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March 3, 2008

Can you read this?
Posted by Teresa at 09:51 PM *

It’s the niftiest puzzle I’ve seen in an age. If you don’t want to decrypt it using normal methods, you can do the whole thing on patterns.

For instance, gur svefg yvar bs gur svefg fgnamn fgnegf jvgu n fubeg punenpgre fgevat gung ercrngf guerr gvzrf. So does gur frpbaq yvar bs gur frpbaq fgnamn, ohg vg’f n qvssrerag punenpgre fgevat.

Also, yvarf 2 naq 4 va gur svefg fgnamn ner vqragvpny. They repeat va gur fnzr cbfvgvbaf va gur guveq naq svsgu fgnamn, and gur svsgu fgnamn pbafvfgf fbyryl bs gubfr ercrngrq yvarf cyhf bar bgure flyynoyr.

Comments on Can you read this?:
#1 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2008, 10:21 PM:

Unfortunately, when I opened it up, I saw the first comment which included a correct guess.

Could you remove the #cutid1 from the URL?

Possibly append ?mode=reply to the URL to hide all comments from view.

But the Queen flow chart is neat. Thanks for pointing out the community.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2008, 10:28 PM:

All done as you suggest.

Linking to the Queen flowchart was Patrick's doing. He got me going on these things.

#3 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2008, 10:31 PM:

Got it! Unfortunately, I had only gotten as far as svkngvat ba gur
yvggyr ercrngvat jbeq va gur ynfg irefr -- yn? on? -- jura V abgvprq
gur gnt, "Enzbarf," ba gur ragel. That was all I needed to make the
leap. I feel sorta cheated. Or like I sorta cheated. One of those.

But I got to learn about gur Funivna nycunorg! Groovy.

#4 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2008, 10:32 PM:

I recognized the phonetic writing system immediately— I've been
putting off getting a tattoo for two years now written in that system
using a font I designed— and I know all the words to the song by heart.

By the way, there are several free fonts you can
download from various sources. Sadly, the last time I tried to post to
MakingLight with one of them, the Movable Type system decided it didn't
like the extended Unicode characters.

#5 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2008, 10:38 PM:

I looked at it for a while, saw the patterns, scratched my head, and
nothing clicked. Then I scrolled down and encountered that first
comment. ={Light Bulb Moment}= It turns out there's a very good reason I couldn't get it -- I've never heard the song.

I googled the lyrics, but... well... I suppose it must have a catchy tune.

#6 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2008, 10:51 PM:

And the tag for the post is a clue.

#7 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2008, 10:52 PM:

I'm trying to figure out the world in which Sylvia Li lives, and
whether it would be worth visiting for a period of time. Scarily, I
suspect it might be.

(Of course, my instinct on glancing was "Doo-Wah Diddy," which I
consider precursive to the solution, but which is such a bad clue it's
probably not giving anything away.)

#8 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2008, 10:57 PM:

I've never heard the song, but I could read the words. I've seen the Funivna nycunorg before

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2008, 11:07 PM:

Sylvia, judge for yourself.

Avram, if there's a way to turn off tags, I must have done it.

#10 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2008, 11:15 PM:

I am going to have that song stuck in my head for the rest of the
night. (It took glancing at the second-to-last stanza to get it, and
realizing how the writing system worked.)

#11 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2008, 11:18 PM:

I didn't get the song, but I did recognize the Funivna nycunorg right away. I can't read it, but I recognize it.

Good song. Not one of the artist's best, but good nonetheless.

#12 ::: c. ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2008, 11:32 PM:

all welcome for the Queen flowchart (wire_mother = me). i didn't create
it, and it was pointed out to me by others, but i figured that was a
good place to put it.

#13 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2008, 11:57 PM:

Put me on the same planet as Sylvia Li. I just never liked that
group, and didn't listen to their music. From the patterns, however, I did recognize the song, from the rockabilly cover by Two Tons of Steel. I could only find this long, boozy clip. The song starts about a minute in. The recorded version is much, much faster.

#14 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 01:18 AM:

I didn't get it. Was never good at this sort of thing. Oh well, glad someone is.

#15 ::: Zeborah ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 01:37 AM:

What are 'normal methods' except patterns? Maybe I just have a broad definition of patterns, to include letter-counting in it.

I've never seen either song or writing system before. I started off
looking at the broader patterns because if something in those makes
one's brain click then it's easy to verify; when that didn't work I
looked at the one-letter words and thought approximately, "That's too
many. Yet this is bound to be English. ...I can't be bothered counting letters, I'll cheat."

In retrospect, counting letters doesn't work all that well with
something this short: working from the answer, eliminating the
blatantly repeated phrases, and counting the etaoins letters, which is
all I can
remember of the standard English order, I get a frequency order of
approximately otneasi - the last three trailing behind significantly -
which would have put me at least right off the trail.

