HERE'S a new set of ciphers. A keen mind invented them, and keenness is needed if you are to decipher them. It' s as much fun as it is work, and it's wonderful brain exercise. Included with William Blair's you will find a few from readers of FLYNN'S. They have yielded up their secrets to the cipher editor. Can you crack them, too?
Look them over and sense the challenge that they throw at you, daring all your wit and all your ingenuity to do their worst.
HOSE medieval scientists. the alchemists, very zealously sought for an imaginary substance called the philosophers' stone, supposed to have the power of transmuting the baser metals into silver and gold, and also for that even more precious commodity known as the elixir of life.
And cryptographers, not to be outdone, likewise have an ax to grind, for from the earliest times they, too, have been vainly seeking to discover something, which, like the objectives of the alchemists, is just about as elusive as the pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow.
This something of the cryptographers is nothing other than the indecipherable cipher.
Nearly every one who has studied the subject of ciphers to any considerable extent has probably tried to devise what they thought, or at any rate hoped, would be an indecipherable cipher. And many really believed themselves to have accomplished this end.
One of these was the eminent English surgeon, William Blair, some of whose ciphers are to be found in this article.
Such was the faith of Dr. Blair in his system that he challenged the whole world in no uncertain terms to read his ciphers, and to discover the principle on which their structure was based.
Blair was the youngest son of William Blair, M.D., and was born at Lavenham, in Suffolk, on the 28th of January, 1766. H e qualified for surgical practice in London, and in time became surgeon to a number of public institutions, including the Bloomsbury Dispensary in Great Russell Street, and the Female Penitentiary at Gumming House, Pentonville.
He was the author of a number of scientific, medical, and religious works. And in this connection it is of especial interest here to mention that he wrote the articles Cipher and Stenography in Rees's Cyclopedia, published in 1819.
Blair also devised a shorthand alphabet which he termed A New Alphabet of Fifteen Letters, including the vowels, which was printed in William Harding's Universal Stenography, second edition, 1824.
On the death of his wife, in March, 1822, Blair decided to retire from professional practice, and to move into a house which he had acquired in the country, near Colchester.
Before this intention could be realized, however, he was seized with a fatal illness, from which he died at his residence in Great Russell Street, on December 6, 1822.
Blair's knowledge of Cryptography dates from 1804, when he became interested in the subject through the accidental sight of the stroke cipher of Charles I. We have his word for it that up to this time he had never once thought or read on the subject.
This Charles I cipher has helped to make history, and you will hear more about it in these colunms later on. The point is here that the cipher found such fertile soil in Blair's mind that he at once became intensely interested in cryptography.
He made a study of all the systems of secret writing then known. And, though at that time the science of cryptanalysis had not progressed beyond the elementary stage, Blair investigated every known method of deciphering.
And then he became possessed of the idea to construct a cipher of his own that would profit by not only using all the strong points of the various systems he had examined, but also by avoiding their weaknesses.
In short, Blair planned a cipher that would effectively frustrate the application of all the methods of deciphering with which he was familiar.
Three years later, in 1807, he believed he had perfected this ne plus ultra of ciphers.
So absolutely confident was Blair that his cipher afforded perfect security, that he ventured to make public the key itself along with five pieces of his secret writing, defying the "scrutinizing powers of man" to decipher any of his cryptograms, or to explain the principle on which his key operated.
Subjoined you will find a facsimile of Blair's alphabet and key, except that the original is only three centimeters square, barely larger than an ordinary postage stamp' And a little further on is given some of Blair's original dot writing, also a sample done in figures, both enciphered in this key.
|Alphabet and Key|
|W. BLAIR inv. 1807|
Blair accompanied his challenge with a few remarks, the gist of which it is well to pass on to you here, especially since they offer no material aid toward the resolution of his ciphers. perfectly new plan of secret writing, where there are only three dots, over the line, upon it, and under it.
He states that his alphabet is totally unlike any other, consisting of letters arranged in eighty-one places, forming a square nine letters deep, those letters which are most used in ordinary writing being here repeated most frequently.
