As far as just about any cipher I blog about goes, I have days when a solution seems so comically close I could almost accidentally breathe it in. But I also have days when one seems so tragically far away that it may as well be in a sealed box. On the moon. Guarded by killer robot ninjas. All voiced by James Earl Jones.
What’s at issue isn’t anything like pessimism on my part: rather, it’s the question of why anybody would think these might be solvable without doing a whole load of basic, grindy, grafty research first. Really, I think you almost always have to break the external history of these things before you stand much of a chance of extracting their internal contents.
So, if I list some of the open questions that are bugging me about the dead cipher pigeon story right here right now, perhaps you’ll see why that might be the case:-
* Who owned either of the two pigeons listed on the message?
* Were there any pigeon lofts in Bletchingley itself during WW2?
* Did any British pigeon handlers ever use “lib.” as an abbreviation?
* Why hasn’t a single record from a pigeon loft around Tunbridge Wells or Dorking turned up yet?
* Why can’t I find a single other message written on the same printed pigeon service pad?
* Was the pigeon message we have a hectograph or a carbon copy?
* From its skeleton, how old was the dead pigeon? [What a basic question to have to ask!]
* True or false: “many WW2 pigeon messages were sent encrypted”?
* When were Slidex Series B code cards introduced?
* When did Slidex change from having one letter per horizontal key slot to two letters per slot?
* How many syllabic / bigram ciphers were in use in WW2?
* Where is a copy of the Army syllabic cipher book BX 724 or BX 724/RE?
* Did Bletchley Park / GCHQ ever catalogue the tons of files brought back by the TICOM teams?
Personally, when I look at this fairly long list, I don’t feel hugely confident that we genuinely know even close to enough to enable us to solve this mystery, however engaging and intriguing it may be.
But then again, a single answer to any one of these questions from an unexpected corner might well be enough on its own to turn this miserable tide around. So perhaps we should just try to remain optimistic, for a tiny bit of clarity for any one of these might be enough to get us started. Fingers crossed that we shall see (and very soon!)…