In one of his lectures, master codebreaker William Friedman once mentioned two encrypted telegrams. He knew the  solutions, but he didn’t reveal them. Can a reader break these encrypted messages?

William Friedman (1891-1969) is considered the most successful codebreaker in history. In his career, which spanned almost four decades, he solved over 1,000 encryption codes, including the Japanese WW2 cipher machine “Purple”. He also occupied himself with the Voynich manuscript and the Shakespeare Bacon debate and published important works about these topics.

William-Friedman

Friedman’s lectures

Friedman was also a skilled instructor. He gave numerous cryptology lectures, and his crypto text books (e.g. “Military Cryptography”) are still worth reading today.

The NSA Center for Cryptologic History has published the scripts of some (not very technical) cryptology lectures Friedman gave at a later point of his career. These scripts cover many interesting chapters in crypto history, including detailed descriptions of the encryption methods that were used.

In one of the lecture scripts, Friedman reports on the US presidential election of 1876. When the result of this voting between Hayes (Republicans) and Tilden (Democrats) turned out to be extremely close, both sides tried to influence the vote counting. In fact, many polling spots saw several countings with suspiciously different results. When a congressional commission later tried to investigate the alledged manipulations, they encountered numerous encrypted telegrams that were sent by the conspirators during their illegal activities.

 

Two telegrams that should amuse you

In his script, Friedman describes an encryption system and two telegrams that played a major role in this story (please note that the pictures below are photomontages, no original scans of the telegrams):

Another system used by the conspirators employed a bilateral substitution, that is, one in which a pair of cipher letters represents a single letter. This substitution was based upon a 10×10 checkerboard. […] Here are two of the massages exchanged by the conspirators, one in letter cipher, the other in figure cipher. The messages are long enough for solution. Try to solve them, reconstruct the matrix and find the key phrase from which the coordinates of the matrix were derived. It should amuse you by its appropriateness.

Election-1876-telegram

Here’s a transcription of the first telegram:

Jacksonville, Nov. 16 (1876)
Geo. R Raney, Tallahassee:
PP YY EM NS HY YY PI MA SH NS YY SS IT EP AA EN SH NS
SE US SH NS MM PI YY SN PP YE AA PI EI SS YE SH AI NS
SS PE EI YY SH NY NS SS YE PI AA NY IT NS SH YY SP YY
PI NS YY SS IT EM EI PI MM EI SS EI YY EI SS IT EI EP
YY PE EI AA SS IM AA YE SP NS YY IA NS SS EI SS MM PP
NS PI NS SN PI NS IM IM YY IT EM YY SS PE YY MN NS YY
SS IT SP YY PE EP PP MA AA YY PI IT    L'Engle goes
up tomorrow.

 

This is the second telegram:

Jacksonville, Nov. 17 (1876)
 Pasco and E. M. L'Engle:
84 55 84 25 93 34 82 31 31 75 93 82 77 33 55 52 93 20
90 66 77 65 33 84 63 31 31 93 20 82 33 66 52 48 44 55
42 82 48 89 42 93 31 82 66 75 31 93
Daniel

Election-1876-telegram-2

Friedman didn’t reveal the solution of these two telegrams. Can a reader break them?

There’s another question I would like to ask my readers. When the congressional commission researched the vote manipulations, some of the encrypted telegrams were leaked to the press. The newspaper New York Tribune took the chance and published many of these cipher messages, some even on the title page. As the cleartext was not known, readers were encouraged to break these cryptograms. Does anybody know if these newspaper articles are available somewhere? Can I get them online? Any hint is appreciated.

Further reading: Albert Pohrt’s Postcards

Kommentare (21)

  1. #1 Thomas
    11. August 2016

    The letter-cryptogram:
    “Have Marble and Coyle telegraph for influential men from Deleware and Virginia. Indications of weakening here. Press Advantage, and watch Board.”
    (https://archive.org/stream/cipherdispatches01reid#page/42/)

  2. #2 Thomas
    11. August 2016

    The number-cryptogram:

    “Cocke will be ignored, Eagan called in. Authority reliable.”
    (s.o.)

  3. #3 Klaus Schmeh
    11. August 2016

    @Thomas: Thank you very much for the solutions and for the hint to this publication!

  4. #4 Thomas
    11. August 2016

    I´m not yet amused by the key phrase. There must be a single matrix for both cryptograms?

