# Unsolved: An encrypted (?) artwork left behind by an MIT graduate

An engineer who deceased a few years ago has left behind an unusual painting. Does it contain a message encoded in a binary code?

Once again, an interesting unsolved cryptogram is being discussed on Reddit. As usual, the description of the crypto mystery is quite short:

My friend’s father passed away a while ago. He went to MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and was an engineer who painted this. His family believes it is in code, but no one has ever solved it.

The Reddit post in question can be found here. Meanwhile, another post about the same topic has been published.

Here’s the painting this mystery is about:

Source: Reddit

Hidden or encrypted messages in artworks are nothing new. Many readers certainly know Kryptos, the famous sculpture located in CIA headquarters in Langley Virginia. The inscription encarved into this artwork is encrypted and a part of it still unsolved. Kryptos is listed at position 4 on my list of the top 50 unsolved cryptograms.

Considering that the painting introduced on Reddit (I refer to it as “MIT cryptogram”) was created by an engineer, it comes as no surprise that it has the appearance of a binary code. It’s certainly possible to transcribe the black, green, red, blue and white bars to a sequence of zeros and ones.

In the rows with a colored background the pattern of the black bars is very regular: each black bar is followed by a non-black one. Perhaps, these lines serve as separators. The rows with a white background have an unregular pattern. It is well possible that they encode something in a binary code.

Meanwhile, about 70 comments on this mystery have been published on Reddit. Here are a few of them:

• Sqorck: Just a guess but it does look like it could be some kind of punch card programming. Which could be converted to ASCII characters perhaps.
• Dashsmashing: I isolated the code as best as possible. Image
• hapes: With only 26 characters in the English alphabet, you need 5 bits to uniquely identify each character. We can assume it’s not in UNICODE because it was painted before unicode became a thing. The colors are in a pattern (as observed by /u/mindraker and others, but since yellow is duplicated within the pattern, that eliminates each row as a bit (and if that was the case, it’s a VERY short message). Generally bar codes encode data using both the black and white spaces. I wonder if this does the same. For instance, the first pattern is PBPBPBPBPBPBWB, that could be 1111110 or 0000001. Alternately, since each color row has an associated white row, maybe the combination of the two is relevant. First row is CB/BW/CB/BW/CB/BW/CB, which is a bunch of 0s or a bunch of 1s? Under the first assumption (each row independent, and 5 bits), we get 00000 01010 00000 01000, which in decimal is 0 10 0 8. If A is 0, B is 1, that’s AJOH, which, um, doesn’t work for me. If we combine the first color row with the first white row, we get 00000 00000 10001 00000. 0 0 17 0. AAQA. Also meaningless.

If a reader has a clue how to decode the message, please leave a comment.

Further reading: \$10,000 worth of crypto-currencies hidden in Lego artworks

## Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

## Kommentare (15)

1. #1 Tony Patti
Philadelphia
17. Januar 2020

Hi Klaus, just looking at this image as a visual puzzle, perhaps with a lot of extraneous noise, and what I notice is the “white squares” on the “white rows” appear to be followed by an intriguing number of black lines.

So, for example, on the first white row, you have:
Square – 1 – Square – 2 – Square – 1 – Square – 2 –
Square – 1 – Square – 3 – Square – 3 – Square – 2 –
Square – 4 – Square – 2 – Square – 1 – Square – 3 –
Square – 2 – Square – 4 – Square – 1 – Square – 3 –
Square – 2 – Square – 1 – Square – 4 – Square – 1 –
Square – 3

which could certainly then yield a two-bit binary sequence (where perhaps 1 = 00, 2 = 01, 3 = 10, 4 = 11)

00 01 00 01 00 10 10 01 11 01 00 10 01 11 00 10 01 00 11 00 10

however I can’t correlate that bit sequence with typical 5-bit (Baconian), 6-bit (e.g. DEC SIXBIT), or 7/8-bit (ASCII) characters. I thought of DEC SIXBIT because of the reference to MIT, perhaps the gentleman was of that generation which grew up on DEC equipment.

Additionally, there are a few white squares followed by 5 or 6 lines (which would not support this idea of representing two-bits), perhaps those are “stops” (sentence ending periods for example). I am not planning to work on this any more, but wanted to share these thoughts…

Tony

2. #2 Sebastian
17. Januar 2020

What I find curious is, that the white lines have a much more irregular spacing of black and white fields than the colored lines. Maybe the colored lines give a clock signal and the white lines bare the actual data. Maybe even the color has something to do with this – i.e. a 4 bit wide parallel signal.
If he was an electrical engineer, a clock based signal would make sense.
The white rectangles in the colored lines might be interpreted as stop bits – or might even be ignored (i.e. the clock is zero at the time)

3. #3 CrazyT
17. Januar 2020

Google lens was able to fetch the word “Tamalar” above the first green line.
Not shure how they decode it.

Sadly the other lines are badly read, maybe because of a bad photo i made :-/

4. #4 CrazyT
18. Januar 2020

Oh well, can’t reproduce the google-lens effect.

