Blog reader Christof Rieber has solved the Ghostemane cryptogram, a crypto challenge published by a US music magazine. Here’s how he found the solution.
Last week, I blogged about a cryptologic puzzle that was recently published in the US rock and heavy metal magazine Revolver (February / March 2019). The puzzle was presented at the end of an article on US musician Ghostemane. This article, which is a manifesto about Ghostemane’s new album N/O/I/S/E, is available online.
Tim Smith, Ghostemane’s manager, gave me permission to share this puzzle it on my blog.
As can be seen, we deal with a ciphertext written in an alphabet that contains much more than 26 letters. Note that some of the letters are marked with red spots. A large alphabet appears, for instance, if the same plaintext letter can be encrypted to several ciphertext letters (homophones). The most famous homophonic cipher is the one used by the Zodiac killer for his first message.
On May 20th, three days after my article had been published, blog reader Christof Rieber published a solution, which proved correct.
As Christof found out, the Ghostemane cryptogram can be decrypted to the following message:
FRAME DECODE AT GMAIL DOT COM
The decryption method works as follows: in each column, determine the position of the “bloody” symbol (there is exactly one such symbol per column); then transfer the position of this symbol to a letter in the alphabet (1=A, 2=B, 3=C etc.); then read the plaintext from left to right.
For instance, the sixth symbol in the first column is bloody, which means that the first letter is an F. The 18th letter in the second column is bloody, which means that the second letter is an R, etc.
This means that only the positions of some of the symbols are relevent, while the symbols themselves have no meaning. The plaintext is an email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Christof sent a mail to this address and received a confirmation that he had found the correct solution.
Thankfully, Christof has provided me some information on how he broke the encryption. When analyzing the cryptogram, he realized that it didn’t look like a homophonic cipher. There are no repeating patterns, no double letters and no structure. On the other hand, there was only one marked symbol per column, with every column having 25 letters. So, Christof checked if the position of the marked symbols had some meaning, and this hypothesis proved correct.
I want to congratulate Christof Rieber on this success. I have never met Christof in person and I didn’t know much about him before we got in touch because of the Ghostemane cryptogram. So, I am glad that he provided me a photograph and some biographical information.
Christof was born in Stuttgart in 1974. He lives in Vienna and Budapest since 2004. Having a background in the financial business, Christof works as consultant and software developer. He is interested in criminal cases and encrypted messages; his hobbies are skiing, chess and cooking. Thanks, Christof, I hope to hear from you again.
Further reading: Yet another Zodiac copycat message: The Albany Letter