This is your brain in overdrive
November 23, 2008 5:21 AM   Subscribe

Christopher Farmer of Opord Analytical has just posted his solution (PDF) to part 4 of the much studied "Kryptos" cipher. He's recently cracked Zodiac Killer ciphers thought unsolvable for nearly 40 years and has a theory (PDF) about the Zodiac Killer's possible identity that is hard to be ignored. Mr. Farmer freely shares his many discoveries on his website's forum board.
posted by wherever, whatever (57 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Fascinating as this FPP is, this article made my inner copyeditor scream.

Then again, it's early in the morning. Almost anything I read right now will probably irk the little copyeditor in my brain.

It will be interesting to see if Christopher Farmer is correct.
posted by brina at 5:53 AM on November 23, 2008


Of Course.
posted by Balisong at 5:55 AM on November 23, 2008

I read the "possible identity" link with interest, thinking that a mass murderer would be revealed. The article states: "By using cryptography, Mr. Farmer may not have only unmasked the Zodiac killer, Gareth Penn, but he also suggests that there could be more victims left unaccounted for."

So I have to assume that this Gareth Penn guy was the killer. But Wikipedia has an entry for Gareth Penn which says that "Penn was among the first non-experts to focus effort on the famous Zodiac Killer case." From what little I can tell, Penn is just some dweebish little twerp who wanted to attach himself to a psychotic nut job.

If I'm reading this correctly, one amateur detective has figured out that some other competing amateur detective is the real killer.

Why do I get the feeling that these guys are all members of some hyper-competitive nerdy crypto club that meet in a basement to solve puzzles and blame each other for killing people with real lives?
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:56 AM on November 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

If he's so smart, why did he submit information to *two* "Who's Who" compilations?
posted by proj at 6:31 AM on November 23, 2008 [5 favorites]

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:31 AM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

eh, watson, i need you. my brain just exploded!
posted by kitchenrat at 6:40 AM on November 23, 2008

Is there anything in this post that indicates it's newsworthy? Every single link is to something Farmer wrote. Even the American Chronicle link is an unedited press release from Opord Analytical. That wouldn't necessarily be so skeevy if it wasn't for the chest thumping bloviation: There may be more than one Chris Farmer in the world but there seems to be only one person answering the phones at Opord Analytical, and business is slow enough for nonpaying work like this.

This has a lot more to do with somebody's self-promotion than with solving a generation-old mystery.
posted by ardgedee at 6:49 AM on November 23, 2008

I understood literally NOTHING in the PDF describing how the code was broken. Then again, I don't know what a SLLOGAN is either. Is that Welsh?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:49 AM on November 23, 2008

posted by proj at 7:02 AM on November 23, 2008

The really weird thing is that after I made the earlier comment there was a minute or so when I started to panic. I thought "oh shit... I've just pissed off the Zodiac Killer". And I had images of the Zodiac Killer coming to seek revenge upon me and my family.

A few breaths later, I realized that the Zodiac Killer would have to be at least 70 years old now and that he would have to have exceptional skills to track my IP address to my family. So now I'm waiting for an elderly lunatic with unusually adept IT skills.

It's crazy the way the mind works when thinking about crazy minds. But I'm not afraid anymore. For what it's worth, FUCK YOU to the real kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby, and FUCK YOU to whoever did whatever to Amelia Earhart, and FUCK YOU to the people who killed Kennedy and FUCK YOU to the people who killed Jimmy Hoffa. I'm not afraid of you people anymore.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:09 AM on November 23, 2008 [7 favorites]

That PDF is either the most brilliant thing I have ever read, or totally batshit insane. I'm not sure which, but am leaning toward insane.
posted by localroger at 7:15 AM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I read the PDF on his solution to Kryptos, and am reading his PDF on his solving of the Zodiac Killer.

I can't decide if he's seeing real patterns or not. His ultimate "solution" to Kryptos feels a bit too happenstance, and his Zodiac solution feels like it's following a long string of random associations - he relies a lot on "well, this random string of four letters KINDA sounds like THESE two letters, and if I associate that with THIS then it sounds like THIS town in California!".

I feel like this guy needs to be reminded of the Law of Fives: everything can be related to the number 5 -- if you try hard enough.
posted by egypturnash at 7:18 AM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is there anything in this post that indicates it's newsworthy?

I think this is extremely newsworthy, at least for geeks.
posted by gsteff at 7:24 AM on November 23, 2008

On further reflection, it's obviously 23.
posted by localroger at 7:24 AM on November 23, 2008

Terrible, terrible FPP.

Reminds me of that web site where the guy sells rings that will let you live forever.
posted by Manhasset at 7:25 AM on November 23, 2008

If I'm reading this correctly, one amateur detective has figured out that some other competing amateur detective is the real killer.