  5. #5 Norbert
    11. August 2016

    I am not quite sure what Friedman means with “the key phrase from which the coordinates of the matrix were derived”. If it is about mapping the numbers of the second telegram to the cipher letters of the first one (basically both telegrams use the same checkerboard, they only differ in the labelling of rows and columns), then the key phrase seems to reveals the senders name:


    0123456789
    TIPSHAYMEN

  6. #6 Thomas
    11. August 2016

    The key phrase of the matrix:

    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
    THISPAYMEN

  7. #7 Norbert
    11. August 2016

    Thomas, I was wrong, you are right.
    012456789
    THISPAYMEN

    This is amusing indeed (as opposed to my faulty solution) 😉

  8. #8 Norbert
    11. August 2016

    oops, dropped “3” by accident …

  9. #9 Thomas
    11. August 2016

    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
    T H I S P A Y M E N
    0 T
    1 H
    2 I D K S
    3 S L N W P
    4 P R H T
    5 A U O
    6 Y X A A F
    7 M B G
    8 E I C V Y
    9 N E M L

    Meine Matrix ist vermurkst worden, Zeilen zusammengeschoben 🙁
    Übrigens: Hallo Norbert, schön wieder von dir zu lesen!

  10. #10 Thomas
    11. August 2016

    @ Klaus:
    And now for something completely different:
    Wie kann man vermeiden, dass Formatierungen/Abstände/Zwischenräume nach der Eingabe verändert werden?

    • #11 Klaus Schmeh
      11. August 2016

      Du kannst HTML-Tags verwenden, beispielsweise “code” für gleiche Buchstaben-Abstände.
      HTML

    • #12 Norbert
      11. August 2016

      @Thomas, Klaus:
      Using the code-tag (for mono-spacing font) is definitely the right idea, but not sufficient for things like the above checkerboard, because WordPress still reduces two or more consecutive spaces to one. To avoid this, I replace every affected space by a “non-breaking space entity” [ampersand]nbsp;

  11. #14 Richard SantaColoma
    http://proto57.wordpress.com/
    11. August 2016

    Other New York Tribune issues describing this incident can be seen in the below link, but the first link I posted, above, seems to explain how the ciphers worked:

    http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/search/pages/results/?state=&lccn=sn83030214&dateFilterType=yearRange&date1=1877&date2=1879&language=&ortext=&andtext=cipher+pelton&phrasetext=&proxtext=&proxdistance=5&rows=20&searchType=advanced

  12. #15 David Wilson
    USA
    11. August 2016

    The first one is easier:

    “Have Marble and Coyle telegraph for influential men from Delaware and Virginia. Indications of weakening here. Press advantage, and watch Board. (L’Engle goes up to-morrow.)”

    https://books.google.com/books?id=90hDAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA379&lpg=PA379&dq=%22marble+and+coyle%22&source=bl&ots=z0Y9TJR2Dl&sig=9ha5fSUzWZQRg-ZJc32cPwEjnRc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjYmdPpirrOAhVHRCYKHWBkD3cQ6AEIIDAB#v=snippet&q=%22marble%20and%20coyle%22&f=false

  13. #16 Thomas
    11. August 2016

    I think 1234567890 : HISPAYMENT is better than 0123456789: THISPAYMEN. That makes sense, doesn´t it?

  14. #17 Thomas
    11. August 2016

    @Klaus, Norbert
    Danke für die WordPress-Tipps!

  15. #18 Klaus Schmeh
    12. August 2016

    Bart Wenmeckers via Facebook:

    Thanks again Klaus for another great post. I wish i had some spare time to spend on this.. very nice of you to transcribe the text. Looks like checker board of some type..

  16. #19 Zakharias
    15. August 2016

    OT
    “Rottenburg. Eine Postkarte, die vom 29. März 1904 datiert und mit einem „Gruß aus Pattendorf“ versehen ist, beschäftigt den Heimatforscher Franz Moises”
    Der Zeitungsartikel über eine Postkarte mit Kurzschrift ist leider hinter einer Paywall. (Falls sich jemand langweilt.)
    http://heimatforscher-rottenburg.de

    • #20 Klaus Schmeh
      15. August 2016

      Danke für den Hinweis. Ich kann unter dem Link allerdings nichts zu einer Postkarte finden. Wo gibt es den Zeitungsartikel?

  17. #21 Narga
    18. August 2016

    Ich habe den Artikel zur Postkarte gegoogelt und dann gekauft. Sieht mir nach Kurzschrift aus. Ich schicke ihn Klaus mal per mail… vielleicht kann er was darüber bloggen und es findet sich ein Experte.