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Thomas and the cipher
July 2, 2009 7:43 AM   Subscribe

Thomas Jefferson's cipher message from Robert Patterson For more than 200 years, buried deep within Thomas Jefferson's correspondence and papers, there lay a mysterious cipher -- a coded message that appears to have remained unsolved. Until now.... To Mr. Patterson's view, a perfect code had four properties: It should be adaptable to all languages; it should be simple to learn and memorize; it should be easy to write and to read; and most important of all, "it should be absolutely inscrutable to all unacquainted with the particular key or secret for decyphering."

"In Congress, July Fourth, one thousand seven hundred and seventy six. A declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled. When in the course of human events..."
posted by caddis (22 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Lawren's a fellow number theorist and a friend -- good on him.
posted by escabeche at 8:09 AM on July 2, 2009


Now he just has to find the key in the library of congress to unlock the secret chamber in the resolute desk and then he'll have the book that shows him where to dig beneath wall street so that he can find the pipe-key-thing that will lead him to the eagle-shaped hole in the rock near Mount Rushmore so that he can drain the lake into the hidden chamber and kill his arch enemy guy when he volunteers to drown for the others so they can escape and get the treasure but really deep down they all know its about proving that their great grandfather wasn't a racist and then he can fall back in love with his wife the end.

Oh and he goes to the north pole. And swims under the Hudson with a mini submarine thing. And a stopover in Paris and London.

Ah, the life of a cryptographer.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:11 AM on July 2, 2009 [8 favorites]


I'm really curious what some of the differences were/are between the code and the Declaration of Independence, both then and now. And also how involved Patterson was in its writing. At what point did he create the cipher, and what version of the DoI (if there is another version) did he use for embedding in this letter, and when?

Gah! I'm totally nerding out and am now going to be thinking about this all dingle day! Thanks a lot.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:39 AM on July 2, 2009


You know the "founding fathers" may have been inscrutible assholes in their personal lives, but they sure as hell were smart people. It's sad to me that the 24 hour news cycle combined with America's completely hypocritical yet puritanical moral code prevent inscrutible assholes who happen to be brilliant from serving the public any more.

Fuck.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:45 AM on July 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think what makes this even cooler than a crazy action movie is the little joke Patterson plays on Jefferson (and, years later, us).
posted by elmer benson at 8:46 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


RPAttz is a vampire AND a math dude?

WOAH
posted by kathrineg at 8:50 AM on July 2, 2009


Sorry...that was a really lame derail and I'm flagging it
posted by kathrineg at 8:59 AM on July 2, 2009


Like kathrineg, I thought it said "Robert Pattenson" and then I laughed. The end.
posted by anniecat at 9:07 AM on July 2, 2009


The March-April issue of American Scientist had an article where Dr. Smithline describes in detail how the message was deciphered. Unfortunately, it is only available online to subscribers.
posted by Uncle Jimmy at 9:20 AM on July 2, 2009


Unfortunately, it is only available online to subscribers.

Here you go.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:54 AM on July 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


DRINK MORE OVALTINE
posted by marxchivist at 9:56 AM on July 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


great post!
posted by marxchivist at 9:56 AM on July 2, 2009


Nicolas Cage nearly solved it but then, the bees, ah, god NO, NOT THE BEES.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:06 AM on July 2, 2009


thank you Civil_Disobedient
posted by caddis at 10:18 AM on July 2, 2009


Unfortunately, it is only available online to subscribers.

Here you go.
posted by Civil_Disobedient


Now that folks is how you do community webloggin'.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:44 AM on July 2, 2009


There is so much awesome in this thread I can hardly believe it. Jefferson was a cryptography buff? Astounding.
posted by JHarris at 11:45 AM on July 2, 2009


As far as I can tell, Jefferson was into just about everything. (Including, at times, the help.) But still, very interesting guy.

I'm with Pollomacho — I don't think any of the Founding Fathers would be electable today, and we should consider why exactly that is when we're lamenting the quality of modern government. A lot of them were seriously flawed human beings, but were still quite brilliant at what mattered.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:59 AM on July 2, 2009


How disappointing. I was hoping the message would be something really juicy, like a warning to Jefferson to stay in the good graces of his secret masters in the Illuminati or something.

I'm really curious what some of the differences were/are between the code and the Declaration of Independence, both then and now.

Ooh, ooh!--Maybe this is where the real action is. Maybe it's really a coded message within a coded message, and the subtle differences between the original language from the Declaration of Independence and Patterson's slightly altered text is the key to deciphering the real coded message (which, of course, is probably something along the lines of: 'This revolution racket you've got going is cute and all. But don't fuck with the Illuminati.')
posted by saulgoodman at 1:27 PM on July 2, 2009


Terng cbfg!
posted by FishBike at 2:55 PM on July 2, 2009


Is there anything Dynamic Programming can't solve ?!
posted by mpls2 at 3:12 PM on July 2, 2009


COOTIES RAT SEMEN
posted by Mikey-San at 9:05 PM on July 2, 2009


Being a founder is a different skill set from being a maintainer.

That, and Rush Limbaugh.
posted by athenian at 12:27 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


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