Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Bauer, Unsolved!

Sometimes I think I’m preparing for my reincarnation as a massively successful hedge fund manager, along the lines of Jim Simons. Thus my interest in code breaking.

In tackling Craig P. Bauer’s Unsolved! (Princeton University Press, 2017) I’m starting at the top, with ciphers that have resisted all attempts to crack them. Bauer does mix in a few ciphers that have solutions (which he helpfully provides) to shed light on those that remain unsolved.

Some of the unsolved ciphers come from the ancient world, but one of the more intriguing is the handiwork of Edward Elgar, the British composer. One of his Enigma Variations was a musical representation of a daughter of a close friend of his wife, whom he called Dorabella. It was in a letter to Dora that Elgar wrote the following squiggly cipher:

These squiggles were, it seems, a variation of the way he signed his own initials:

But the encoded message to Dora remains a mystery.

Then there were the so-called killer ciphers. For instance, the Zodiac killer, who went on a killing spree in 1968 and 1969, sent ciphers to newspapers. Some of these ciphers were solved, but one remains unsolved. The Zodiac killer’s identity was never discovered, and he was never apprehended.

Bauer’s lengthy book offers a panoply of ciphers ripe for the solving. Alas, I made no progress at solving any of them. I have the feeling I’m going to “come back” as a lowly ant.