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5 of the most amazing cracked codes in modern history
From 260-year-old ciphers to the most recent Zodiac Killer solution, these unbreakable codes just needed time.
- After 51 years, the Zodiac Killer's infamous "340 code" has been solved.
- Humans have a natural passion for puzzles, making cryptography a lifelong pursuit for some.
- Other famous cracked codes include Poe's Challenge and Zimmermann's Letter.
Humans love puzzles. Thanks to an evolutionary skillset that lets us piece together fragments of information necessary for survival, we've turned biological instinct into a love for games. Sometimes our affection manifests in Candy Crush; other times, in solving uncrackable ciphers.
Numerous unbreakable codes persist. The CIA awaits the brave thinker that will crack the fourth code in its Kryptos monument. The Beale ciphers may or may not reveal $60 million in hidden treasure. Composer Edward Elgar continues to laugh from beyond the grave.
Few codes stand the test of time, however. It took nearly 600 years for researchers to realize the Voynich manuscript was effectively a rip-off copy of Women's Health. The MIT time-lock puzzle was only 20 years old, yet it still took a nifty programmer three years to crack it. And then there's the Zodiac Killer.The recent news that a 51-year-old letter from the infamous Bay Area murderer, whose story was immortalized by David Fincher, has been cracked recently made headlines. While this code will bring no peace to the families of the unknown killer's victims, the solving of this letter reminds us once again that nothing is impenetrable.
How I cracked the Zodiac Killer's cipher
After the Zodiac Killer's first cryptogram was quickly solved in 1969, he followed up with a 340-character puzzle that has baffled cryptographers ever since. Three men worked tirelessly on the letter and finally revealed the encoded message:
I HOPE YOU ARE HAVING LOTS OF FUN IN TRYING TO CATCH ME THAT WASN'T ME ON THE TV SHOW WHICH BRINGS UP A POINT ABOUT ME I AM NOT AFRAID OF THE GAS CHAMBER BECAUSE IT WILL SEND ME TO PARADICE ALL THE SOONER BECAUSE I NOW HAVE ENOUGH SLAVES TO WORK FOR ME WHERE EVERYONE ELSE HAS NOTHING WHEN THEY REACH PARADICE SO THEY ARE AFRAID OF DEATH I AM NOT AFRAID BECAUSE I KNOW THAT MY NEW LIFE WILL BE AN EASY ONE IN PARADICE DEATH
While the San Francisco branch of the FBI has acknowledged the puzzle has been solved, they're not providing any more comments considering the case remains open.
Edgar Allan Poe's "The Gold Bug" was based on a cipher mystery, as Poe himself was fascinated with puzzles. In 1840, he offered a free subscription to Graham's Magazine to anyone who could stump him. He claims to have solved a hundred entries, ending the contest by publishing a challenging code written by W.B. Tyler—who many at the time suspected was a pseudonym.
It wasn't until 2000 that a software engineer decoded the message, which opened up, "It was early spring, warm and sultry glowed the afternoon. The very breezes seemed to share the delicious languor of universal nature..."
Given the numerous typesetting mistakes, recent researchers aren't convinced that Poe actually wrote it. The author will likely remain a mystery, but the code itself is in the books.
An entire team spanning two countries was needed to crack the 260-year-old mystery of the Copiale cipher. Unlike a few lines of prose, this 75,000-character manuscript filled 105 pages written by a group of ophthalmologists. The book was encrypted in German and relied on a complex substitution code that used symbols and letters for spaces as well as text.
Dating from the second half of the eighteenth century, the first 16 pages discuss a masonic initiation ceremony by the Oculists. The strange ritual involves initiates "reading" a blank piece of paper before being given a pair of glasses—those wily eye doctors. After their eyes are washed, the referees then pluck a single eyebrow of each recruit.
Better than college hazing, though still an odd text to keep so secretive. Then again, maybe that was the point.
Slate statue of Mathematician Alan Turing at Bletchley Park
Credit: lenscap50 / Adobe Stock
The Zimmermann Telegram
Not all codes are so playful, or strange. Some are insidious. Such is the case with the Zimmermann Telegram, a note sent from Germany to Mexico in 1917. Intended for the German ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt, the Germans were preparing America's southern neighbors for battle—in the name of Germany. In exchange for weapons and funding, the Mexicans would reclaim Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas upon victory.
The cipher was cracked about a month after interception by Britain's "Room 40." The text read, in part:
"We make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you."
Tensions between the US and Germany were already high; this message pushed America over the edge. A month later, President Wilson overruled his intention of remaining neutral and entered World War I on the side of the Allies.
The Enigma Code
One of the most famous cracks in history is certainly the Enigma Code. If the Zimmermann Telegram helped us get into World War I, the second chapter only ended in our favor thanks to Alan Turing's unforgettable machine.
The Germans were utilizing an enciphering machine to pass messages to its Axis partners. Perhaps learning from past mistakes, they changed the entire cipher system on a daily basis.
Turing responded with his own machinery: the Bombe, Lorenz, and Universal Turing Machine. Thanks to his inventions, alongside tireless efforts by British cryptologists, the Allied forces exploited procedural flaws and operator mistakes by the Germans. The Enigma Code was cracked, saving countless Allied lives and helping turn the tide of the war.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His new book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.