Obituary: Timothy Rayhel (Glen Claston) 1957-2014

Tim Rayhel – better known to historical codebreakers as “Glen Claston” – died a few days ago (July 2014) in Albuquerque. He was 56.

He was always very private, and once told me that blogs “expose too much of the underbelly to the carnivores, and that I don’t want to do”.

Even so, because the Internet is almost completely silent about his life and work, this page is my attempt to tell his story, to remember my old friend Tim properly.

Timothy Rayhel

tim rayhel glen claston Obituary: Timothy Rayhel (Glen Claston) 1957 2014

Joining the US Army young, he found a natural home in the Army Security Agency which was where his life-long interest in ciphers began.

“Post military I served in the private armies that were the forerunners of BlackWater, etc., in Nicaragua and other points south. My old boss Ollie North took a fall and I retired from that work, having seen a bit too much of what real American policy is all about. I suffered an attack of conscience, became a fundamentalist minister [in the Church of Christ], found that too extreme, and finally directed my efforts toward staying below the radar.”

Tim then became interested in the (alleged) cryptographic writings of Francis Bacon and their possible links to Shakespeare’s works. Yet despite building up a huge regard for Bacon, he ultimately ended up disappointed, certain that most Baconian researchers’ claims were “false and misleading”.

“There was a time several years ago when Mr. Rayhel drank a lot and said some embarassing things, even if he was right. It’s much simpler to be a reformed person with a new name, and it keeps the crackpot mail down a bit as well.”

Glen Claston

He also started researching the Voynich Manuscript from 1986, posting online under his ‘Glen Claston’ (‘GC’) pseudonym from 1994 onwards. He subsequently became convinced that Leonell Strong’s mid-century attempts at decryption were essentially correct. Over a period of several years, he built his own detailed transcription of Voynichese (“Voynich-101″) and released this openly, which many researchers now use.

But his interests were very much wider, covering a whole range of historical ciphers, the early works of John Dee (particularly the Monas Hieroglyphica) and numerous Renaissance books on cryptography, some of which he worked with others on transcribing: but none of these has (as yet) been published.

In 2000, Tim believed that he had cracked the Beale Ciphers (B1 and B3), and that he had even identified the likeliest location of where the treasure had been hidden. A TV production house took out an option to make a documentary on the subject, but this never got made. (By 2004, though, he had changed his mind, concluding instead that the cipher was nothing more than a strange 19th century cipher hoax.)

He is also well known for his research into the Zodiac Killer Ciphers: for years he was intrigued by the numerous apparent connections between Gareth Penn and the Zodiac Killer, but was never ultimately able to find a way into the unbroken Z340 cipher.

He struggled with various health issues, including a heart attack: while severe back pain problems throughout 2012 were later diagnosed as “peripheral neuropathy that may be related to MS”. His cause of death is as yet unknown. He leaves behind a daughter.

My Friend Tim

That’s all the facts. But what to say about my good friend Tim, who I had first encountered in 2001?

In truth, he was like a twin brother to me (and I told him so), equal parts inspiring and infuriating: he would gleefully pick a fight with me over anything inaccurate I wrote or any logical shortcut I inadvertently tried to take.

But I never minded this from him, because here was someone who had walked a thousand crypto miles before I had walked even one – someone whose fiercely-held opinions were guaranteed to be built on obsessive observation skills, sustained hard graft, and a highly analytical brain. How many people can you genuinely say that of?

Having Tim as my friend taught me this: that sincerely disagreeing with someone – and having the strength of will and mind to fight them in the spirit of mutual learning – is the greatest gift you can give. I learnt more from him than from anyone else.

Without him in it, my world seems unchallenged, empty, even (dare I say it) easy. And I can’t begin to tell you what a dreadful loss that is to me.

In memoriam Timothy Rayhel (‘Glen Claston’) 1957-2014

Somerton Man Part Two: Police Photography revisited…

In Part One I looked afresh at the ink of the Somerton Man’s Rubaiyat letters, trying to get some kind of handle on what it is that we are looking at there.

