Phdeath: The Puzzler Murders

About eight in the morning, two days before the beginning of the semester, the body of the Dean of Arts and Sciences was found crushed on the sidewalk, ten stories below his office in the administration building. It was assumed at first to be a suicide. Quickly the University community woke to another possibility. Some two hours earlier that same morning an anonymous email appeared on the computer of every member of the faculty and student body.

Puzzle Alert!


(2) Whither the right-hander sped for fame.*

(3) An also without an o.

(4) In the midst of Greek conflict.

(5) Guatemalan’s affirmative reversed.

(6) The first a second time.

(7) Storm, smote, stomp, stoma, moist, storm: repair.

(8) The center re-centered.

(9) The first preposition of THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

(10) Ogler’s highest value. 

γνφθι ςεαυτον

Professor Alfred O’Malley, classicist and renowned scholar, convinced that the puzzle had to do with the Dean’s death, started at once on its solution. With his secretary and a colleague, he found that each clue could be solved with a single word. The ten words comprised a sentence that made it clear that the Dean’s death was a carefully planned execution. What is more, those same words hinted that his murder was but the first of ten. 

As a classicist, he knew of course that the Greek quotation, translated as “know thyself,” was the ancient philosopher Socrates’ most famous injunction. O’Malley and his colleague, Carmody, Professor of Rhetoric, read the puzzle as an “alert” that there was something the University community did not know about itself–and until they “got it,” the killings would continue. The city’s top detective and a phalanx of police investigators went to work at once. Teams of US Military Intelligence were soon added, and eventually the Puzzle Master of the Times. Their collective brains, however, were no match for the Puzzler’s perverse talents.

The seemingly omniscient Puzzler, through a sequence of atrocities beginning and ending with the academic year, turns up one hidden pocket of moral and intellectual rot after another: flawed research, unabashed venality, ideological rigidity, pornographic obsessions, undue political and corporate influence, subtle schemes of blackmail, the penetration of national and foreign intelligence agencies, brazen violation of copyrights, even the production and sale of addictive drugs. 

Although this all takes place in an unnamed premier university on a square in a major city, it is obvious that the Puzzler is targeting the institution of higher learning in all of its local varieties. The brilliant planning behind these gruesome events is a token of the Puzzler’s fury at the university’s destruction of itself–a tragic undoing of Western civilization’s noblest creation.