A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

Code crackers wanted!

05/15/08
Fermilab code letter

[Note: I ask that people not bug the person mentioned in the code as he is retired and is not often in his office. We don't want to bombard him with inquiries about this code! Thanks for understanding.]

A little over a year ago, the Fermilab Office of Public Affairs received a curious letter in code (see the image to the right). It has been sitting in our files all that time and we haven't had much of a chance to look into breaking the code, nor are we particularly expert at this!

If you have a cryptological bent, perhaps you'd take a crack at this code and email us anything you find at [email protected].

Note that this scan is from a fax of the original. The holes punched in it were not in the original and a tiny sliver has been cut off the top of the page where the fax information was printed. I'm hoping that the precise positioning on the page isn't relevant!

Update (May 16, 2008): A few people have been asking for more information about the physical letter that arrived as it could contain clues. Here are answers to some of your questions and any other information that might be relevant.

The letter came delivered by USPS on Mar 5, 2007, addressed to:

Fermilab
Kirk Rd. & Pine
Batavia, IL 60510

It was hand addressed but came in an envelope where you pull on the ends for it to come apart.

It was postmarked in Chicago but I can't read any more details on the faxed version I have. (I shall try to get the original.)

The image here is now lower resolution than I had posted originally as it seems there probably isn't anything encoded in the finest details. You can still download a (>4MB) version here.

Further update (May 20, 2008): We are close to a solution and suspect we know the sender of the letter!

An emailer "Mike" came close to deciphering the message but, soon after, Daniel Stephens came through with a full decryption of the top and bottom sections of the text. You can read the partial solutions of the top and bottom sections by a number of people in the comments.

However, I'm not convinced that the middle section is solved yet. Any further ideas?

The spreading word: This story has spread like wildfire around the Web, even leading to requests to do news stories on network TV news but I hadn't expected this to be turned into a cartoon! Check it out at userfriendly.org.

July 11, 2008: The Chicago Tribune wrote about the code today.

July 25, 2008:  A new clue has emerged!  See the post that just went up, in which Fermilab PR director Judy Jackson writes:

Fermilab assigns employee numbers sequentially. Robert Wilson, the laboratory’s legendary first director, was employee number 1. Ned Goldwasser, Wilson’s deputy director, was 007. The latest Fermilab hire, as of last Monday, was number 15026.

According to Fermilab’s records, Frank Shoemaker was employee number 102. In base 16, I am told, 102 = 66.

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