In consequence of this it is possible to produce a great variety in the external appearance of the writing, and, so Blair thought, easily and effectively to frustrate all the rules for deciphering with which he was acquainted.
"The ingenious reader," Blair concludes, "must, therefore, hit upon some new mode of analyzing and explaining what is written."
But in spite of all his precautions, Blair made a fatal error in the construction of his key. It is entirely feasible to solve his ciphers without the key, but his oversight makes it easier to decipher them in any case than it might otherwise be.
However, Blair was not only guilty of overestimating the difficulty of reducing his cipher, but also of underestimating the "scrutinizing powers of man."
Even in his own time, the secret of his cipher was ferreted out by one Michael Gage, of Swaffham, who published at Norwich a pamphlet dated 1809—some say this is a typographical error for 1819—which made public the translations of the Blair ciphers, and also, we are told, fully exposed the principle of the key.
The original correspondence on Blair's method of secret writing, consisting of letters to him on the subject from Right Hon. W. Windham, G . Canning, the Earl of Harrowby, J . Symmons of Paddington, and Michael Gage, together with the whole of his system of ciphers, was sold at the dispersion of William Upcott's collection in 1846.
While we are thus unable to go as far as did Blair in claiming that these ciphers are absolutely indecipherable, it is probably better for our purpose that they are not.
For, after all, the real pleasure to be derived from such examples does not altogether follow from long continued and unsuccessful efforts at their solutions.
A better satisfaction is experienced in that certain thrill that is always to be had in the actual resolution of any problem.
We therefore take great pleasure in presenting to you these ciphers of William Blair. You will find them masterpieces of ingenuity, and antagonists well worthy of your steel.
To face such foes, unarmed, might mean disaster.
But remember you have the key as your trusty weapon! All you lack is the secret of the intricate principle governing its use.
Can you discover this principle?
CIPHER No. 1. Blair's original piece of dot writing was quite lengthy. The following specimen, which comprises the first sentence only of Blair's original, is of sufficient length for our present purpose.
CIPHER No. 2. This cipher is another of the five varieties Blair included in his original challenge, all of which could be deciphered by the same key. With the key, this second specimen can be deciphered with much less difficulty than the first.
5322S947210666463061S34649596867012SS322 6180294071727375269337356163011183947022 3534399324251116177507163064696145047396 1888493947963820538243066372958035467993 9681881424150528465220756547484942454669 111618027113118121517273648.
The interpretations of the above ciphers, together with an elucidation of the principle, and also some further specimens in Blair's system, will be found in next Solving Cipher Secrets in an early issue of FLYNN'S.
The legion of fans who tried out the special method for Nihilist ciphers given in FLYNN'S for June 27 are no doubt anxiously awaiting the solutions to these ciphers in order that they may check up the correctness of their own results.
Here they are, beginning with those in the June 27 issue. Check back and see how correct you were.
CIPHER No. 1. Submitted by W. Perry Grey, Meriden, Connecticut. Key: WPERRYGREY. Message: WELL, OLD TOP! BEST WISHES TO YOU IF YOU DECIPHER IT. TELL ME HOW YOU DID IT AND I WILL THANK YOU WITH JOY.—BILL.
CIPHER No. 2. Submitted by Neil C. Bierce, Police Headquarters, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Key: REGULATOR. Message: I ENJOY FLYNN'S EVERY WEEK, ESPECIALLY STORIES BY RICHARD ENRIGHT, ALSO THE STORIES OF FACT.
CIPHER No. 3. Submitted by Rev. James Veale, S. Ozone Park, Long Island, New York. Key: CIPHER. Message: FLYNN'S IS M Y FAVORITE MAGAZINE. YOUR CIPHER ARTICLES ARE MOST INTERESTING.
CIPHER No. 4. Submitted by Fredolf A. Holmberg, Augusta, Kansas. Key : PERTINENT. Message: I AM INTERESTED IN CODES, AND HAVE ONE WHICH I BELIEVE IS INDECIPHERABLE.
CIPHER No. 5. Submitted by J. Fleming Jones, Game and Fish Ranger, Okemah, Oklahoma. Key : SUPERIOR. Message: YOU MAY TELL THE WORLD FLYNN'S IS IN A CLASS BY ITSELF!
