To add to our list of challenge ciphers (Bellaso’s, d’Agapeyeff’s, Feynman’s, etc), here’s one I hadn’t seen before from Helen Fouché Gaines’ (1956) “Cryptanalysis: A Study of Ciphers and Their Solution”, which I found courtesy of Greg Ross’s Futility Closet website:-

```VQBUP PVSPG GFPNU EDOKD XHEWT IYCLK XRZAP VUFSA WEMUX GPNIV QJMNJ JNIZY KBPNF RRHTB WWNUQ JAJGJ FHADQ LQMFL XRGGW UGWVZ GKFBC MPXKE KQCQQ LBODO QJVEL.```

The cipher is the last in a series of exercises at the end of a chapter titled “Investigating the Unknown Cipher,” and she gives no hint as to its source. Of the exercises, she writes, “There is none in which the system may not be learned through analysis, unless perhaps the final unnumbered cryptogram.” The solution says simply “Unsolved.”

If you look at the book itself (p.217), all Gaines says is “Here is one which nobody has been able to decrypt:“. Hence it is not at all clear whether this is a composed challenge cipher (i.e. designed to confound) or an accidental challenge cipher (i.e. one found in the wild but never yet solved). I suspect the latter… but perhaps someone will know for sure either way.

Incidentally, the 1968 comment on this mentioned in the Futility Closet post is online here (it’s on p.5): just so you know, the authors there offer an [entirely fictional, I expect] “Nicodemus J. Grumbow award” for anyone solving it.

As far as the ciphertext itself goes, it has a flattish distribution (Q appears 9 times, while T & Y appear only twice each, all 26 letters are used), with a standard deviation of 1.52144, i.e. much flatter than a normal alphabet would present.

It has no repeated trigrams, while QJ & PN appear three times (DO, GW, QL, GG, VQ, PV, NU, NI and XR each appear twice). There are seven doubled letter-pairs, all appearing once only each (PP, GG, JJ, RR, WW, GG, QQ). There are a few visible patterns in the text that vaguely suggest some kind of structuring (JAJGJ, QCQQ, QLQ and QQL), but all of which might just be random.

As a result, it doesn’t appear to be a monoalphabetic substitution, nor a (conventional) polyalphabetic substitution (as there seems to be no obvious cycles, loops, or repeats). The cipher text is 125 characters long, which (as a mathematician) makes me idly wonder whether this was partly enciphered using some kind of a 5x5x5 three-dimensional transposition cipher, the sort of thing a Bond villain would gloat about in his/her evil monologue. I don’t believe for a minute that this is the case, of course, but I thought I’d mention it all the same. 🙂

Any thoughts? Is there anything that suggests to you what kind of a cipher this might be?

By now I’m sure you’re all thoroughly sick of the way I heap superlatives and laurel wreaths onto Tony Gaffney’s hair-bestrewn head every time he cracks yet another of Bellaso’s ciphers… and now he’s broken two more, lifting his tally for the 1564 set of challenge ciphers to 6 out of 7. Though Tony dearly wants to make it 7/7, Bellaso’s remaining 1564 cipher appears to be an awkward one, a real Holmesian three-pipe problem… so let’s keep our fingers crossed Tony can make it a clean sweep. 🙂

Anyway, as compared to #7’s tortuous digrams, #3 turned out to be relatively easy: it involved five rotating reciprocal alphabets (Bellaso’s favourite starting point), with the confounding trick being that the first letter of each group is basically random, and indicates which one of the five rotated alphabets to use (by using the index of the letter within the cipher alphabet). There are asterisks marked at the two places (in lines 1 and 3) where this fails to quite work, but the basic idea seems completely solid.

1564 #3