That's how I read it, and it certainly took me by surprise. I thought everyone agreed Kaczynski was the Zodiac killer.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:29 AM on November 23, 2008

I have to say "invalid." Key -- he mentions the inscription in morse code "DIGETAL INTERPRETAT" -- but the actual text is "DIGETAL INTERPRETATU"

When you're dealing with this many transforms, a one letter error can produce big changes. We already saw this when one letter was left off the sculpture. The end result was that the decryption of part II ended with "ID BY ROWS" -- which looked perfectly correct.

It wasn't. The sculptor came out and said that they were working with a flawed cryptotext (his fault) and since the decryption of part four depended on the decrypts of the other parts, they were missing a valuable clue. He provided the extra letter to the cryptotext, and the last bit changed from "ID BY ROWS" to "X LAYER TWO" -- where X had been used in the rest of the text as a section break." So, one letter off, two *very* different, but readable looking quotes.

The misspelling in his answer doesn't bother me -- there are other misspellings in the decrypted text, and they're intentional. The fact that his answer is needs creative reading and doesn't output 97 clearext characters (all the other systems output one cleartext character for each encrypted character) leads me to believe that egypturnash is right. You can read *anything* you want in a random pile of letter if you are allowed to reshuffle them repeatedly and then pick a few of them out to read.

However, if it is the right answer, we should hear something shortly from the other groups working on the puzzle or the sculptor himself.

The idea that something is hidden in the other parts -- either of the cryptotext or the decrypt -- is not only no unfeasible, it's explicitly alluded to twice -- once in the corrected "X LAYER TWO" decrypt, and the other in the key used to decrypt part one -- palimpsest (a text written on top of another text).
posted by eriko at 7:53 AM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, he may be a self-aggrandizing narcissist, but he does have some doubt. OPORD Analytical's slogon:

"When you have questions, OPORD Analytical may have the answers."
posted by substrate at 7:55 AM on November 23, 2008

posted by Balisong at 7:56 AM on November 23, 2008 [4 favorites]

Sure he's quite possibly a complete nutcase with a wrong sollution to Kryptos and a far-fetched theory on the Zodiac case but it was a damn fun read. Good post, wherever, whatever.
posted by sveskemus at 8:16 AM on November 23, 2008 [2 favorites] what happens now?
posted by onepapertiger at 9:19 AM on November 23, 2008

No he hasn't. Farmer's "solution" depends on a host of assumptions, leaps in logic typical of numerology. I note also how self-important his website is.
posted by A189Nut at 9:28 AM on November 23, 2008

By the way, this should indicate how impeccable the American Chronicle is
posted by A189Nut at 9:30 AM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I could only get through the "Dragon Card" part of the Zodiac .pdf before I had to fold the hand. This guy seems like a nutter to me.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:33 AM on November 23, 2008

I could only get through the "Dragon Card" part of the Zodiac

Ha! I have Akroma, Angel of Wrath, so I'll just be taking that card off your hands, thank you very much.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:45 AM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Read pages 10-12 in this PDF. He meanders from the Zodiac button letter to JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you" speech, to some conclusion about the Dealey Plaza "book repository [depository?]," being equivalent to a library, that makes no sense at all.
posted by jayder at 9:47 AM on November 23, 2008

So, has anyone gone to arrest Gareth Penn yet?!
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:54 AM on November 23, 2008

OK, that pdf is over a year old. Since then has anyone probed those "shallow graves" seen in the photos at the end?
posted by Ron Thanagar at 9:55 AM on November 23, 2008

Oh, heavens. I'm completely fascinated, but the PDF about Zodiac's identity couldn't be more tortured. By the time I arrived at skeleton/sine and the explanation of the "I" in the initials "RJI" ... well. Let's just say my eyes got a real workout today - I didn't think they could roll any harder.

And then they did.

Still, a great distraction on a rainy Sunday and very interesting post, so thanks, wherever, whatever!
posted by taz at 10:00 AM on November 23, 2008

I was heading towards "batshitinsane" until he crossed the H and M on the map and hung the skeleton cutout off of it. Pretty damn freaky. By the end of the paper, it was making a strange sort of sense to me (I'm a bit concerned about what that means about my state of mind). If you can accept the author's premise that this puzzle was created over the course of years, and that victims were selected not at random, but to help provide a solution to the puzzle - one can't help but assume that the interpretation is going to seem as insane as the originator of the puzzle.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:48 AM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, I read the Zodiac PDF and was thoroughly engrossed while doing so, so this is a very good FPP by me. I'll admit, however, that after about page 5 I was just reading his solution rather than trying to think it through for myself; I IZ NOT A KRYPTO GENIUZ. Still, like Ron Thanagar said, I wonder if anyone has probed those, er, shallow graves yet, or interviewed Mr. Penn? The former seems like a no-brainer...

