Ancient Cryptography

Ancient Texts => Edward Elgar's Dorabella Cipher => Topic started by: Aaron on September 17, 2004, 11:12:43 PM

Title: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on September 17, 2004, 11:12:43 PM has a pretty good main explanation, but the overall progress of solving is a bit slow. My personal guess is that the message contains only music, once interpreted correctly, that would sound really good. There are 24 possible symbols, with two components: angle and the number of arcs. There are 8 different angles and 1-3 arcs in each symbol. I believe the arcs correspond to which octave (relative to middle C) the note would be in, and the angle would be the actual name of the note. It is quite possible that one angle is a dummy only used in one octave, ie a low C that is only used for the first octave or a high C only used for the third octave. The trick is to see which angle was only used for the first or third octave.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: scott on September 21, 2004, 05:24:30 PM
I agree with the music. But I would like to know more about the lady who the note was sent to. Did she play the flute? Then maybe the arcs might be which finge to use? I would like to see a larger copy of the note also. My back ground in music is slim at best so I am not even sure haw the notes are produced on a flute. Who else in his life ever got a cryptogram from him? just thinking
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: pelican on September 21, 2004, 09:42:42 PM
I'm with Scott as far as having slim technical knowledge of music. I've played the bass totally by ear for 35 years. I would definitely be interested to see if Elgar ever sent anyone else a cipher though. That would be an interesting comparison to see whther he might have used the same method of encryption.

Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on September 21, 2004, 11:27:17 PM
I'm not too sure about whether he sent many ciphers to people, though he did certainly make ciphers as a hobby. As for procuring a larger copy of the letter, perhaps Edward Elgar: Memories of a Variation will hold a clearer picture. That is the first time the letter to Dora Penny was published. If someone knows where to find a copy that'd be great. There are two copies available on Amazon, though $20 for a book is a bit much for me to pay for right now. There's a good chance it might be in some libraries, but if one of you would be willing to buy the book, that would be great.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: scott on October 05, 2004, 09:40:32 PM
What if the 2 and 3 hump are not a single note but a chord? That would open things up a bit.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on October 12, 2004, 02:11:39 AM
Perhaps... that's certainly a possibility. One-note, two-note, and three-note chords could work as a code.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: angelapiano on October 24, 2004, 08:53:07 PM
Hi all,

Seems odd to me that this would be a musical piece. Neumes (essentially "notes in space" without a staff) were around a long time ago. I get the feeling Elgar was a more forward-thinking type.

If the multi-hump charcaters were chords, there'd need to be a way to determine the intervals between each pitch. Even selecting a starting pitch is essentially arbitrary.

I still need to have some time to look at discussion on Elgar's Enigma Variations. Maybe there's something there?

Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on June 29, 2005, 11:00:27 AM
Discarding music entirely, what if it corresponds with the Biblical Greek alphabet? That alphabet has 24 letters...
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: jjordan83 on July 09, 2005, 02:22:40 PM
Considering that she was a preacher's daughter it makes sense that the biblical alphebet might be involved.  Elgar said to her, "I thought that you, of all people, would crack it."  What else was she known for?  What else did she do in her life?  I think that the focus is too much on Elgar and his passions.  I'd imagine that any good cryptographer would make a code based on the recipient as opposed to himself.  Is there any good information online about the life, passions, and interests of Dora?
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on September 05, 2005, 11:21:55 PM
I haven't found any books yet... I could try ebay or amazon and see if anyone has literature on her. Perhaps I could find the original book the coded letter was printed in.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on April 05, 2006, 05:33:25 PM
I finally found a place with the book; I'll be able to get a much better view of the cipher I hope.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Don Crownover on October 28, 2007, 07:08:24 PM
I thought music seemed a logical interpretation of the symbols, but rather than number of curls representing the octave, wonder about it representing the number of notes played at that pitch.  As tries at simple solutions I tried setting the symbol that actually looks like a small c to represent the note c. From there I just stepped around the circle clockwise to get to high C right before getting back to c. So this cipher would give a simple one octave tune. I also tried setting the same direction to E since too curls in that direction look like a stylish E. Then again I marched counterclockwise around until reaching high E. I do not truly play the piano, so I just banged the keys out in the right order. The C variation definitely sounded better (to me) than the E variation. But maybe someone with more musical training might find some variation of this idea that would give a pleasing tune. Or find a piece that fits in with something Elgar wrote. I know it did not sound like Pomp and Circumstance which is the only Elgar tune I am actually familiar with. Thanks. Don
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on October 30, 2007, 01:08:12 PM
That's a very interesting approach, would you mind posting the musical score you came across with that method (just the note letters+octaves for each note would be fine)? I'd like to hear it for myself.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Don Crownover on October 31, 2007, 07:40:44 PM
Sure. Please note (no pun intended ... well maybe) that there were several of the single curl symbols that I was not quite sure of the direction. You might want to compare them against the picture yourself. The capitol letters stand for the higher octave.