``` lasumita  demonti  secnserva  perche  lacque  otneve
CNRDEPSGT XEQRLLGP FDUHLLQMXX AMCABAA HPEEOHU MIDLDHU
45123451  5123451  123451234  345123  234512 *234512```
``` chesopra  deesi  spesocadono  insi  contengono  leesalationi
REFQFLQAT NSUAIB GFMCLGTEHQFI TNLLP EBIJFDFNLLQ OPACLTPEFBGGN
45123451  12345  23451234512  3451  1234512345  234512345123```
``` etvageri  terestri  asesi  nelaria  oxvirtu  solare  etcosi
FQCXXUQMN RFDLUGFAP SRDUGS BLDRHQSR PMCHOQFP QDIOXAQ LCGBIGS
12345123  45123451  51234  4512345 *4512345  123451  451234```
``` latgu  cheper  lepiogie  scorgzoso  demonti  xepiogie  etnevi
CNRANX DXUUMCA MSQLNMTPU AGEQLNZLIQ FSUPMMAO RADIOLBBQ SDAGARB
45123  512345  51234512  345123451  1234512  45123451  512345```
``` larepone sopra  detimonti
HPEUDIIICXLGLQX QSUDSNGGDS.
23451234 51234  123451234```
```QFEN QUACDFGILM 1
EHTBSNOPRX
UGHO QUACDFGILM 2
XEHTBSNOPR
AITP QUACDFGILM 3
RXEHTBSNOP
CLBR QUACDFGILM 4
PRXEHTBSNO
DMSX QUACDFGILM 5
OPRXEHTBSN```

The (possibly meaningless?) keyword here is “QUA(C)EHTBS”, yielding a cleartext like this:-

La sumita de monti se conserva perche l’acque ot neve
che sopra de esi speso cadono in si contengono le esalationi
et vageri terestri asesi ne l’aria ox virtu solare et cosi
la tgu che per le piogie scorgzoso de monti xe piogie et nevi
la repone sopra deti monti.

And so we move onto Bellaso’s 1564 challenge cipher #4, which is also a bit of a pussycat (yes, it has five rotating reciprocal alphabets) – the secondary trick here is the autokey, wherein the last plaintext letter of each group indicates which of the five alphabets to start the next group with.

1564 #4

```etper ilcontrario simarre conserva lasua profocsita
NCUTA REXEECSUAUB NUEFPAN FAGRTAIX HOUPU QHBADFMRDU
12345 12345123451 5123451 51234512 51234 5123451234```
```etgrandeza perche fluctrbu viena sotiliare larena etparte
MDLAOGTTZR FLPFRM PEAFBIXA IRLIR NACQGMOIL HOILIR OBFFPGN
23451234-5 234512 23451234 12345 512345123 512345 5123451```
```teree chein esosono liqualli cosi sotiliati etcon lacqua
CLPON XLNRH OFBRDSA DQSBODEN FAUQ NACQGMOCQ OBTCI DFXPIX
23451 45123 5123451 23451234 5123 123451234 51234 234512```
```mescolati sono salavirtu solarein aria levati etdali venti
INUODHOCQ FBHD MXEUBUIDA FBEUANRH OIQU ETBOCQ OBLFGM SLIGU
512345123 1234 123451234 12345123 1234 345123 512345 23451```
```indiverse plrti portati ethnacqua conversi restano
MELQAOHUL QCIDN FCPGOCQ MDMSOTIAR TCIBNIRN ANUDUSA
512345123 51234 2345123 234512345 23451234 5123451```
```distributi sulimonti etin altrilochi
OMFCSNUICQ FSENIAGDN NCQI XEEAUDCXLU.
4512345123 123451234 1234 2345123451```
```SDFM  SPABCDEGHI   1
FXOTLMNQRU
PEXN  SPABCDEGHI   2
UFXOTLMNQR
AGOQ  SPABCDEGHI   3
RUFXOTLMNQ
BHTR  SPABCDEGHI   4
QRUFXOTLMN
CILU  SPABCDEGHI   5
NQRUFXOTLM```

The (once again, somewhat mysterious) keyword here is “SPAFXOT”:-

et per il contrario si marre conserva la sua profocsita (profundita)
et grandeza perche fluctrbu vien a sotiliare la rena et parte
teree che in eso sono li qualli cosi sotiliati et con l’acqua
mescolati sono sala virtu solare in aria levati et da li venti
in diverse plrti (parti) portati et hn acqua conversi restano
distributi su li monti et in altri lochi.

Observant cryptologers will be pleased to note that Tony managed to crack both of these even though neither contained the word proportione. 🙂

Praise aside, all that I can say now is “Go, Tony, Go!” – good luck with the final cipher in the set!

That man Tony Gaffney has been at it again, shooting yet another cryptographic tin can down off Giovan Battista Bellaso’s fence: this time, it was Bellaso’s 1564 challenge cipher #7’s turn to fall.

What was particularly sweet about #7 was that it was a completely different type of cipher to the others Tony had previously broken: rather than being some kind of reciprocal rotating cipher (i.e. reciprocal = a cipher that both encodes and decodes, and rotating = a cipher alphabet whose order rotates every letter, every plaintext word, or every ciphertext word), this one was a fairly fiendish digram table (i.e. a table of pairs of letters).

Of course, you’d need a really substantial piece of ciphertext to stand any chance of filling out the contents of any such table: but because Bellaso wasn’t that sadistic, he used the same table he included in his book. The difficulty was therefore not so much of reconstructing the table, but of reconstructing the ksyphrase driving the table (i.e., the phrase permuting the rows and columns).