However, I think there’s a huge slice of mid-century history that we’ve largely managed to overlook up until now, but that may well give us a different angle again: Australian police photography.

The ‘mother lode’ of this is a huge collection of about 100,000 negatives taken by NSW police photographers “between 1912 and the late 1960s”: this was originally uncovered in a government warehouse in 1989, but has since had books written about it, as well as travelling archive exhibitions and countless reproductions in newspapers. (It is now under the custodianship of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW.)

Fingerprints, crime scenes, mug shots, stolen goods, and (yes) even documents are there: the dead, the gloating, the defensive, the beaten, the defiant, the lost. All human life is here, though (with a nod to Anthony Burgess) perhaps the Holy Ghost remained just out of shot. Some appear strikingly anachronistic, such as the extraordinary Mrs Osbourne, who looks to me like someone circa 2009 with a thing for retro clothes:-

mrs osbourne Somerton Man Part Two: Police Photography revisited...

There’s a great description online by Peter Doyle of the research he did into this collection, that turned into his (2005) book “City of Shadows, Sydney police Photographs 1912-1948″, as well as his (2009) book “Crooks Like Us”. Perhaps a little media-theoretic for my personal taste, but stunning, unforgettable images nonetheless. (There are a fair few more online here.)

Anyway… from my reading so far, it seems that almost all police images prior to the 1950s used 6″ X 4″ glass plate negatives: it was only in the late 1940s and early 1950s that sheet film started to be used (roll film didn’t arrive until the 1950s). The white writing on the images (such as “20. MRS OSBOURNE” above) was black writing written directly onto the negative (and hence which came out white when turned positive). Text was normally, I believe, written back to front on the negative so that it would end up the correct way round when finally printed, which I suspect is why many of the captions look somewhat scratchy and upright.

We can therefore (I think) already rule out the suggestion that what we see in the Rubaiyat note might have been applied directly to a negative, because (as you can see from the archives) this was a practice used extensively with dark ink that ends up white when the negative is turned positive (as opposed to white ink that ends up dark when reversed).

We can also (I think) rule out the use of iodine vapour deposition to make the photograph: this was an early forensic technique that took the lipids left on a surface in fingerprints and (briefly) turned them brown, whereupon they could be photographed and used as evidence. However, the drawback with this technique is that the lipids left behind in this way degrade and become unusable after only a week or so: so it would seem unlikely to have been used on the Somerton Man’s Rubaiyat.

(This also answers the often asked question about why the Somerton Man’s suitcase was never fingerprinted – it’s because iodine vapour deposition isn’t much use after a week, and the suitcase was only retrieved several weeks later).

We can also (I suspect, though Gordon Cramer will doubtless disagree) rule out the use of UV photography. Even though the Australian Special Investigation Bureau was formed in 1938 (it had access to up-to-date photographic equipment, and developed a “standard set of procedures for taking crime photos” according to this page), I simply don’t believe the photographer used by the SA police was in that league at all.

So what are we looking at, then? If the back part of the image isn’t a film or glass negative, we only really have three feasible scenarios left:

(1) the actual object itself, with an acetate film placed on top of it (and drawn on)
(2) a positive (developed) photograph of the image, with drawings made directly on top of the photograph
(3) a positive (developed) photograph of the image, with an acetate film placed on top of it (and drawn on).

Gordon Cramer also suggests that the photographic image may have been reversed and overexposed to yield more contrast: it’s a possibility, but I suspect we should get the opinion of a photographic historian who properly understands the nuances of mid-century dark room practice, because the image might well be good enough for an expert eye to tell.

Right now, I’m not sure which scenario will turn out to be the right one: but I suspect that there may well still be sufficient clues in the image to assist us in this. For example, it looks to me as though there is some kind of ‘clip’ in the top right hand corner of the image: might that be for holding the original image flat, or for clipping an acetate on top of the image?

top right corner Somerton Man Part Two: Police Photography revisited...

