The Barnaby cryptogram

There is a coded message in an English crime series. To my knowledge, the solution is not known. Can a reader crack this cryptogram?

Deutsche Version

Feature films and television series in which encryption plays a role abound. Consider, for example, the feature film “Enigma” with Kate Winslet or the episode “The Secret Code” from the series “Hard Chunk”, which I recently blogged about on Cipherbrain.



However, there are also movies and series in which an encrypted text appears that has nothing to do with the plot. Unfortunately, as far as I know, there is no technical term for such messages yet. Therefore I will use the term “metacryptogram”. Metacryptograms exist, of course, not only in movies and series, but also in novels, non-fiction books, works of art, and other objects.

The purpose of a metacryptogram is usually to generate publicity. On Cipherbrain I have already presented numerous examples. The most famous movie metacryptogram is probably the code contained in the credits of the Hollywood flick “Fair Game”, which is still unsolved. Also in the feature film “Enola Holmes” there is a (presumably) coded message, which is not referred to at any point in the plot. Another example is the series “Twin Peaks”.


The Barnaby cryptogram

Blog reader Magnus Ekhall from Sweden recently thankfully pointed me to another metacryptogram in a television series.

Quelle/Source: Ekhall

It’s about the British series “Midsomer Murders”, known in German as “Inspector Barbaby”. This successful series centers on the detective Tom Barnaby (he is later replaced by his cousin John), who solves his cases in the British provinces.

In the episode “Sportsmen and Spies” (“Secrets and Spies”), Inspector Barnaby receives a mysterious note with numbers on it. Here is a scan of it:

Quelle/Source: “Inspector Barnaby”

After Barnaby takes a look at the note, he says, “It is a substitution and multiplication cipher based on a pre-arranged word, which is then given its numerical position in the alphabet, multiplied by the date of delivery, and sent in sections of five numbers.”

Since this message has no bearing on subsequent events, it is a metacryptogram rather than a component of the plot.


Magnus has contacted the productuon company several times asking for information about this text. Unfortunately, he has not received a reply. Also, of course, there is no guarantee that the cryptogram is solvable at all.

Barnaby’s statement that the text is written in groups of five is obviously wrong. The rest of the explanation I quoted above also sounds rather like gibberish.

At first glance, a straddle-checkerboard cipher seems possible, as was often used during the Cold War. “Your Star” is the most famous example. Oliver Kuhlemann’s website explains this kind of ciphering very well.

Can my suspicion be substantiated? Or does someone have a completely different idea? I gladly accept suggestions.

If you want to add a comment, you need to add it to the German version here.

Further reading: Unsolved: A numbers station code in a music video


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