As an aside, I met a guy at the poker tables once who claimed he had solved the Zodiac case -- this was at Artichoke Joe's in San Bruno, some time in the early 90's. He said he had been working on it for years as a hobby and had several notebooks full of "proof," and he might be interested in hiring a writer to pull it all together. I was an unemployed "writer" at the time, so I was intrigued and asked him some questions, which gave him a soapbox from which he was only too happy to speak. His theories were hard to follow, but I rationalized that "that's the way these things go," and if he was serious about hiring a writer he probably just needed a different set of eyes to review his notes and organize his thoughts. On a break away from the table he brought me out to his car to show me something from one of the notebooks, but the whole exercise became a lot less compelling once it became evident that he was living out of his car.
posted by mosk at 11:00 AM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

What if the ciphers are just incoherent bullshit and the hints are just red herrings?
posted by jason's_planet at 11:41 AM on November 23, 2008

By which I mean: maybe there's no there there.
posted by jason's_planet at 11:42 AM on November 23, 2008

Given that the solving of the Zodiac's puzzles would require putting yourself in the mind of a psychopathic killer, well...

As much as I'd like to see the case solved, I'm happy not to go there myself, thanks.
posted by markkraft at 11:43 AM on November 23, 2008

This kind of reminds me of The Da Colbert Code.
posted by EarBucket at 12:05 PM on November 23, 2008

Yeah, the thing about the Zodiac thing seemed a lot like the guy who lives in the bushes behind 7-11 explaining the September 11th attacks to you.

Wait a minute. 7-11, 9-11. That gives us 2. Gareth Penn wrote an article about the SCA. I'm in the SCA. Gareth Penn, Kid Charlemagne. That gives us GTP. Etc. There are too many layers upon layers things going on that he never checks out for me to really believe that he's on the right track. Hell, it may be possible that Gareth Penn is the guy, but hell, the "analysis" basically requires that you guess, 100% right when the dangerous loony says, "I'm thinking of something, uh, in western civilization! What is it?"
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:06 PM on November 23, 2008

I read the whole PDF. In contrast, all those Batman/Riddler stories suddenly seem realistic.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 12:12 PM on November 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

A fascinating post!

Being that my knowledge of cryptography is at the beginner's level, I'm in no position to assess Farmer's methodology or conclusions, particularly in the Zodiac case.

There are, of course, other Zodiac candidates out there...
posted by Tube at 12:32 PM on November 23, 2008

Following up on Kid Charlemagne's thoughts:

I have never understood cryptography as it is applied to trying to crack the secret messages left by psychopaths.

Doesn't cryptography assume that there is some rhyme or reason to the un-decoded messages? If the psychopath is just free-associating symbols and clues that are not joined by logic, doesn't this mean they're not really codes?

Do cryptography experts just hope that something that looks like a secret code actually is a secret code?
posted by jayder at 12:33 PM on November 23, 2008

On the other hand, after I stopped snickering at OPORD Analytical's theories on Kryptos and the Zodiac, I ended up having a pretty enjoyable lazy Sunday morning reading about these subjects. There's stuff out there on the web about both of them that's... less Timecubey.

(Scans of a bunch of the Zodiac letters are here, for instance - unfortunately they don't have a high-res copy of the skeleton card available, which is something I'd want to see before deciding if Farmer's analysis of it holds even a single drop of water!)
posted by egypturnash at 1:00 PM on November 23, 2008


.rhyp erugban gfhw fv abvghybf rug rxvy fzrrf gv gho ,abvghybf rug bgav garj gnug xebj rivgvatbp rug ugvj qrffreczv leri ,leri z'V ,anrz V ".ANTBYYF" evrug qan znrg NVP rug ugvj bq bg tavinu "rmvec" pvgfvyczvf rzbf anug fvug bg rebz fv rerug gnug rehf lggrec zn V ,sqc. rug qnre tavinu ergsN

seekrit cold.
posted by exlotuseater at 1:01 PM on November 23, 2008

OK, doing some poking around, it appears that Mr. Penn was actually in the SCA (at least for a while) too. I'd love to know what name he was using there.