Perhaps taking a closer look at some of the 1940s NSW police photographs will help to make this clear. Something to think about, anyway. icon smile Somerton Man Part Two: Police Photography revisited...

Manu wants his La Buse theory disproved…

Emmanuel Mezino, having misinterpreted my critique (of his book) as in some way overcritical, has left some comments on Cipher Mysteries challenging me to disprove his La Buse theory. Constructing a disproof is often quite hard, but I think that in this case it’s possible if I focus solely on his speculative cryptology (rather than his speculative history, speculative cartography, speculative numerology, etc).

First, I’ll need to summarize Manu’s complicated-sounding reasoning. He argues…
* …that the 17-line copy of the cryptogram (as decrypted by Charles de la Roncière and popularized by Robert Charroux) is a fake, while the 22-line copy of the cryptogram (as revealed for the first time in Manu’s book) is real;
* …that the pigpen cipher key inferred by de la Roncière is only the basis of the cryptogram’s cipher system;
* …that there is an extra first level that involves swapping between dotted and undotted pigpen shapes;
* …that there is an extra second level that involves a Caesar-like +4 substitution shift (i.e. replacing a letter with a letter four steps on within the alphabet) for certain characters;
* …that there is an extra third level that involves treating the two halves of the pigpen alphabet key as if it is some kind of virtual chess board, and then using knight’s moves to make letter substitutions within the alphabet (but again, only for certain letters);
* …that even with this pigpen cipher basis plus these three additional confounding steps, he still can’t make sense of the first 17 lines of the ciphertext, but that the final five lines (of the recently revealed 22-line copy) can be read very clearly;
* …and hence that the only things he draws from the cryptogram are (a) the number 22 (which is important to him, because it is the same number as the number of mysterious stone markings he claims to have found scattered around the North-East part of Réunion, (b) the word “ECU” (which he claims links with the constellation known as the Ecu of Sobieski), and (c) a steganographic star map of the same constellation hidden in plain sight within the cryptogram, formed by linking up all the letter “A”s (in their pigpen form).

Additionally: whereas the original 17-line cryptogram has no connection to La Buse at all beyond mere hearsay, the new 22-line cryptogram has “LA BUSE” clearly added to it (written in the same pigpen cipher), along with a picture of a ship marked “La Vierge du Cap”, a picture of a man being hanged (presumably Olivier Levasseur himself), five additional lines of cipher including the date 1730 (i.e. the year of La Buse’s execution) written in words, and lots of other wonderfully detailed historical pirate-looking stuff all around it.

What is wrong with this reasoning?

For me, there’s a difficult paradox that underlies all of the above: that even though Manu concludes that the original 17-line cipher is uncrackable and unknowable (even with his claimed three stage extra confoundment of a pigpen cipher, he only claims to decrypt a single word “DIFFUS” from the whole of line 17), he simultaneously is content to accept that the new lines 18 to 22 are perfectly readable and reliable.

= …DIFFUS…………….

Were these two lines really made in the same way and at the same time?

For me, the answer is a flat no. If line 18 to 22 were written at the same time as lines 1 to 17, then the same subsequent process – whether of conscious confoundment (as Manu thinks) or of accumulated historical accident (as I suspect) – would have happened to both blocks of text. As such, we would not be in a situation where we can read line 18 but have not the faintest clue about its neighbouring line 17.

Really, from what I can currently see of these two ciphertexts (Manu’s book only includes his transcription of lines 18-22, but not a clear image of these new lines in the ciphertext), I cannot honestly accept that lines 17 and 18 were originally written down at the same time. That is, the final 5-line block looks to my eyes like it was added as an entirely separate (and possibly much later) constructional layer.