As regular Cipher Mysteries readers should know by know, classical (i.e. puzzle-based rather than statistics-based) code-breakers such as Tony look for words in the ciphertext with unusual properties, and see if they can use those to lever their way in. Here, the fact that nearly every word has an even number of letters is a strong indication that this is a digram-based cipher: and in Bellaso’s table (where each row of digrams is horizontally offset by one place relative to the row above it) the group CMYLDLELRL in line 4 of the ciphertext would appear to fall mostly along a diagonal.

Assuming that Y was “unlikely to be in the keyword or in the message“, Tony then “compared each of the 10 digrams in its row with those in their diagonals” – this let him hunt for candidate words to fit this basic kind of consonant-vowel-consonant pattern. “cifra” matched the first three pairs; “fantasie” matched the first four pairs; but by far the best 5-digram match for the group was “altramente“.

“This gave me a few rows and columns – the rest was a lot of trial & error & cups of tea & cigarettes!”

Post-caffeine and post-tobacco, here’s the resulting Italian cleartext that Tony ended up with – it appears to be explaining how to aim your cannon so that it hits the target:-

```serom pera ilfestcon doi  sopresetireve  c onlavite perpe tova ilcanone
QMOSDAHSOM CULRMENEESFMBT QUXRQBRHORRGIA NTEECFTLRL HSXOIARETT CUNOEGED
postoasegnn ousire delapaia faretirar e ilchanoneil quale sedeveretirar
HDXMPTQMXGES TBQEOE FOCFHUBG LAOERMOMODIACUNSEOEEIOCDMDCMIA QMFOTOOERMOMOD
inproporti onesetutiri inalto stsognache nel retirasecali chonlacoda
EMXRHLOTRM EEQBRHRRORBF EMCMRE MUQUXGNGSB EDCROERMOMQMNOCH NSEECFNEFT
altramente dariaeo to d alsegnosetutirai baso bis na* elacoda retiran do
CMYLDLELRL FTOUPEGURE FRCMQMXGQRRHRRORPU ALQU AEQCECYECENGFBPL OERMOMEB FM
siassen ?da viran doperdrito bisognaseretiripesdritto etintutitreiquesuicasi
QEQHQMESTFT TLOMESFMHSZBOURE AEQUXGQHOARHORHOQBXFRBRE RHEMRURMYLBUMDQBTLNOQE
leretebisognache sesttiri noequal menteperchhe calan dounarotada rialap
CGOERLAEQUXGNGSB QMMURMOU EGMRPOCDDFYHHTOANSSB NOCFESFMEUOBRAFFPLOUCMHR
CFFTMDCECFALESFT```

* YE = Il Signor Iddie, “The Lord God” (as per the table below – so almost certainly an error)
? An odd number of letters in this group (so almost certainly a typesetting error).

If you then insert plausible-looking spaces, you end up with text looking like this:-

```Se rompera il fest con doi sopre se tireve con la vite perpetoua il canone
posto a segnn ousire della paia fare tirare il chanone il quale se devere tirar
in proportione se tutiri in alto st sogna che nel retira se cali chon la coda
altramente dariaeo to d'al segno se tutirai baso bis na ? el a coda retiran do
si assen ? da virando per drito bisogna se retire pes dritto et intuit tre I que
sui casi le rete bisogna che sesttiri no equalmente perchhe calando una rota dari

As you can see from the final table (below), the keyphrase driving the row and column permutations appears to be “BARTOLOMEUS / PAN FILIUS”.

```   B  A  R  T  O  L  M  E  U  S  C  D  F         G         H
P  pb pa pr pt po pl pm pe pu ps pc pd pf        pg        Ph
aa ea ia oa ua A  aa ae ai ao au A  accio     altra     ancore
A  ah ab aa ar at ao al am ae au as ac ad        af        ag
ab eb ib ob ub B  ba be bi bo bu B  benche    che       che
N  ng nh nb na nr nt no nl nm ne nu ns nc        nd        nf
ac ec ic oc uc C  ca ce ci co cu Ch cosa      como      della
F  ff fg fh fb fa fr ft fo fl fm fe fu fs        fc        fd
ad ed id od ud D  da de di do du D  debba     detto     doppe
I  id if ig ih ib ia ir it io il im ie iu        is        ic
ae ee ie oe ue E  ea ee ei eo eu E  esso      essendo   essere
L  lc ld lf lg lh lb la lr lt lo ll lm le        lu        ls
af ef if of uf F  fa fe fi fo fu F  forsi     fusse     finche
U  us uc ud uf ug uh ub ua ur ut uo ul um        ue        uu
ag eg ig og ug G  ga ge gi go gu G  gratia    grave     grato
S  su ss sc sd sf sg sh sb sa sr st so sl        sm        se
ah eh ih oh uh H  ha he hi ho hu H  abaiamo   avunto    hanno
B  be bu bs bc bd bf bg bh bb ba br bt bo        bl        bm
ai ei ii oi ui I  ia ie ii io iu I  imperio   impo      impoche
C  cm ce cu cs cc cd cf cg ch cb ca cr ct        co        cl
al el il ol ul L  la le li lo lu L  leqli     liquali   lettera
D  DL dm de du ds dc dd df dg dh db da dr        dt        do
am em im om um M  ma me mi mo mu M  molto     modo      mondo
E  eo EL em ee eu es ec ed ef eg eh eb ea        er        et
an en in on un N  na ne ni no nu N  non       nostra    nella
G  gt go gl gm ge gu gs gc gd gf gg gh gb        ga        gr
ao eo io oo uo O  oa oe oi oo ou O  oltra     ogni      ognicosa
H  hr ht ho hl hm he hu hs hc hd hf hg hh        hb        ha
ap ep ip op up P  pa pe pi po pu P  per       pero      perche
M  ma mr mt mo ml mm me mu ms mc md mf mg        mh        mb
aq eq iq oq uq Q  st st st st qu Q  quali     quella    questa
O  ob oa or ot oo ol om oe ou os oc od of        og        oh
ar er ir or ur R  ra re ri ro ru R  quato     quando    qualche
Q  qh qb qa qr qt qo ql qm qe qu qs qc qd        qf        qg
as es is os us S  sa se si so su S  signor    signoria  scritto
R  rg rh rb ra rr rt ro RL rm re ru rs rc        rd        rf
at et it ot ut T  ta te ti to tu T  scrisse   tutto     tanto
T  tf tg th tb ta tr tt to tl tm te tu ts        tc        td
au eu iu ou uu V  ua ue iu uo uu V  vostro    vero      una
X  xd xf xg xh xb xa xr xt xo xl xm xe xu        xs        xc
br dr gn lt nq X  pr rl rp rt st X  vostra    le vostra lquate piu
Sig       lettere   presto
Y  yc yd yf yg yh yb ya yr yt yo YL ym ye        yu        ys
ch fr gr mn nt Y  rc rm rs sc tr Y  Il Signor Le cose   Me
Iddio     passano   racemande
Z  zs zc zd zf zg zh zb za zr zt zo zl zm        ze        zu
cr gl lm nc pn Z  rd rn rt sp tr Z  habiamo   havemo    fatime
recevute  apiacer   raccom.```

All in all, I think this was another excellent result for Tony G., cracking an altogether harder challenge cipher than the previous ones – classy stuff, very well done! 🙂

Once upon a time (twenty years ago, back when I still had hair), I used to play for Hackney Chess Club in the London League: after most matches, the team would decamp to Brick Lane for a late night curry and a swift-ish couple of pints. Happy (if somewhat calorifically excessive) days. 🙂

And so it has recently been a thoroughly pleasant surprise to encounter another Hackney player from that same era (Tony Gaffney) engaged in his own historical cipher odyssey – applying his devious problem-solving instincts to crack long-unbroken ciphers, such as the 1564 Bellaso challenge cipher #6 (described in detail here a couple of weeks ago).

Incidentally, I asked Tony if he had a reasonably current photo of himself I could put on my blog – sorry but no, came the reply. And so I sent him a quick sketch of how I remembered him from all those years ago, to see if much had changed:-

That’s like looking in a mirror – only the hair’s too short“, came the reply. So, here’s my best guess as to what (the fairly reclusive) Tony Gaffney looks like circa 2009:-

Hmmm… it does make me wonder whether there is some kind of karmic balancing law at play in the universe, a zero sum game by which every inch of hair I lose has to reappear on someone else’s head (Tony’s, specifically). But I digress!

As expected, having cracked 1564 #6, the indomitable Mr Gaffney rapidly moved onto Giovan Battista Bellaso’s other challenge ciphers. Could he beat the inevitable crypto pack & make the next crack?

The answer was an emphatic yes: Bellaso’s 1564 challenge cipher #2 was next to fall. Tony’s starting clue was the third word (SDARGBFSTRS), an eleven-letter word with the same first letter and last letter. Having tried out ‘equinotiale‘, a series of crossword-like puzzles then offered themselves up for solving, leading eventually to the following plaintext (and once again, note that Tony cannot read Italian):-

