Blog reader Christof Rieber has solved the Ghostemane cryptogram, a crypto challenge published by a US music magazine. Here’s how he found the solution.

Last week, I blogged about a cryptologic puzzle that was recently published in the US rock and heavy metal magazine Revolver (February / March 2019). The puzzle was presented at the end of an article on US musician Ghostemane. This article, which is a manifesto about Ghostemane’s new album N/O/I/S/E, is available online.

Tim Smith, Ghostemane’s manager, gave me permission to share this puzzle it on my blog.

Ghostemane (used with permission)

As can be seen, 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 appears, for instance, 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.

On May 20th, three days after my article had been published, blog reader Christof Rieber published a solution, which proved correct.

Christof Rieber (used with permission)

As Christof found out, the Ghostemane cryptogram can be decrypted to the following message:


The decryption method works as follows: in each column, determine the position of the “bloody” symbol (there is exactly one such symbol per column); then transfer the position of this symbol to a letter in the alphabet (1=A, 2=B, 3=C etc.); then read the plaintext from left to right.

For instance, the sixth symbol in the first column is bloody, which means that the first letter is an F. The 18th letter in the second column is bloody, which means that the second letter is an R, etc.

This means that only the positions of some of the symbols are relevent, while the symbols themselves have no meaning. The plaintext is an email address: Christof sent a mail to this address and received a confirmation that he had found the correct solution.

Thankfully, Christof has provided me some information on how he broke the encryption. When analyzing the cryptogram, he realized that it didn’t look like a homophonic cipher. There are no repeating patterns, no double letters and no structure. On the other hand, there was only one marked symbol per column, with every column having 25 letters. So, Christof checked if the position of the marked symbols had some meaning, and this hypothesis proved correct.

I want to congratulate Christof Rieber on this success. I have never met Christof in person and I didn’t know much about him before we got in touch because of the Ghostemane cryptogram. So, I am glad that he provided me a photograph and some biographical information.

Christof was born in Stuttgart in 1974. He lives in Vienna and Budapest since 2004. Having a background in the financial business, Christof works as consultant and software developer. He is interested in criminal cases and encrypted messages; his hobbies are skiing, chess and cooking. Thanks, Christof, I hope to hear from you again.

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


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Kommentare (5)

  1. #1 Richard SantaColoma
    28. Mai 2019

    Congratulations to Christof!

    Ironically (and frustratingly, because I missed it!) I often describe this type of system, suggesting something like it could be in play in the Voynich Manuscript. Just last night I wrote, “Well again, I do think steganography can still apply, such as the “apple tree” examples, and that sort: Such as gallows (as an example) existing below the appropriate letter of the alphabet, as ran across the top of a page… like the famous example of the apple tree with the apples designating letters in this way. There are many systems that use the position of “something” on a page… in pictures or text, in this way. The content itself can be quite meaningless, and no cipher is anywhere to be seen.”

    Here is an image from the 1624 book, “Cryptomenytices et Cryptographiae”, by Gustavi Seleni (Duke of Braunschweig-Luneburg). It is not the “apple tree”, but a simple grid array, similar to the OP example:

  2. #2 Peter Lichtenberger
    nahe bei Apollo 11 am Mond
    28. Mai 2019

    Im Prinzip eine Kombination aus Kryptografie & Steganografie. Toll!
    Basically a combination of cryptography & steganography. Horny!

  3. #3 Jarl Van Eycke
    14. Oktober 2019

    Congratulations Christof!

  4. #4 Tim Smith
    The Void
    2. Februar 2022

    Quick note, this is only the 1st part of the solution, it goes much deeper.

    : )

  5. #5 David Oranchak
    2. Februar 2022

    This tweet claims the solution is correct but incomplete: There is more to the cipher: