ID you ever have trouble in solving some particular cipher? And did you ever feel like running the party ragged that contrived the affair?
Well, that's how Frank Spalding, of Wrangell, Alaska, must have felt about the cipher of Foster F. V. Staples, in the June 6 "Solving Cipher Secrets."
"If I could have caught him last night— June 7," writes Mr. Spalding, "he would have had to do some tall explaining."
Nevertheless, Mr. Spalding succeeded in solving this cipher, as well as all the others in that issue, although he confesses that when he had finished the lot he was "not a good Christian any more!"
Our Alaskan correspondent, who, incidentally, takes much pleasure in making life a burden to the great North American grizzly, has mentioned, along with several other fans, certain errors discovered in the texts of our ciphers.
It is almost an impossibility to avoid mistakes of this kind. They are of frequent occurrence even in military messages, where of all places accuracy is an unquestionable necessity.
All of the ciphers printed in this magazine are carefully checked at every stage of their journey up to the printed page. Nevertheless, a few errors have occurred, and they will probably continue to occur occasionally, notwithstanding our combined efforts to the contrary.
This, by way of introduction, fans, to a sort of " get-together " celebration that we have planned in this article.
It's just this way. So much has been received from cipher enthusiasts in the way of interesting questions, general comments, ciphers, and methods of solving them, that the only adequate way to cope with the situation, and thus to discharge this duty to our readers, is for us all to get together in an entire article devoted to that purpose.
So let's pull up our chairs and talk things over. It may be that your particular question will not crop up. Btit in that event you will find another case that covers the same ground more completely.
To open our first session, then, let's give the ciphers of secret organizations some consideration, for almost every secret society has one or more private ciphers known only to the initiated.
Some of these are for official purposes only, as for example, the mnemonic ciphers used in rituals, or the ciphers used for transmitting passwords, or other essential secret information. In some organizations, however, other ciphers are provided members for purposes of secret correspondence.
We have here a letter inclosing a cryptogram written in a very clever cipher of this kind. Those who have carefully studied the tallies in FLYNN'S for August 15 and September 12 should have no great trouble in solving it, however.
In reading over your department on ciphers, I was reminded of an old cipher system that was devised for an old lodge of mine that has since passed out of existence. It was invented for secret lodge communications, and while it is comparatively simple, I do not know of a- case of its secret having been penetrated. With that in mind I am inclosing a little message so written, and e-xtend a dare to you and members of this department to read the message the writer intended to convey.
H. DEARMOND HUTSON.
South Bend, Indiana.
CIPHER No. 1.
A. K. G. S. Code
14-30-12-48-36-42-42-36-46-54-46-26-36-42- 54-44-30-22-24-44-22-54-14-16-24-28-34-14- 52-38-14-54-26-24-36-14-52-26-36-28-36-30- 44-54-44-38-14-54-16-36-54-14-36-54-16-44- 28-36-14-44-28-24-16-55-4-30-44-18-36-14- 26-44-54-46-44-14-52-26-36-28-36-30-44-54- 44-18-52-54-46-26-36-42-54-12-24-4-54-16- 18-44-38-22-36-48-54-44-38-14-54-26-44-38- 8-54-44-30-22-28-36-16-54-16-36-54-52-18- 50-44-40-30-52.
Often such ciphers are not original, especially if used in purely local organizations. Or if intended to be original, they frequently turn out otherwise.
Thus we have a letter from J. G. Meerdink, Hoboken, New Jersey, who writes that he used the Augustus cipher, described in FLYNN'S for February 21, when but a schoolboy, in a secret society they had in their school at the time.
And another from James R. Heeney, Newark, New Jersey, who says that he had been using the Nihilist cipher—see FLYNN'S for March 28—with some friends without any previous knowledge of it. Their variation used a twenty-six-letter alphabet, Z being assigned the value 56.
Perhaps some more of our readers have knowledge of secret society ciphers that they no longer have any reason to keep secret. If so, send them right along to puzzle the fans.
