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Madness, pleading and exploding brains

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The email traffic regarding our Codebreaker competition has kept all at Vulture Central amused during the dark days of winter.

First up, a nod to Staffan Ulfberg, Lars Ivansson and Fredrik Almgren. All three cracked the code and got it into Spanish. However, they failed to read the rules and provide the English. With hearts harder than a Viagra tester's loins, we rejected their entries.

Some of you were almost there. Davey cleverly spotted a clue, but failed to follow it up: "Is it a famous poem, song or nursery rhyme, shakesphere [sic] verse? It's because the first 40 something and last 4- something characters are the same, only verses of some sort would do this if it was a substitution."

Visitor was closer than he or she thought, but went off into a rant instead of getting on with the job in hand: "For your information (and to stand up for what is right, in a world full of wrongs - bloody journalists. I'm one of them so I know your dirty tricks), it's no wonder many of the people who have taken on your challenge have been having difficulties...

"A frequency analysis of the letters in your cipher text lends very little to the untrained crack, and do you know why? Because they're being asked to analyse a puny 346 characters! - This is hard under normal circumstances, but in Spanish even more so.

"The standard frequency table for Spanish is: E A O S R N I D L etc. But in smaller texts, any one of the letters is likely to show a higher frequency than any other.

"The only thing that really leads them to Spanish is the average word length of 5 (okay, it's actually closer to 4.9-something). I hope you feel severely bollocked." Funnily enough we didn't.

Andrew Pitt went off the rails, despite our Spanish clue: "Well after some more substitution I have come to the firm conclusion the sentence cannot be in Spanish because its simply unpronounceable in whichever combination used. This leads back to my original idea, it's a Vigenère cipher and the key is in Spanish? … in which case, you're having a laugh! It's hard enough to determine a key of that length in English, let alone Spanish. I think this a fiendish plan to make sure the vulture keeps its mitts on those free books blagged from the publishers." A scurrilous insinuation, young man.

Others got it into their heads that the whole thing was an elaborate hoax. Paul Beech sent back the encrypted text, noting: "We can spot someone typing randomly on their keyboard anywhere!" Robert Baylis insisted: "It means nothing. Do I win?" No Bob, you don't.

Geoff expounded the theory that "We're dealing with an advance algorithm that's taken shit all and expanded it to 346 characters. What's sad is that you can do the same thing when pissed and patent it as a process." Quite.

As time went on, the pressure started to show. Sean Fowler spoke for many: "I think I might know why no-one can get this: 1) It looks like the spaces have been removed (rather than replaced by a letter). Well that's just plain nasty, it'd be a hell of a lot easier with them in (which is presumably why they were taken out. Like I said, very nasty).

2) There isn't really enough of it to do a meaningful analysis of the frequency of occurrence of each letter. I suspect that Bletchley Park would have had quite a lot of encoded text to work with.

3) Not many of us speak Spanish (haven't a bloody clue what that clue was about).

4) A book? I'm supposed to spend ages on this for a poxy book? :)"

Brian Brown chipped in with: "Just a quick thought: Perhaps you would get better results if the competition was in English. I started trying to break the code and was getting nowhere. Then I read your hint that it was in Spanish. I tried again for a little bit but got really annoyed at having to cross-reference everything through a Spanish-English dictionary.

"The guys at Bletchley Park at least started out knowing what language the codes were in, and had people who could translate. I don't. My Spanish is so poor that even if I had the correct Spanish plaintext, my translated English submission would probably be way off base."

Sean and Brian, here's a thought for you: "Dear Adolf, this Enigma code is too difficult and I'm very, very cross about it. Could you make it easier? Love, Winston."

The correspondence soon degenerated into pleading for clues. Ol Rhys: "I need a clue .. !:-) Could you tell me if the first word is pentium and intel? I have been working on this with Excel of all things so I really think I deserve a break .. !" Ol - if you been working with Excel you want your head examined, not a clue.

Jeremy Ardley begged: "I've been doing all the things you said, frequency analysis, Spanish dictionary blah blah blah. I'm still stumped. Time to help dumbos like me and give out a small piece of probable text so at least a few of your prizes can be given out. Pretty PLEASE!!"

Steve Fenton requested: "Don't get excited - I don't have the answer. But it's doing my tiny mind in, trying (and failing) to crack this thing. Anyone get it yet? I.e., will you publish the answer and put me out of my misery?

We wouldn't, and brains finally began to explode: Bill Jackson worried us a bit with: "A lethal web page. To look is death, glimpse enough! Code analysis injures programmers. Spread by e-mail. Originated by rogue AI intent on world domination. The same AI runs Intel."

Iain Griffiths then started on our Lucy: "Detachments: Lucy the Web-hack works hard and plays hard, involving gratuitous drinking, ciphers and acronyms. She dreams of a ragged man who lives in a cave and the Hindu god Vishnu."

Closely followed by David Svarrer: "It is quite obvious: every second q in conjunction with the u's (which are secret spaces), produce the result in micro-seconds: 'Lucy Sherriff is one of - if not the - most intelligent, lovely and beautiful person who ever sat their foot on mother earth. Lucy Sheriff certainly deserves to be treated like a queen, and her whole divine being should be bathed in Coconut oil and given the most gently and pleasant massage. Lucy Sheriff deserves really all the best, and…', but here I have a question: Why does the encrypted text stop suddenly there in the middle of the praisings?"

The appropriate authorities have been alerted. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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