I discovered the entrance to the secret passage in the first chapter of the Alchemist.

The stone-walled corridor curved to the right and downwards towards a source of light emanating from a chamber within. The softly lit chamber was roughly pentagonal and was possibly hand-hewn from the sandstone bedrock. The walls were covered in engravings that, to my mind, looked mystical and paganistic. A strong smell of sulphur penetrated the senses. On benches around the room were more unfamiliar apparatus, connected by angled pipes with collection vessels at various heights, like some crude distillery. And in pans over a bellowed stove (this at least would account for the second chimney coming from Hermes' roof, when I had only ever counted a single combustion stove) lay mixtures of what looked like gravel and soil, and in a small cast iron pot the most intriguing of discoveries: small gold pellets that looked like they had been melted and re-solidified. This was clearly a coveted den of protected secrets, and Hermes had been plying his trade.

On a solid stone bench in the centre of the room lay open a tome of drawings and notes, written in a spidery hand. I couldn't decide whether they were magic spells or incantations of alchemy. It made no sense to me. Next to this ancient book was a smaller, though no less tattered notebook, marked with a familiar symbol ☿. Ah, that was Hermes' mark. This notebook also contained scribblings and notes; becoming less and less coherent through the later pages. But the story was clear. Hermes was pursuing an elusive dream.

Each page told of further experiments, trials and error, failure after failure, until a final breakthrough. But just as the writing in his notebook became increasingly hard to decipher, the incoherent remarks borne out of an unseen paranoia increased: Watch Out! They are watching! Keep it hidden! Trust no one. Such were the phrases that littered the final pages of the notebook. Was someone after Hermes? Or was it Hermes' secret they were after? Who were 'they'? I had no clue.

I reached the final page in the journal. It was unlike the previous pages of experimental notes. A puzzle indeed. But as I glanced at the jumble of numbers and letters, two things started to become clear. This was written to me, and it was telling me exactly what I needed to do. And if I needed any further confirmation, underneath where the journal sat on the bench was a one way plane ticket….with my name on it.

This is the final page of the journal. All that I needed to learn of my destination was on this page.

enter image description here

I transcribed all that I needed into my own notebook.

16 76 34 60 33 14 16 73 07 58 03 26 53
16 49 56 57 07 58 20 92 22 08 07 74 85
06 01 74 67 53 16 10 18 53 09 53 74 49
09 08 75 23 68 03 26 75 74 18 110 92 16


enter image description here

The other symbols on the page weren't necessary to understand Hermes' message, as well as telling me where and when I needed to go. They did provide some useful clues to help understand more of Hermes' workings.

What was Hermes' message? Where was I to go? When did I need to be there?

Edit; Well, that's embarrassing isn't it. I've just uploaded the corrected image for the last puzzle, which swapped the thick black arrows and has them now pointing in the correct directions. Apologies if that caused anyone to waste their time, although it may now be used as a clue. Lesson to self: never proof-read after your bedtime.

Hint 1:

There are 3 parts to this puzzle.
Part 1 tells why (and has been mostly solved)
Part 2 tells when
Part 3 tells where

  • $\begingroup$ What are the chinese characters? Maybe those would be useful if transcribed $\endgroup$
    – user118161
    Apr 8, 2020 at 1:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's the name of Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who allegedly died of alchemical elixir poisoning. He had sought an elixir for eternal life. $\endgroup$ Apr 8, 2020 at 12:47
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, so maybe hinting at mercury? $\endgroup$
    – user118161
    Apr 11, 2020 at 1:18
  • $\begingroup$ If you look hard at this and the previous chapter of alchemist puzzle, you will find a number of references to mercury......the alchemist's name and symbol as examples. But the link to Qin Shi Huang is significant, not just because of mercury. $\endgroup$
    – long
    Apr 15, 2020 at 3:45

2 Answers 2


The date/time and location of where we need to go are:

April 8, 2020, at 8:00:00PM (local time) at Penglai Pavilion in Shandong, China. (We are a little late!)

The date can be solved by:

converting the up and down arrow symbols into a binary string (01011110100011011011110011000000), and then converting that into a Unix timestamp, which produces 2020-04-08T12:00:00+00:00. This is in UTC time. We need to add 8 hours for Shandong, China.

The location can be solved by:

solving the two magic squares, which produce latitude and longitude values. The magic square solutions are as follows:

producing a latitude and longitude of 37°49'26.0"N+120°45'21.0"E (the first magic square sums to 180, and the second to 120; for the latitude square, it is necessary to first convert the atomic symbols into the corresponding atomic numbers). This is the location of Penglai Pavilion, which is known as the landing place of the Eight Immortals from Chinese mythology.

The message (mostly solved by @BeastlyGerbil, but with a couple of minor errors corrected) is:

S Os Se Nd As Si S Ta N Ce Li Fe I
S In Ba La N Ce Ca U Ti O N W At
C H W Ho I S Ne Ar I F I W In
F O Re V Er Li Fe Re W Ar Ds U S

"SOS. Send Assistance. Life's in balance. Caution: watch who is near. If I win, forever life rewards us."

So the WHY to the puzzle is: immortality.

  • $\begingroup$ Oh, very nicely done. And better late than never....although, we shall see in the next chapter. $\endgroup$
    – long
    Apr 15, 2020 at 12:28

Partial answer:

The numbers:

The numbers clue for chemical elements. Taking the symbol of those elements give:

S Os Se Nd As Si S Ta N Ce Li Fe I
S In Ba La N Ce Ca U Ti O N W At
C H W Ho I S Ne Ar I W In
F O Re V Er Li Fe Re W Ar Ds Us

Or when translated,

SOS Send assistance life is in balance caution watch who is near I win forever life rewards us


The ☿ symbol is the symbol for Mercury (planet) but going with the elements theme, this might mean Hg

The arrows:

There are 32 arrows. I split them into 4 lots of 8 and let a down arrow = 0 and an up arrow = 1. Then I tried vice verse.

The first case gave ‘^¼À’ and the second case gave ‘¡rC?’ so I’m not sure if this is right

  • $\begingroup$ The arrow values in hex are A172433F or 5E8DBCC0 Neither one seems any more useful, although the first seems kindof like a flight/seat number? $\endgroup$
    – Bobson
    Apr 6, 2020 at 16:03

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