A swaggeringly big tip of the Cipher Mysteries fedora to über-medievalist Lisa Fagin Davis (@lisafdavis) for posting this image to her Twitter feed, taken from “Black Widow & The Avengers” No.18, “in which Diablo steals the Voynich, not realizing it’s online“:


D’oh! (Sorry, wrong comic universe).

In our less-than-completely-superhero-saturated universe, however, Voynich-related interactions tend to be somewhat closer to those portrayed in A Voice For Pierre (Ep.5). *sigh* Enjoy!

Claimed (with more than a passing nod to the Voynich Manuscript) to be “the world’s most mysterious whisky”, Glenlivet Cipher – priced at £90, but also somehow “exclusive to Selfridges” at £110, don’t ask me to explain – comes in an “opaque black bottle without any cask information, age or tasting notes”.

Glenlivet Cipher

The (almost inevitable) newmedia twist is that Glenlivet have not merely given the whisky its own #TheGlenlivetCipher hashtag *sigh*, but have also produced an online Cipher Experience to guide buyers through their own tasting, to try to help them decipher (what Glenlivet’s distiller Alan Winchester considers to be) the correct set of tasting notes. They also give you some clues in the form of short videos, all accompanied by a slightly self-important-sounding string backing. Which is nice.

Thankfully, there is (as far as I can tell) no silver dolphin concealed under a certain stone by the Moray Firth to be found at the end: it’s just a bit of PR-tastic tasting fun. All Alan Winchester says is that Glenlivet Cipher has an ABV of 48% and that it’s a non-chill-filtered single malt: the rest you have to work out for yourself.

Note that Glenlivet did a broadly similar thing back in 2013 with its limited edition (only 3500 bottles) Glenlivet Alpha, which also had no tasting notes or details beyond the minimum legal requirement (though they released more details after a month, presumably when they’d sold them all). By way of contrast, Glenlivet Cipher is to be produced in a quantity of 25,000: whisky aficionados thirsty for information will doubtless have a slightly longer wait this second time around. 🙂

Anyway, given that I got my WSET Level 2 qualification a few years back, I’m planning to give the Glenlivet Cipher Experience a go (though £90/£110 will be a decent-sized chunk out of my meagre cipher bookbuying budget). Perhaps Glenlivet’s PR people will ride to my rescue here, fingers crossed. 😉

Coming soon to a town near you (if you’re in Europe), the Voynich 2014-2015 international art exhibition project. Put together by Ron Weijers and 10dence art collective from Schiedam in the Netherlands, the exhibition features works of art by twenty-five different artists, all connected by a single shared point of inspiration – the mysterious (and, dare I say it, oft-appropriated) Voynich Manuscript.

10dence gallery Voynich 2014 web

Will these plucky artists “revive debate and dialogue on the Voynich manuscript in their own specific manner”? Personally, I sincerely doubt it: to most artistic eyes, the (to-all-intents-and-purposes-utterly-asemic) Voynich Manuscript has proved as much a blank sheet of paper as, well, a blank sheet of paper. So you may just as well put together an exhibition inspired by non-green vegetables, superceded home appliances, or misplaced envy. Whatever floats your artistic boat.

All the same, I hope their foray into Voynichness stimulates them all, and perhaps even inspires some of them into exploring the razor-thin line between meaningfulness and meaninglessness which the Voynich treads in such a unique way. To me, art needs a little bit of that danger: whereas the greatest creative peril of taking on the Voynich normally lies in trying to mimic its oddly artistic liminality but falling well short. Good luck with that one, Euro art people!

Oh, and the exhibition starts in Schiedam this November (2014), and is planned to move on to other galleries during 2015.

The artists so far announced are:-
* Thorsten Dittrich – Germany
* Katerina Dramatinou – Greece
* Willem van Drunen – Netherlands
* Alex Kiefmeijer – Netherlands
* Louis Looijschelder – Netherlands
* Gerard Extra – Netherlands
* Helmut Findeiß – Germany
* Vered Gersztenkorn – Israel
* Liesbeth van Ginneken – Belgium
* Chung-Hsi Han -Netherlands
* Serhiy Savchenko – Ukraine
* Nikolaj Dielemans – Netherlands
* Karim El Seroui – Austria
* Reinhard Stammer – Germany
* Ron Weijers – Netherlands
* Mats Andersson – Sweden
* Efrat Zehavi – Netherlands
* Beppo Zuccheri – Italy
* Arturo Pacheco Lugo – Mexico
* Rudi Benétik – Austria
* Zuzana Kaliňaková – Slovakia
* Herman Gvardjančič – Slovenia
* Željko Mucko – Croatia
* Klementina Golija – Slovenia
* Ulrich Plieschnig – Austria

Amager Bryghus (that’s the brewery) has just announced “Somerton Man’s Last Drink” which, as an 8.2% ABV wheat lager, may well be enough to make anyone with an enlarged spleen drop dead on the spot, whether or not their clothes have labels. They say (tongue firmly in cheek):-

56 years after he was found dead on Somerton Beach in Adelaide, Australia, no one knows who the Somerton Man was or what he died of. A case wrapped in so many layers of mystery that no one has yet been able to penetrate to its core.

