Despite feeling overwhelmed by the amount of data it presented, that little piece of paper burned a hole in my pocket all the way to the dining hall. I argued back and forth with myself over whether I really needed to eat anything that day, and it was all I could do to grab the first plate I saw, bringing out the note before I had even sat down.
I quickly lost my momentum, however, as my eyes darted over those numbers again. So many numbers, zero context, somehow it felt like there wasn’t even anything to figure out. Those numbers could mean anything.
Decidedly less interested, I put the note away and walked to my psych class, a lecture with about 300 other students. I sat through the whole class, my mind turning not even once to the frustrating little note. The professor gave us our reading assignment for the next class: Chapter 7, pages 209-237. As I wrote the instructions in my notebook, a small spark of realization was lit and the note full of numbers floated back into my mind. The spark formed into a coherent thought — could the numbers be directions pointing toward something in a book? The professor’s voice faded away as the pieces began to fit together in my head. The numbers did have context; I had found the note inside of a book. It wasn’t just an arbitrary hiding place. I had been too hasty.
By the time the class was over, I was so sure of my hunch that I could hardly keep from running all the way to the library, containing my enthusiasm to a brisk walking pace. I made my way back to those oddly-lit stacks, somewhat nervous that the book might have been checked out in the meantime. I felt simultaneously relieved and more anxious as I saw it still sitting there. I took it off the shelf and retrieved my note, heading over to an unoccupied desk.
My first plan of attack had come directly from my professor’s instructions, thinking that the numbers might represent chapter-page-line, or chapter-line-word. I skimmed through the fairly small book and found that there were only 11 chapters, and some of the sequences began with numbers upwards of 100. Those had to be page numbers then, I decided. I turned to the last page of the book and confirmed that there were no larger numbers on the note.
That would make the other two numbers represent line and word. But the word numbers seemed too high as well. Finally, page-line-letter seemed to check out as a plausible interpretation, and I set to work on the first few sequences. W, it began. Then W-E, a good start, nothing gibberish yet. W-E-L-L. That was good enough for me. I felt a jolt of excitement at the sight of that word. I had no doubt I was on the right track.
But time wasn’t on my side. I still had two more classes, dinner, and evening commitments. I checked out the book and decided that I wouldn’t try to keep working on the code until I was back at home for the night.
To be continued…