So there’s this book, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, sells like hotcakes, yadda yadda. I can’t stand it. It’s just too dumb.
For instance, you’ve got this French scholar dying of a gunshot wound. He has an important secret he wants to convey to his granddaughter. She’s a professional cryptographer. They’re both into complex word puzzles.
What does he leave her? Anagrams. In English, not French, so Dan Brown’s readers can figure them out and feel clever.
The anagrams are OH LAME SAINT, O DRACONIAN DEVIL, and SO DARK THE CON OF MAN. The characters figure out that these are anagrams of THE MONA LISA, LEONARDO DA VINCI, and THE MADONNA OF THE ROCKS.
That’s harder than you might imagine. If they’d made the obvious assumption that a dying man whose primary language was French would make up French anagrams for his French-speaking granddaughter, they could have wound up deciding that O DRACONIAN DEVIL meant something like ACE DINDON LAVOIR, meaning “swell turkey launderette,” which would have thrown the plot for a loop.
Know why you don’t use anagrams to encrypt messages? Consider the clue OH LAME SAINT. If you know it’s an anagram, and you know the original message was in English, the messages you can derive from rearranging its letters include Anaheim slots, Ashmolean IT, sloth amnesia, seaman litho, Althea Simon, Eliot Ashman, Athena’s moil, Thalia’s omen, Hi to Ameslan, Anatole Shim, silent Omaha, and heal a Monist. If you already know enough context to be sure that none of those are legitimate interpretations, you hardly needed a clue to start with.
O DRACONIAN DEVIL could prompt you to investigate the Laodicean Dr. Vino, or Arcade VII, London, or odd Alicia Vernon, who may have loved ocarina din and divine canal odor. Alternately, it could be a cryptic instruction to void one cardinal.
SO DARK THE CON OF MAN is my favorite; i.e., it’s the dumbest and unlikeliest anagram, and it gives the most ridiculous results: fathead conks moron, smooth naked Franco, Madonna’s Coke froth, hacker moons fantod, fetch Dakar monsoon, Fords choke Montana, Anton faked chromos, fresh Dakota noncom, Honda stock foreman, and conform, naked shoat!
Don’t even get me started on the business with the Fibonacci sequence. This book is full of seriously bad cryptography.
For more fun with anagrammed names, you might want to look up Dead Kitchen Radio, a thing I did years ago on GEnie in which every line, including the title, is an anagram of “Keith R. A. DeCandido.” If what you want is an anagram generator, I recommend the Internet Anagram Server, a.k.a. I, Rearrangement Servant.Addendum: Lloyd Burchill, in the comment thread, pointed out a charmingly sharp-tongued piece by Geoffrey K. Pullum in Language Log: Renowned author Dan Brown staggered through his formulaic opening sentence.
And he can back it up, too.
The simple fact is that if you are ever mentioned on page 1 of a Dan Brown novel you will be mentioned with an anarthrous occupational nominal premodifier (“Renowned linguist Geoff Pullum staggered across the savage splendor of the forsaken Santa Cruz campus, struggling to remove the knife plunged unnaturally into his back by a barbarous millionaire novelist”), and you will have died a painful and horrible death by page 2, along with several curiously ill-chosen clichï¿½s and mangled idioms.
*An anagram of “The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown.” A guy named Lawrence Alexander worked that one out by hand.