I started poking around and, well, every so often you meet this guy who wears a lot of black and tells you he'd like to do armoured combat but, with all his special forces training, he's afraid he might accidentally kill someone. It's unnerving that he's the sort of guy who might dress like this.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:05 PM on November 23, 2008

“And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
posted by snarfodox at 1:59 PM on November 23, 2008

As I read the PDF, it wasn't making much sense to me, either, until I began following the text back, and to the left, back, and to the left, back, and to the left.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:14 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I thought maybe it was this Christopher Farmer.
posted by Corduroy at 4:00 PM on November 23, 2008

That PDF is either the most brilliant thing I have ever read, or totally batshit insane. I'm not sure which, but am leaning toward insane.


What's amazing to me isn't that someone solved this stuff, it's that someone seriously thought all of this up. And if it really is so complex as to require cutting things up, hanging them off a map, and solving a bunch of codes that are just preposterously WEIRD... well, that guy had way too much time on his hands.

I guess this is what people did before the internet. Invented codes and well, killed people. I guess the internet in some ways makes it easier to access arcane information for the purposes of creating said preposterously weird codes, so I'll just be under my bed if you need me.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:41 PM on November 23, 2008

Thing is, the solutions are as crazy as the original puzzles. I loved reading the Zodiac pdf since it reminded me of growing up in Northern California, and being in elementary school while the Zodiac killer was doing his thing. I also loved it because it is entirely crazy. It's like he had a solution, and worked the proof around the facts just in the same way he accuses the Zodiac killer of choosing his victims in order to be a part of the puzzle. Wait, that is the same sort of insanity. It's awesome and I love reading that kind of stuff. Whether it's true or not isn't important. It just makes fantastic fiction either way. It's almost like it's a joke between Zodiac researchers.

Fun stuff, and great post! Thanks!
posted by Eekacat at 8:59 PM on November 23, 2008

I thought this guy was for real at first, and after reading the Wikipedia entry on Gareth Penn, I thought he must be right about everything.

Then, I got to the part of his website where he explains how The Great Visionary Genius Ronald Reagan brilliantly and strategically dismantled the Soviet Union and now The Damn Liberals are doing everything they can to defend Communism and how only He, Christopher Farmer, had the mental greatness to predict the Georgian conflict. If there's someone out there who couldn't have "predicted" the [resumption of the frozen] Georgian conflict, then they'd probably think I'm a jeenius too!

And now I'm skeptical. Let's wait and hear the verdict on Kryptos first. If someone not obviously batshitinsane confirms the decipherment, then I'll have to take another look at this guy.
posted by Xezlec at 10:04 PM on November 23, 2008

They laughed at Galileo! They laughed at the Wright Brothers!


What do you mean, "they laughed at Bozo the Clown?!"
posted by Pronoiac at 11:40 PM on November 23, 2008

I was heading towards "batshitinsane" until he crossed the H and M on the map and hung the skeleton cutout off of it. Pretty damn freaky.

The Light Fantastic, go back and have another look at how he came to the "H and M" conclusion. He reverse-engineered it after coming up with the bizarre skeleton map thing (he says this, essentially: "after researching this solution in combination with the other Zodiac evidence I derived in this case, the final solution to the 'My Name' cipher is..."), which I think he also reverse engineered to get a location related to Penn.

That's why it's all so ultrabizarre... it seems obvious to me that he decided that Zodiac was Penn, then forced solutions to support that conclusion; he decided on such things as locations and numbers, key words, etc. that would be related to Penn, then set out to "find" them hidden in the texts, extracting them by any torturous means necessary. Maybe Penn really is Zodiac, but this explanation isn't the tiniest bit convincing to me.
posted by taz at 3:25 AM on November 24, 2008

What he's trying to do here:

Penn: "That's nonsense! That's not how I encoded it at all! Wait. I meant..."

And then cops drag Penn away.
posted by Pronoiac at 8:53 AM on November 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Alternatively, Farmer could just be trying to get Teller to speak up for his friend.
posted by Pronoiac at 8:56 AM on November 24, 2008

made me laugh, Pronoiac!
posted by taz at 9:17 AM on November 24, 2008

I'll believe him once he solves the FermiLab note - and the May Day Mystery.

(On phone, no copy and paste, but the Fermi note is my only FPP and a pet topic of mine.)
posted by subbes at 10:36 AM on November 24, 2008

My favorite part is in the Zodiac paper:
"Once armed with the addresses [of the Tiburon Navy Net Depot], I inserted them into Google with the Zodiac Killer case parameter and within seconds and in stunned disbelief a suspect emerged."
He Googled for suspects? Seriously? I'd love to know the search terms. "zodiac + librarian + navy net depot + don quixote + military + cartography"?
posted by specialagentwebb at 11:30 AM on November 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

FermiLab's coded message
posted by subbes at 4:54 PM on November 24, 2008

Everyone knows that the cops are sitting on the Zodiac's "CON OF MAN" cipher...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:30 PM on November 25, 2008

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