It’s therefore an open (and extremely interesting) question whether this second cryptogram is a genuinely old artefact (i.e. a copy of an earlier document that has been extended, though not with sufficient art to make that extension appear seamless) or a modern fake. From my perspective, I don’t think there’s yet quite enough information to make that call: but I hope someone takes it on as a challenge in the future. That, for me, is the central core of the book that I’d have written (but which Manu plainly didn’t, apparently for reasons of “respect”).

All in all, then, Manu’s notion that 22 (the number of lines of the second cryptogram) is somehow important now seems impossible to justify, whether or not you place any trust in numerological arguments (and I personally have never seen one that turned out to be true or useful). And so his subsequent claim that this necessarily links with the 22 stone incisions he found now seems almost certainly wrong.

Given the uncertainty in the confoundment of lines 1 to 17, I also have no confidence at all that all the instances of the letter “A” were letters “A” in the original ciphertext: I also have no confidence that the cryptogram as it has come to us (in either variant) has precisely the same layout as the one that was originally enciphered. As a result, I have no real confidence that Manu’s suggested A-based star map is a reliable guide to anything.

Finally, I also have no confidence that the word “ECU” apparently in the ciphertext was in the original. Manu’s claimed explanation of the 17-line ciphertext as some kind of triply-confounded pigpen (based on what? Has anyone ever made one even remotely like this? I don’t think so) is completely speculative and unhelpful, in that it doesn’t seem to explain a single word. I cannot see that the presence of “ECU” in a string of unreadable French can be a reliable starting point to build an argument about steganographic star maps.

Gordon Cramer and the Somerton Man’s Rubaiyat…

A piece in the Adelaide ‘Tiser a few days ago lays out retired policeman Gordon Cramer’s sensational-sounding Somerton Man claims – that the mysterious cipher-like Rubaiyat note linked to the Somerton Man contains “Prosigns” (a set of abbreviations when using Morse Code); that it also contains microwriting; and that some of this microwriting in fact refers to a top secret post-war British plane – the de Havilland Venom.

gordon cramer cropped Gordon Cramer and the Somerton Mans Rubaiyat...

Gordon has been doggedly pursuing the Somerton Man’s trail for several years now… so might his diligent nose have sniffed out a whole set of truffles that everyone else has been walking past in the rotting forest of evidence?

The immediate thing to note is that there are so very many cipher history / mystery elements in play here that it’s going to take me more than a single blog post to cover them all. But I’ll start briskly with what I think is the fundamental forensic question – What happened to the Rubaiyat note to leave it the way we see it in the scans? – because Gordon’s take on this has both interesting similarities to and differences from my own.

A smooth writing surface?

First things first: Gordon and I agree (I think) that what we’re looking at is quite different from the state the page was in when it was passed to the SA police. Looking close-up at the letters (as Gordon has spent so much time doing), it is very clear (I think) that there is a ‘slide’ to the way many of them were formed, as if they had been written on a shiny / smooth / glossy surface… and hence not on the roughly-textured post-war paper of the Rubaiyat.

pane Gordon Cramer and the Somerton Mans Rubaiyat...

In particular, I think it is hard to see the “A” of the “PANETP” (above) as having been written on anything but a slippery surface: and if this holds true for the ‘A’, then it must also be true of all the other letters written in the same codicological ‘layer’.

A laundry pen?

Secondly, he and I also agree (I think) that in 1949 these marks must almost certainly have been made by an early indelible marker pen, such as a laundry pen. I’m not a laundry pen historian (there can’t be that many of them in the world, surely?), but I am reasonably sure that they would have had fairly stiff wicks / tips drawing ink from their ink reservoir. I also don’t think they would have been much fun to write with: by way of contrast, the (later) felt tip pins had tips that were much more pliable.

