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Solutions for Act IV Scene 3 - Art of Steganography

Steganography is the art of hiding messages or information within something that appears innocuous.

The first step is to spot the hidden letters within the image. As clued by the first letters of the phrases scattered everywhere, we are interested in the letters ABCDE in particular. Furthermore, there are 20 of them (as clued by the only number in the puzzle, on the fridge), and they are present in clockwise order (as hinted by the ceiling lamp).

The next leap is to realise that the letters lie on two concentric circles. Furthermore, there are two hints to drawing the circles accurately:

  • The centre of the circle is at the centre of saucepan, and
  • The circles pass through two arcs of the ceiling lamp.

For additional niceness, the letters are actually evenly spaced on the circles.

Taking the letters (actual letters, not the hidden ABCDE) at the intersection of the circles and the phrases gives two words MORSE and INSECT. The former is a clue that we need to use Morse code, and looking once more at the ceiling lamp we notice that the top arc is dashed, while the bottom arc is dotted.

Interpretting the ABCDEs as dots or dashes accordingly and reading clockwise we get the digits 3301. A quick search reveals a mysterious group named "Cicada 3301", which presents steganography and cryptography-based puzzles. Since a cicada is an insect, we have our answer, and for additional confirmation a partly drawn Cicada 3301 logo is present at the bottom of the scene.

Design notes:

A number of teams seemed to have stumbled upon the "Vibroplex", which is apparently a Morse key that became known as a "bug". This was an unfortunate, and unintended coincidence.

This puzzle was inspired by two previous ΣUMS puzzles by Ivan Guo, namely "Concyclity" and "Where's WALL-E?" from the 2009 hunt.

The answer is: cicada