Singer and rapper Ghostemane has published a crypto challenge in a US music magazine. Can a reader solve it?

Two weeks ago, I received a mail from Craig Bauer, the editor-in-chief of Cryptologia (the following picture was taken at last year’s HistoCrypt).

Craig informed me about a cryptologic puzzle that was recently published in the US magazine Revolver (February / March 2019). First I thought, Revolver was a publication about firearms, but in fact it is a music magazine focusing on rock and heavy metal. The puzzle was published at the end of an article on the musician Ghostmane. This article, which is a manifesto about Ghostemane’s new album N/O/I/S/E is available online.

To be honest, I had never heard of Ghostemane before. He appears to be quite successful in the US, but not necessarily in Germany. Here’s a video of his song “Nihil”:

When a famous musician publishes a nicely made crypto challenge in a music magazine, it is certainly worth an article on this blog. However, I couldn’t publish this cryptogram for copyright reasons.

Yesterday, I received an email from Tim Smith, who introduced himself as Ghostemane’s manager. I don’t know if Craig has informed him about my blog or if he knows about it from some other source (perhaps, he is even a frequent reader). Regardless, Tim informed me about the crypto challenge I already knew and gave me the permission to share it on my blog. So, here it is:

The article doesn’t give any information about the cryptogram. Apparently, we deal with a ciphertext written in an alphabet that contains much more than 26 letters. Note that some of the letters are marked with red spots.

A large alphabet can have several reasons. If, for instance, upper-case and lower-case letters are encoded separately, 52 different symbols are necessary. There are even more, if numbers, punctuation marks and spaces are encoded. However, the missing of doubled letters and a few other arguments suggest that such a scheme was not used here.

A large alphabet also appears, if the same plaintext letter can be encrypted to several ciphertext letters (homophones). The most famous homophonic cipher is the one used by the Zodiac killer for his first message.

Did Ghostemane (or whoever created this cryptogram) use a Zodiac-style cipher? Or is this cryptogram based on a completely different system? I hope that my readers will find out more about this crypto challenge.

Further reading: Yet another Zodiac copycat message: The Albany Letter


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Kommentare (10)

  1. #1 Magnus Ekhall
    18. Mai 2019

    One small observation regarding the red dots. There seems to be one occurrence of red dots per column of “text”, apart from the last column.

    Maybe this relevant, but I don’t know how.

    Perhaps the text should not be read from left to right?

  2. #2 Richard SantaColoma
    19. Mai 2019

    I don’t know if this would be of interest or help to anyone else, but I count 69 different characters. To try this as one suggestion above, several cipher icons for each plaintext, I suppose that means more than two… three if no cipher icons are used for punctuation.

    To make a “paper & pencil” attempt on this I marked out the characters as letters and numbers, then did a count of each. The distribution is so flat that I found it difficult to come up with anything… especially not knowing the word spacing. And, of course, that would be assuming that this is a multiple character substitution in the first place.

    But, may as well post this, if anyone is interested in trying, themselves (sorry, I lost my “layers”, or I would post my characters only, for better clarity):

  3. #3 Richard SantaColoma
    19. Mai 2019

    Of course we are all probably guessing this was written using a generated icon font set, such as:

    This would allow the text to simply be typed out, maybe using “camel case”, punctuation, and maybe diacritical marked characters.

    And as Klaus points out, the number of icons here may represent upper and lower case, but then with 69 characters we have 17 extra icons after that… which could be punctuation and a few numbers, and diacritical marks, but it seems still to be to many.

    So that is probably all useless, it was for me… but maybe it will be of interest to someone else who has played with this problem.

  4. #4 Chris
    Vienna / Budapest
    20. Mai 2019

    The matrix is 25×25, thus there might be some fillers in the end. Also, the blood drops appear to be different, even on the same symbol.


  5. #5 Christof Rieber
    Vienna / Budapest
    20. Mai 2019

    The solution of the cipher is


    Count the position of ‘bloody’ symbols in a row, transfer on position in regular alphabet, read from the left to the right.

    All other symbols are not important. Cipher text gives mail address


  6. #6 Thomas
    21. Mai 2019

    Good job, Christof! Have you got an answer?

  7. #7 Christof Rieber
    Vienna / Budapest
    21. Mai 2019

    Not yet, I’ll let you know if there will be one


  8. #8 Walter
    22. Mai 2019

    I think there is more to it than just the email based on what I’m looking at…that many characters for just an email seems unlikely.

    Let me know if you get a reply!

  9. #9 Christof Rieber
    Vienna / Budapest
    25. Mai 2019

    Today received confirmation mail..rapper Ghostemane called me a ‘deep digger’.. :D.

    @Walter: The solution is correct..not only because there was some cleartext but because it had some inner sense (an mail address), too. The other symbols were just to confuse.

    I have to give credit to Magnus Ekhall, however: His comment regarding one ‘bloody’ symbol in each row only actually brought the start to find the solution (which is the most difficult part of cipher cracking).


  10. #10 Shaqmeister
    30. Mai 2019

    Having reached the same solution – the e-mail address – I sent a message and got a reply. Only, mine was slightly (perhaps significantly) different to @Christof. I got “dig deeper.” I know a number of people received “deep digger,” and I just wonder whether that reply is supposed to be a ‘Spoonerism’ and he forgot to apply the turn-around in the reply to me. Is the e-mail, then, just how the solution is to be returned, and is that there is, in fact, “deeper to dig?”