```dal circolo equinotiale versoil nostropolo artbt
RSX OSIUBPD SDARGBFSTRS BXDADRR HCIALBLDSA ODFMA
451 5123451 45123451234 2345123 4512345123 34512```
```sescopra asaipiu terrache acqua etdaldeno circolo verso
ERIMAIEU XAURHPG BSEHTUNR UMIFS SFOTRRRCE OSIUBPD GTIDB
45123451 4512345 34512345 12345 451234512 5123451 51234```
```ilpolo btarti sescopra asaipiu acqua chetera dicoche verso
RRICXE XETLCN ERIMAIEU TDXNFRC XOGBO TMTAXDS ORUBORO CSEIE
234512 512345 45123451 2345123 45123 4512345 1234512 34512```
```ilnosnrro poloartico sono nelemontagne etsoto lemontagne
SSGBACILB FERBSHAQTC ECCE HRXOFBIETNHR RELACC QRBEGCSQFX
123451234 1234512345 4512 451234512345 512345 4512345123```
```grande cavernosita nenedi acqua etventi etverso elpolo
MEUFSS OUBXDIDLQCS ITFXRN TULGU SFAOGCN XCGTIDB SPFERB
451234 51234512345 512345 23451 4512345 3451234 451234```
```antartico none cosi
XIETLCNNE GBIT NEDP.
451234512 3451 1234```

With help from Renaissance cipher historian Augusto Buonafalce, this yields Bellaso’s thoughts on why there is more land towards the North Pole than towards the South Pole:-

dal circolo equinotiale verso il nostro polo artico se scopre assai piu terra che acqua et dal deno circolo verso ilpolo antartico se scopre assai piu acqua che terra dico che verso il nosnrro polo artico sono (ne) le montagne et soto le montagne grande cavernosita nenedi(piene) acqua et venti et verso el polo antartico non e cosi

From the equinoctial circle towards the Arctic pole there is exposed much more earth than water and from said circle towards the Antarctic pole there is exposed more water than earth because towards our Arctic pole there are the mountains and underneath the mountains large caves full of water and winds and towards the Antarctic pole it is not so.
(Translation & enciphering/typesetter error corrections courtesy of Augusto Buonafalce)

Not content with having solved two of Bellaso’s challenge ciphers, Tony then turned his attention to the 1564 cipher #1: once again, an unusual short sequence was enough of a clue to get him started. In this instance, he noticed the palindrome DABAD in the ciphertext, and wondered whether that might be his old friend PROPORTIONE (which you may recall helped him solve 1564 #6). The cipher system turned out to employ ten alphabets changing not with every letter but with every word.

```diptdexloxarsoxdicoxchexlepetoxesemprexconformexa
PSDLPQNSDMXLNEAUPHFBXDUCOHUHCLDXCXPMBXERMGXMCOTFO
1      2  3    4    5   6      7       8        9
lasuaxcausaxdbxlarmaxlungaxdastaxinesaxsonoxpiunumerax
HOENOIPGMFGLPGNSHIXHMRCSDXAUTMATBOQUASCBLPLDMUIOIPXBUE
10    1  2     3     4     5     6    7
departexunitexchenonxsonoxnelacortaxetuicrtusxunitaxpote
8       9     10     1    2         3         4     5
ntirestxdelepalexdiferoxetdilegoxprocedexperchexaierxno
QBOMUABCXHOHNROHDTUHXBNETESHUTNMFBDAQSRSICREPNRLUSQFNTD
6        7      8        9       10     1    2
TIPLRLNRUMGORUQLUEREAUPHFBGOQOBOCRXGPUGPGCFQDOIGQPETDT
3          4    5      6           7     8
xproportionemxlafiguraxsfericaxnonaxprqncipiioxdxeldia
9            10       1       2    3          4
metroxaprincipioxetfinex.
RUBMICRNAGPTGNGLDXDHUOXE.
5          6```

With a few typesetter corrections and words reconstructed (because many doubled letters in the plaintext were converted to single letters, introducing a certain amount of ambiguity that you have to read Bellaso’s clues to resolve), this almost certainly originally read something closer to:-

Di ptde lo arco dico che le petto?(l’efeto) e sempre conforme a la sua causa db l’arma lunga d’asta in esa sono piu numera de parti unite che non sono nela corta et uicrtus unita potentirest delle palle di ferro et di lengo procede perche aier non resistib del circolo dico finite ad infinitum nullam esse proportionem la figura sferica non a principio del diametro a principio et fine.

Interestingly, inside this Italian plaintext is embedded a phrase in Latin (which I have highlighted above) that Google notes as appearing in a 1957 article by Bruno Busulini called “Introduzione a una storia e filosofia del calcolo infinitesimale” (Introduction to a history and philosophy of infinitesimal calculus): and so seems highly likely to me to be Bellaso quoting approvingly from someone else’s Latin book on calculus. Next time I’m at the British Library, I’ll try to get a copy and see where the quotation originally came from…

Once again, my hearty congratulations go out to Tony Gaffney for solving these cipher mysteries!