Speaking of the Nihilist cipher, its thunders are still crashing on far-off horizons. Great interest was displayed by the fans in this cipher, and in methods of solving it.
Before the special method of solving this cipher was published in the June 27 issue, many devised methods of their own to take care of the emergency. One correspondent sends in an outline of his treatment of the cipher.
I note that you speak of having a system of solving the Nihilist cipher. I have also evolved a system, which I thought might be of interest to you, although I should imagine yours would be very similar to mine.
My system is based on the fact that some certain numbers admit of but a single interpretation. For instance, 22 gives us A for both message and key letter, and jo gives us E for both.
On the other hand, 66 will give us a possibility of any letter in the alphabet for either message or key letter.
My first step is to set down the message in one or more lines with plenty of space between each number, each group being numbered consecutively. I have taken Cipher No. 4 from the June 6 issue as an example.
Below each group I place its possibilities. Thus group 1 could be b-c-d-e-g-h-ij-k.
The next thing is to see if there are any single letter possibilities. In this we are fortunate, as group 6 gives us E.
A glance at group 5 eliminates the possibility of a single letter key, since it does not contain E.
Now as to a two-letter key, all the even numbered groups show E as a possibility. Selecting group g as an odd numbered group with the smallest number of possibilities (b-c-d-e), it will be seen that while B occurs as a possibility in all odd numbered groups, C-D-E do not occur as possibilities in group 5. These are accordingly canceled, leaving only E as the possibility for the odd numbered groups.
We are therefore pretty safe in assuming that B E is the keyword. Applying this key to the cipher we dope out that "KNOWLEDGE IS POWER."
HAROLD H. BROWN.
Red Bank, New Jersey.
The above table has been prepared in accordance with Mr. Brown' s method with the exception that we have taken the liberty to use a different arrangement of pairs that will be found a material aid in working out very short messages. The letters have been paired so that the sum of their numerical substitutes is always equal to the cipher substitute above. Thus, in group 1, B-(12 ) plus K-(25) equals 37; c-(13) plus ij-(24) equals 37; and so on.
Any letters assumed to be in the key - in this case B and E—will thus necessarily be paired with the only letters that could result in the message from their use—in this instance K-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E. A key letter could, of course, he either letter of any pair. That they happen to be the first letters in every pair in this example is merely due to chance.
Another correspondent, F. A. G., of Chicago, Illinois, writes that he has evolved a method of his own for this cipher that gives good results, apparently, the details of which he would be glad to submit if we are interested.
You bet we are interested. If F. A. G. will submit his method we shall he glad to pass it on to the fans if it contains any new idea not yet covered in these pages.
In this connection it is quite possible that some of our cipher enthusiasts may work out something not only of interest, but of real importance to the science. Submit your methods for any kind of cipher. They will be carefully considered, and, if published, the originator will be given full credit in these columns. Make "Solving Cipher Secrets" your cryptographic exchange. We have no cipher secrets that we intend to keep from the fans; and we trust they will keep none from each other.
Another fan submits for your approval this fascinating variation of the Nihilist cipher:
Now for a home-brew cipher. It is based on the cipher square, or " checkerboard," published by you March 28. It will be easily explained by a short example.
Take the word FLY. From the square it is written down 21-31-54 in the usual manner.
The first digit—2 in this instance—is now transferred from the number representing the first letter of the message, to that representing the last, no matter what the length of the message may be. The present example will now appear thus: 1-31-54-2.
We will now consider the hyphen as joining the two digits of a number instead of separating them. The new numbers thus formed—13-15-42—are referred back to the checkerlioard square, giving CER, the enciphered form of the message FLY.
Any one knowing the method can decipher any message written In it providing that he use the square in its original form. We may, however, change the order of the figures i to 5 at side and top of the square. The order of these figures thus forms the key to the cipher.
Below is a message thus enciphered, using a different order of the figures. Can you decipher it?
W. A. ALEXANDER.
St. Louis, Missouri.