I further suspect that we have enough evidence to make a reasonable estimate of the physical size of the pen’s tip. Given that the size of the Whitcomb and Tombs Rubaiyat edition upon which the writing was found is 110mm x 140mm, (which Gordon describes (fairly reasonably) as a “pocket version”) and that the width of the downstroke on the A is about 13 pixels on the 1802×1440 image, I believe we can infer a line width of between 0.75mm and 0.80mm. All of which is pretty much consistent with the pen being something similar to a laundry pen of the time (note that the first Sharpie was launched fifteen years later in 1964).

pooling Gordon Cramer and the Somerton Mans Rubaiyat...

Furthermore, if you look at the ‘feet’ of many of the vertical lines (as above), you can – I think – see ‘pooling’ where the ink has collected at the end of a downstroke: so my suspicion here is that the ink would seem to have been made to a ‘wetter’ formulation than the kind used in modern marker pens.

The Jestyn ‘R’?

Gordon has also recently pointed out a similarity between the (only) R in the Rubaiyat note and the first R in Jestyn’s note in Alf Boxall’s Rubaiyat.

R and R Gordon Cramer and the Somerton Mans Rubaiyat...

I agree that it’s an intriguing suggestion, but I’d caution that Jestyn’s overall ‘hand’ is slightly forward slanting and curved, while all the ‘laundry pen letters’ are distinctly upright and linear. All in all, if there is a match there, I’d say it’s a pretty thin one… but I thought I ought to say.

The first letter.

So far, so good. But it is broadly at this point that our paths diverge, so I’ll go on to consider a number of possible scenarios in the next post.

Yet there is another issue here: the “M” that is apparently visible beneath the first letter. (And yes, I know that the first letter is also an “M”: I’m talking about something that looks like a pencil “M” beneath a laundry pen “M”). A picture is well worth a thousand words here:-

first letter Gordon Cramer and the Somerton Mans Rubaiyat...

If you can’t see what I’m talking about, here’s another version with the M-like lines roughly highlighted in green:-

first letter green Gordon Cramer and the Somerton Mans Rubaiyat...

What was used to mark out this single under-letter? Not laundry pen, nor iodine vapour, nor even UV light: to my eye, it resembles faint pencil, or perhaps pencil marks that have been partially erased and then contrast enhanced in the photographer’s dark room. Might it be that these faint lines were what all the text originally looked like, before having the marker pen layer added on top?

What I find most interesting is that this ‘under-M’ doesn’t yet square well with anybody’s ideas about this page (not even my own): and is therefore perhaps a sign that we’re all misreading this in one or more significant ways. We don’t yet know the real history of how this page was made – every account seems to be closer to hearsay than to evidence – so it’s all up for grabs. Anyway, scenarios next…

Ohio Cipher revisited (again)…

One thing that annoyed me about the Ohio Cipher was that the quality of the newsprint scan of the original 3rd July 1916 article was simply terrible.

ohio cipher version 1 300x81 Ohio Cipher revisited (again)...

Yes, it really was exactly that bad. Having said that, the version of the same cipher in the follow-up 7th July 1916 article was, comparatively speaking, in excellent shape:

ohio cipher version 4 Ohio Cipher revisited (again)...

But… which was the correct version of the cryptogram? What’s worse, both of these differed again from the one that ended up in the Futility Closet nearly a century later. So will the real Ohio Cipher now please stand up, please stand up? (…so that we can give it a proper go at solving it, at least partially).

Anyway, a little earlier this year I had a good idea as to how to resolve this: why not find a list of newspaper archives that might possible hold a physical copy of the Lima Times-Democrat from that particular day (3rd July 1916), and see if I could get a fresh scan of it from there? There must, I reasoned, surely be more than a single extant copy of that particular edition, and in all probability they can’t all be as bad as the online one I’d been working with, surely?!?

Hence I contacted the Ohio Historical Society to see if they had a list of such archives, and yesterday got an unexpectedly positive response from this via Tom Rieder of the Ohio History Connection, Columbus OH. He very kindly scanned two different copies of the same article and sent them through to me (they’re at higher resolution than they appear within the blog post body, so feel free to click through to them in all their fuzzy monochromatic glory):-

ohio cipher version 2 300x87 Ohio Cipher revisited (again)...

ohio cipher version 3 300x86 Ohio Cipher revisited (again)...

