In the 2020 film “Enola Holmes”, several interesting ciphertexts can be seen. It is well possible that the producers took some of their ideas from this blog.

Yesterday, I watched the movie Enola Holmes, a thriller set in Victorian England. The plot is about a 16-year-old girl, who is the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes. When her mother disappears, she proves even smarter than her famous brother.

Three encrypted messages play a role in the plot of this movie. In addition, one scene briefly shows a cryptogram that appears to have no influence on what happens. In the following, I’m going to introduce these four ciphertexts.


The Playfair message

Only a few minutes into the film, when Enola realizes that her mother is gone, the following ciphertext can be briefly seen:

Source: Enola Holmes

Apparently, it was Enola’s mother who created this message. As far as I can tell, this ciphertext doesn’t play a role in the plot, and the solution is not mentioned in the movie.

The table at the upper part of the sheet is probably a Playfair matrix created with the word IVY LEAF (note that each letter in the matrix appears exactly once, while the J is missing).

The letter sequence below the matrix could be a Playfair ciphertext encrypted with it. If this is the case, it should not be too difficult to solve this cryptogram. When I tried, however, I didn’t receive a meaningful result. Can a reader do better?

If you want to know more about the Playfair cipher, there is plenty of information about it on this blog. My readers have improved the world record for breaking the shortest Playfair message several times. My next book, Codebreaking: A Practicle Guide includes the Playfair, too.


A transposition message

The following message was left behind by Enola’s mother, too:

Source: Enola Holmes

Enola has no trouble breaking this cryptogram. Can a reader decipher it, too? The encryption method used is a transposition cipher.


Another transposition message

In another scene of the movie, Enola publishes an encrypted advertisement in a newspaper. As frequent readers of this blog know, this kind of secret communication was quite common in Victorian England. It is well ossible that the producers of Enola Holmes read about this topic on my blog. I have written at least a dozen articles about it.

Here’s the ad Enola placed:

Source: Enola Holmes

The following screenshot shows the plaintext:

Source: Enola Holmes

Apparently, a transposition cipher was used here again. However, I don’t think that the method is explained in the movie in detail. Can a reader find out, what kind of transposition Enola employed?


A substitution cipher

The following newspaper ad is the reply Enola receives on her encrypted message:

Source: Enola Holmes

To solve this message, Enola uses the following cipher disk her mother has left behind:

Source: Enola Holmes

Here’s the plaintext Enola derives:

Source: Enola Holmes

To my regret, I can’t see how to get from the ciphertext to the plaintext. Can a reader tell me how this works?

This second ficticious encrypted ad looks similar as a real one I covered on my blog in January 2019 (a few months before the film shooting started):

Source: Morning Chronicle

In my blog post, I not only introduced the ciphertext of this encrypted advertisement, but also the corresponding plaintext and the cipher method used. This is an exception, as I usually blog about unsolved encrypted ads, which means that I know neither the plaintext nor the encryption method in question.

Perhaps, the film producers read my blog post about this ad and decided to create a similar (ficticious) one for their movie. I would be very proud if this was the case.

Further reading: Sherlock Holmes and the Pollaky cryptograms


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Kommentare (10)

  1. #1 Gerry
    5. Oktober 2020

    The first transposition cipher (Enola’s ad) can be read from the bottom right character T, then every second character (first up and then to the left) H A N K Y O U Y M (there is an error with Y and M reversed) giving THANK YOU MY … and so on to the far left. The second part starts again far right with the second letter from the bottom Y (and the same 2 up then next column to the left) giving YOU BLOOM …

  2. #2 Gerry
    5. Oktober 2020

    So technically, reverse all four lines. Take lines 4 and 2, take the first letter from both, the second letter from both, and so on. Do the same with lines 3 and 1.

  3. #3 Klaus Schmeh
    5. Oktober 2020

    Thanks, Gerry!

  4. #4 ShadowWolf
    Number Cipher 1
    6. Oktober 2020

    It seems the movie business is up to their usual tricks or perhaps a scene got got cut and no one noticed the error. The number cipher is a Polybius square using a normal alphabet keeping J but removing Z. If you fill out the square using the message, this becomes apparent though there seems to be an extra letter in the decrypt of academy.

    The is no way for the cipher wheel to give the decrypt.

    I’m not even sure why the cipher disc is there. It doesn’t have any connection with the cipher.

  5. #5 ShadowWolf
    Number Cipher 2
    6. Oktober 2020

    Because so many numbers are garbled, it isn’t going to be complete. Just another number grid cipher similar to a Polybius. This should be enough if anyone wants to try to fully decrypt what can be figured out or guessed at.

    I have been ill love
    ?? ?? my doctor has ordered
    ?? ?? and ?ir which i
    ?? ?? tryng for thiss last week
    ?? ?? court i have neither

    The key is:
    # 0123456789
    3 GWH???????

    JPQXZ may or may not be used. So much is missing from the text.

  6. #6 Erica
    7. Oktober 2020

    A transposition message

  7. #7 Klaus Schmeh
    7. Oktober 2020

    >I have been ill love
    Sorry, I forgot to put a link on my post covering this advertisement. It’s already solved:

  8. #8 Zoey Diaz
    17. Oktober 2020

    In the newspaper, what I got using the Polybius Square was:

    Ivy meet me Royal Academy five tonight, Mother

  9. #9 Klaus Schmeh
    17. Oktober 2020

    @Zoey Diaz
    Thanks. This means that the word IVY can’t be seen on the screenshot, but otherwise, the plaintext is correct.

  10. #10 Micke
    10. November 2020

    @Klaus, the message start 24 52 55 is “IVY” (2nd column, 4th row etc)
    1 2 3 4 5
    1A F K P U
    2B G L Q V
    3C H M R W
    4D I N S X
    5E J O T Y

    Luckily there is no Z in the message