In one of his books British priest and novelist Sabine Baring-Gould (1834–1924) published a short cryptogram. Can a reader solve it?

The history of cryptography has seen many interesting books, for instance, Giambatista della Porta’s De furtivis literarum notis, Herbert Yardley’s The American Black Chamber, and David Kahn’s The Codebreakers. Tobias Schrödel’s marvelous crypto bibliography contains no less than 538 entries ranging from Aarhof’s Wampun, Zinken und Geheimtinktur to Zanotti’s Crittografia. I have done my best to add a few German books to Tobias’ list, for instance, Kryptografie – Verfahren, Protokolle, Infrastrukturen and Codeknacker gegen Codemacher.


Curiosities of olden times

One of the less important books listed in Tobias’ bibliography is Curiosities of Olden Times written by British priest and novelist Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924). As a German, I was a little confused about this man’s first name, as “Sabine” is a very popular German female given name. According to the German Wikipedia article about “Sabine”, Baring-Gould is the only male person bearing this name having come to fame. The English Wikipedia article even lists him as a female person.


Curiosities of Olden Times is not a cryptography book. In fact, it is a book about curiosities of all kinds containing a cryptography chapter. This chapter is not of great importance, as it only reports on well-known cipher methods without going into much detail. The book is available online. The following page describes a few encrypted ads in the Agony Column of The Times, a topic that is certainly familiar to many readers of this blog:


A cryptogram

The most interesting part about this book is a cryptogram, which Baring-Gould introduces as an example to test the reader’s sagacity. Here it is:


According to the author, the cleartext is a proverb. Can a reader solve it?

Further reading: The Alster bottle post mystery


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Kommentare (11)

  1. #1 Thomas
    16. März 2017

    A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

  2. #2 Rich SantaColoma
    17. März 2017

    Wow, Thomas!

  3. #3 Klaus Schmeh
    17. März 2017

    @Thomas: Thanks! This sentence contains only two e’s, which makes a frequency analysis difficult..

  4. #4 TWO
    17. März 2017

    blast I saw that 2+9 could be the (the repeat gave it away more or less) but Speedy Thomas beat me to the solution


  5. #5 TWO
    17. März 2017


    let Thomas beat my challenge….

  6. #6 Horst Maack
    17. März 2017

    Warum läuft das hier eigentlich unter “Science Blogs auf Deutsch”?

  7. #7 Colonelpanic
    18. März 2017

    @ Horst Maack

    Well, the plain text actually IS German, but everything is encoded here.
    Looks like they are using the “Merriam-Webster” code book – quite sophisticated stuff, albeit prone to dictionary attacks. (scnr)

  8. #8 Klaus Schmeh
    19. März 2017

    David Heath via Facebook:
    Finally, one we can do! I can verify it is solvable.

    If you need a hint: Gb vagebqhpr gur pvcure, ur jevgrf: “Nabgure zrgubq bs irvyvat n pbzzhavpngvba vf gung bs rzcyblvat ahzoref be neovgenel fvtaf va gur cynpr bs yrggref, naq guvf nqzvgf bs znal ersvarzragf. Urer vf na rknzcyr gb grfg gur ernqre’f fntnpvgl:” Guvf vf n cerggl ovt uvag erirnyvat gung vg vf n fhofgvghgvba pvcure. Ur nyfb jevgrf nsgrejneqf “V whfg tvir gur uvag gung vg vf n cebireo.”

  9. #9 Klaus Schmeh
    19. März 2017

    Bart Wenmeckers via Facebook:
    Ha you bet me to it..
    For some reason this gave my annealing hill climber a hard time. It’s usually pretty good at simple subsitution ciphers but tonight required a lot of tweaking …

  10. #10 Klaus Schmeh
    19. März 2017

    @Bart Wenmeckers
    Personally, I find “A MIRD IN THE HAND IS WORTH TWO IN THE MUSH” better.

  11. #11 Klaus Schmeh
    19. März 2017

    Bart Wenmeckers via Facebook:
    Yeah I had a good laugh about that too.