So, thanks to Tom Rieder’s help, I think we can now say with a reasonable amount of certainty that the Ohio Cipher’s ciphertext was similar but not quite identical to the second version given above, and should read:-

Was nvlvaft by aakat txpxsck upbk txphn ohay ybtx cpt mxhg wae sxfp zavfz ack there first txlk week wayx za with thx

What does this mean? Here we go (at last)… icon smile Ohio Cipher revisited (again)...

If you try to read this off the page as a normal monoalphabetic cipher, the fact that “txp” occurs twice and “tx” occurs four times (and that “TH” is the most common letter-pair in English) would probably make you strongly suspect that “txp” = “THE”. Further you’d probably like to hazard a guess at this point that “txlk” = “THIS” and that “ybtx” = “WITH”. (“aakat” I don’t believe is correct, so let’s skip past that that for the moment.)

But… this approach simply doesn’t work. Even putting only the cipher-like words into CryptoCrack as a patristocrat yields gibberish-like plaintext (such as “fmomewseenesstaturngainstalfpleddistrasktlycebutwahemwhernstoncedthe”, which isn’t particularly close to anything anyone apart from a statistical linguist might describe as a normal language).

There also seems to be some kind of odd-even pattern to the letters, in that ZA appears three times all on even letter boundaries. So my suspicion is that what we’re looking at here is something like a Frankenmixture of plaintext and Polybius ciphertext (but indexed with letters rather than numbers), i.e. with (say) [ A P S U X ] on one side and [ T H K M Z ] across the top, plus other stuff (such as spelling mistakes, transmission errors and possibly extra letters coded as themselves) to confuse the picture. *sigh*

I’m sorry if that’s not as robust a decryption-style reading as you’d like to be getting from Cipher Mysteries, but it is what it is, and please feel entirely free to see if you can do better yourself, ain’t nothin’ stoppin’ ya. icon smile Ohio Cipher revisited (again)...

“The Devil in the Details” Voynich short story…

Here’s a nice departure from normal: a ‘Peter Crossman’ short story that just appeared on called The Devil in the Details, by Debra Doyle and James D. McDonald.

It’s a kind of high-octane (parody of / homage to) the modern-day Knights-Templar-as-God’s-Special-Ops novel genre, based around missing pages from the Voynich Manuscript being offered at a dangerously high-powered auction, at an arcane and mysterious venue with the Vatican and (possibly) Google Research also trying to bid, if they can stay alive long enough… you get the idea.

The writing sustains a quirky balance between rigid Latin medievalism and modern weapon fetishism, with tongue firmly in cheek. I hope you like it! icon smile The Devil in the Details Voynich short story...

Andy Warner on the Voynich Manuscript!

A few weeks ago, web comic artist Andy Warner emailed to ask if he could bounce some questions about the Voynich Manuscript off me.

Perhaps because many of the answers I gave him were short enough to fit into speech bubbles, Andy’s Voynich article ended up being largely about me and William Friedman and Marcello Montemurro (excellent company to keep).

Voynich field of broken dreams 300x108 Andy Warner on the Voynich Manuscript!

Doubtless this will ruffle a whole load of Voynichian feathers, but there you go. Enjoy! icon smile Andy Warner on the Voynich Manuscript!

Was the Somerton Man an Odd Fellow?

…i.e. was he a member of broadly the same group of Odd Fellows that used the Action Line Cryptogram to acrostically encrypt their initiation ceremonies?

In South Australia, Odd Fellows founded their first Lodge in Adelaide in late 1840 (according to this 1843 page from their journal), at just about the same time as a Lodge was formed in Sydney: and even today, Odd Fellows in SA are apparently still going strong.