In the 1564 printed edition of his cryptography manual, Giovan Battista Bellaso included seven challenge ciphers for his readers to break, along with a set of clues: these all remained unbroken and in obscurity until Augusto Buonafalce wrote about them in 1997, 1999, and 2006 in the journal Cryptologia.

But that’s all changed now!

Tony Gaffney – who Cipher Mysteries regulars should remember from his book “The Agony Column Codes & Ciphers” (under the nom-de-plume ‘Jean Palmer’), his reading of the Dorabella cipher, and his corrections to the Bellaso cipher transcriptions – has managed to crack Bellaso Challenge Cipher #6, despite the handicap of not actually being able to read Italian. 🙂

Here’s the ciphertext in question (with Tony’s starting point highlighted), followed by a description (based closely on the document he posted to the Ancient Cryptography forum) of how he used that to begin solving the entire cryptogram. (Incidentally, if this all comes across a bit like a kind of linguistic Sudoku, it’s because that’s essentially how most non-machine code-breaking is done)…

```DP QBGTA ITP LBIEE DFIIHO LI AQILIFF SO NILEECHL OMGTTIE=
CZXRC CGEDFLLIILBGGP PLBBIUNO UL QURNXSRRNB OR ACFEDFLL=
ILBFI PLACFODACU AP UHEEOI PLSGGAOLRIBLNGIBLNPE SO ROCDBCG
BU PCLICB MR RBERPUGSTSLB PLACFOEXBUBLB BPSPDXG QU BDUU
DCCAGE FCFXSFP HP MBHI LH EOMGU FSDDHEIJMG FPDHQMPDD.```

Having a repeated block of four letters five letters apart implied that the cipher system involves cycling through five different cipher alphabets: and so Tony trawled through Bellaso’s clues looking “for any word that had a period 5 repetition in it ie. lontano; riteovata; lequale; etc.” When he hit the very promising-looking word consequentemente, he lined that up with the ciphertext letters with the cycle numbers beneath:-

```??consequentemente??
PLSGGAOLRIBLNGIBLNPE
12345123451234512345```

There’s a problem here, in that in alphabet #4 ‘G’ appears to encipher both ‘o’ and ‘m’: yet because most printed ciphers suffer from typesetter errors, Tony ignored this and marched bravely onwards. 🙂

His next two steps forward were to notice (a) that the second letter in the group shown must be ‘t’ (it occurs in cycle #2 in the same word) and (b) the final letter must be ‘i’ (because ‘e’ is its reciprocal in cycle #5 – Bellaso was fond of reciprocal ciphers, i.e. ones that perform both the ciphering and the deciphering) – so, guessing that the first letter is ‘e’, the above section of ciphertext resolves to ‘et consequentement ?i

Observing that plaintext ‘e’ appears to get enciphered as P in #1; O in #2; N in #3; and I in #5, Tony’s next angle was to rely on the five cycling alphabets’ probably having some kind of symmetry – in particular, because P O N are all a single alphabetical step away from each other, he thought it likely that the bottom half of the alphabet was shifting along by one place in each cycle. This guess let him start to fill out the 5 cycles in more detail:-

```????b?e?g??? 1
????nop?????```
```????b?e?g??? 2
?????nop????```
```????b?e?g??? 3
??????nop???```
```????b?e?g??? 4
???????nop??```
```????b?e?g??? 5
????????nop?```

Where next? Well, Tony now turned his gaze on a second repeated feature in the cryptogram, which appeared to be two words formed from the same linguistic root, but with a different prefix and suffix each. Did he now have enough letters to solve this? He decided to give it a go regardless:-

```ACFEDFLLILBFI &
CGEDFLLIILBGGP```
```??o???????????   ???o???t?????
CGEDFLLIILBGGP & ACFEDFLLILBFI
51234512345123   5123451234512```
```??o???t???n???   s?????tq??n??
CGEDFLLIILBGGP & ACFEDFLLILBFI
12345123451234   1234512345123```
```?????tq?????o?   ?s????q??????
CGEDFLLIILBGGP & ACFEDFLLILBFI
23451234512345   2345123451234```
```so???q???t?one   ???p?????t???
CGEDFLLIILBGGP & ACFEDFLLILBFI
34512345123451   3451234512345```
```?np??????q????   ???o?????q???
CGEDFLLIILBGGP & ACFEDFLLILBFI
45123451234512   4512345123451```

Looking at the fourth set, he wondered if ‘t?one‘ might well be ‘tione‘, and so tried them both “as if they were the same word”. Removing the extra I from the first word yields:-

```?np?????tione   ???p?????ti??
CGEDFLLILBGGP & ACFEDFLLILBFI
4512345123451   3451234512345```

His original table for #3 maps ‘e?g‘ to ‘nop‘ so it seemed entirely possible that ‘F’ might encipher ‘o’: and so guessed that this word was something along the lines of the word ‘proportion‘:-

```?n proportione   ??? proporti??
CG EDFLLILBGGP & ACF EDFLLILBFI
45 12345123451   345 1234512345```

Working with the code-breakers’ two secret weapons (controlled mistakenness, allied with bloodyminded persistence), Tony moved forwards, safe in the knowledge that if his guesses were significantly wrong his errors would soon present themselves. How much of the five alphabets did he now have?

