester?" is ...

Lester has been turned into a rat.


The deciphered text and the title are references to a song by Smashing Pumpkins that includes lyrics, "Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage / Then someone will say what is lost can never be saved."

As a bonus,

The name of the students' contact, Lester, was also the name of a character in a rat costume on the 90's show Beakman's World, a show akin to Bill Nye the Science Guy.

  • $\begingroup$ You're close! But I really need that decryption for the checkmark. Look at Clue #2 and ask yourself what grid of letters could be related. $\endgroup$
    – Exal
    Oct 3 '19 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Exal I updated my answer with the decryption. $\endgroup$
    – Matt
    Oct 8 '19 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ He's one of the rats referred to in the story part, and transformed under his own power, but there's no reason that would be necessary to know. Good job! $\endgroup$
    – Exal
    Oct 9 '19 at 3:20

Okay I'm shooting my shot. I'm not good with ciphers or what not, and I could be on the totally wrong trail but...

Here me out here:

Lester was taken by Donny.

OP went clearly out of their way to introduce magic into this question, but after the first paragraph, magic is barely referenced. They are meeting at a university laboratory which is pretty ordinary, even the clue that was "left by Lester" was simply taped to the screen rather than left through magical means. We don't even learn what Violet's powers are.

But we know that Donny possesses telekinesis. The only example that the story ever gives us of actual magic in use is Donny bringing the "Clue" to his hands with said telekinesis.

Now if we look at their behavior while they wait for Lester, we see that Violent was wandering around and killing time, while Donny was leaning back with his eyes closed.

Could be simply tired, or as I see it, he was focusing VERY hard on making the printout from a distance.

So to put it all together:

Donny took/killed Lester, and is in on the plot to steal magic from the university.

How'd I do?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I smiled. This isn't a bad answer, and entirely possible given the situation. But, even if you're right, (and I'm not specifically saying you're not) there is a way to solve the cypher. I don't sideswipe people like that. $\endgroup$
    – Exal
    Oct 2 '19 at 23:18

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