For years, my readers and I have been wondering what’s behind the Cylob cryptogram, a printed booklet that contains strange symbols. Now I have learned about a similar work. The author of it is known.

Deutsche Version des Artikels (Beta)

The “Cylob Cryptogram” is a crypto mystery named for British rock musician Cylob (Chris Jeffs). Cylob, who lives in Berlin, Germany, first described his find in the following words he published on his blog:

In about 1995 or 1996, I was in a bookshop in central London, I’m sure it was the one that used to be called “Dillons Arts” but that later turned into a Waterstones. There was a pile of mysterious booklets next to the main display near the entrance, and a note next to them indicated that they were free. I asked one of the assistants what it was all about, and she said they didn’t know, simply that some mysterious person was leaving them. I wonder if the symbols mean anything, or if it was just an elaborate and pointless joke.

Blog reader Gert Brantner informed me about this “mysterious booklet” in 2015. Cylob himself later provided me a complete set of page scans. I included the Cylob cryptogram in my Top 50 Unsolved Cryptograms list and added it to my encrypted books list (#00056). My last blog post on this topic was published in August 2020.

 

The booklet

The booklet Cylob found has 20 pages. Here they are:

Source: Cylob


The content of the booklet mainly consists of rectangular symbols. There are no letters or numbers, not even page numbers. Although Cylob reported that there was a whole pile of booklets in that London book store, I am not aware of another copy of this work.

Following the saying “if your only tool is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail”, my first guess was that the Cylob Cryptogram represented an encrypted message. My August blog post provides some information about this hypothesis. While the letter frequencies are consistent with a text encrypted in a simple substitution cipher, nobody has been able to find a plausible decryption so far.

Many of my blog readers have suggested other theories. Some noted that geometrical figures similar to the ones in the Cylob cryptogram are used in intelligence tests. Others said that this booklet might have been used in a challenge-response copy-protection mechanism for a 1980s computer program. Still others believe that it is a game accessory. And then, there’s still the possibility that the Cylob cryptogram is a piece of modern art without a real purpose.

My friend Richard SantaColoma fom New York State tried to solve the mystery by searching for similar symbols on Google Images. He found plenty of graphs, circuits, logic diagrams, kitchen appliances and also many game-related pictures, but nothing that looked exactly the same. His best find was a computer game named Crusader- No Remorse. Here’s a screenshot:

Source: Screenshot

Was the Cylob cryptogram created for this game? Was it used for security validation or for marking the locations of power-ups? Perhaps a reader can say more about this.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ Coming December 2020 ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦
♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

 

A similar cryptogram

U.S. blog reader Lance Estes recently informed me about a post on Reddit that might shed some new light on the Cylob cryptogram. Eight days ago, a Reddit user nicknamed Doc_Skeef published a picture and wrote:

Is this a code? Random little book. Just these characters on every page….

The “random little book” has the following cover:

According to Doc_Skeef , this booklet has “no markings of any letters or numbers”. There’s no doubt that there are many parallels between this work and the Cylob cryptogram.

Additional pages of the “random little book” are available here. A few of these are reproduced in the following.

The next one shows the same kind of symbols as the cover:

What makes this find especially interesting is that Reddit users found out who created the “random little book”. As can be seen on this webpage, French artist Guy de Cointet (1934–1983) made it in 1972, calling it A Captain from Portugal.

Apparently, A Captain from Portugal has no real purpose, it’s just “l’art pour l’art”. Is the same true for the Cylob manuscript? Was it even created by the same artist? I don’t know. At least, a Google Images search reveals that de Cointet created other works that look like encrypted text.

 

The pigpen cryptogram

Contrary to the Cylob cryptogram, A Captain from Portugal is written in several different fonts. One page even shows a message that appears to be encrypted in a pigpen cipher:

Is this a real ciphertext? If so, can a reader solve it?


Further reading: A video of James Hampton’s sculpture and notebook

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Kommentare (10)

  1. #1 Richard Bean
    Brisbane
    24. November 2020

    Did someone say Art?

