Solution to Cruciform Heraldry

Author: Chieu Nguyen

This puzzle is presented as a cross-shaped arrangement of coats of arms. Other than the blank one showing a question mark, the coats of arms are those of 25 of the 26 cantons of Switzerland, which is also hinted at by the title, the initials of which are the same as the abbreviation for Switzerland (CH, Confoederatio Helvetica), and the name of the font used in the title in the PDF (Helvetica). Also, the dimensions of the cross are exactly the dimensions of the cross in the Swiss coat of arms and flag. The missing 26th coat of arms is that of Vaud, which says "LIBERTÉ ET PATRIE" on it.

The puzzle is a cryptogram. Each of the boxed rows contains the name of a municipality in Switzerland (or a district in the case of Appenzell Innerrhoden, which does not have municipalities and whose districts are equivalent to municipalities in other cantons), where diacritics and hyphens have been preserved, which makes one of the names (Châtel-sur-Montsalvens) an easy way to break into the cryptogram.

The first letters of the municipality names spell out ORDER BY CANTON LETTER MAPPING. As it turns out, there is a bijection between municipalities and cantons; each of the 26 cantons contains a different municipality in this set. Order the missing letters in each municipality name by the cryptogram letter mapping of the coat of arms of the canton that municipality is in, and they spell out MEET VIRGINIA OR PERMANENT WAY. This clues the answer, TRAIN TRACK, as "Meet Virginia" is a track by the band Train and the term "permanent way" refers to a railroad track (thanks to Erin Rhode for this cluephrase).

The full solution, with the decrypted grid and complete table of correspondences, is posted here.