Scottish poet Thomas Urquhart (1611-1660) left behind two unsolved cryptograms. Along with many others, they are listed on a website maintained by Eugen Antal.

Everybody interested in crypto history and usolved cryptograms should take a look at the HCPortal, a website maintained by Eugen Antal.

Source: Schmeh

The HCPortal contains a section about tools and web pages (this blog is linked there), a glossary (some of the explanations stem from the codes and nomenclator terminology I introduced on this blog), and a page about ManuLab, a software for statistical analysis of ciphertexts.

And then, HCPortal features a database of cryptograms. At the moment, about 50 ciphertexts (most of them unsolved) belong to this collection, many of which will be familiar to readers of this blog. Among others, the Rayburn cryptogram, the Dorabella cryptogram, the Copenhagen cryptogram, and the Erba murder message are contained in the database. Usually, this blog is listed as the primary source.

The latest entry in the HCPortal database of cryptograms is about the Pálffy chronogram. When Eugen informed me about this crypto mystery, I blogged about it. My readers Thomas Bosbach and Norbert Biermann immediately broke it. For this reason, the Pálffy chronogram is now marked as solved in the database.


Thomas Urquhart’s poems

Now that I’ve introduced the HCPortal, I would like to take the opportunity and relook at an interesting unsolved crypto mystery I introduced on this blog a few years ago and that is also listed in Eugen’s database: Thomas Urquhart’s encrypted poems.

Thomas Urquhart was a Scottish writer, translator and poet, most famous for his translation of French Renaissance writer Francois Rabelais. Blog reader Hans Jahr from Slovakia made me aware of an encrypted poem Urquhart left behind. I blogged about this poem in 2014. Later Kent Ramliden from Florida told me that there is at least one more encrypted poem of Urquhart’s authorship. I blogged about it, too. In 2017, I introduced both encrypted poems in my top 50 unsolved cryptogram series.


Urquhart poem 1 (distich)

Urquhart’s first encrypted poem is a two-liner (distich):


Source: Internet archive

Here’s a transcription:

This cryptogram is contained in a book published by a certain John Wilcock in 1899. I don’t know where or when Urquhart published it. Does a reader know it?


Urquhart poem 2 (octastich)

Urquhart’s second encrypted poem is an eight-liner (octastich). Here it is:

25 11 39 4 4 10 3 54 50 19 1 18 1 5 9 58 15 1 4 17 1 42 32 77 23 75 6 3 18 20 36 8 21

4 10 22 3 5 11 3 162 18 21 44 79 42 2 17 61 32 7 7 107 8 59 28 54 31 113 42

1 6 96 31 87 5 88 1 4 30 10 15 8 47 28 17 139 17 69 5 29 9 9 1 51 6 114 8 34 30 2 18 24 41 33 74 93 8

5 12 58 162 12 44 1 66 9 15 100 42 2 28 16 6 27 4 196 70 53 7 1 69 2 15 89 34 11 13 12 29 15 76 40 22 8 24 75

3 58 15 2 1 4 5 56 5 5 2 4 12 20 19 14 80 37 45 34 3 95 6 38 1 18 11 27 4 13 7 24

5 20 5 87 40 25 9 56 21 29 2 81 50 147 2 6 16 15 14 9 13 27 3 16 14 7 6 10

38 3 3 2 10 34 8 18 9 28 2 4 6 2 201 10 13 6 1 36 1 31 4 17 54 16 5 22 11 5 31

71 96 15 45 19 6 64 10 42 7 83 37 6 3 7 74 4 14 8 91 27 12 11 2 28 50 68 3 2 12 1 5 49 3

7 7 95 66 1 11 33 51 50 6

According to Kent Ramliden, this octastich is contained in Urquhart’s book The Jewel. If a reader knows an online source for this book, I would be very grateful.


Statistical analysis

Kent Ramliden provided me the following frequency counts:


Source: Ramliden (used with permission)

As can be seen, “1” is the most frequent character in the octastich, followed by “3”, “2”, “4”, and “6”. There is a clear negative correlation between the size of a number and its frequency. Something like this often happens when the letter that appears first in a text is substituted with “1”, the second with “2”, the third with “3” and so on. A similar effect – yet less clear – can be seen in the distich.

The ciphers Urquhart used might be nomenclators. My guess is that the low numbers are used for letters, while the higher ones stand for words.

Can a reader solve one of these two mysteries?

