The last crypto challenge I’m going present in 2016 was created by master-codebreaker Tony Gaffney. Can you solve his starlight steganogram?

The year 2016 is coming to an end. The last challenge of the year I want to publish on Klausis Krypto Kolumne was provided to me by London-based codebreaking expert Tony Gaffney. Tony has solved many interesting cryptograms, for instance several of Giovan Battista Bellaso’s crypto puzzles from the 16th century. In addition, Tony has created interesting crypto or stegano challenges himself, including the chess cipher I published a few weeks ago. As usual, my readers solved it.

After the chess cipher had been well received by my readers, Tony sent me four more puzzles of a similar kind. Three of them will be published in the new edition of my book Versteckte Botschaften, which I plan to finish soon. Here’s the fourth one. Can you find a hidden message in the following picture?


As you see, this picture shows an astronaut and a baby. This reminds me of the famous movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The clef might indicate that the puzzle has got to do with music. Maybe the stars are coding a message. If so, the method used could be a dot cipher (check here for a few examples). However, all these thoughts are speculation. The code Tony used might be as well a completely different one.

If you have an idea how to solve this steganogram, please leave a comment.

I wish all readers of this blog all the best for 2017!


Further reading: Who can find the hidden messages in these 16th century texts?

Kommentare (19)

  1. #1 Thomas Ernst
    28. Dezember 2016

    There is a beautiful waltz by Johann’s brother Josef, “Music of the Spheres” (“Sphärenklänge”), and the Vienna “New Year’s Concert” is just around the corner. Since at one point during the past year, we had a brief discussion of Vigenère’s “étoiles”, and, more recently, of music interval ciphers, I am guessing at the outset that the stars stand for solmisized notes, “G”, because of the key, being “ut”, and that we have to underlay – unlike the squares à 5 in Vigenère – music staves. Being on break, I don’t have a printer on hand: a printed copy of Tony’s cipher would help fiddling with the staves.

  2. #2 Thomas Ernst
    28. Dezember 2016

    Since the “composition” would end on G, the last two intervals appear to be sol-fa, sol-ut. That would indicate that the preceding note belongs to the preceding staff.

  3. #3 Thomas Ernst
    28. Dezember 2016

    Perhaps the obvious ought to be added: that the clef is not indicative of the key. However, to accomodate the intervals, it will be a “comfortable key”, such as D, Eb, F or G. However, should it be an actual “tune”, 2-star-clusters – atop of or closely adjacent to each other, may indicate “#” or “b”.

  4. #4 HF(de)
    28. Dezember 2016


  5. #5 Thomas Ernst
    29. Dezember 2016

    Just noticed that if we have the baby on top, the intervals would go differently from my “rectangular” reading, as in Klaus’ second picture. However, with baby in the top right, there ain’t gonna be much sweet concord. Thus I am assuming the layout of this picture – like Tony’s chess cipher – is rectangular.

  6. #6 Thomas Ernst
    29. Dezember 2016

    To add to my monologue: with “sol – sol”, “mi – mi” etc., given the astronaut in the top left, I don’t get that far. However, turn Klaus’ second picture 180 degrees, with baby top left, and astronaut bottom right, it appears more feasible. More anon.

  7. #7 Tony
    30. Dezember 2016

    The theme of this picture was contrast – old/young, technology/nature etc. the clef to contrast the silence of space – it is not any kind of musical cipher.

  8. #8 HF(de)
    30. Dezember 2016

    Die Sterne scheinen unterschiedlich lange Kreuze zu haben, manche sehen aus wie Kerzen bzw. Kerzenflammen am Ende.

  9. #9 tomtoo
    30. Dezember 2016

    Would the stars fit into a matrix ? Its hard to see for me.
    Let say 25×25 or something ?

  10. #10 Thomas Ernst
    31. Dezember 2016

    @ Tony: thank you! I wish I simply had the concentration to get it right. – @tomtoo: Vigenère – and before him Jacobus Silvestrus (regarding -is/-us see his 1526 preface) created squares à five, as I explained back in June of this year, the topic being mindless Walch at the time. – Tony’s 3 diagonal star cluster may not belong together, but if it did, the stars would indicate the same letter, perhaps in position 1 3 5, perhaps “e”. A line count à 5 symbols/stars appear to be a plausible access to the solution. The stars just a semi-line apart linearily would indicate different position counts. As mentioned: this drawing needs to be printed out, since it is so very exact. The Silvestro/Vigenère does work by grid, alphabet on either side, and Klaus was kind enough to supply a full picture. Line up an – nay, the correct – alphabet on the left, or on the top, draw a line below five stars, and you have five letters (if it’s squares à 5). 5 appeared to work well, when I pulled the edge of a ruler along the screen, and the number sequence within the square should be easy to establish (vide Vigenère!). By now I assume every star stands for one letter. Should Tony be wishing all of us a peaceful 2017, despite January 20 coming up???