I like the concept of deciphering, but I lack the patience to
actually do it myself. Fortunately cheating is the oldest standard
method in the book.

#16 ::: Gursky ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 02:10 AM:

You know its a good puzzle when squinting actually helps.

#17 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 05:18 AM:

There's a big reason why conventional cryptanalysis doesn't work well. Go read
Shelock Holmes, and the Dancing Men story. It's a pretty decent
description of the process. (Though there are a couple of errors in the

But there are only so many single-character words in English, and
the single-character words in the puzzle just don't make sense when you see how the characters are used in other words.

So it's a cipher that can't be cracked with the frequency tables of standard English text. But it's no more secure than a cipher in French or Latin.

Anyway, Sherlock Holmes hadn't enough text to get anything from
frequency analysis. He had to look for patterns. But it's still a
simple substitution cipher.

(The Playfair cipher, which Lord Peter and Harriet crack, is more
difficult because it works on letter pairs. But it is manipulated by
the author to be crackable--words such as "Warsaw" can leave a distinctive clue, if they fit the digraph boundaries.)

#18 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 06:06 AM:

I'd never heard the song either, or (so far as I know) anything else by the Ramones.

#19 ::: Scott Martens ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 06:43 AM:

Oh dear. I recognized the alphabet instantly. But that is my
specialty. And I'm laughing my ass off at seeing one of my favourite
songs from my distant and misspent youth chosen as the text. I've got
it on my iPod right now.

#20 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 07:54 AM:

David@18, The Ramones were interesting enough to be in the BBC's recent (and good) Seven Ages of Rock series.

digging down into the site, it says The Ramones was an American rock band often regarded as the first punk rock group.

The bit I remember from the series was they were talking with the
members of the band and they said they looked at the music around them
and saw stuff like Jimi Hendrix that would take years of guitar
practice to achieve and said they wanted to make music that anyone
could play.

The descriptor for their first album is "14 songs under 3 minutes, and every one a classic."

The series was really interesting. It tried to show all the
different, big rock bands in context of each other and how they
influenced each other in one way or another. And it had a lot of
interview bits of the artists from the time periods in question.

I don't know what the music experts think about the series, but a guy like little ol' me liked it.

#21 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 08:33 AM:

One thing I love about the Ramones is that they said they wanted to
sound like the girl groups of the early 60s, but faster. And they did.
And yeah, according to me at least they invented punk, onstage at the
Performance Studio on March 30, 1974.

They're also one of several artists (also including Leonard Cohen
and John Lennon) whom Phil Spector supposedly forced to do things they
didn't want to in the studio at gunpoint. I don't know if it's true
about any of them, but it's a good story anyway.

#22 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 08:37 AM:

I've never broken a single-letter-substitution encryption by counting letters. In the easiest cases, you look for a three-letter word that's behaving like the.
Figure out which letters it corresponds to, and write in T, H, and E
wherever else they occur. That should turn up some obvious character
strings like TH-T and THE-. That will give you A and N. Fill those in too. Keep looking for words that have become obvious.

If you've got a recurring three-letter word that doesn't behave like THE, see whether it's YOU.

#23 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 08:52 AM:

Ugh. Now I feel like V arrq gb or frqngrq. I tried a frequency count, and felt the first tremble of insanity as I reached 26 characters--and it kept going.
I right now have a piece of paper with "38!!!!!" scribbled on it. That,
plus the five different lone characters, made me feel like a
lobotomized freshman.

I guess I'll go take out my frustration on my irritating younger
sibling.* It's either that or start howling at the moon. If that
happens, don't hesitate to give me shock treatment. But not too much--I
want to live through my psych therapy. You'll know the right amount, I'm sure. That's what I like about you.

*Hey, it's not my fault! What am I supposed to do with a brat like that?

#24 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 09:58 AM:

Since I'm not familiar with the group, the song, or the writing system, I'm glad I gave up quickly and read the replies.

#25 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 10:24 AM:

I kept at it for a while (rotating and flipping the graphic to see if that helped), then read the thread. If it had been a song I knew, well, maybe...

#26 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 10:36 AM:

My world?

It's a world in which, while growing up, I actively didn't like
Elvis, and was vastly underimpressed by most of the top 50 songs of
that era. I was a bit older than the true Beatlemania generation, so,
at the time, they were no more than a weird curiosity to me. (I've
since come to appreciate their musicianship, but at the time I couldn't
get past the still-strong resemblance to all that music I hadn't liked.)

