Mental Floss

The Voynich Manuscript, the Somerton Man, and 6 Other Infamous Uncracked Codes

Ellen Gutoskey
'Kryptos' at CIA headquarters in Virginia.
'Kryptos' at CIA headquarters in Virginia. / Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division // No Known Restrictions on Publication

“P.S. Now droop beige weeds set in it—pure idiocy—one entire bed! Luigi Ccibunud lovingly tuned lioto studio two.”

No, that’s not a code. It’s a possible solution to a code, suggested by Tim S. Roberts of Australia’s Central Queensland University. The cipher itself is a few lines of strange curlicues from a letter that composer Edward Elgar wrote to his friend Dora Penny in the late 19th century.

The so-called Dorabella Cipher is one of eight uncracked codes that Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is delving into on this episode of The List Show. Some of the codes’ creators are still around to offer clues—like artist Jim Sanborn, whose Kryptos sculpture has been puzzling cryptologists since it was first installed at CIA headquarters in Virginia in 1990. Three of the four sections of code have been cracked; but the final one remains inscrutable.

Other ciphers have been around for long enough that experts can only rely on historical sources for help. And if you think we’re alluding to the infamous Voynich Manuscript, you’re right.

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