18th Century American Authors - Thomas Jefferson
In Oregon, United States
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This puzzle was inspired by a similarly-themed puzzle in AZ (The Wheel Cipher, by Wily Javelina), and some coincidental research I’d been doing recently regarding early colonial encryption techniques. It seemed appropriate to launch it during the Presidents' Day weekend.
Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, was the third US president. During his tenure, he doubled the size of the US through the Lousiana Purchase and chartered the Lewis and Clark expedition. Thomas Jefferson is also credited with the invention of the Wheel Cipher for encrypting communications, to keep his correspondence with Madison and a select few others secret from the British.
An example of a wheel cipher is shown below. It is a series of wheels, each with a randomized alphabet, on a single screw.
To code a message, you would take the first letter, find it on wheel one, and write the corresponding letter on wheel two. You would then take the second letter of the message, find it on wheel two, and write the corresponding letter on wheel three. Once you hit the end of the wheel (eg – after letter 23 for a 24-wheel cipher, like the one above), you start again with wheels one and two. Essentially, this becomes an interlacing of 23 individual substitution ciphers. For short messages in those times, it would have been a near-impossible task to crack the code without the key, especially if the author had played with spacing and punctuation.
In the example below, we have a 5-wheel cipher and an unrandomized alphabet (which essentially turns this into a derivative of a Vigenere Cipher with a 4-letter key). With the wheels set with the keyword "Cache", the phrase “First to Find” becomes “Dkwpr vt Cgpi”.
Thomas Jefferson also founded the University of Virginia, the first fully secular university in America, which included education in scientific subjects not available at religious institutions at the time. He frequented the campus and was fond of meeting and dining with both faculty and notable students. Not long ago, during some preservation work on one of the original dorms (which housed one of the more famous of the early UV students), the following message was found behind some masonry along with a broken 9-wheel cipher. Fortunately for us, the orders of the letters on the wheels were all in alphabetical order (no randomizations) and it appears that the punctuation and spacing were unaltered. The message reads as follows:
PS vvtw, cnf gqi lakpjvi hwru? “Sf pqzs cjatm vfjcjo uw ds jwfaoqcpah inbvvss ka kvz Eftjvks.” Tkyt rv? Xfv fwsw’v. Df zcbinf wcwwh vxxasvosccch tmeiajtetu. Dii ka yflkbv cjet, Q ici qki uw uhdy rqtpkbv qko jvhsgwch uctyth. Ya xqnz CXV abb vvt wcpjwpoa vcodwv!... Xjbv xfbystw akv ipr bn, vao uqft kgag xcgirgo, bvf vt’un ayiehah tatmopan vdbb uhdeg kg pkg… Dq, akv etcin vdbb… Kt Qnp ofmu wi, qg ijojh eakju bjchn uppzksh jdkvb om ‘entopvcz arha.’ Iuoa, xo K ofvf mddt lbxgfh xp piiv Ktbvsbzf Smygzjbkcc fkpi Knogt, vdfg eoc kg djlfsc rp piiv qplja upkfih uadwprh Ncou wh hwn rktbgr rxqneqpoinu…. Upc yfdcg piiv, hdx!? Owzjg W’au lqtb gbraalu qv ocm uabt kh qnjeol vvpc ywmt, ywiq akv ipr nxwn rckza! Wqs upch lxwhe ucyt j ikpl uhdaa!
Can you decrypt the message and find a secret stash Jefferson might have ordered to be hidden in Oregon?
The cache is initially loaded with items relating to America and great American principles – including a copy of the Federalist Papers, the release of a United We Cache geocoin, and the book “How to Talk Your Way out of a Traffic Ticket.” Also contains the First finder spoon of happiness and success.
Nzzb pna uvqqra jvguva gur onfr bs gur gerr *arkg* gb gur snyyra fbyqvre.
- Cipher WheelCipher Wheel
- Sample WheelSample Wheel
Last Updated: on 3/16/2014 4:16:09 PM Pacific Daylight Time (11:16 PM GMT)
Coordinates are in the WGS84 datum