I happily had no contact at all with popular music in the 1970s, and
very little in the 80s until my young-teen daughter went nuts over
Duran Duran, and my son started listening to a lot of Queen. (That's
not all I heard, starting then, but it'll give you
the genres.) Then my son got into hand drumming and bass guitar, which
mostly led me into an appreciation of world-beat alternative music, the
kind you'll
hear at a con's music circle. If I heard of the Ramones at all, I
connected them vaguely with a revival of the kind of pop music I'd
disliked when I was fifteen.

It helped, I suppose, that I got bored with TV (except for nightly newscasts) around the mid-70s.

#27 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 11:07 AM:

Folks looking for a good timewaster along these lines ought to check out the alternative writing systems page at Omniglot.Com.

#28 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 11:46 AM:

Re#22, as a teen, I was addicted to GAMES Magazine's puzzles, and
could even solve some of the cryptograms where they eliminated

I'm woefully out of practice, but still remember a few tips.

Generally speaking, one-letter words are A or I.

The top 3-letter words I look for are THE and AND.

But usually the first pattern I look for is THAT. Relatively common,
easy-to-spot, and a great key to unlocking other words by revealing the

#29 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 11:48 AM:

Add me to the list of people who had never heard of the song.

#30 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 01:11 PM:

22: counting letters is good if your opponent hasn't put in any word breaks - or if you're trying to break a Vigenere cipher (you will need: LOTS of ciphertext and a few fortuitous repetitions).

(minor spoiler)

I always liked the cryptanalysis bit in "Enigma" where the analyst comes up with a plaintext of


and assumes he's done something wrong, when in fact it's a list of Polish names:

Hruk, B; Ptak, F; Dzenajewicz, K...

#32 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 02:10 PM:

I'd never heard of the song.

#33 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 02:17 PM:

Greg @ #20, glancing at the tag cloud at the BBC site, I have to
wonder how comprehensive it is. U2 gets more mention than The Beatles?
Bob Dylan is barely mentioned? The Yardbirds are bigger than The Who?

I know, everyone's a critic, but I was a big music buyer back then, and I feel like I know a little about it.

#34 ::: Spacetime for Springers ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 03:18 PM:

Frankly, no. I don't even get to the decoding stage, as the text size is so small that it's too much of a struggle to read. It's made me realise that I normally read this site on partial guesswork and finally delurk to ask why you have set the site up so I can't alter the text size on screen.

#35 ::: Spacetime for Springers ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 03:20 PM:

And then and only then I finally notice the sidebar that lets me alter text size. That's the last time I delurk anywhere.

#36 ::: Zeborah ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 05:54 PM:

My favourite text on cryptography is "The Code Book" by Simon Singh. Okay, it's the only book on cryptography I've read since the little Usborne books on pig-pen code etc when I was a kid. But I did devour it; it was beautifully readable.

If anyone's looking for a real challenge, try deciphering the Voynich manuscript.(1)

(1) May or may not involve Roger Bacon, sunflowers and capsicums,
Manchu, glossolalia and/or various other fascinatingly far-fetched

#37 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 06:12 PM:

But Spacetime, if I may call you that, when you delurked (uncloaked?) you got a positive result! You found what you wanted to.

OK, there was some embarrassment involved, but sheesh, that's
probably almost a requirement of getting involved. I suspect there
would hardly be any one of us who've commented here who hasn't spent
some time picking shoe-leather from between our teeth, or at the very
least felt a hot flush of 'oopsie' at something only we ourselves

History: The threads dealing with adding the font size change function (hello Dori Smith) are back around August 2006, e.g., Typography and Its Discontents, and Hard-won convenience.
(The Fluorosphere Picnic Grounds pictured there is one of those places
I'd like to visit if I ever travel to the North American continent.)

#38 ::: Eleanor ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 07:23 PM:

I got far enough to work out that it wasn't any kind of alphabetic
substitution and that the repetition pattern of the song didn't ring
any bells. Then I peeked at the word "Funivna" on this page, which led
me to the solution. I don't know the song and I've never seen the
alphabet before. Interestingly though, it's got a lot in common with
the code I used to write my diary in as a teenager, except that my code
had a lot more abbreviations.

#39 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 10:00 PM:

Zeborah @ 36: I love the Codebook! It's quite excellent, and I
especially enjoyed the appendices, with examples of actual coded
messages for the reader to decipher.

#40 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 10:00 PM:


To save Teresa the trouble ofl telling yet another ignorant person this:

Try hitting the "command" and "+" keys at the same time. On most
websites this works three times, enlarging the text font two points (I
think) with each repetition. (On ill-designed sites this may make for
unpleasant formatting problems, but maybe we can blame it on Microsoft.)