  11. #11 Thomas Ernst
    1. Januar 2017

    Got a streaky printer. Streaks can help precision. The above-mentioned squares/rectangles à 5 don’t mean that you have to use them religiously at 5, 5, 5, leftovers. Read from the central right, star above baby’s arm, to the left, one could read “I [wish]”. However, the “I” is off-center, as it is with the bottom, the top, yet not the left. Thinking out-loud, while the Neanderthal neighbours bang on pots and pans to ring in the “New” …

  12. #12 Thomas Ernst
    Thomas Ernst
    1. Januar 2017

    Further ruminations: however you try to divide the rows of stars – even using the straight line of the G-clef as an indicator for reading diagonally – there aren’t enough rows or lines for carrés à 5 à la Vigenère to accomodate a sufficient plaintext alphabet, unless you go with a limited Polybios à 16. The solution might be simpler: a staff-system, plaintext-alpabet probably on the long side of the picture, where the elevation of each star indicates the sequence in which it is to be read, highest first, lowest last; read from left to right, top to bottom (as “Space Odyssey” would suggest), The star near the left of the bunched triad appears to be a milimeter (or a tenth of an inch?) beneath the center star of the triad adjacent to its right, thus probably eleven mm height per cipher-text staff (was so happy to have obtained a printer; now fate strikes me by living in one of three countries of the the world still do not using the metric system). Presuming eleven lines, a mm/tenth of an inch apart, for purpose of aligning the stars into lines of text would not make this a music cipher. The space from left to right, from astronaut to baby, would have to be divided into feasible alphabet rows. The sequence of letters may be z – a, or halved, perhaps some short cuts, like u-v. For frequency counters, on the right half, their might be a vertical row of nine or so stars, which could be “e”. During my school days, in the early 1720es, we used “Millimeterpapier”. It was rare back then, and I don’t have any now; in English, its “graph-paper”. If you own some, it should make for a nice template!

  13. #13 Tony
    2. Januar 2017

    Clue – use a ruler and compass.

  14. #14 Thomas Ernst
    5. Januar 2017

    Many thanks for that clue, no irony intended, and I know where the centre of the compass should go. – However, since the death of my wife, I have been sitting in an empty house, for a while now, with all my cats, who mean everything to me. No basic tools at hand, lucky to find a pen in a coat pocket, lucky to remember chores for the work day; ready to move. If someone else wants to take over – am sure there are colder, and overly polite beers waiting in the fridge of connaissance – please go ahead.

  15. #15 Norbert
    5. Januar 2017

    Thanks for the hint!

    If I have seen further than others it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants. I. Newton.

  16. #16 Klaus Schmeh
    8. Januar 2017

    “If I have seen further than others it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants. I. Newton.”

    Tony has confirmed that this is the correct solution. Thanks to Norbert, Thomas Ernst and the others for finding it.

  17. #17 Thomas
    8. Januar 2017

    Awesome, Norbert!
    How did you find the solution?

  18. #18 Norbert
    9. Januar 2017

    As I am very uncomfortable with geometrical terms in English (to be honest: with English in general), my explanation might read like nonsense. If so, I will add a German description …

    First of all, print a negative of the picture out (or a positive, if you love to run out of printing ink). The central intersection point of the treble clef – that one in the middle of the page with no star nearby – will be the “point of origin” for the next steps.

    Draw circles around that central point and through the stars. It will turn out that they are arranged on concentrical circles. Each radius stands for a letter, starting with the largest radius as “a”, advancing in the alphabet by diminishing the radius.

    Read the message by rotating a ruler clock-wise around the central point, thus getting the right order of stars. The “starting star” is sort of between baby’s feet. (I do not have a compass at home, but as the idea was clear thanks to Tony’s hint, a ruler was sufficient.)

  19. #19 Thomas
    9. Januar 2017

    @ Norbert
    Thank you for your explanation which leaves nothing to be desired :-)