Here is the C variation:

Here is the E variation:

Make of it what you will. Don
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on November 13, 2007, 10:16:05 AM
I'm going to turn those into midi files soon to see how they sound, thanks for the input. :D
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Dutch on November 15, 2007, 09:08:17 AM
 :)  I am inclined to agree with Aaron about the symbols representing musical notes.  Elgar was a composer and the message could be his way of sending music to her that he had composed just for her.  I have studied music in the past and it seems that Aaron's analysis is very realistic.

Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Don Crownover on November 18, 2007, 06:54:06 PM
When you were thinking that the extra curls might stand for higher octaves, did you turn those into midi files? How did they sound? Don
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on November 19, 2007, 07:47:08 PM
No, I hadn't. I plan to use some of the holiday time to experiment though. :D
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: tonybaloney on June 01, 2008, 11:52:29 AM
Here's the solution to Dorabella - (Elgar often used phonetic spellings)

Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on June 02, 2008, 08:35:20 AM
Interesting solution... can't seem to make heads or tails of it though.

I saw on another forum the possibility that the + oriented symbols stand for dots, and the X oriented symbols stand for dashes, making a kind of morse code that has multiple meanings based on the number of lumps in each symbol.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: tonybaloney on June 02, 2008, 06:20:30 PM

Do I detect a note of skepticism – perhaps the following will clarify it for you -

Four versions of the ‘clock dial’ arrangement (none with the symbols attached) appear in a 1920’s notebook – where an elderly Elgar appears to be trying to recall his system.

Using one of the ingenious ‘clock dials’ as a mnemonic aid I believe he wrote the message straight of without any prior composition.

The resulting plaintext appears to be gibberish until we remember Elgar had a love of word play & word puzzles, often using phoneticised spellings i.e. ‘My Dear Dorabellllla – How many ells long is that…..’; ‘gorjus’ for gorgeous; ‘flopsikon’; ‘warbling wigorously in Worcester wunce a week’; ‘bung yirds’ for young birds; ‘xqqq’ for excuse; ‘ckor’ for score; etc. etc

In another letter to Dora dated 26th Feb 1899 Elgar writes are you living backwards like the Queen in Alice’

The first line didn’t make much sense to me until I remembered seeing the following in a letter from Elgar to Dora Penny dated Sept. 24th 1898 ‘…. and then some Sunday at Wolverhampton you can give us tea and fire eggs at me as of yore.’

The middle line – ‘antiquarian net’ – would seem to mean circle of elderly friends.

The last line – On Elgar’s visits Dora would often sit turning the pages, or sing, for Elgar at the piano – I assume there must have been occasions when asked to do this she had declined (her father being a Rector) and religious duties taking priority.

The final word - a letter from Elgar to Alice Stuart-Wortley (17th July 1910) is signed ‘Yours aye, E.’

The following are 2 contemporaneous messages you may wish to unravel – it was by considering how difficult the second of these would be to solve if the word divisions were removed and the whole encipherd using Elgar’s symbols, that led to the above solution.

DAAER oter Ditheer ndaer Elenher. Ewer iveler taer Utneyper. Idneyser sier taer Radfleldber Ollegecer. Erceyper taer heter Ospitalher. Evening Standard, Thu 1st Aug 1889

MA petite Marie, nod efto raur hsuf nke swoton gnihb tae. 8. 10. 9. 1. 21. 15. 7. seutno yadta 9.8. 7. - 22 – 13 niaw tidal orsei amo dneb ius eriw onll tliaf. – J’en suis. Evening Standard, Mon 11th Nov 1872


Eth emors edoc ytheor si ydott.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on June 02, 2008, 07:20:39 PM
I am aware of Elgar's unusual habit of mangling words in his ciphers, but unfortunately that makes it much harder to tell when one has found the correct solution. I have seen the "antiquarian" solution a long time ago, and while it does have a few words of sense in it, it is quite possible there are other messages embedded in the original cipher as well. I know Elgar liked to mesh messages together.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: tonybaloney on June 03, 2008, 04:43:42 AM
Aaron wrote –

‘I am aware of Elgar's unusual habit of mangling words in his ciphers,’

What ciphers are you referring to? Apart from one small fragment I am aware of no other ciphers by Elgar.

‘I know Elgar liked to mesh messages together’

I don’t understand what you mean by this, could you give some examples of it?

‘it is quite possible there are other messages embedded in the original cipher as well’

are you suggesting it contains more than one solution?

One knows when one has found the correct solution when you can apply a strict set of rules to it that reveal the underlying message and not gibberish.

Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on June 03, 2008, 07:42:44 AM
Elgar's compositions have a composite of various messages hidden within. Thus Elgar's "Enigma Variations".