CIPHER No. 2.
ONXBM YWHCO BYSNT OKFOQ BQOVR XCRWS BXNQN QOTEO OVOQO OSLRW BXSLG WHNXB VORIB FBKVO KZkqyi QQNQN NRYFG HNLRX OOYLF NNRTG HSU.
Now this is a very clever cipher, fans, and it looks hard. But don't let Mr. Alexander throw any dust in your eyes. His cipher is really not as difficult to solve as it would lead one to believe. I t is one of those ciphers whose complexities are more apparent than real. Peel off the shell and you have a very simple form of cipher.
Can you pierce the disguise?
In the Solving Cipher Secrets" we published a cipher by J. Levine, Long Branch, California, who offered one year's subscription to FLYNN'S to the first person submitting the correct solution within the time limit of one month from the date of the above issue.
This cipher proved a Waterloo for the fans. Not a single answer was received, right or wrong. But this will probably occasion no great surprise when the mechanism of his cipher is laid hare.
According to Mr. Levine's explanation of his system, it is based on the alphabet A-1; B-2 ; and so on up to Z-26. The values of this simple numerical alphabet are varied by the use of key numbers interspersed throughout the cipher.
Here is the cipher reprinted from the June 27 issue, but this time with the key numbers in italics:
14 3 3 4 2 0 10 2 4 17 18 11 14 0 4 1 6 9 1 20 3 3 3 13 0 10 8 9 4 8 2 0 11 3 7 0 21 14 5 10 15 14 6 26 3 22 20 5 0 10 0 11 23 15 12 11 5 1 10 7 7 5 14 0 7 9 24 0 8 4 11 11 9 2 10 3 9 2 1 3 0 3 13 13 13 14 14 21 5 9 0 1 2 12 0 4 0 16 4 3 4 12 0 18 1 9 4 5 5 4 23 6 3 3 9 17 7 5 8 2 4 2 15 7 4 13 1 4 2 9.
And here is the message it conveys: "CRYPTOGRAPHERS KNOW THAT ONE OF THE EASIEST WAYS TO START A SOLUTION TO A CIPHER IS TO GUESS ONE OR MORE OF THE WORDS IN THE CRYPTIC MESSAGE."
To explain the method, begin with the first key number. These may be any numbers selected at random. The first one in the present example is 14. Spelling out 14, and substituting from the simple numerical alphabet for the letters so obtained, this provides key numbers for the first eight letters of the message, as shown in lines (a) and (b) below.
The first eight letters of the message (c), similarly treated, are shown at (d). The cipher substitutes for these letters are found by taking the differences, as shown (e).
Similarly, the next number in the cipher following the above, namely 17 (S-E-V-E-N-T-E-E-N), is taken as the key for the nine numbers following it; and so on to the end
This cipher is thus one in which the numbers have variable values depending upon the key letters. And, further, since in enciphering the difference is always taken, no matter which of any pair of numbers is the larger, most of the cipher numbers have two possible values.
In enciphering this causes no difficulty whatever. But in deciphering, even with the key, the context will often be required to find which of the two possible values is the correct one.
To illustrate, take the first eight numbers of the cipher:
Here the numbers shown at (a) are smaller than those of the KEY, while those at (b) are larger. But both series are such as will give the numbers of the CIPHER by subtraction. The correct value for each number—given above in ITALICS—must be determined by trial.
N ow there are those who have said that any cipher capable of more than a single interpretation is open to certain grave objections.
For example, suppose that the general of an army issues an order, part of which is "ATTACK AT 5 P.M. " And suppose that the particular key in use at the time makes it possible for the enciphered form of FIVE to he interpreted as NINE, or even as FOUR ; and P. M. likewise as A. M. Obviously any officers receiving this order would he in a quandary, and serious results might ensue.
Consequently while systems of this kind are legitimate ciphers worthy of careful study, they are not entirely practicable for every use.