I've been grateful to Teresa at least four times a day since she
described this technique (which, I suppose, is too basic for most of
The Experts who write computer books to even mention), though I expect
the frequency will decrease in about six weeks when I get computer
glasses adjusted to the new, unclouded-by-cataract, plastic lens that
was implanted yesterday.

#41 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 10:58 PM:

Hello Spacetime! Do you by any chance write poetry? Or make puns?

#42 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2008, 11:22 PM:

I recognized the song, but what is the alphabet?

Is it shorthand or something?

#43 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2008, 01:46 AM:

And as long as we're discussing songs, look here to find the number one song on your birthday, or other historic dates.

#44 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2008, 03:43 AM:

Cryptogram fans should know that Cliff "The Fool's Errand" Johnson's web site has a daily one using quotes from The Devil's Dictionary. Usually they're pretty easy, because most of them start with "The ... is", which gets you a bunch of common letters.

#45 ::: Matthew B. ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2008, 10:22 AM:

Got the song right away -- the final verse was a give-away -- and
felt like a genius for about a minute, until I found out what the
alphabet was. I once read an entire book in that alphabet, and I didn't recognise it at all.

#46 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2008, 12:53 PM:

Until I turn 18, the list of songs I like which are on that list, is pretty good. After that, "the kids today".

#47 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2008, 06:05 PM:

Marilee #43: Ugh, mine is "Chariots of Fire".

#48 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2008, 11:53 PM:

Terry, I was okay for about 30 years, but the last twenty? I didn't even know most of the artists.

ethan, maybe you're destined to ride the Sun!

#49 ::: Leslie in CA ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2008, 11:21 AM:

I'd heard of the song, and had heard it, or parts of it, at least
once (thanks for the YouTube, Teresa), but never would have gotten it.

#50 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2008, 06:48 PM:

I kept the dratted window open for... until now. And then I caved because there was a chance I'd never get it and I wanted to read the comments here.

That's one of my favorite songs to play on Guitar Hero. Other than
that, eh. There wasn't anything I could hook onto except the obvious
patterns, and they didn't help. I just don't know the source well
enough to flash-of-inspiration my way through.

One of my roommates in college created an alphabet with her
siblings. She taught it to friends and was often a bit put out that
they required a *key* for it. I never tried to write in it; it had a
great many subtle characters and my handwriting doesn't do subtlety
with any regularity. The alphabet is still evolving as she adds the
sounds she needs for non-English languages.

And here I thought I was cool with knowing random bits of IPA!

#51 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2008, 06:59 PM:

Marilee, yeah, we both lose the thread at about the same place, a few years of crap, followed by stuff I've never heard of.

#52 ::: Robert N Stephenson ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2008, 08:17 PM:

Okay, I'm coming in late, I'm new here and definitely not sure of
myself. Yep, the YouTube expressions are pretty interesting, but as an
Australian, and perhaps most Australian we see this whole election
thing you
guys have going as a popularity contest like American Idol. Obama
definitely has more money than Clinton, he's shown me that much, he is
popular and would win a phone in, but is he the one? The last POPULAR
US President nearly started a nuclear war and got himself assassinated.
Smart is good - Clinton is one smart cooky, smarter than all the men
chomping at the 'I am God' bit.

Sorry this was about YouTube, and the fun being had - it just
concerns me a little that popular vs capable is the key point in a US

#53 ::: Robert N Stephenson ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2008, 08:21 PM:

oops, wrong thread - sorry peoples, and T, haven't got my glasses on.

#54 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 12:30 PM:

Walked the plank, now in Davy Jones' locker making his textbooks smell like canned meat.

Thanks, Mary Aileen.

#55 ::: Vicki sees comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2008, 03:33 PM:

The most recent thing here is spam: a few coherent words, then a mix of links and nonwords.

#56 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2008, 05:10 PM:

We've had john and joseph--I wonder if jingleheimer is next!

#57 ::: TexAnne can read spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2008, 05:12 PM:

Drat it. I don't know where my clever placeholder name went on my previous post!

#58 ::: adult ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2008, 07:10 PM:

[ Spam deleted ]

#59 ::: I see spam here by "adult" - Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2008, 07:15 PM:

for patent medicines

#60 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2008, 07:31 PM:

[ Spam deleted ]

#61 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2008, 07:31 PM:

[ Spam deleted ]

#64 ::: Terry is sick of seeing spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2008, 11:38 PM:

Drugs, drugs and more drugs.

Does this even work (rel =nofollow and all)?

#67 ::: Raphael sees an enourmous amount of spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2008, 04:53 AM:

Why so much so fast all in the same thread?

#68 ::: Vicki sees more spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2008, 08:47 AM:

I note that the last three all have the same main URL as the person's ID; would it be feasible to block anything claiming to be at that URL?

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