CIPHER No. 6. Submitted by Henry Koester, Newburgh, New York. Key : AMERICA. Message: WHAT DOES EUROPE NEED?
Next follow the keys and solutions to the Nihilist ciphers in FLYNN'S for June 6:
CIPHER No. 3. Submitted by James W. Duffy, Cincinnati, Ohio. Key: PEGASUS. Message: KNOWLEDGE IS REQUIRED TO FIND THE ANS. TO THIS, FOR THE KEY WORD IS AN ANTIQUE.
CIPHER No. 4. Submitted by J. K. Manning, Morrisonville, Illinois. Key : BE. Message: KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.
CIPHER No. 5. Submitted by Foster F. V. Staples, Attorney at Law, Portsmouth, Virginia. Key: COMMONWEALTH. Message: IF YOU CAN DECIPHER THIS WITHOUT THE KEY WORD, I WOULD LIKE TO SEE YOUR METHOD S EXPLAINED.
And finally, here is the solution to the lone specimen in the March 25 issue, submitted by Mrs. P. H. Jolly, Pawhuska, Oklahoma:
Key: FOUND. Message: THE BEST DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE EVER PUBLISHED. WHEN IT COMES I ALWAYS LOOK FIRST FOR CIPHER SECRETS.
The solution of one of these ciphers is, by the special method above mentioned, a most interesting process. With the longer specimens the resolution is purely mathematical, yet it is of sufficient complexity to be interesting. And the shorter examples offer besides plenty of opportunity for the display of skill.
To solve one, in any case, is a fascinating problem.
How did you find them?
In the days of ancient mythology there were a couple of giants who achieved fame as mountain slingers. Encourage these fellows a little, and they could pile mountains up in great profusion with consummate ease.
The Russian Nihilists, in superimposing an additional cipher on the telegraph system of old man Polybius, may be said, like these mountain hurlers, to have piled Pelion on Ossa.
And not to be outdone, some of our fans, after reading the account of this Nihilist cipher in the March 28 issue, came right back by piling Ossa on Pelion, as it were, in that they still further complicated the cipher of the Nihilists themselves.
It seems that the plain, unvarnished Russ was not fancy enough for these lads. They would serve him up with trimmings, including the red-topped boots, and, sh — maybe with a flask of vodka on the hip, too!
The facts are that several ciphers were submitted along with the regulation Nihilist specimens that were really ciphers within ciphers. To have mastered the special method in our last article, and to apply it to these ciphers, is only partly to have accomplished their solutions.
Here are some of them:
CIPHER No. 3.
37-58-45-94-55-28-34-55-67-34-56-47-68-68-67- 64-46-49-57-58-67-56-55-47-25-78-78-57-55-29- 34-66-47-63-77-27-47-49-46-63-66-39-34-86-54- 75-55-37-45-89-67-76-78-29-25-68-78-55-55-28- 34-46-78-63-68-70-48-85-57-54-86-36-37-68-85- 66-79-36-28-77-54-54-49-36-56-78-78-77-78-36- 47-49-57-76-46-49-37-58-57-74-58-59-58-48-76- 97-75-60-48-57-76-54-67-27-47-49-77-54-89-60- 37-46-78-97-69-66-66-58-65-74-49-36-27-58-74- 66-55-58-27-78-86-66-79-39-48-85-78-87-58-36- 44-55-88-95-69-58-28-58-85-63-79-27-44-55-67- 87-58-36-45-58-46-63-77-60-68-69-55-56-69-48- 26-58-67-66-68-38-37-79-86-66-79-39-25-86-54- 85-89-59-37-67-74-74-55-29-48-49-54-83-77-36- 65-58-68-93-78-47-68-75-84-55-66-39-57-58-54- 57-58-49-35-66-88-76-68-59.
CIPHER No. 4.
