British psychologist and parapsychologist Robert Thouless (1894-1984) published a short cryptogram. He intended to channel the key after his decease from the realm of the dead. So far, this experiment has failed. Thouless’ cryptogram is still unsolved.

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In 1948 British psychologist and parapsychologist Robert Thouless started an interesting experiment. He took a text, encrypted it and published the result (i.e., the ciphertext), while he kept the cleartext and the key secret. His plan was to communicate the key from the beyond after his death. If somebody received the correct key from the the realm of the dead, which would lead to the cryptogram being solved, this would prove that there is a life after death and that the dead can communicate with the living.


It goes without saying that this experiment would have been the most important one in the history of science – if it had been successful.


Thouless’ experiment

Robert Thouless started this experiment in 1948. To be on the safe side, he published even two encrypted messages (message A and message B) in a parapsychology journal. After only a few weeks, message A was solved – not by medium with supernatural powers, but by a codebreaker with conventional cryptanalysis. As a consequence, Thouless published a third encrypted message (message C).

When Thouless died in 1984, messages B and C were still unsolved. Now the interesting part of the experiment began. Was it possible to receive a message channeled by Thouless from the beyond? In fact, there were quite a few persons with alleged psychic powers, who claimed to have received a key. However, none of them proved to be correct.

In 1995 Jim Gillogly, who is today a reader of this blog, solved message C.


Of course, Jim didn’t make use of psychic powers. Instead, he conducted a special kind of dictionary attack. The key he found was BLACK BEAUTY. He published his findings in a Cryptologia article titled Cryptograms from the Crypt.


Thouless’ unsolved cryptogram

As of 2017, Robert Thouless message B is still unsolved. Here it is:


As can be seen, message B is a pretty short cryptogram consisting of 74 letters. The encryption method Thouless used is similar to the Vigènere cipher. The key is a sequence of words taken from a book or some other published text.

As a first step, words that already appeared earlier in the sequence are eliminated. Then each word is used to encipher a single letter of the 74 character message (the original word sequence needed to be long enough to yield at least 74 distinct words after eliminating duplicates). The next step is to convert each word to a number. To do this, each letter of the word is replaced by its numerical value (A=1, B=2, C=3,… Z=26). All of these values are added together. For example, the word CRYPTO yields 3+16+25+14+20+13 = 91. If the result is larger than or equal to 26, it is reduced by 26.

Following this process for each word, a sequence of numbers between 0 and 25 is received. Each number is added to the respective letter (again, if the result is larger than or equal to 26, it is reduced by 26). Suppose the cleartext is CRYPTOLOGY and the numbers obtained from the words are 7, 15, 1, 19, 20, 1, 15, 3, 6, 10. Then the encryption works as follows:

Cleartext:  C  R  Y  P  T  O  L  O  G  Y
Key:        7  15 1  19 20 1  15 3  6  10
Ciphertext: J  E  Z  G  P  P  A  R  M  I

In my view, message B is only solvable if one finds the text Thouless has used (or, of course, if one receives the key from the beyond). A more comprehensive treatise of Thouless’ cryptograms (and of Wood’s cryptogram, which will be described below) is available in my book Nicht zu knacken.


T. E. A Wood’s cryptogram

When Thouless published his first two cryptograms, he encouraged others to conduct the same experiment. The more people would publish cryptograms and try to channel the key after death, the higher was the possibility that somebody would receive a correct key from the beyond.

In fact, there was somebody who followed Thouless’ call. In 1950 some T. E. Wood (born in 1887) from Bournemouth, UK, published the following cryptogram:


Wood used the same encryption method as Thouless. He said that he took his key text from a book, which is not written in English. The cleartext of his cryptogram is allegedly authored in several different languages (whatever this means for such a short text).

I don’t know when T. E. Wood died. His cryptogram is still unsolved. If somebody can break it or if somebody has received the key in a supernatural way from the beyond, please let me know.

Further reading: Marie-Antoinette’s encrypted letters to Axel von Fersen


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Kommentare (15)

  1. #1 TWO
    18. April 2017

    If I understand this correct the Cryptogram is possible to solve (witha lot of effort) but retrieving the key word sequence is impossible

  2. #2 Klaus Schmeh
    18. April 2017

    @TWO: No, in my opinion it is impossible to solve the cryptogram without having the key words. This means that one needs to find the text Thouless took the key words from by trial and error or by guessing.

  3. #3 TWO
    20. April 2017

    as an example : one and neo adds up to the same value.

    But…. who will spend the time and effort on this?

    By the way, why did you use a phrase from K4 in your example, just curious to know.

  4. #4 adam grinnell
    Robert Thouless message B
    14. Mai 2017

    were do i post a guess

  5. #5 Vladimir
    Wood's message
    23. August 2018

    Klaus, It is a very interesting title. But have you any proofs about used cipher?
    Here I found information about Playfair cipher usage…

  6. #6 Klaus Schmeh
    23. August 2018

    Thouless published three cryptograms, two were solved. Both solved ones were created with a Playfair cipher. The unsolved one is encrypted as described in the article. Wood published one cryptogram, which is still unsolved. It is encrypted the same way as Thouless’ unsolved message.

  7. #7 Richard Bean
    15. August 2019

    Would you believe I got home just then and Professor Thouless has been communing with MY laptop as well? Quite creepy, but good to know he’s still alive.


    A number of successful experiments of this kind would give strong evidence for survival

  8. #8 Jew-Lee Lann
    Wyoming, US
    15. August 2019

    Way to go Richard! Glad to know that you have not only solved the cryptogram, but made the case for life after death. LOL. Really great work on the former.

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

    Richard, that’s extraordinary! I can’t wait to hear what supplementary methods you used (in addition to your amazing psychic skills) to pull off this solution.

    For the rest of us, here’s the beginning of Francis Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven,” from which the key is derived:

    “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; / I fled Him, down the arches of the years; / I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways …”

  10. #10 Narga
    15. August 2019

    Amazing! You’re on fire right now Richard! Congratulations! Now quick – back to K4!

  11. #11 George Lasry
    15. August 2019

    Great work!

    Did you exhaustively test all possible keys from Gutenberg, and check plausible decryptions?

  12. #12 Richard Bean
    16. August 2019

    Thanks Bill, Jew-Lee, Narga!

    George – well, you know, I just set up a Ouija board next to my laptop, and lit some candles to make the atmosphere more romantic. After trying to commune with Thouless’s spirit for a while, I fell asleep and my face hit the keyboard and rolled around for a bit. I woke up (because the board was on fire) and the laptop Terminal read “hound of heaven”.

    I think your guess is much more plausible and likely to be correct than that story 🙂

  13. #13 Thomas
    16. August 2019

    Great job, Richard! How long did it take to receive the message from the crypt?

  14. #14 Marc
    16. August 2019

    This is Professor Thouless speaking from the crypt. Your solution is correct. Congratulations! 🙂

  15. #15 stitch
    16. Dezember 2020


    i think a keyword may plainly be MI NT from the first two encrypted sections which put together is MINT and could poosibly be a name AMI also from the first encrypted section.