NorthSec 2020 Write-Up: Acrossword Puzzle

This year, some evil people part of the NorthSec organization gave us a very simple challenge. A crossword.

The crossword was distributed in the form of a PDF with a single page.

The evil crossword puzzle

It consisted mostly of questions about classic cyberpunk novels, and the vertical line 0 was an obvious flag. This write-up explains how to get to the flags, assuming you had no idea what any of these books were.

First Flag

No, but there’s a flag.

PDF Producer Flag

Seeing that PDF Procuder field with what is clearly a base64 encoded piece of data should give you a little jolt of adrenalin.

Simply copy it to your clipboard and convert it…


Second Flag

1. Astronomer who wrote a book about a security incident at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory


2. She is the Razorgirl


3. Cyberpunk novel, and soon to be TV series, which coined the word “meme”

If you Googled around, you’d find that the answer should be The Selfish Gene.

From Wikipedia:

The word meme is a neologism coined by Richard Dawkins.[11] It originated from Dawkins’s 1976 book The Selfish Gene.

That does not fit. But if you read all the way down, you’ll have noticed that question 13 refers to this one. The name of this book is the name of a drug in the book.

Google for cyberpunk books drug meme and you will quickly find the answer:


4. Answer which took over 7 million years to compute


5. Real author surname who wrote about a “Three Alarm Lamp Scooter”

First, go to Google Books, then, search for Three Alarm Lamp Scooter.

Right away, it is obvious the book we are talking about is Interface.

If we look it up on Wikipedia, we see it was written by: Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George (a pseudonym of George Jewsbury). Stephenson does not fit, therefore, the answer has to be Jewsbury, the only other real surname of an author of this book.


6. Surname of Canadian-British author who wrote a book on toaster DRM


7. Sobol’s lesser-known game.

Update from Monchou’s explanation on NSEC Slack: Turns out, it was completely unrelated to Brett Sobol. I had found out about him and forced myself to find a game that would fit in there. Turns out it’s about the book Daemon, where a character, Matthew Sobol, created The Gate, Over The Rine and The DAEMON. Only one of thise fits.


8. Last name of management which created a hotel AI

For many reasons, probably including rights to the likeness of the person we are looking for here, that hotel AI in the TV show is based on Edgar Allan Poe, and called Poe, and the hotel is called The Raven.

Googling Hotel AI Cyberpunk Book gives us Altered Carbon as the 2nd result. If you look at the Wikipedia page for it, you will see that the hotel is called Hendrix in the book.

If you dug a bit more in the actual books, you’d find that the Hendrix upgraded itself.


The answer is therefore:


9. Homicidal supercomputer whom Dr. Guess has a special bond with

Then, we find the list of Fictional Computers on Wikipedia and look up that book.


10. Company that evolved paranoiac software to say things such as: “Based on the information you have gathered, do you consider it more likely that I am a lurker, or a spoofer? Currently it is more likely that you are a lurker.”

You will have found a link to the story, as a PDF or text file. Search for Company in it, and you will soon find a company name…

Lamarck Logic


11. Test to differentiate human and asteroid

In any case, you had probably guessed it right already, and if not, once you had the correction, simply Googling for test to differentiate humans from android cyberpunk or similar will lead you to Philip K. Dick. The answer is from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or Blade Runner:


12. Mala’s “Big Sister”

Once you know what the book is, simply Google for Mala Sister For The Win.



13. Cost of eponymous drug from question 3, after inflation

Snow Crash is easily available. I already had it. You can find it anywhere, and search for Inflation. You will find a few instances of it, but only one that fits.






I like secure, mobile clouds full of poutine.

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