In 1897, an unknown person published an encrypted advertisement in the Daily Telegraph. The only two words left in the clear are JIM LOCKET. Can a reader break this cryptogram?

The book The Agony Column Codes & Ciphers by Jean Palmer (i.e., Tony Gaffney, the co-author of my latest HistoCrypt paper) is a treasure trove for everybody interested in old cryptograms.

Agony-Column

The Agony Column Codes & Ciphers introduces over a thousand encrypted newspaper advertisements from Victorian England. Tony, who is known as an excellent codebreaker, has deciphered most of these cryptograms, but some are still unsolved. On Klausis Krypto Kolumne I have published many an article about these.

Some of the encrypted ads covered in Tony’s book contain love messages. Others were placed by business people in order to send news to partners or customers. Ignatius Pollaky, a private investigator of the Victorian era, communicated via encrypted newspaper ads, too.

Some of the ads in the book make long series, the longest of which consist of over 50 parts. On the other hand, there are numerous single pieces. The advertisement I am going to introduce today is one of the latter kind. It was published in the Daily Telegraph on Monday, January 4th, 1897. It is reproduced in the following:

JIM LOCKET. – K2gkx twqrt wfgz5 vo3wu hszih oz4uf ufffl wheev wirqh jzb2v bem3u rtwps 4wjqu lnhn3 fwn3b wtr5w 2usdo jfgbw orpqt duxsg bbpug djo4q hwidu roppq edzp6 vuv3h z5vwp norxd noxuj wfp3p bwgrs gidmo pptdu xsgbb jvidm oshdh 4yfvv qedzj 4gcof vtbp6 ehbujh.

As can be seen, this ciphertext mainly consists of five-character blocks. This becomes even more apparent If we format the text in a different way:

JIM LOCKET. –
K2gkx twqrt wfgz5 vo3wu hszih
oz4uf ufffl wheev wirqh jzb2v
bem3u rtwps 4wjqu lnhn3 fwn3b
wtr5w 2usdo jfgbw orpqt duxsg
bbpug djo4q hwidu roppq edzp6
vuv3h z5vwp norxd noxuj wfp3p
bwgrs gidmo pptdu xsgbb jvidm
oshdh 4yfvv qedzj 4gcof vtbp6
ehbujh.

As no word boundaries can be be seen, word guessing is very difficult. So let’s start with frequency analysis. Here are the letter frequencies (counted with CrypTool 2; the two ceartext words are excluded):

Source: CrypTool 2

The alphabet used consists of 30 letters. The frequency distribution is too flat for a simple substitution (MASC). Perhaps, a homophonic cipher has been used. It would be interesting to examine this ad with hill climbing. Does a reader know where a hill climbing program that attacks homophonic ciphers is available?

Of course, there are other possibilities. The letter groups might stem from a codebook. It also seems possible that a Vigenère variant was used.

If a reader knows something, please let me know.


Further reading: The Top 50 unsolved encrypted messages: 38. The Sufi Fiddle mystery

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Kommentare (17)

  1. #1 Lance Estes
    Grovetown
    6. August 2019

    If you had a numeric key running over the top of your plaintext, shifting forward in the A-Z,1-9 alphabet by that value to get cipher, you might get a frequency count that resembles this one and that has no “A” observed in cipher. Just food for thought.

  2. #2 Lance Estes
    Grovetown
    6. August 2019

    As an example, if the key began 2623323, and you applied that to the first 7 letters of cipher, you get “ivehurt” (I’ve hurt). If the key repeats we would be in business, but if it doesn’t, well, back to the drawing board.

  3. #3 Thomas
    6. August 2019

    @Klaus

    “The book The Agony Column Codes & Ciphers by Jean Palmer … is a treasure trove for everybody interested in old cryptograms.”

    Is it still anywhere available?

  4. #4 Jim Gillogly
    LONG BEACH
    6. August 2019

    @Thomas – WH Smith says “usually despatched within two weeks”, so unlike most sellers it’s not a definite “Not avaiilable”.

    https://www.whsmith.co.uk/products/the-agony-column-codes-and-ciphers/jean-palmer/paperback/9780755210411.html

  5. #5 Seth
    6. August 2019

    About to take off on a flight but here’s my answer. Every number is a typo, I guessed at most. Vigenere key DB

    Had just posted you letter when w4re received but hope i wa-s able to stop it in time meet me at so5t2rranged at noon saturday or failing that on monday must see you to know aml write m3 mat for (s?)hallom saturday i shall receive sunday god bless you dearie

  6. #6 Narga
    6. August 2019

    @Seth: Congratulations! Great job!

  7. #7 Thomas
    7. August 2019

    @Seth

    Exellent work, congratulations!

  8. #8 Lance Estes
    Grovetown
    7. August 2019

    @Seth Sweeeeeeeeet!

  9. #9 David Oranchak
    http://zodiackillerciphers.com
    7. August 2019

    Nice job @Seth!

    I wonder if there is something more to the numbers.
    Could they be a reference to the keyword somehow, so the recipient would know?

    Or maybe they were sprinkled in just to make it a bit harder to decode.

  10. #10 David Oranchak
    http://zodiackillerciphers.com
    7. August 2019

    @Thomas

    Email me.

  11. #11 David Oranchak
    http://zodiackillerciphers.com
    7. August 2019

    @Thomas at doranchak@gmail.com

  12. #12 Seth Kintigh
    Somerville
    8. August 2019

    @David Oranchak I thought they were typos but now I think 2=A 3=E 4=I 5=O 6=U with 1 exception in “God.” That pattern also changed my answer slightly. It seems to make more sense now except for “soot” and “aml.” I also made a typo in what should have been “Fordhall” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fordhall_Farm ?)

    “Had just posted you letter when wire received but hope i waas able to stop it in time meet me at soot(?) arranged at noon saturday or failing that on monday must see you to know aml(?) write me mat (at?) fordhall om (on?) saturday i shall receive sunday god bless you dearie”

  13. #13 David Oranchak
    http://zodiackillerciphers.com
    8. August 2019

    @Seth

    Nice catch!
    Interesting mix of Vigenere and substitution. I wonder if there are any more examples of that out there.

  14. #14 Marc
    8. August 2019

    @Seth
    Well done!

    The 2 in waas interrupts the key sequence, possibly to trick the kasiski test.

  15. #15 Seth Kintigh
    Somerville
    8. August 2019

    Looking with new eyes, “soot” seems to obviously be “spot.”

  16. #16 Bill Briere
    Wyoming, USA
    9. August 2019

    Looks like “DNO” was probably a miscopied “DNQ” (either by the encipherer or the typesetter). That would yield “amt” (amount), instead of “aml.”

  17. #17 Gerd
    9. August 2019

    @Seth
    Very impressive, great job!
    But how did you find the keyword length (2) and the “DB”? Any software type of attack?
    Gerd