Further reading: How Paolo Bonavoglia solved a 19th century encrypted book


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Kommentare (17)

  1. #1 Thomas
    28. Juli 2019

    What do ‘carping Zoil’ and ‘Momus’ mean? Can anyone help?

  2. #2 Thomas
    28. Juli 2019
  3. #3 Thomas
    28. Juli 2019


    The archive version of the ‘Jewel’ doesn’t contain the octastich. But the HCPortal provides an excerpt containing the octastich with additional text: (click on ‘cryptograms’, bottom). This text isn’t available online, hence I presume it is a scan from a book. Do you know (or maybevEugen Antal) what the source is?

    Talking of the HCPortal: It provides a ‘manulab’ software, does it work with ciphers consisting of numbers (two digits and more) ?

  4. #4 Narga
    30. Juli 2019

    I thought I had found a starting point but I am not getting far with it:
    If one takes the numbers from the distich and picks the corresponding letters from the latin text below “PARVA PETO…”, one gets ARS TENET… which seems to be a good start. But the rest of the text is less clear. However, it is not total gibberish but seems to follow a “latin scheme”, including another ARS. And, if one takes e.g. the english translation “LITTLE I ASK” as a source instead, the result looks much more like random letters, so the idea might not totally be wrong. Maybe there’s another small twist to it?

  5. #5 Thomas
    30. Juli 2019


    I think you’ve figured out the right starting point, since both the distich and the Latin text contain 70 characters (camoena: 7). The sequence 2 3 56 5 1 7 3 2 yields ‘ARS APERA’ which could make sense if for instance a T would follow. I’ve obtained a second decrypting table numbering the Latin phrase backwards from 1 to 70 and changed the forward /backward table after each 5/7/8/10 number group of the distich, but unfortunately to no avail.

  6. #6 Davidsch
    31. Juli 2019

    There are 64 cipher-chars. In the camoena below (poetry) there are 70 letters.
    “get it se game”. at offset 22 (add 22 modulo 70). and “pepsi” at offset 56 seems strange.
    Then I used all offsets (increased the start nr) till 70, but no large words found. The solution must be in the fact that letterpos. 44.45. and 47.48. we have two double letters very close.
    They refer to lookups
    The only latin words possible there are: i, e, a (o very rare) for 1 letter. Then the 20 must refer to
    an empty place, so everything shifts (like the poem says).
    So the 49 lookup must refer to one of these single letters.
    But the problem is to maintain the lookup 21. from the ‘ars tenet’.
    Another problem lies in the fact that between the two 20 lookups there are these lookups: (on letterpositions 39+)
    If the ‘ars tenet’ is correct, which also uses the 5 for a. and since we changed the sequence only at 20 and beyond this word must be already visible. But it is not. Out of ideas currently.

  7. #7 Thomas
    31. Juli 2019

    My comment #5 is badly worded: The distich contains 64 characters, taken from the numbers up to 70.

    As to the octastich: The additional text beneath the octastich (only in the scan provided by the HCPortal, link in #3) says:

    ‘To this Octastick if you will subjoyn
    A Decagram of this same stuff of mine
    A gather’d out of my Exskybalorum,
    You’ll find a Rule….’

    Musing on the ‘Decagram’ that shall be taken from the ‘Exskybalorum’ (i.e. the ‘Jewel’, link in #2), I can think of three possible meanings: 1. weight (doesn’t make sense), 2. a polygon (could make sense, but the ‘Jewel’ doesn’t contain any image) 3. a word consisting of ten characters/letters).

    Any further ideas?

  8. #8 Davidsch
    1. August 2019

    Looking at the ostastich (8-liner). Total cipher nrs counted: 272. pls check. I assume that the last line in the transcript, the 7 7 95 … belongs to the eight line. Also, because letter Q is missing
    from the 8-liner, I assume the final text will be English, but does not need to be (there is also none in the distich but that text is much shorter).

    counts: 255. So we are missing 17 chars?

    The highest cipher chars are 100.107….etc. 196.201.
    Subjoining seems the same as aphaeresified, prosthesized.

  9. #9 Eugen
    2. August 2019

    @Thomas (#3)

    The source is in the Availability field below the General Information (cryptogram detail). You can find the octastich in the original printed book:
    The Jewel, ISBN: 0707303273

    “…‘manulab’ software, does it work with ciphers consisting of numbers (two digits and more)”

    Yes, if the numbers are separated with a delimiter character (e.g. space, dot …). It’s enough to fill the Delimiter field. It also works in the online version.