To give the fans a little practice on this kind of cipher, here is an example in Mr. Levine's system, changed, however, by using (1) a different arrangement than 1 to 26 for the letters of the alphabet, and (2) but a single key number throughout.
CIPHER No. 3.
6 19 8 4 2 17 1 2 15 13 1 6 13 17 2 15 6 2 13 14 18 1 6 18 15 2 13 1 6 19 6 14 2 19 0 5 2 2 19 13 2 15 17 15 2 13 6 13 2 18 19 2 14 19 18 13 13 18 5 2 15 2 4 18 6 6 2 19 3 2 3 1 18 15 0 2 19 2 15 6 5 12 4 2.
In the above simpler form, Mr. Levine's cipher is very similar to the key phrase cipher solved by that veteran cryptographer, Edgar Allan Poe. For in the key phrase cipher each letter of the message is always represented by the same cipher substitute; hut a given cipher substitute can stand for any one of several possible letters in the message.
Mr. Levine's idea of complicating his cipher by use of key numbers carried along in the cipher itself is thus practically the same as using twenty-six different key phrase alphabets in mixed succession, their order being determined by that of the letters provided by the key numbers. All of which will be plainer, if not now perfectly understood, when you have seen the key phrase cipher itself, already promised for a future issue.
Speaking of Poe, listen to this letter from a representative of the Empire State, received in answer to the cipher in the May 16 issue:
The solution to Poe's cipher is: " Few persons can be made to believe that it is not quite an easy thing to invent a method of secret writing which shall baffle investigation. Yet it may be roundly asserted that human ingenuity cannot concoct a cipher which human ingenuity cannot resolve."
I do not agree with Poe. I think that a cipher composed of a combination of ciphers, transposition, substitution, and the keyword type, could baffle any would-be solver indefinitely, provided he knew absolutely nothing pertaining to the construction of the cipher in the beginning.
I wish you would tell in some number how to decipher a cryptogram depending on a keyword or some number combination.
Geneseo, New York.
There are numerous methods of solving ciphers of the type Mr. Harper mentions. Two methods have already been described in the issues of June 6 and June 27. We would like to describe some more advanced methods if we thought they would he of general interest. Suppose we take a vote on the question. Let us know how you feel about it.
As to the second paragraph of Mr. Harper's letter, opinion on the question seemed to he about equally divided among our correspondents.
The printing of this statement in Poe's own time stirred up a regular hornets' nest. He was besieged with cryptograms from all parts of the country from those who would challenge his claim. In order to quiet the situation he was at length forced to admit that while he still insisted on the truth of his proposition, he had no intention of making himself a test of human ingenuity.
Some of our correspondents, as we have already said, agreed with Poe. R. Hamilton, of New York City, whose cipher was printed in the August 15 FLYNN'S, was one of these. Incidentally, here is the solution to his cipher, which was one of the transposition class.
To decipher this cryptogram it is only necessary to rewrite it by rows in regular order into the prearranged square, placing no letters on the diagonal originating in the lower right-hand corner. Beginning with the middle letter (S) of the first row, the columns should he read upward in the manner required to obtain the following message:
SOCRATES COULD NOT HAVE PUT IT MORE CONCISELY. MAN MAKES NOTHIN (G) WHICH MAN CANNOT DESTROY. A CIPHER IS THE SUPREME TEST OF MAN'S INGENUITY. R. HAMILTON,
On the other hand, many fans agreeing with Mr. Harper, most emphatically stated that Poe was wrong. Some sent along vicious looking ciphers to substantiate their claims, which we shall print as space permits, together with comments of their inventors.
Let' s read this letter from one who takes a neutral stand in the controversy:
Your exposition of the method of solving an arbitrary substitution cipher in FLYNN'S for May 16 was fine. Your department is growing better every time it comes out.
Poe is undoubtedly right, but one must not be led to believe by that statement that it is possible to decipher ail secret messages by just a mere working knowledge of their construction.