68-76-87-35-69-64-96-86-78-34-58-77-97-55-69- 55-86-67-84-46-88-77-78-57-87-68-98-65-80-55- 87-67-108-44-50-87-78-64-65-47-79-54-97-68- 78-48-49-86-77-78-68-78-57-75-86-76-88-36-66- 57-105-48-88-44-58-55-85-68-65-47-77-97-75- 44-88-65-79-56-88-54-108-54-77-77-66-55-96- 47-80-76-87-47-108-45-50-55-104-58-85-65-69- 57-96-78-88-47-79-98-95-54-99-54-69-86-76-68- 87-57-46-58-68-56-86-56-60-86-87-64-88-77-79- 64-97-84-78.
The keys and solutions to the above ciphers, together with the names of those who submitted them, will be published in next Solving Cipher Secrets.
Now if you have a spare half hour, try your hand at this straight Nihilist specimen from C. M. Eddy, Jr., Providence, Rhode Island.
CIPHER No. 5.
39-66-67-49-75-50-45-73-45-66-37-59-60-97-67- 87-86-29-66-68-78-65-26-77-38-49-79-85-69-97- 67-26-76-59-78-74-22-47-30-77-79-74-60-97-68- 49-65-67-68-84-26-47-39-55-66-67-28-98-75-59- 43-67-58-55-45-75-57-49-58-87-50-84-59-26-75- 50-45-75-54-85-30-76-90-86-39-86-66-58-43-67- 49-67-26-87-67-68-87-57-39-76-55-66-47-80-77- 57-25-77-33-45-78-68-69-87-89.
This cipher from Mr. Eddy possesses the distinction of having been enciphered with the longest key word of all those submitted in response to the recent Nihilist challenge.
After you have determined this key word, compare it with that of J. K. Manning, listed in the solutions above. Mr. Manning's key broke the record for brevity, consisting as it does of only two letters. Give it an extra final E, and it might prove troublesome at times. We'll wager that it stung some of the fans at that.
Finally, for a spirited finish, we append one more sample. This one is from Dr. A. A. Hansen, Virginia, Minnesota:
CIPHER No. 6.
64-47-66-64-58-68-66-22-37-87-68-36-28-64-69- 55-47-68-55-35-57-98-48-46-57-46-39-53-76-77- 76-63-36-57-35-27-26-57-69-75-78-77-96.
Look for the keys and solutions to the above cryptograms in next Solving Cipher Secrets, also for an additional list, with key words, of our correspondents in Nihilist cipher.
Numerous inquiries have been received from fans asking for information about works on cryptography.
Cipher enthusiasts are unable to find books on their favorite subject at any of the book stores or libraries, and quite naturally they wonder why.
The answer is as surprising as it is true. There are no current publications obtainable on the subject of cryptography in the English language.
Of the many books published about ciphers, some of the older ones are in English. But these are now so scarce, and their prices so prohibitively high, that only private collectors or world libraries can boast of copies.
But books on the subject, in whatever language, concern themselves mostly with descriptions of cipher systems, containing, as a general rule, very little about methods of solution.
Some of the books which deal with methods of deciphering have already been referred to in these columns. Other titles will be mentioned in articles to come.
F. M. N., of New York City, asks if there is "a periodical, weekly or monthly, dealing in cryptography only, in this country or in Europe—English, French, or German."
To our knowledge there is no periodical published anywhere that devotes itself wholly to cryptography. And, so far as we know, there is no European magazine with a department of ciphers.
Occasionally a foreign periodical comes out with an article on cryptography, most usually a popular exposition on the subject. We shall be glad to list the most important of these in this column, from time to time, with some mention of their contents.
Here is another special inquiry from a fan in St. Louis, Missouri:
I can't begin to tell you how interested I am in your department. I am making this my hobby, and wish to learn ciphers from the bottom up.
In the issue of FLYNN'S for February 21, where you explained the Augustus cipher, you mentioned that Sicco Simonetta had invented thirteen rules for the deciphering of ciphers. If it would not be asking too much of you, I would like for you to send me a copy of these rules. R. A. M., St. Louis, Mo.
The rules to which you refer were worked out by Sicco Simonetta in 1474 A.D. They are written in Latin, and were devised more especially for the solution of ciphers in that language.
These rules are of such length that it would be impracticable to send you a copy of them as you request.
However, this department may at some future date devote an article to Simonetta's rules and their application, if it is found feasible to adapt them to the English language.