Monday, October 02, 2006

The OFT Winking in the Dark Award

From time to time, there comes along a literary or artistic work so opaque that it could not possibly have any meaning to anyone other than its creator, and so obscure that no one would even know it existed unless they had it pointed out to them. To honor and recognize such works, I have decided to inaugurate the Open Font Tag’s official Winking In The Dark Award. The rules for the award are as follows:

1. I will give the Winking In The Dark Award (“Winkie”) to any deserving recipient who comes to my attention, at any time, at my sole discretion.

2. In order to maintain the obscurity of the recipient’s work, the Winking In the Dark award will be announced on a website with no readers (this one).

3. The winner will receive the Open Font Tag Winking In The Dark Prize.

4. The identity and location of the Winking In The Dark Prize will not be known to either me or the recipient of the Prize.

The first Winkie Award winner is The Honorable Mister Justice Peter Smith, the British judge who presided over the Da Vinci Code plagiarism case, for his creation, the Smithy Code.

The Smithy Code was a series of bolded and italicized letters that Sir Smith inserted into his Da Vinci Code ruling, which were promptly ignored by everybody, including the many journalists and legal professionals who had to read Smith’s opinion on the case from beginning to end. After three weeks, Sir Smith emailed the New York Times and said “Did you find the coded message in the judgment?” The journalists asked for clarification, and he told them to look at the bolded letters in the opinion. They found that the first ten bolded letters spelled out “smithycode” but the rest were an incomprehensible jumble. Smith said he wouldn’t give any more help because he wasn’t supposed to discuss his judgments until he retired. The race was on.

The journalists gave up and asked for the answer. Smith sent them more clues. He told them to look up his entry in Who’s Who, especially the reference to a historic admiral he admired named Jackie Fisher. Then he told them to go to a certain page in the Da Vinci Code for a hint, then said that the method they needed would be “mathematical,” then he broke down and told them to use “letter substitution letter by letter applying the Fibonacci Sequence.” This meant he had used a version of the Vigenère cipher, which is almost impossible to break when used for short messages. Nonetheless Smith said he thought that breaking the code was “not a difficult thing to do.” No doubt it was easy—for Sir Smith. Winning the Winkie can often be a sobering lesson in how other people’s ways of thinking fail to correspond with one’s own, and in how illusory the notion of “communication” really is.

It seems Sir Smith was unaware that there are more numbers in the Fibonacci sequence than the first eight that make up the dead guy’s bank password in The Da Vinci Code, so the key to his code uses the same eight numbers twice. Also, he decided to mix things up by subtracting rather than adding one of the Fibonacci numbers to encode one of the letters, since apparently somebody did the same thing in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, the book that Dan Brown was accused of stealing from. Smith had to walk his correspondents through these complications, step by step, before they broke the code.

You could start, by searching my 70-page opinion for letters in a different typeface. That will lead you to the name of the puzzle. Here, you could choose to find the sections of The Da Vinci Code and Holy Blood Holy Grail which refer to ancient encryption techniques. Once there, note the Templars’ preference for shifting the third letter in the sequence to the left rather than the right. That may lead you to decrypt the ciphertext as a Vigenère cipher or encrypt the code backward in the “Beaufort Variant” method. Assemble the eight terms of the Fibonacci sequence mentioned in The Da Vinci Code, and you may be headed to the numeric key that will decrypt the message. If you write the key as a series of Caesar-shifted alphabets, you might start from the ciphertext on the top alphabet and trace down to the grid to get the plaintext. Find the key, and it may unlock a message relating to my entry in the 2004 edition of Who’s Who, allowing you to guess part of the hidden phrase through a Kasiski attack. If you can guess what relevant event had its hundred-year anniversary at approximately the time I issued my opinion, you may have a chance to intuit part of the plaintext. If the correct distortion of the Fibonacci sequence is applied as a key, you will see a version of the final message with several errors, and finally make your way to my hidden message by trial and error. The choices are yours and yours alone. Good luck.

Smith’s intended hidden message was “JACKIEFISHERWHOAREYOUDREADNOUGHT”. Fisher is credited with introducing the Dreadnought to the British Navy. So it seems that Smith’s message for the world is nothing more than an oblique announcement that he mentioned Admiral Jackie Fisher in his own Who’s Who entry two years earlier (Smith is a huge Jackie Fisher fan, apparently?). Due to a typo, Smith’s actual message reads “Jackie Fister” rather than “Jackie Fisher”. This bonus missive from Sir Smith’s subconscious is the extra layer of meaning that makes the Smithy Code a truly excellent conversation between a man, himself, and absolutely no one else. Congratulations, Sir Smith.

"I never expected anybody to notice it. It was for my own pleasure."

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