    In the case of octastich “. ” (dot and space) was used as a delimiter in the database.

  10. #10 Thomas
    2. August 2019


    Thanks a lot!

  11. #11 davidsch
    10. August 2019

    This is what I got so far on the distich. Used the 26 alphabet values.

    ars tenet arma coda (group1 emtpy. group2.add-4.-5.-2.-5.-14.-19.19.16 <= debens_negative and sp[ondeo])
    ars apera et tu laus (group3 empty. group4 add <= spero [da]bit)

    Each group = 8 chars. I am very unsure if this is any good, because for the last group I used word 13 and then a piece of word 11.

    For the next 32 letters I suspected we will have to subtract values.(As sir Urquhart already writes in his book: there can be no number like 32, it is Wisdom p.412) But the text already starts there with "use", so I assumed I had to use the English text and the result would be English too. However after some trials, there came out many English words, but I noticed there is no H in the lookupo table,
    so after all perhaps it is also Latin?

    We get for postitions 33-40, group5 empty: (use pes ap…) According to this method we can assume that group7 is also empty but the text makes no sense. But using for group6: the first letter of genio + a next letter of camoena, gives: [ap]ostesas or [ap]ostosis. Can not improve there.
    Then next letter of genio + next letter of camoena gives: ut.
    Now I'm lost in nonsense, but perhaps it brings someone to a better idea.

  12. #12 davisch
    17. August 2019

    The ‘ekskybalauron’-section in his book goes from page 177-297. Of the decagrams in that text (words of 10 long or more) there are 2072 words, Of which only 842 are in the aforementioned section with only exactly 10 letters. From these words I placed the asci- values on position 1 and added it to the lookup value position. Then I checked 20 positions in both beginning and end of the entire cipher for words without any result.

    If you add nothing at all, half sentences are shown on pos. 18:thftfamlost (that i am lost?). 256 tottimtoolatsdses (to this tool at least?).

  13. #13 davidsch
    17. August 2019

    The ‘ekskybalauron’-section in his book goes from page 177-297. Of the decagrams in that text (words of 10 long or more) there are 2072 words, Of which only 842 are in the aforementioned section with only exactly 10 letters. From these words I placed the asci- values on position 1 and added it to the lookup value position. Then I checked 20 positions in both beginning and end of the entire cipher for words without any result.

  14. #14 Davidsch
    24. August 2019

    In the summer sun, I did some experiments on beginning and end of the octa cipher sequence. In the Jewel he mentions the sequence, However no combination on the beginning of the cipher seq. gives a valid word.
    Another “clue” that Urquhart provides is on pag.297. But I have no idea what to do with it where he writes. 3/8 and 72/675 (9x 8/ 9×75). Lastly there is this obvious lesser usage of vowels in the cipher lookup in plain text.

  15. #15 Davidsch
    9. September 2019

    Momus, a book in four parts, by Leon Battista Alberti around 1443-1450. Where Momus, the god of fault-finding and the personification of embittered mockery, is possibly an allegorical attack on the 15th cent. papacy, humanists and statesmen, and as disguised auto-biography. (Sarah Knight 2003) In her introduction she tells the entire story. see google books.
    Momus is helped by Virtue, later Praise, Trophy and Triumph. But there is a lot more of course.

  16. #16 davidsch
    10. Dezember 2019

    Picked this up again and on the 8-letter code I am half way now.

    On the Distich ** I would like some help from a Latin expert ** : I have an Excel sheet with the words that can be tried, but I have no clue what the best Latin words are.
    If you want to help contact Klaus for my e-mail address!

    Finally I will publish the attempt & solutions in my coming book.

  17. #17 RNS
    5. März 2023

    take a bit of cheese,
    a little red wine,
    a few good friends,
    and enjoy the sunshine.

    eat a ripe peach,
    while taking a nap,
    inhale a sweet scent,
    and take a nice long lap.

    cook a savory meal,
    with some herbs and spice,
    serve with a warm loaf,
    and enjoy the night life.

    sip a cup of tea,
    while reading a good book,
    let the world go by,
    and take a second look.

    find a peaceful place,
    away from the city noise,
    listen to the silence,
    and find your inner poise.

    when the day is done,
    and the stars are out bright,
    take a deep, deep breath,
    and wish upon a starry night.