Monday, October 5, 2009

The More You Wish You Didn't Know: Ciphers and Codes

In The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, Robert Langdon compares the Masonic Cipher to "the Phaistos Disk, the Dorabella Cipher, the mysterious Voynich Manuscript."  What are these three things?  Obviously, they involve difficult (some say impossible) to decipher codes.

Phaistos Disk side B Side B of the Phaistos Disk

The Phaistos Disk
is an artifact that was found in a Minoan palace near Heraklion, Crete (Minoans again!).  It contains a series of symbols stamped onto both sides of the clay surface in a spiral pattern.  No one knows what these symbols mean--or if they mean anything at all.  Some people think this disk even represents the first example of movable type, 3000 years before Gutenberg was born.

dorabella cipher

The Dorabella Cipher was written in 1897 by composer Edward Elgar.  In addition to being a musician, Elgar was also a cryptologist; and this short note to his childhood friend, Dora Penny (whom Elgar called Dorabella), has been completely undecipherable to anyone but the writer and the recipient.  The strange thing is, there is actually a key to this cipher, but using it produces absolute nonesense.  Elgar and Penny were probably communicating in some sort of code known only to them, meaning this note will likely never be deciphered.

voynich manuscript

The Voynich Manuscript is a manuscript that is mostly famous for being unbreakable by famous WWII cryptographers.  The script looks vaguely Latin, but other things suggest its origin isn't European.  Is it a hoax?  An alchemical manuscript with a clever code?  No one knows.  The website for it from the Yale University Library is kick-ass, though.

the more you wish you didn't know

Stay tuned for the next TMYWYDK post!

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