CRAQUEREZ, SAUKNOTEN, INCLEMENTE – these are three words from an encrypted message sent from Manila to Washington in 1898. Can a reader break this cryptogram?

The NSA Symposium on Cryptologic History (October 19-20, 2017) was a great event with many interesting presentations given. Videos of my two talks (Cold War cryptography and Steganography in WW1) are available on YouTube.

On the day after the symposium I went to the National Cryptologic Museum, which is known as the most important crypto museum in the world. Apart from an outstanding cipher machine collection, this museum features a gift shop, …


… as well as a cryptology library and an archive.

While I was looking out for rare crypto books in the museum’s library, my friends an blog readers George Lasry and Nils Kopal worked their way through the archive – a tough job, considering that the museum owns thousands of files containing literally tons of crypto-related material.


The Manila cryptogram

Some of the material George and Nils encountered proved to be not very relevant for them, but pretty interesting for me and my blog. Especially, an encrypted message contained in a collection of documents donated by crypto history legend David Kahn immediately caught my attention (thanks to George and Nils for informing me about it). Here’s the first page of this message:


Here’s page 2:


Apparently, this message was sent from Manila, Philippines, to Washington, DC, in 1898 (I will refer to it as the “Manila cryptogram”). My guess is that it was sent by telegram.

It is immediately clear that the Manila cryptogram was not created with a letter substitution. This can be seen from the fact that all the words are pronouncable or even have a meaning. Most of them look Spanish, French or English. Some are German, including SAUKNOTEN, BLUTNUSS, SCHRATTEL, SCHULPROBE, WEIBERRATH and GOLDKRAUT. However, none of these words makes immedeate sense.


Encrypted with a codebook?

It is not very hard to guess what kind of cipher method the sender of the Manila cryptogram used. Apparently, he worked with a codebook (i.e. a book that provides a codeword or codenumber for every common word of a language). The following picture shows a codebook page:


In this case the codewords are five letter groups. Other codebooks provide pronounceable words. For instance, the silkdress cryptogram, which was probably created at about the same time as the Manila cryptogram (and is unsolved, too), contains codewords like “Vicksburg”, “Cairo”, “Calgary”, and “Concordia”.


The easiest way to solve a codebook cryptogram usually is finding the codebook and using it to decrypt the message. Without having the codebook, breaking such a message is very difficult, if not impossible, unless one has a large number of messages written in this code to analyze.

Can a reader help to find the codebook that was used to encrypt the message from Manila? If not, is there anything else that can be found out about this cryptogram? If so, please let me know.

Further reading: An encrypted letter from World War 2


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Kommentare (10)

  1. #1 Gerd
    22. Oktober 2017

    Also eine google-Suche nach Sauknoten und Blutnuss ergibt, dass es dieses Telegramm auch online gibt:

    Es ist eine Erklärung dabei, aber über die Art der Codierung habe ich nichts gefunden.

  2. #3 Thomas
    22. Oktober 2017

    The code book is the “U.S. Navy Secret Code” which came in effect in 1887. William Friedman described in his Lecture V on cryptology (pdf via NSA or the cumbersome encrypting procedure using the ecample of a telegram from Roosevelt to Dewey. The code book was provided by the Naval Security Group. I couldn’t find out where it is kept now.

  3. #4 Gerd
    22. Oktober 2017

    Even more background information about the Battle of Manila is given in George Dewey’s Autobiography:

    (p 217 – p 233)
    But also here is no explanation of the coding …


  4. #5 Jerry McCarthy
    England, Europa
    23. Oktober 2017


  5. #6 Thomas
    23. Oktober 2017

    This is Friedman`s explanation of the encoding procedure:
    His example is Roosevelt´s telegram to Dewey which also had been encrypted with the “U.S. Navy Secret Code” (1887 – 1898). Three books had to be used for encryption: The “U.S. Navy Secret Code Book”, the “Book of Key Words” and the “General Geographical Tables” (see p. 94).

  6. #7 Gerd
    23. Oktober 2017

    After Friedman’s explanation, this is a kind of a double-cipher. The cleartext words are encrypted to 6-digit numbers using the “basic code book”. These numbers are then grouped to 5-digit numbers, and those are encrypted to the “outlandish” words using the “cipher book”.
    Hope I got this right, seems a rather time consuming process.


  7. #8 Breaker
    28. Oktober 2017

    I find the last line to be quite intriguing with a single name there….

    Dewey….as in Dewey Decimal System….it was in use then at that time and was fairly contained in the US alone being a new filing system…..holds for something as a guide to look towards a specific book listed in one of the code words….possibly a thesaurus ?

    Possible Book Code related to numerical page listings….?

  8. #9 Breaker
    28. Oktober 2017

    Conlucetur Gametria

    Conclusion Gematria?

    Easy to see also Con Lucifer Game Tree?

  9. #10 Alex Ulyanenkov
    9. November 2017

    Just interesting feature.
    Let’s look to the first string – each word consist of mistakes in the ending of the word.
    CRAQUEREZ – French “craquer” with 2 additional letters “EZ” (2 letters)
    REFRENANS – possibly “refrenons” – “ANS” vs “ons” (3 letters)
    VIJFVOETIG – Dutch “vijfvoudig” – “ETIG” vs “udig” (4 letters)
    IMPAZZAVA – probably “impasse” – “ZZAVA” (5 letters)