What’s in the Copiale Cipher?

Until recently, no one knew. It’s an 18th century document written by a German secret society, and it contains a mixture of ordinary letters and strange symbols. Now, computational linguists have used modern techniques to crack this mysterious code.

Linguist Daniel Midgley reveals how they did it in this episode of Talk the Talk.


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If you like secret codes and ciphers, this one’s for you. The Copiale Cipher was cracked recently, and it’s an initiation ritual for a bunch of 18th century wannabe ophthalmologists. Intriguing, ¿no?

Have a listen, and claim your free decoder ring.


Show notes

Decoder rings are fun.
http://www.exploratorium.edu/ronh/secret/secret.html

This kind of simple substitution cipher is also known as the Caesar Cipher.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesar_cipher

Enigma machines pushed computational cryptography to the limit
http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/content/machines.rhtm

but Alan Turing and co. were equal to the task.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptanalysis_of_the_Enigma

Turing was repaid shamefully for his work in cryptanalysis and computation.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing

The Copiale Cipher has been cracked
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/punctuated-equilibrium/2011/oct/26/1?newsfeed=true
http://articles.latimes.com/2011/oct/26/local/la-me-usc-code-breaker-20111026

The team explains how they did it (PDF)
http://www.isi.edu/natural-language/people/copiale-11.pdf

and here’s what it said. (PDF)
http://stp.lingfil.uu.se/~bea/copiale/copiale-translation.pdf


Show tunes

New tradition! Where possible, I’m going to embed videos of the two songs I play on each episode.

Track one: Somersault by Decoder Ring.

Track two: Sick As Your Secrets by Le Concorde.

This one was a personal victory for me because Adam Trainer, the guy at RTRfm who knows all the music, asked me, “What’s this?” That doesn’t happen very often.