St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

Wanted: Polish Cryptanalysts

Or any Polish puzzle-solvers, really. “Cryptanalysts” makes it sound like I need someone to crack the German codes, but hey, if you can’t get called a cryptanalyst now then you probably never will. In my head I like to think of this as “the Krakow Cipher”, as if I’m talking about the Voynich Manuscript or the Beale Cipher, one of those unsolved and probably insoluble puzzles that are just designed to annoy us.

This one’s a bit different. When I was in university I took a few classes in Polish because I loved the Polish science-fiction writer Stanisław Lem, best known for Solaris but also pretty great at some other things too. I was hoping to be able to read a few of his stories in the original. I did all right at Polish, though I was no great whiz. If I’d been a little better at it, I might have been able to crack this myself. It would be a doddle in English, although now that I’ve said that, if it turns out to actually be English I’m going to look like a complete tit. I’d be in good company, though. The world’s best linguists tried to decipher Linear B for 50 years before some filthy casual turned up and told them it was just Greek written with a different script. Eggfaceapocalypse.

One of the nice things about Poland, though, is that they don’t speak much English. I was lucky enough to visit there in 2006 on my way back from my cousin’s wedding in Greece. Let me be blunt — Warsaw is a fucking wasteland, but Krakow is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. It’s that perfect old-world European city full of cobblestoned streets, little cafés, antique shops, and second-hand bookstores full of dusty volumes you can’t hope to read. I loved Krakow from the minute I put my foot in it. On it. Whatever.

My point is, I thought I couldn’t love that city any more until I found this:

The Krakow Cipher

Copies of this were sticky-taped all up and down this one street. I took one back to the hostel where I was staying and tried to figure it out, but I never got very far. For a start there’s a lot less text than it looks like. Most of the page is just the same sentence repeated over and over, though lines seven and nine seem to contain variations. I’m all right at cracking monoalphabetic ciphers, but this isn’t much text to go on. I’m also fairly certain it’s Polish. I never had any luck cracking it in English — as a last-ditch attempt before posting this I ran it through a brute-force cracker that spat out a whole lot of arse. I did look up some Polish letter frequencies when my Polish skills still existed, but alas I was never good enough to figure it out.

I don’t like unsolved mysteries and this one is getting on ten years old, so I’m putting it out there — are there any Polish cryptanalysts or puzzle-solvers who want to have a crack at this? I can’t promise a $10,000 bounty or a job at the NSA, but I’ll buy you a drink! Or at the very least send you a care package. Because god damn it, it has to say something.


For the junior code-breakers out there, here is a transcribed version you can work from. I have left the line breaks as they are in the original, and I have designated the two characters with marks above them (lines seven and nine again) as distinct characters.

abcd efgc hbijkdl abcd efgc hbij kdl abcd efgc hbijkdl abcd efgc hbijkdl abcd efgc hbijkdl abcd efgc hbijkdl abcd efgc hbijkdl abcd efgc hbijkdl abcd efgc hbij kdl abcd efgc hbijkdl abcd efg c hbijkdl abcd efgcfm hbijkdn abcd efgc hbijkdl abcd efgc hbij kdl abcd efgc hbijkd edj gopq rfl abcd efgc hbijkdl abcd efgc hbijkdl abcd efgc hbijkdl abcd efgc hbijkdl abcd efgc hbijkdl abcd efgc hbijkdl abcd efgc hbi jkdl abcd efgc hbijkdl