Martin Gardner, one of the world’s most renowned science journalists, dedicated one of his books to a certain OSVVZ ZYTZC KJLQZ. Can a reader decipher this encrypted name?

For decades, I have enjoyed the books of US popular science writer Martin Gardner (1914-2010).


Already in my school days, I loved Gardner’s famous books about recreational mathematics, which are based on his long-running column in the Scientific American. Like me, Gardner was a member of the skeptics society of his home country (in his case it was CSI, in my case it’s the GWUP). His 1957 book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, which I can highly recommend, became a classic and seminal work of the skeptical movement (my book Planeten und Propheten, which I can also highly recommend, was a little less successful, but I consider it a classic of the skeptical litertature, too ;-).

Martin Gardner was interested in cryptography. His Scientific American article A new kind of cipher that would take millions of years to break from August 1977 was the first publication describing the RSA crypto algorithm. It pre-dated even the research paper RSA inventors Rivest, Shamir and Adleman published.

Gardner wrote a cryptography book titled Codes, Ciphers and Secret Writing, which gives a basic introduction to the subject.


In my view, Codes, Ciphers and Secret Writing is not necessarily one of Gardner’s masterpieces. There are certainly better crypto books on the market. It’s a nice read, anyway.

Today, we only look at the first page of this book, which contains a dedication:


As can be seen, Gardner dedicated his crypto book to a person (or several persons) with the following name(s):


Apparently, these 15 letters represent an encryption. The plaintext is not known to me.

Of course, this cryptogram is too short for a meaningful statistical analysis. At least, we can see that the letter Z appears four times, which means that over a fourth of the letters appearing in this ciphertext are Zs. It is hard to say, whether this cryptogram has been created with a MASC or another standard encryption technique. Perhaps, it’s a Vigenère cryptogram encrypted with a word that plays a certain role in the book.

Can a reader decipher this dedication? Is the solution already known? If you know something, please leave a comment.

Edited to add:

In the original version of the article, a letter of the transcription was wrong.

Tobias Schrödel, the best crypto book expert I know (here’s his crypto book website), has informed me that the German edition of Gardner’s book contains the same dedication:


Further reading: Can you find the hidden message on this book page from 1953?


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Kommentare (29)

  1. #1 Thomas
    12. November 2018

    Vigenere with key “love” yields: “DEAROLDPOOPFACE” – mere coincidence?

  2. #2 Dampier
    12. November 2018

    Sorry, it’s OSVVZ in both books …

  3. #3 Klaus Schmeh
    13. November 2018

    @Dampier: You’re right, I corrected it.

  4. #4 Richard SantaColoma
    13. November 2018

    I looked up Mr. Gardner’s bio for clues. It turns out his wife’s name was Charlotte, and the nickname for Charlotte is “Lotte”. This fits with the first cipher “word”, and also the high frequency of the “E” substitution:

    LOTTE E??E? ????E

    If this (wild shot in the dark) were correct, then perhaps the other words are endearments, or other? I looked Charlotte up on the web… she died in 2000 in Henderson, North Carolina… and cannot find a middle name, nor maiden name… the other “words” could be those, too. Or nothing.

  5. #5 Larry McElhiney
    13. November 2018

    Charlotte Greenwald

  6. #6 Richard SantaColoma
    13. November 2018

    Thanks, Larry. I guess my suggestion is a dead end, then. I also put E??E? into an online “crossword” solver, and none of the suggestions… which included formal names, too… worked for this situation.

  7. #7 Magnus E
    13. November 2018

    Could Tomas’ solution be correct?
    What is the probability of a 15 letter Vigenere decoding into English words?

  8. #8 Bosbach,Thomas
    13. November 2018

    In the book´s chapter “Lewis Carroll`s Vigenere Cipher” Gardner presented a riddle (No. 13) encrypted with the Beaufort variant (, but none enciphered with the standard variant, although the chapter also deals with the latter – so perhaps the dedication might be a concealed example for the standard Vigenere. But I wonder whether “poop face” (see #1) would have matched his sense of humor.

  9. #9 David Oranchak
    13. November 2018

    “Dear old poop face” seems valid to me. I tried every word from a 700,000 word dictionary and LOVE seemed to produce the best result.

  10. #10 David Oranchak
    13. November 2018

    I tried to suss out words when each of 700,000 words were applied as Vigenere keys. The top 50,000 results are here:

    The key is shown in parentheses. The number is a score based on the percentile scores for each word in the candidate plaintext.

    I couldn’t find a solution as coherent as DEAR OLD POOP FACE but I didn’t look too closely. Maybe there is one buried in there somewhere.