A book cipher, for instance, may be only possible to decode by a knowledge of what particular book was used. If this knowledge is unavailable, and a current book of fiction is used, the cipher becomes unsolvable. Of course, such a cipher is so cumbersome as to be impractical, but this fact does not destroy the validity of my contention.
I am wondering whether you would consent to give me a series of lessons on ciphers, on the ground you intend to cover in future issues.
J. K. M.
To put the cart before the horse, we will answer the last part of this inquiry first. It is perfectly feasible to study cryptography by correspondence, but without a prepared series of lessons the cost of an individually prepared set would be prohibitively high.
And, besides, as much as we would enjoy it, we have not the time to prepare such a course. We must therefore ask our correspondent and other interested enthusiasts to make "Solving Cipher Secrets" their text book of cryptography.
There is no reason in the world why this department should not be the most comprehensive thing of the kind ever attempted. In this connection, we are in receipt of numerous inquiries as to dates of issues of FLYNN'S containing installments of this department.
Here's a complete list for the benefit of those who want to fill out their set while copies are still available: December 13, 1924; January 17, February 21, March 28, April 25, May 16, June 6, June 27, July 25, August 15, and September 12, 1925.
Now for a few facts about the book cipher, for the benefit of those not familiar with this kind of secret writing.
Book cipher is of the substitution class, the substitutes being usually numbers that indicate certain words in certain lines, paragraphs, or pages, of the article, pamphlet, hook, or other publication used as a key by the code-writers.
The most common method of using this cipher is to represent each word by a group of three numbers. For example: 127-4-11 would indicate the 11th word of the 4th line on the 127th page of the key volume.
It is generally conceded that book cipher, when properly used, is impossible of solution without the key volume. This kind of cipher is somewhat popular with writers of detective literature, although it is a little more cumbersome to handle than some other types of ciphers. Both Gaboriau and Doyle have utilized it. William Garrett used it in his three-part serial, " Treasure Royal, " that began in the July 25 issue of this magazine.
To get hack to the subject in hand, no matter what you may think of Poe's statement you must agree that the solution of a simple substitution cipher such as he used in " The Gold Bug " is always an interesting problem. I f you are skeptical, try this one from Mrs. J. C. Minear, Denver, Colorado:
CIPHER No. 4.
; 094‡(? 7;66‡I 9 *$5((6 7989X;(‡ 6;(.‡ ?‡5 -‡:‡ *;:6? 3!†60‡I 75 *94):;?‡ 6?):;‡6 9:‡ ?o)6‡ )* $9-6)(
Any simple substitution cipher, such as the above, is admittedly easy of solution unless the message is very short. And that is why more of the fans didn't succeed in solving Mr. Hutchinson's cipher in the June 27 issue.
But a single solution to this cipher was sent in, it being from Miss Katherine Henry, Seattle, Washington. For the benefit of those who may have mislaid the above mentioned issue, Mr. Hutchinson's cipher is here reprinted.
The following message is written in a secret code known to smugglers:
AH MING: YRT HSRKNVMG WFV HSRMBL NZIF. ED.
If this message is solved, or cannot be solved, please let me know the results. The readers of your magazine will have a hard time deciphering it.
Honolulu, Hawaiian Islands.
The correct solution, as submitted by Miss Henry is : BIG SHIPMENT DUE SHINY OMARU. The cipher alphabet is formed by writing the last letter (Z) of the alphabet in place of the first (A); the next to last (Y) in place of the second (B); and so on.
This cipher is of much more than passing interest, for it is an arrangement for the twenty-six letter English alphabet of the very ancient atbash cipher of the Kabbalah, known to have been used at least five centuries B.C. Ful l particulars of this a nd other hermeneutical canons of the Kab - balah may he expected in a later article. These methods were used in ancient times for interpreting a hidden signification of the Scriptures, supposed to exist in addition to the apparent meaning.
Miss Henry is to he congratulated for her success with this cipher. While not of a complex type, its brevity makes it difficult of solution.