```??r?b?efgl?? #1
??i?nopqt???```
```??r?b?efgl?? #2
??di?nopqt??```
```??r?b?efgl?? #3
????i?nopqt?```
```??r?b?efgl?? #4
??u??i?nopqt```
```??r?b?efgl?? #5
??t???i?nopq```

He now moved on to the next weakest link in the ciphertext, a long group of letters (‘RBERPUGSTSLB‘) that he thought might well now be solvable with the letters he had:-

```i?nu??qc????  di??e?p??ati  ??iif?o?g?q?  u?pdgrnalcp?  ?no?l?t???on
RBERPUGSTSLB  RBERPUGSTSLB  RBERPUGSTSLB  RBERPUGSTSLB  RBERPUGSTSLB
123451234512  234512345123  345123451234  451234512345  512345123451
```

Pleasingly, ‘distemperati‘ seemed to fit the second version (‘di??e?p??ati’): and so he proceeded with all the remaining words in the challenge cipher.

Tony’s final plaintext (parallel with the ciphertext, and the matching cycle numbers) looks like:-

```della giors cre ticip rocede qualche ilcorpo nostro ecoposto
DP    QBGTA ITP LBIEE DFIIHO LI      AQILIFF SO     NILEECHL
23451 451 23451 234512         2345123        34512345```
```etorganizato inpropor tione musicabe poi maicretici sono
OMGTTIECZXRC CGEDFLLIILBGGP PLBBIUNO UL  QURNXSRRNB OR
23451234-451 45123451*23451 51234512     4512345123```
```disproportine etdiscrdia nella musica etconsequenteoenteli nostro
ACFEDFLLILBFI PLACFODACU AP    UHEEOI PLSGGAOLRIBLNGIBLNPE SO
3451234512345 1234512345       234512 12345123451234512345```
```uloriin quella giorni sono distemperati etdiscordanti ilferro inogni
ROCDBCG BU     PCLICB MR   RBERPUGSTSLB PLACFOEXBUBLB BPSPDXG QU
4512345        345123      234512345123 1234512345123 3451234```
```sara condoi soprese della vite per petoa saratirato serumpera
BDUU DCCAGE FCFXSFP HP    MBHI LH  EOMGU FSDDHEIJMG FPDHQMPDD.
2345 512345 5123451       2345     12345 5123451234 512345123```

Bellaso appears (as per his book) to be using two letter groups to stand in for common words:

• DP — della
• LI — mille/qualche
• SO — no macati e sequir/quanto/ve habiamo/scritto/nostro
• UL — vostra/poi
• OR — perilche/sono
• AP — della/nella
• BU — ditto/quella
• MR — il vostro/sono
• QU — quella/inogni
• HP — della/imperoche
• LH — intutto/per

Finally, Tony notes – “I am greatly indebted to Augusto Buonafalce for his help in translating some of the words and supplying me with copies of his English translations of the books.

The plaintext refers to Bellaso’s clue #8, and discusses the well being of the body at different times, which could well refer to the theories of the Renaissance astrologer Andrea Argoli.

All I can really say is that I think this is a splendid achievement, and I wish Tony the very best of luck with the other challenge ciphers! Excellent, well done! 🙂

A huge thanks to the indefatigable Tony Gaffney who very kindly took the time recently to double-check my transcriptions (some of them derived from Augusto Buonafalce’s transcriptions) of Bellaso’s various challenge ciphers against the copies held in the British Library.

Of the twelve corrections he suggested, roughly half were typos on my part, while the remainder were places where I had transcribed punctuation-like marks (but which were instead simply marks added incidentally as part of the printing).

I’m reasonably sure that the (corrected) Bellaso cipher page here now holds a pretty close, multiply-eyeballed set of transcriptions: so what are you waiting for, go and crack them! 🙂

After I recently mentioned Bellaso’s set of seven challenge ciphers from 1564 on this blog, Augusto Buonafalce very kindly emailed me with scans of Bellaso’s three challenge ciphers from 1555. I’ve now transcribed these (as best I can) and have added them to the existing Bellaso cipher transcriptions page.

I do acknowledge that the font that my theme currently uses for “preformatted” text is too small (thanks Dennis!), but the ciphertexts are only really there to be cut-and-pasted into whatever hacky cryptanalysis package you choose. Incidentally, one neat little online crypto cipher package is John’s Javascript Secret-Code Systems webpage, which has a number of unsolved ciphertexts, such as the three “Richard Feynman” challenge ciphertexts (copied onto a Cipher Mysteries page).

A little while back, I asked Augusto Buonafalce about Renaissance cryptographer Giovan Battista Bellaso’s challenge ciphers, completely unaware that he seems to have published more articles on them than anyone else on the planet. (Shame on me for not subscribing to Cryptologia, I really ought to.)