I’m now more thinking this is some visual illusion effect thing.
Something similar like:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvvcRdwNhGM
But maybe with collor if you move from top to bottom.
Although that can’t explain the non-colored lines and 2 yellow lines.

I’m not telling its exactly the same, but it could be something similar.

5. #5 Gerd
18. Januar 2020

The white lines contain groups of black fields with 1,2,3 or 4 black fields. I noticed that each group is different from the adjacient one. There are (nearly) no pairs of equally sized groups.
How could that be when it codes an english text?

6. #6 Klaus Schmeh
18. Januar 2020

Givon Zirkind via Linked-in:

Too enticing to work on. Has anyone ever tried using the collection of black stripes separated by colors as bit or number sequences? Or the inverse? The white stripes separated by the big blocks of white?

7. #7 CrazyT
18. Januar 2020
8. #8 CrazyT
18. Januar 2020

Sadly still got too many errors inside.
Those alternating bits that seem to be the same on every 2nd row remind me on “preamble” of wireless network packages.
They are used to inform about a start of a message(beside some error correction stuff).

Kinda looks like a special type similar to a Bar-Code.
Before QR-Codes were invented there existed alot of different types: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barcode
Sadly the one used here is not mentioned.
QR-Codes nowadays have error correction, meaning even if about 30%(on best error correction level) is missing you still can use it.
Wonder if the code uses error correction etc.,too.
Because of that I also wonder if you can convert it into text that easily.

Thats why I tried google lens first btw. but it seems to be encoded in an unkown way.

9. #9 TWO
Novya Zemblya
18. Januar 2020

It simply is a work of Art.

10. #10 CrazyT
19. Januar 2020

just updated my notebook with the help of some code that way provided here:
https://www.reddit.com/r/gravityfalls/comments/ep6hzt/found_by_a_friend_this_is_a_painting_from_a/felvs04/

11. #11 Klaus Schmeh
23. Januar 2020

Tony Patti via e-mail:
In my earlier post, I hypothesized that it was the white rows which are the bearer channels, and specifically it is the number of lines (bars) after each white square.

*** AS SUCH, IT SEEMS NOTEWORTHY THAT EACH OF THE FIRST FOUR WHITE ROWS HAS *** EXACTLY *** 21 SYMBOLS, AND EACH NUMBER RANGES ONLY FROMM 1 TO 4 INCLUSIVE, WHICH COULD REPRESENT TWO DATA BITS. ***

White row 1:

Square – 1 – Square – 2 – Square – 1 – Square – 2 –
Square – 1 – Square – 3 – Square – 3 – Square – 2 –
Square – 4 – Square – 2 – Square – 1 – Square – 3 –
Square – 2 – Square – 4 – Square – 1 – Square – 3 –
Square – 2 – Square – 1 – Square – 4 – Square – 1 –
Square – 3

White Row 2:
Square – 3 – Square – 1 – Square – 2 – Square – 3 –
Square – 2 – Square – 1 – Square – 2 – Square – 4 –
Square – 2 – Square – 3 – Square – 1 – Square – 2 –
Square – 4 – Square – 1 – Square – 3 – Square – 2 –
Square – 4 – Square – 1 – Square – 2 – Square – 3 –
Square – 1

White Row 3:
Square – 3 – Square – 3 – Square – 2 – Square – 1 –
Square – 3 – Square – 1 – Square – 4 – Square – 2 –
Square – 3 – Square – 1 – Square – 4 – Square – 2 –
Square – 3 – Square – 1 – Square – 2 – Square – 4 –
Square – 1 – Square – 3 – Square – 2 – Square – 1 –
Square – 3

White Row 4:
Square – 3 – Square – 2 – Square – 2 – Square – 2 –
Square – 3 – Square – 2 – Square – 3 – Square – 2 –
Square – 4 – Square – 3 – Square – 1 – Square – 2 –
Square – 4 – Square – 1 – Square – 3 – Square – 2 –
Square – 4 – Square – 1 – Square – 3 – Square – 2 –
Square – 1

which can be more concisely shown as:
121213324213241321413
312321242312413241231
332131423142312413213
322232324312413241321

If this was just random art (as suggested in somebody else’s post), I doubt that we’d see exactly 21 symbols in each of these rows.

And 21 is an interesting number, factoring into 3 * 7 [two-bit values], which suggests a 6-bit (e.g. DEC Sixbit) or 7-bit (e.g. ASCII) code.

12. #12 CrazyT
26. Januar 2020

Still not shure if it could be a notesheet for a music box.

Something like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dI8e-piNdQ

First i thought that it won’t be possible because of missing duration of the notes, but by looking at some examples, this is not even needed.
And you must admit that there is a slight similarity.

13. #13 CrazyT
27. Januar 2020

Basically every gap seems to be a note (not the black bars themself):

Thats the art as “music”.
Look at my colab notepad for the generation of that melody.
Sadly I don’t recognize the melody, maybe somebody else does …

14. #14 Dampier
27. Januar 2020

maybe somebody else does …

That reminds me of the minmalistic marimba works of Steve Reich 😉

Well, to be honest I think there is no melody in it …

15. #15 One
Art
3. Februar 2020

It’s a sterogram