Code, a Grave and a Secret

By Web Team / 21 March 2018 / Insights

Hung on the wall of the IMSL office is a puzzle, which surrounds a course photograph from 1918, at the US Military school of decoding. Also in the same frame is portrait of Francis Bacon and a copy of his code “crib” sheet. I have blogged before about these matters before here.

In summary, the students in the course photograph have positioned themselves, in terms of whether they face the cameras or to the side, in a form of a secret message, using Francis Bacon’s 400 year old code. The message from these graduating students is “Knowledge is Power”, or more correctly, since they were short of people, “Knowledge is Powe”, quite an appropriate message for an intelligence school. It is also a phrase associated with Francis Bacon so is a nice loop.

I’ve found an intriguing follow up to this story. The founder of the school (also shown in the photograph) was Lt Col William F Friedman. He was married to Elizebeth Friedman, also a cryptographer and also in the photo. They were probably behind the idea of the secret message in the course photograph as an “in” joke.

Someone visited their grave, in Arlington Military Cemetery and noticed the phrase “Knowledge is Power” inscribed as an epitaph on the headstone. But there’s more to it… the letters of the phrase have been carved in a non-standard way… and someone has found that this too is a Bacon code and the code hidden in the phrase leads to the initial letters of the name William F Friedman, i.e. WFF. Details are here.

I’m still intrigued by the secret messages here because actually they employ a double secrecy – the “code” and also steganography whereby the presence of the message is also hidden. This can be quite powerful , and also on a puzzle level fun. I’m currently working on an example of this whereby a secret message can be sent in a Bacon like code, but with the steganographic technique of using an apparently randomly shuffled pack of cards.The sequence of the cards and the colour or suit of the cards can be used to send a message with a simple key and a Bacon like cipher.

I’ll try to create a little puzzle using this as a challenge to readers in the next few days.