However, a thorough post-mortem examination was performed. In fact, SO thorough that it could be inferred that, just hours before his death, the Somerton Man had eaten a meat pie and drank at least two schooners of beer. Via several questionable detours, we here at Amager Bryghus got hold of his autopsy report, from which our master brewers managed to reconstruct the last beer that the Somerton Man drank on this earth. Our hope is that when drinking this rich and powerful wheat beer, you will also be possible to achieve a high level of creative intoxication – and who knows, maybe solve this 56 year-old murder mystery.

Ingredients: Water. Malt: Pilsner, Wheat. Hops: Amarillo, Centennial, Chinook. Yeast: Warehouse.

Of course, all of this is what they would like to be true, rather than what was actually true. The Somerton Man would have had to knock back far more than two schooners of beer before 6pm closing time for them still to be noticeable, given that his estimated time of death was more than six hours later. And it was lumps of potato that was noticed in his stomach (so a pastie rather than a meat pie).

But honestly, none of that bothers me one jot. The Amager people get a double thumbs-up from Cipher Mysteries for even considering the idea, let alone faking up a back story. You’re totally rock and roll, you funky drunk Danes, you!

Incidentally, my favourite barley-wine-ish strong UK beer is Robinson’s “Old Tom”: which I only mention because Robinsons also released a 4.3% golden bitter called “Enigma”, which is about as close to marrying beer and ciphers as I’d seen before.

But now I’ve seen Amager Bryghus’s effort, I’ve gone looking for other cipher-related beers, and found the Telegraph Brewing Company’s 4.0% “Cipher Key Session Ale”, about which they say “Our Cipher Key Session Ale cracks that code with hefty additions of Cascade hops (etc)”… but they would, wouldn’t they?

Yet so far I’ve only found one cipher beer with an actual cipher, and that is from the Half Acre Beer Company of Chicago, IL. It’s called “Cipher” (well, duh), and here is its label:-


Can you solve this? More importantly, can you solve it without printing it out and cutting it up into pieces? Enjoy!

PS: are there any other cipher-related beers I should know about? %^,

A few weeks ago, web comic artist Andy Warner emailed to ask if he could bounce some questions about the Voynich Manuscript off me.

Perhaps because many of the answers I gave him were short enough to fit into speech bubbles, Andy’s Voynich article ended up being largely about me and William Friedman and Marcello Montemurro (excellent company to keep).


Doubtless this will ruffle a whole load of Voynichian feathers, but there you go. Enjoy! 🙂

Over the last few days here at Cipher Mysteries, I’ve had all kinds of ups and downs with the website, mainly to do with excessive levels of spam (which triggered account suspensions, etc). Anyway, I’ve now turned all the security dials to 12 (Spinal Tap must have got it wrong, because 11 apparently wasn’t high enough) and have added yet more Heath-Robinson bodgery to the webmaster scripts and configurations: fingers crossed it will make a positive difference. And I’ve finally got outgoing mails working again (how annoying was that?!), *sigh*

Regardless, it’s spring cleaning time: that is, time to clear out my short term collection of Voynich cultural mini-links, some of which you might even like. Arty Voynich appropriators first:-

‘Modestly’ (Anne Corr) is offering a 32-page hand-made book comprising images from the Voynich Manuscript. She says:-

There are eight folded pages each with four illustrations printed onto a lovely textured watercolour paper chosen for its excellence in print quality and longevity. I have used a coptic stitch with a faux leather cover, finished with a faux leather tie. It certainly gives the impression of a medieval book.

I hope she’s talking about her own book: as if we haven’t got enough trouble with Voynich theorists who similarly claim that the Voynich itself “gives the impression of a medieval book.” *shakes head, sighs*

Rather less obviously crafty is New Zealander Baron’s Selection, who (virtually) offers T-shirts via Zazzle themed around “Philosophy, Politics, general ‘intellectual’ stuff.” One is called Voynich #1 T-Shirt (f67r1), and the other Voynich #2 T-shirt (Scorpio).

Incidentally, I once won a big box of promo T-Shirts for suggesting that the right question for the answer “Above a grocer’s shop in Grantham” was “What was the setting for Ben Elton’s ‘Inferno’?” All of which was a very long time ago indeed, however you try to slice that particular gala pie.

And now we move on to Voynichian musicians.

Melbourne music producer Andrei Eremin has recently put out a track called Voynich Manoeuvre. I actually quite like it, but it has got a certain 9pm-in-a-Shoreditch-restaurant vibe to it that’s hard not to notice: music to drink overpriced urban cocktails to. But perhaps that’s the point, I don’t know.

Anyway, Arcadia Studios TV has a YouTube interview with Nelson Rebelo of rocking Portuguese underground band The Voynich Code to promote their debut single ‘Antithesis’: here’s the official video for it. The guitar lick at about 4:19 is quite cool, though the whole band then goes into a sequence where they all look they’re playing air guitar, even though most of them are holding guitars. Which is a bit odd.

