You have been successfully enrolled in the second-module course CODE 220: Archaeological Cryptography. Strategies for puzzle-solving and code-breaking are taught through online lectures and weekly puzzle sets by a trio of outsourced professors and a TA.
In the first lecture, you meet the professors: Julian Rhodes, relentlessly competent, but with all the charm of a paper clip; Amos Bronstein, not-so-subtly a communist; and Benjamin Lang, an endearing old man who’s a bit slow on the uptake. The TA, Olivia Worley, is exceedingly welcoming and friendly.
To their credit, the façade does last almost a week. And then the Crypto-Collegium shows up.
The Crypto-Collegium (or C-C if you want to be quick about it) is a society of recreational puzzle enthusiasts. They’re eccentric — adopting codenames, wearing masks, and communicating in ciphers. Oh, and the federal government is after them for their involvement in uncovering classified information over seven years ago. Their membership includes:
- Lidenbrock, literature admirer and founding member
- Amadeus, lover of music who talks exclusively through cassette tape
- TJ, chronically absent hacker extraordinaire
- Byron, riddle enthusiast who distrusts technology
- Logograph, newest member with entirely too much to prove
- You, if you can follow the trail of puzzles to its end to join their ranks…
Ordinarily, the C-C wouldn’t bother to disrupt a simple college class. But nothing about CODE 220 is ordinary. The professors plagiarized Crypto-Collegium puzzles — and lurking beneath the surface is much more than just an Honor Code violation. A backlog of memos and messages, helpfully exposed by the C-C, reveals the truth about the class: it’s a government project with the sole mission of infiltrating and ending the Crypto-Collegium.
That’s not to say it’s organized. Olivia, posing as the TA while supervising the project, is primarily concerned with her career. Rhodes, embittered by their repeated failure to join the C-C, has a personal vendetta. Bronstein is only here to adhere to the terms of his parole, and Lang doesn’t seem to even know about the true nature of the project.
Still, despite the extensive disruptions, students’ growing involvement with the Crypto-Collegium, and Rhodes’s sudden and unexplained absence from lectures, the course holds together until the final: create your own puzzle. Rhodes reaches out for the first time in a week to offer extra credit if your puzzle’s solution is one particular phrase: different for each team, but always something like “safety depends” or “one week.”
Sound suspicious? That’d be because it’s not from Rhodes at all. A failed attempt to seek revenge on an easily-trackable C-C member left them locked up in Logograph’s basement. And Logograph, who’s spiteful, arrogant, and almost eighteen, isn’t about to make things easy for anyone. Even the ransom note had to be a puzzle.
An improbable, uneasy alliance forms: students alongside government agents and even the rest of the Crypto-Collegium. (They may be edgy and mysterious, but… well, they don’t do kidnapping.) The terms of Rhodes’ release? A final test of the top three teams in the class in the form of a live, Twitch-streamed gamut of puzzles.
How’d it end? Well, see for yourself.
When Oberlin went remote, so did we. One benefit: just about everything is available online.
- Enjoy our class lectures — plus assorted other content.
- Test your skills on Puzzle Sets One, Two, and Three.
- Explore the mysteries of the Crypto-Collegium website.
- Find the truth in Olivia’s backlog of memos.
- 1st place: The Cat Scratch Fevers
- 2nd place: Rats!Rats!Rats!
- 3rd place: Untitled Obiegame Hijincs feat. Sushi