  11. #11 Norbert
    14. November 2018

    I greatly enjoyed Gardner’s “Dr. Matrix” book when I was a child (the German title is “Die Zahlenspiele des Dr. Matrix”).
    “Dear old poop face” might not perfectly match his sense of humor, but I could imagine that one of his children (or rather grandchildren, if he had any at this time) came up with the idea, and he just couldn’t resist…

  12. #12 Thomas
    14. November 2018

    David: 700.000 words, this is impressive and seems to prove the key. I tried this online solver based on only 100 dictionary words, and got the key “love” in second place:

  13. #13 Jim Gillogly
    24. November 2018

    My program agrees that this is the likely solution. I suggest, though, that this may be stage 1, with stage 2 an anagram. I don’t have a good candidate off the top of my head: “appear coded, fool” and “decode poplar, oaf” don’t work for me, and I couldn’t find anywhere to go with “Alfred…”

  14. #14 David Oranchak
    24. November 2018

    “Adored fecal poop”, “a federal poop doc”, “leader of a cop pod”, “a faded Pope color” and “dope Frodo palace” aren’t much better.

  15. #15 Thomas
    24. November 2018

    Perhaps “a fool rapped code”? Did Martin Gardner ever deal with rap codes?

  16. #16 Thomas
    24. November 2018

    Or maybe he dealt with LISP, so: “Poof! Read LAP code.”

  17. #17 Jim Gillogly
    25. November 2018

    I guess it’s not intended as an anagram – as with Voynich Ms, Bacon/Shakespeare and Kryptos K4 claimed solutions, the likelihood of the solution being correct is inversely proportional to the amount of time it takes to explain it. Another case in point: (note that the first L should be a J in the ciphertext).

    To put it another way, the time spent explaining your joke would be better spent writing a different joke.

  18. #18 Jim Gillogly
    25. November 2018

    Or perhaps: “For odd ACA people” — ACA being the American Cryptogram Association. I’m pretty convinced: he does refer to the ACA on page 8 of this book (Introduction), and contributed a problem at least once (see ).

    In my previous note, it should be “…a better joke” rather than “…a different joke”. 🙂

  19. #19 Breaker
    27. November 2018

    Scientist with a sense of humor……

    Dedicates his Book,



    The obvious “literary” signature he left.

  20. #20 Breaker
    27. November 2018

    Top of page…..FOR

    Begin with 4×4 grid


    Double V’s and Triple Z’s make a 5 count for a 5×5

    Rotate right and Remove the V’s and Z’s and relay into 5 letters


    Lock is ZKYJT

    Run a Patristocrat and voila



    Quite the famous last dedication

  21. #21 Breaker
    27. November 2018

    ROMN PDAHSTE is then compared against the Ciphertext to see there are missing letters to form the phrase……


    The Z’s are cancelled out and not used….but using missing letters you get AER so add that to the phrase “After” GOD….adding the varying ciphers used, each one produced a part of a larger message….


  22. #22 Breaker
    28. November 2018

    Actually a correction to the last part as I forgot the use of the H

    The word ROMN PD A HSTE when compared against the phrase ROMAN PEDERAST leaves an H behind.

    Maybe the phrase is not converted this way as the missing letters are AER (meaning to ere is human). Might be a final complication used

    Roman Pad Haste?

    Dont AER in haste, use a Roman Pad?

  23. #23 Bruce Kallick
    28. November 2018

    “For odd ACA people” is indeed pretty convincing — and yet the redundant “for” is worrisome.

  24. #24 Jim Gillogly
    29. November 2018

    Bruce – Point granted, but without the “For” it would just be a little chunk of ciphertext rather than an obvious dedication; it could have been an enciphered epigraph or an obscure acknowledgement or something. This way it’s obvious what it’s there for… and we could even think of it as a crib!

  25. #25 Breaker
    1. Dezember 2018

    Klaus you be the impartial observer and decide


    FOR V

    For You,
    You Keyser Soze
    Talks Jokes

    You never know who this is for ?

  26. #26 Breaker
    1. Dezember 2018

    That was just a joke but notice this


    For Ol’ Suzzy T Jackson Likes…..”Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writings”

    This guy is epic……

  27. #27 Bruce Kallick
    1. Dezember 2018

    In some correspondence with James Gardner, Martin Gardner’s son, I wrote:

    “Since this decryption is obtained by using the key ‘love’ my guess would have to be that the dedication was to your mother. Nonetheless, this would leave open the question of whether the anagram ‘FOR ODD ACA PEOPLE’ was intended to be an additional dedication for those clever enough to notice it, or is simply a very unlikely coincidence.”

    and he replied:

    “Your conclusion is accurate. On more than one occasion I remember Dad using the phrase poop face, and when I read the phrase I immediately concluded he indeed lovingly dedicated it to Mom. I even have a vague recollection that he mentioned it was dedicated to Mom (but did not go so far to precisely state the decoded phrase). I think the 2nd one is an unlikely coincidence. Nice decoding!”

    I agree, nice decoding indeed — by Thomas and Jim.

  28. #28 Jim Gillogly
    2. Dezember 2018

    Good sleuthing, Bruce!

  29. #29 Richard SantaColoma
    2. Dezember 2018

    Bruce! That is very cool. A great example of using a “multi-pronged” approach to solve a problem, or, in this case, to double-check a proposed solution.