So… looking again at the Tamam Shud text, it parallels the Action Line Cryptogram: that is, it gives cryptologists a very strong impression of having been constructed as an acrostic English ciphertext, because its letter frequency distribution closely follows the same frequency distribution pattern found in English texts.

tamam shud closeup 300x103 Was the Somerton Man an Odd Fellow?

All the same, pure acrostic cryptograms are relatively rare in the wild, because they are more mnemonic than cryptologic: they are there to remind the reader of something they already know rather than to communicate something unexpected to someone else. The more personal the message, the more unknowable its contents: and that’s they way it is, I guess.

So perhaps in this instance Marshall McLuhan is right, and the medium (an Odd Fellows-style acrostic cryptogram) is the message. If so, the most we are likely to infer from this is that it was written by someone who was (or had been) a member of an Odd Fellows Lodge, very probably in Adelaide itself. The Somerton Man may well have been down on his uppers (albeit very shiny uppers), but I expect those same shoes had likely been inside an Adelaide Lodge at some stage.

Now, Pete Bowes will likely take this as a cue for explaining why (in his belief) the contents of the suitcase were laid out in such a ceremonial way: and why the name link to recently-deceased Adelaide Freemason Tom Kean was never explored by the police. But… one thing at a time, Petey-boy, one thing at a time… icon smile Was the Somerton Man an Odd Fellow?

Action Line Cryptogram, now comprehensively cracked!

Even though I was, in a recent post here, able to decrypt a few lines of the Action Line Cryptogram (and commenters Clay and SirHubert both improved upon my guesses and decrypted parts of other sections)… I remained hungry to do better. I wondered: might I be able to find something really close to the plaintext?

It was then that I made a lucky guess. icon smile Action Line Cryptogram, now comprehensively cracked!

After stumbling around for a while online looking for plausible-looking Masonic sources, I found a Pennsylvanian bookseller (“Bookworm & Silverfish”) selling a small Odd Fellows pamphlet from 1899 that seemed very close indeed to what I was looking for. I bought it immediately, crossing my fingers really tightly…

esoteric booklet476 1024x781 Action Line Cryptogram, now comprehensively cracked!

Though I can’t claim that this particular methodology will work every time, in this instance it paid off handsomely, because the contents turned out to be almost exactly the cryptogram’s plaintext right down to the tiniest detail (there are a few minor differences, but these all seem to be completely non-critical).

If you want to see the booklet, I’ve updated my permanent Action Line Cryptogram page with a complete set of scans (all bar the blank back cover page).

How nice to be able to say: crack complete! icon smile Action Line Cryptogram, now comprehensively cracked!

Ralph Simpson’s splendid Google Tech Talk on the History of Enigma Machines…

I very rarely cover Enigma machines on Cipher Mysteries, mainly because I didn’t think there were many open cipher-related mysteries to do with it (not unless you include the question of why US film-makers apparently feel so compelled to mash up history every time they include Enigmas on camera.).

But it turns out that the two men who (apparently) had the patents for the Enigma design in the 1920s were not the real inventors of the device at all: in fact, the clever principles of modern rotor cryptography were invented by two Dutch naval officers during the First World War. However, when the Dutch Navy refused to proceed with bringing their design to practice, events took a slightly strange turn…

That story – and lots, lots more about Enigma, plus a few early crypto machines – is in the following splendid Google Tech Talk by well-known (and very affable) crypto collector Ralph Simpson, with captions (which you can turn off with the keyboard-like icon just to the left of the settings icon). It’s not often I recommend a 1hr 16min YouTube video, but this is excellent, well worth putting an hour and a bit of your time aside for. Enjoy! icon smile Ralph Simpsons splendid Google Tech Talk on the History of Enigma Machines...

(If the above embedded video fails to appear for you, here’s a direct link to it instead.)

PS: at 6:49, Ralph holds up a commercial cryptography book which he describes as being from “1988″, but it is of course actually from 1888… just so you know! icon wink Ralph Simpsons splendid Google Tech Talk on the History of Enigma Machines...

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