All the same, my son points out (correctly, it has to be said) that Antithesis is hard to distinguish from the awesomely dark the Lego Movie Batman song, though The Voynich Code’s version possibly still gets the vote (by a whisker). But feel free to make up your own mind, pop pickers! And that’s just the first verse… 😉

Finally: some proper Voynichian miscellany.

Was the (15th century) Voynich Manuscript written in the (1987-vintage) conlang Lojban, perhaps through some kind of trickery involving Leonardo da Vinci and time travel? You know the answer already (I can only hope), but though this April Fool’s Day paper was inspired both by Talbert and Tucker and by Stephen Bax, the way it deciphers “penis” and “darseBar” surely combines technical correctness with historical mastery in a way that the preceding three authors can only dream of emulating in the future. Enjoy!

Jeffrey Rowland’s “Overcompensating” web comic has just run a short story about the Voynich Manuscript, with the author’s surprisingly reasonable premise being that “I’m sick of them not figuring out what the Voynich Manuscript means! I guess we’ll have to figure it out ourselves.


How foolish of us all, it could only ever have been a manual for building a God 2.0! Perhaps J.J. really has nailed it, who can tell? 😉

Online webcomic “What Don’t You Understand” by Hong Jac Ga (“A pretty strange story about a hitman, a hermit writer, and a boy who loses his memory”, translated by Rachel Ahn) has recently put up a nice Voynich-inspired episode (#24 here).


It’s not often you have a story with a talking cat and dog trying to train a somewhat unwilling young dark magician: for the purposes of the narrative, the Voynich Manuscript is a kind of repository of impressions, able only to be ‘read’ (or rather ‘sensed’) by someone able to tune in to the original magician’s wavelength.

And I can affirm that there are plenty of people in the real world who truly believe that they can read the Voynich Manuscript in precisely this way, i.e. purely by affinity and/or sense. So perhaps the modern world is just as magical / irrational as it ever was, lurking beneath what is no more than a thin veneer of 21st century logico-positivist supposed hyper-rationality.

Then again, maybe dogs and cats will indeed converse enigmatically long before anyone has cracked the Voynich Manuscript in this kind of way. 😉

It’s been so hellishly busy here, what with my pirate treasure map talk and numerous real life issues to deal with *sigh*, that the list of Cipher Mysteries posts I need to write is now about thirty entries long. I’ll try and clear this over the coming months… but please bear with me as I do, ’cause I’m only ‘uman, geez. 🙂

Anyway, #1 on my list is a review of “An Anthology of Asemic Writing”, edited by Tim Gaze and Michael Jacobson (Uitgeverij, 15 euros). (You may remember my 2010 review of Michael Jacobson’s asemic “Action Figures” and “The Giant’s Fence”.)

The present anthology’s structure is of a long sequence of single-sheet images of asemic writing, arranged alphabetically by author’s surname (Reed Altemus, Miekal And, Rosaire Appel, etc). There’s a surprising range of categories represented: some are obviously inspired by Arabic, Chinese, or Japanese calligraphy, while others come across more as works of art with vaguely language-like scrawls (closer to an edgy kind of linguistic madness) or just scribbles.

In many ways, I’d say, the way the book ended up is more of a ‘showcase’ than an ‘anthology’. With my own book editor hat one, I’d have preferred the pages to have been grouped thematically or stylistically rather than alphabetically. Basically, it’s always going to be tough on “readers” (“observers”?) to jump from Hélène Smith’s Martian to Lin Tarczynski’s brutal black and white forms, and I found such sharp page-to-page contrasts more annoying than enlightening.

For me, Michael Jacobson’s “The Giant’s Fence” still remains a properly asemic work, in that it actively plays with our expectations of form and content, while not taking itself too seriously. Many of the artists and creators highlighted in this work seem far too deadpan and only peripherally asemic for my personal taste: but perhaps that’s the many-headed nature of asemicism (?) – perhaps the best to be expected from this book, then, would be that everyone will get flashes of different things from it, while fast-forwarding past the remainder.

As with asemic writing in general, make of it what you will! 😉

Let’s imagine you had two fairly unhealthy (but specific) obsessions: (1) retro jars, bottles and containers, and (2) the Voynich Manuscript. When added together, might these two wrongs somehow make a right?

If that just happens to be a question you have long pondered, then I’m pleased to be able to tell you that your wait is over! The free electronic book Glossodahlia by Tarek Joseph Chemaly, and pulished by 7UPstairs Publishing surely places this whole contentious issue beyond discussion. Tarek writes:-

The Voynich manuscript has been decoded. Its flowers have given up their secret. They speak in tongues – glossolalia. And they tell stories of brokenhearted cosmic lovers and of a retired intergalactic bureaucrat as she tends to her garden once baking is done.

With my Voynich researcher hat on, I’d point out this whole thing feels like a collage scraped from the Beinecke’s old “CopyFlo” images. Also, not all the pages are plants (a couple of pharma jars have crept in as well), and tiny scraps of Voynichese pepper the edges of the collaged images, like hardy barnacles clinging to curiously shaped ships.

Anyway, make of it what you will. 🙂