9
$\begingroup$

Paris, 5 January 1858

Gutenberg is dead.

For five years I have been on this fanatic's trail. Five years of stalking his accomplices, intercepting his correspondence, tracking him down to his lairs in the filthiest holes of the Capital, five years of sleepless nights in the office and on the street, of meticulous planning, only to see him escape the net at the very last minute.

Until now. And then, the day I have dreamed of for five long years has the stench of failure and mercury fulminate - the madman would rather blow himself up than be taken away and face the guillotine. I suppose we are lucky that nobody else was hurt, except for a badly scratched gendarme. But I am furious: we are not going to get any answer from that devil, now...

The only seemingly useful thing we were able to find here in Rue Vigenère, among the wreck of his dusty little bookshop specialising in English language books, is this letter. A small sealed envelope, addressed to a Monsieur T. We must have got him just before he managed to deliver it.

I tear the envelope open. No surprise inside: after five years I could recognise his handwriting by light of a dying candle:

HTLS BGVJWABGYT,

Q LU FITLATH BG MSQBT BWLB GSILYHG WLA ILYHTH QY RSLYJT. QB QA YGM L ULBBTS GR HLXA KTRGST WQA UVJW LYBQJQFLBTH UTTBQYE MQBW RSTHTSQJO.

Q LU JGYRQHTYB BWLB XGV MQII FILX XGVS FLSB LJJGSHQYE BG BWT AJSQFB. BWT MGSIH QA GVS ABLET, LYH BWQA QA GYIX BWT RQSAB IQYT GR BWT FILX - KVB BWQA QA LII MT YTTH BG ATB BWT TCTYBA QY UGBQGY.

KT AVST BWLB XGV MQII KT ETYTSGVAIX STMLSHTH RGS XGVS ATSCQJTA - WGMTCTS, HQALFFGQYB VA LYH XGV MQII STESTB QB QY L WVYHSTH LYH RQRBX MLXA.

XGVSA RLQBWRVIIX,

EVBTYKTSE

And yet, there is something that doesn't quite add up... I must have opened hundreds of his letters, and I have cracked but a handful of his codes. That monster was so careful in his correspondence. This is too simple. Childish. Not in his style.

I bring the letter close to the stove that continues to heat the two rooms, insensitive to the destruction around it. Voilà - this is the Gutenberg we all know and love:

TSTVSRVQWIEGHAZLTIOFMIFBNZKWYAULIB

JOCCUFTWDQAXSWFMXTMLCSDOCQEOM

AVCHLZQNSWRMTWHBVJTYXDELGKLVV

TSWHOEYFXSAXSWKMICKGPHVVIUXDKQSFWUHSCPE

CWEIAABQCDFHMLPPRDXEEVIOAWALJTLLBXSSMO

Five lines of gibberish appear in the space under the visible text. My heart sinks: with the man dead, I know I will need a miracle to read this nonsense.


Hi there, This is my first interaction on the forum, after a few years of lurking. I hope I don't break anything and, most importantly, that you find the puzzle fun.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to (posting on) the site! :-) $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor May 2 at 18:37
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Well, I've made some progress, but it feels wrong to post a partial answer, so I am dropping my progress in a comment. pastebin.com/raw/YHCzD1Qa $\endgroup$ – Hugh May 2 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ +1 Nice puzzle! $\endgroup$ – Anon May 3 at 3:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Hugh I've followed up on your lead - I feel bad to have stolen your thunder. I'm not really sure what the etiquette here is with partial answers. $\endgroup$ – Anon May 3 at 3:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ But Gutenberg is alive and well at the WordPress project! Long live the block editor! $\endgroup$ – Tom J Nowell May 3 at 11:11
6
$\begingroup$

I am following on from Hugh's excellent lead in the comments, in which they identified that:

The first letter is encrypted by a substitution cipher and clues us to Shakespeare's As You Like It. Using the first line (As I remember, Adam, it was upon this fashion bequeathed me) as the key of a Vigenere cipher they decoded TSTVSRVQWIEGHAZLTIOFMIFBNZKWYAULIB to TALE OF REVENGE AND A MONSTROUS CETACEAN, which clues Moby-Dick.

Using the first line of Moby Dick (Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how) as a key they decoded JOCCUFTWDQAXSWFMXTMLCSDOCQEOM to HORRIBLE WEATHER AT VILLA DIODATI, which clues Frankenstein.

Using Frankenstein's first line (You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied) as the key to a Vigenere cipher decodes AVCHLZQNSWRMTWHBVJTYXDELGKLVV to CHILD OF WONDER SON OF THE WEST WIND

where they got stuck. If only Hugh had posted a partial answer, you could have upvoted them, since the work of solution was mostly theirs not mine (go out and upvote some of their other answers!). I simply recognized that:

CHILD OF WONDER SON OF THE WEST WIND was cluing Hiawatha. Using the first lines of the introduction to Longfellow's poem 'Should you ask me, whence these stories?\Whence these legends and traditions' as a key we decode TSWHOEYFXSAXSWKMICKGPHVVIUXDKQSFWUHSCPE to BLIND BARD SINGS OF EPIC WAR DECEPTION AND FALL.

This obviously refers to:

Milton's Paradise Lost, and using the first line 'Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit/Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast' as a key we decode CWEIAABQCDFHMLPPRDXEEVIOAWALJTLLBXSSMO to ORSINI WILL MEET BONAPARTE ON THE FOURTEENTH

This is an obvious reference to the:

Orsini affair in which on the 14th of January 1858 Orsini attempted to assassinate Napoleon III.

The issue here is that:

Napoleon III is not Napoleon Bonaparte, so perhaps Gutenberg is either playing with his reader or is a little out on his facts, or perhaps as the text hints, this is indeed some sort of nonsense.

In either case, it appears from the background text and the letter deciphered by Hugh that:

Gutenberg (presumably a reference to the wonderful online resource where full texts of many of these older books can be found, which I indeed used for my solution) was one of the band plotting Napoleon's assassination, and that the letter written to Monsieur Touchstone (possibly one of the English radicals involved in the affair) was an attempt to pass on some of this secret information to him. My history is splotchy enough that I cannot interpret the references to Orlando or Frederick.

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ It's all cool :) $\endgroup$ – Hugh May 3 at 6:08
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Excellent teamwork Anon and @Hugh. Everything spot-on, including the explanation of Gutenberg's name. For the "open issues", I've written a couple of notes here: pastebin.com/raw/SLjMA8AZ $\endgroup$ – BarryPoppins May 3 at 6:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.