    It would be interesting if some real authority investigated carefully the part which memory plays in painting. We look at the object with an intent regard, then at the palette, and thirdly at the canvas. The canvas receives a message dispatched usually a few seconds before from the natural object. But it has come through a post-office _en route_. It has been transmitted in code. It has been turned from light into paint. It reaches the canvas a cryptogram. Not until it has been placed in its correct relation to everything else that is on the canvas or that has yet to be put upon the canvas can it be deciphered, is its meaning apparent, is it translated once again from mere pigment into light. And the light this time is not of Nature but of Art. — Winston Churchill, “Painting as a Pastime”, 1922

  2. #2 Armin
    25. November 2020

    The short text in the first picture is:

    A CAPT
    AIN FR
    OM POR
    TUGAL.

  3. #3 Armin
    25. November 2020

    The ciphertext arranged in the triangle is the key: it’s just the alphabet written in code, A in the first line, then BCD, …, and with some additional interpunctation symbols in the last line.

  4. #4 Armin
    25. November 2020

    The text under the pigpen cipher reads:
    ‘HERE IT IS THE HISTORICAL EVIDENCE’

    And the text under the “box cipher” is:
    FRAGMENT OF A LETTER RELATING TO THE PORTUGUESE MESSAGE

  5. #5 Klaus Schmeh
    25. November 2020

    @Armin: Great! I didn’t even expect that these messages have a meaning.

  6. #6 ShadowWolf
    The Box Cipher
    25. November 2020

    The 5th symbol in the first row is a null and found 26 times in the ciphertext. The nulls are sometimes word divisions and seem to be placed to cause problems. After that, there are some minor spelling mistakes, letters missing or there are partial sentences stuck together. The last word seems to be cut off because it didn’t fit in the square. It doesn’t make a lot of sense but it fits together cryptographically and nearly all the words are whole. The IC is 0.066927 so expected normal English.

    The transcribed text with the nulls removed:
    UGVA QBMKH F I OGN AMEBEG FM GM EDA WA QLBSEDA LGKN AK AUAXBEGFM H IFLRAK FM
    EDA HDAUU FI EDA BLNFMBT E BMK FM EDA NGBME PBPET H FI EDA CAH E OLAHAME QG

    The plaintext reads:
    like wands o f pig entati on in the je wraythe ridg ed elevation s formed on the shell of the argonau t and on the giant cactu s of the bes t present wi

    The plaintext should be spaced about the same as the ciphertext.

    I tried searching on pieces of the text and didn’t find anything so probably not a quote.

    I suspect the pigpen is also a substitution cipher but I didn’t have time to deal with it. Maybe later unless someone else solves it.

  7. #7 Klaus Schmeh
    25. November 2020

    @ShadowWolf:
    Makes sense. Great job!

  8. #8 ShadowWolf
    The Pigpen Cipher
    27. November 2020

    Rather than the usual pigpen system, this one uses 3 grids of 9 with a 26 letters and a null. The null becomes apparent after a frequency count and occurs 18 times. Like the box cipher, it is just there to mess things up and doesn’t appear to follow word divisions.

    Using a straight alphabet the initial transcription looks like this:
    TPSEHYGCYL
    MXYZEXCUYE
    MPANGYFYUS
    MADYUEJBC-
    CJEOYUEFGP
    EJDYVSCYTN
    E-YUEFYUGS
    TECRYEFYVS
    ERYCYUEPEH
    OOMHYFYVSC

    Converting the “-” to the unused W and removing the Y (null) you get this:
    TPSEH GC L
    MX ZEXCU E
    MPANG F US
    MAD UEJBCW
    CJEO UEFGP
    EJD VSC TN
    EW UEF UGS
    TECR EF VS
    ER C UEPEH
    OOMH F VSC

    This text appears to be English with an IC of 0.061427 but frequency analysis isn’t producing normal words. The relative letter frequencies seem about right, but something is still wrong. I had hoped this would be easier. Maybe with more or just different eyes, someone else will find something.

  9. #9 Matthew Brown
    27. November 2020

    By changing the following letters in the key (B/W | J->Z | Y->,) you can get a slightly better decryption;
    “like bands of pigmentation in the zebra, the ridged elevations formed on the shell of the argonaut and on the giant cactus of the west present bi”

    I’ve also had no luck with the pigpen and Cryptool was unable to solve it. Maybe a transposition step is also required? Translating the rest of the book might offer some more clues.

  10. #10 jan
    23. April 2021

    zebra, argonauts, giant cactus.. seems to be an wikipedia article about molluscs / seashells..

    might be that this “captain from portugal” sent a letter (message portuguese) back to whomever he has served describing his findings in this (new?) region..

    maybe the pigpen has to be read in a certain way – like in seashell?