Well, fans, this just about finishes the business on hand. There are still before us some inquiries of more or less interest and importance, which, for the reason that they will have to be answered at some length, will be dealt with when we next "get together."
However, there is a more urgent reason why we should end this here and now. It must he getting late. Hark ! There's the old tower dock striking the midnight hour at this very moment. It's high time for all good cipher fans to he hitting the hay. But before we close up shop, how about a little cipher by way of a toast in honor of this occasion? All set?
CIPHER No. 5.
SBE VGF NYJNLF SNVE JRNGURE JURA TBBQ SRYYBJF TRG GBTRGURE JVGU N PVCURE BA GUR GNOYR NAQ N PUNYYRATR EVATVAT PYRNE.
They who carefully tabulated the initial, final, and total alphabetic frequencies of the first two ciphers in FLYNN'S for September 12, no doubt discovered how easy it is to distinguish between normal and artificial word divisions in the simple substitution cipher.
Of these two ciphers. No. 2 used the normal word divisions. The No. 1 cipher, with the arbitrary divisions, is written in an alphabet based on the system of Julius Caesar. B y comparison you will find that this alphabet is very similar to that of the Augustus cipher, the Key to which was printed in FLYNN'S for March 28. In Caesar's time the Latin alphabet did not contain the letters J. U, and W. Here is Julius Caesar's cipher arranged for the twenty-six-letter English alphabet, as used in the No. 1 cipher:
The solution to cipher No. 1 is as follows:
THIS CRYPTOGRAM IS WRITTEN IN A CIPHER USED FOR SECRET MEMORANDA AND CORRESPONDENCE TWO THOUSAND YEARS AGO BY JULIUS CESAR, THE ROMAN GENERAL, STATESMAN, AND WRITER. EACH LETTE R OF THE MESSAGE IS REPRESENTED IN CIPHER BY TH E FOURTH LETTE R IN ADVANCE OF IT IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER, D BEING USED FOR A, E FOR B, AND SO ON THROUGH THE ALPHABET, C FINALLY BEING USED FOR Z. AMONG THE SEVERAL METHODS THAT CAN BE USED TO RESOLVE A CIPHER OF THIS TYPE MAY BE MENTIONED THAT USED WITH THE AUGUSTUS CIPHER DESCRIBED IN FLYNN'S FOR FEBRUARY 21.
Cipher No. 2 used the following alphabet:
|Normal:||ABCDE FGHI J KLMNO PQRST UVWXY Z|
|Cipher:||VWXYZ QRST U LMNOP GHIJK BCDEF A|
Here is its translation:
AT THE EXPIRATION OF A MONTH'S TIME THE SEA HAD SUNK SO LOW THAT THERE REMAINED BETWEEN ME AND THE CONTINENT BUT A SMALL STREAM. THIS I CROSSED, AND WHEN I HAD PROCEEDED SOME DISTANCE FROM THE SEA, I SAW A GOOD WAY BEFORE ME SOMETHING THAT RESEMBLED A GREAT FIRE. BUT AS I DREW NEARER I DISCOVERED MY ERROR, FOR WHAT I HAD TAKEN FOR A FIRE WAS A CASTLE OF RED COPPER, WHICH THE BEAMS OF TH E SUN MADE TO APPEAR AT A DISTANCE LIKE FLAMES.
For a number of reasons that we will go into more fully in later issues, too exact an agreement between any frequency table and the frequencies of a given cryptogram should not be expected.
One of the factors entering into the situation is the length of the cipher message itself. In general, the longer the message, the more exactly will its frequencies agree with those of the tables.
In the case of the above cipher, the fact that any cipher is relatively of no great length is alone sufficient reason why only a few of its characters can be identified by the method of initial, final, and total frequencies.
Of the following fans who submitted their solutions to the ciphers in "Solving Cipher Secrets " for July 25, only the first three succeeded in solving both of the Blair ciphers. The others failed on the more difficult No. 1.
The solutions to all of the ciphers in this article will he found in next "Solving Cipher Secrets."