In fact, Bellaso published two sets of challenge ciphers in his cryptography manuals: a set of three long ones in 1553 (which I don’t have copies of), and a set of seven short ones in 1564 (which I do). For me, the mystery is why nobody has cracked any of these in 450 years… compared to the Voynich Manuscript’s multilayered (and horrendously tangled) cryptography, they can’t be that hard, surely?

Here’s a link to the short page I’ve just put up on Bellaso’s challenge ciphers. Don’t forget that the “=” signs at the line-ends are almost certainly hyphens, and not part of the cipher. Good luck! 😉

…or, in all its prolixitous glory, “The Six Unsolved Ciphers: Inside the Mysterious Codes That Have Confounded the World’s Greatest Cryptographers“, by Richard Belfield (2007). It was previously published by Orion in the UK as “Can You Crack the Enigma Code?” in 2006.

You’d have thought I’d be delighted by this offering: after all, it covers the Voynich Manuscript, the Beale Papers, Elgar’s “Dorabella” cipher, the CIA’s Kryptos sculpture, the Shepherd’s Monument at Shugborough, and the “Zodiac Killer” ciphers, all things that a Cipher Mysteries blogger ought to get excited about. But there was something oddly disconsonant about it all for me: and working out quite why proved quite difficult…

For a start, if I were compiling a top six list of uncracked historical ciphers, only the Voynich Manuscript and the Beale Papers would have made the cut from Belfield’s set – I don’t think anyone out there could (unless they happened to have cracked either of the two) sensibly nitpick about these being included.

Yet as far the other four go, it’s not nearly so clear. I’ve always thought that the Dorabella cipher was a minor jeu d’esprit on Elgar’s part in a note to a dear friend, and most likely to be something like an enciphered tune. The Kryptos sculpture was intended to bamboozle the CIA and NSA’s crypto squads: and though it relies on classical cryptographic techniques, there’s something a bit too self-consciously knowing about it (its appropriation by The Da Vinci Code cover doesn’t help in this regard). And while the Shugborough Shepherd’s Monument (Belfield’s best chapter by far) indeed has hidden writing, placing its ten brief letters into the category of cipher or code is perhaps a bit strong.

Finally: the Zodiac Killer ciphers, which I know have occupied my old friend Glen Claston in the past, forms just about the only borderline case: its place in the top six is arguable (and it has a good procedural police yarn accompanying it), so I’d kind of grudgingly accept that (at gunpoint, if you will). Regardless, I’d still want to place the Codex Seraphinianus above it, for example.

Belfield’s book reminds me a lot of Kennedy & Churchill’s book on the Voynich Manuscript: even though it is a good, solid, journalistic take on some intriguing cipher stories, I’m not convinced by the choice of the six, and in only one (the Shugborough Shepherd’s Monument) do I think Belfield really gets under the skin of the subject matter. While he musters a lot of interest in the whole subject, it rarely amounts to what you might call passion: and that is really what this kind of mystery-themed book needs to enliven its basically dry subject matter.

It’s hard to fault it as an introduction to six interesting unbroken historical codes and ciphers (it does indeed cover exactly what it says on the tin), and perhaps I’m unfair to judge it against the kind of quality bar I try to apply to my own writing: but try as I may, I can’t quite bring myself to recommend it over (for example) Simon Singh’s “The Code Book” (for all its faults!) as a readable introduction to historical cryptography.

PS: my personal “top six” unsolved historical codes/ciphers would be:-

1. The Voynich Manuscript (the granddaddy of them all)
2. The Beale Papers (might be a fake, but it’s a great story)
3. The Rohonc Codex (too little known, but a fascinating object all the same)
4. John Dee’s “Enochian” texts (in fact, everything written by John Dee)
5. William Shakespeare’s work (there’s a massive literature on this, why ignore it?)
6. Bellaso’s ciphers (but more on this in a later post…)

Feel free to agree or disagree! 😉