So a few months back, I received a pretty much normal looking spam message in my e-mail. I’m not quite sure what was in the body of it; I don’t so much read them any more. (In fact, I don’t so much get them any more, thank you filtration software). However, the message was followed by the following suspicious-looking block of text:

rajah blutwurst current hesitate michael depress bernoulli decrease diego scranton cunning transmittance beseech casino dostoevsky saleslady ge egotist monkeyflower cuff buchenwald octogenarian atrocious bipartisan cataclysmic puny forth vocal slingshot mitten vinyl pleat meaningful restoration melodramatic indiscernible hangman ampere palo infarct squirrel heisenberg conch arcsine wilhelmina cygnus vis joel commonplace resentful ripe marriott valery closure serendipity orchestral official foxy

”Aha,” I thought to myself, “this must be a secret message of some sort!” So I set to work figuring out what that could be. I started on the assumption that it might be some sort of brilliant ciphertext. Normally, one does not see a ciphertext that could also double as a plaintext without either some brilliant maneuvering or some form of steganography at work. However, I put these thoughts out of my mind and worked systematically.

The message showed an index of coincidence of 0.0616 - not enough to show that there was more than one alphabet being used in the alphabet, but enough to make me suspect it. However, I first tried cycling through the 25 possible DSA decryptions of the message: there were no dice to be found. Using a toolbox full of letter frequencies, digraphs, and trigraphs, I next tried using simple monoalphabetic decryption. Nothing emerged but gibberish. Annoyed, I tried (with some trepidation) analyzing the message as a simple 2-alphabet (the IC seemed to demand this) polyalphabetic encryption - this produced two alphabets with more promising letter distributions, but no solution was forthcoming. I then tried the possibility that every fourth, every fifth, every sixth letter was from the original message, and the rest just noise. This also was unhelpful, and with the length of the message, I didn’t bother trying anything more complex than that.

I tried the website, which purports to aid in decoding messages encrypted in spam (presumably only those using their algorithm) as a wild last try at decryption - this produced the message “(¤Mv1Jm9H” - not helpful.

The Interesting Part*

Next, I tried working with the idea that it was an actual symbolic message. This impression was fostered by the actual English words in the message - a dead giveaway. I noticed these things:

1. The following real people are mentioned:

2. The following anonymous people are mentioned:

  • Some Rajah
  • Michael somebody, or possibly somebody Michael
  • Diego somebody, or possibly somebody Diego
  • Some saleslady
  • An eighty-year-old man
  • A hangman
  • Joel somebody, or possibly somebody Joel

3. The following places are mentioned:

For the sake of science, I have filled in the message with less symbolic words in order to provide some insight into a possible meaning.

The rajah is eating blutwurst currently (1). Hesitating, Michael depresses the button, and the effect of Bernoulli’s Principle decreases (2). Our agent Diego, located in Scranton, puts out a cunning transmittance beseeching casinos to have Dostoevsky read by salesladies. G.E.’s egotist of a monkeyflower (3) CEO will as a result be forced to issue an off-the-cuff apology to the survivors of Buchenwald, now octogenarians, because of the atrocious, bipartisan, nearly cataclysmic horrors perpetrated there by men of puny morals, following principles put forth by their vocal leader (4). A slingshot course around an outer planet will put our satellite well within reach of the Mitten Nebula (5). It contains vinyl records and pleated pants - items which will be meaningful to any alien civilization attempting a restoration of Earth after the melodramatic, nearly indiscernible hangman (6) destroys it using the theories put forth by Ampère and being tested by our lab in Palo Alto on Infarct squirrels (7). Heisenberg also proposed a mathematical model, a representation of which traces the shape of a conch, showing the properties also of an arcsine curve; this is being explored by our agent Wilhelmina, aka Cygnus (8). Vis-à-vis Joel, she will find it difficult to keep their conversation commonplace without resentful anger being stirred up. A ripe location for their meeting will be the Marriott - we don’t want another Valery (9) incident. In closing, serendipity will help in this orchestration of official events.
   Signed, FOXY

Obviously, this is a very dense message; the writer probably did not expect anybody to figure out that it was a real message, and was therefore relatively unconcerned with keeping its length down and avoiding speaking directly about important plans. However, there are still a number of points on which the message is unclear; here are some of the suspicions I have about various phrases in the text:

  1. ”The rajah is eating blutwurst” seems to be a codephrase of some sort - perhaps it indicates that the message is of the utmost importance.
  2. The second line about Michael seems to be referring to somebody attempting to hijack an airplane and force it to the ground.
  3. General Electric’s corporate logo resembles a flower.
  4. Adolf Hitler.
  5. I’ve not heard of the Mitten Nebula - possibly a codename for another nebula?
  6. Probably a biological agent of some sort.
  7. An infarct is tissue that has been destroyed by cutting off the blood supply; the significance of its presence in the test squirrels is unclear.
  8. Another astronomical reference?
  9. A murderer - this reference is also unclear.

What a treasure trove! Hijackings, gambling, blackmail, Nazis, biological warfare, murderers and squirrels! I was shocked at how this important clue had been languishing in what I had thought to be an amusing away message for such a long time! I was prepared to act, and act I did. Armed with this information, I proceeded to call up every member of Congress that I could find and warn them of this coming (although somewhat ambiguous) threat to the free peoples of Earth. Unfortunately, on the way to the phone, before I had the chance to call anybody, I became distracted by chocolatey treats. Upon reflection during my brief power snack, I realized that the message sounded dire enough that I suspect that its author has probably long been apprehended - the message is at least six months old, and surely the events mentioned therein were planned to happen within a reasonable amount of time. Satisfied that I have proven that mankind is no longer in peril, I now submit to you, the people of Everything², this conclusive report on my adventure in solving The Mystery of the Mysterious Spam.

*Judging by the softlinks, this section needed a bold title or else the reader's attention wanes after a paragraph of jargon. Don't ask me.