As far as the mangling of words, I meant his spelling habits in general of spelling phonetically in some of his letters.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: tonybaloney on July 31, 2008, 12:38:12 PM
Update –

The ‘Elgar Society’ offered a £1,500 prize for the correct solution to the ‘Dorabella Cipher’ – needless to say my solution was sent in over a year ago – the competition closed on the 2nd of June 2008 – the cheque not having arrived yet! I contacted them only to discover the 3 judges haven’t even looked at the entries yet – but was told an announcement would be made on the 30th of September – I can’t wait . . . .

Below is the page from Elgar’s notebook where an elderly Elgar seems to be trying to recollect his system.


Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on July 31, 2008, 05:42:21 PM
Good luck! :D I can't say I've seen that particular image before...
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: tonybaloney on September 21, 2008, 11:07:46 AM
The only other message written in this cipher appears in the margin (bracketed against a couple of lines of music) of a ‘Crystal Palace Saturday Concert Programme’ dating from 1885/6 (over a decade before the ‘Dorabella cipher’)


Its solution can be found by using one of the other clockdials from the 1920’s notebook entry.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: tonybaloney on September 30, 2008, 09:16:34 AM
The following has just been posted on the Elgar Society's website -

No convincing solution was forthcoming so, sadly, it has not been possible to award the prize.
The competition seems to have set many eager sleuths to work, with, no doubt, countless hours of frustrating effort bringing little reward. From personnel experience we know that the siren-like draw of this never-ending quest can become a n all-consuming addiction. So heartfelt commiserations to any cipher widows - or widowers - out there! The Dorabella Cipher continues to taunt a large and enthusiastic web community that includes a number of professional code-breakers. Sometimes the solution seems tantalisingly close, a few cracks appear in its impenetrable surface, but they lead nowhere and we’re back where we started. Clearly the efforts of many skilled potential entrants were to no avail and they were unable to extract a solution. The judges share their conviction that when the correct solution is found it will be glaringly obvious.
Nevertheless, seven individuals were brave enough to submit entries to the competition, encompassing an encouragingly wide global spread. Some merely hinted at what steps to take towards decipherment, with their authors admitting they remained stumped. Others, despite taking arbitrary liberties with the decoding process, produced awkwardly assembled, contrived and unconvincing ‘solutions’.
One or two entries did contain some impressively ambitious and thoughtful analysis. These entries, though, having matched Elgar’s symbols to the alphabet, invariably ended up with a fairly arbitrary sequence of letters. When a phonetic interpretation of the resulting TXT like ‘message’ is attempted, in the manner of Eric Sam’s 1970 Musical Times solution, the results read as a disconnected chain of bizarre utterances, such as an imaginative mind could conjure up from any group of random letters, and make little sense. One implausible, though entertaining interpretation made liberal use of racy 20th Century American slang – perhaps a spoof entry!
Another solution suggested that the code was a form of musical notation. Whilst an interesting idea, when transcribed, the resulting somewhat messy arrangement of notes can hardly be called music. Others have attempted similar musical mappings of Elgar’s cipher symbols before with equally unsatisfactory results. In fact, any sequence of code or symbols can be translated into ‘random’ music of this sort. I do, though, rather enjoy the implication that Elgar may have shared the aesthetic principles of John Cage. (Not as implausible as it might seem!)
So, in spite of much admirable effort, Elgar’s puzzle remains stubbornly impenetrable. It will no doubt continue to exercise many minds for years to come.

Kevin Jones, Chair of judging panel
Emeritus Professor of Music, Kingston University
September 2008
More on Elgar’s Dorabella Cipher can be found in Professor Jones’ article for the BBC 2007 Proms website.

- - -

(I shall make some comments upon this later when I've calmed down) Tony
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: tonybaloney on September 30, 2008, 03:46:40 PM
!*&$   -/:   ^@+{   ^*";   &@).   >.   ^)%#-   <?&%   "&+#~    :*&")+}~$£)^.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on September 30, 2008, 04:26:40 PM
At least you tried. :) Those other notes you produced do seem to contain promising leads... maybe one day a true solution will be found.

*wonders if your last post was a random set of curse words or a colorful cipher*
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: tonybaloney on October 01, 2008, 11:33:35 AM
‘Tried ‘ –

I bloody-well succeeded – the fact that the panel of judges K. Jones (Professor of Music), A. Neil (ex Chairman of the Elgar Society) and R. Anderson (Professor & Elgar scholar) were not convinced by my solution does not mean it is incorrect.

I call into question the competence of the 3 judges to decide upon a cryptographic solution and the Elgar Society’s wisdom in selecting them.

If you have ever looked at Eric Sams’s solution (another musicologist & scholar by the way) it is glaringly obvious that having a few letters behind your name does not necessarily imply you know what you’re talking about – especially if you step out of your own field of expertise.

Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on October 01, 2008, 11:55:36 AM
What was your solution then? I thought the hellcat solution was derived by Jean Palmer... from the "The Agony Column Codes & Ciphers". Or was your solution included in his book?

Also, no offense, but I seriously doubt Dorabella would have managed to make sense of the initial set of letters you've derived, considering that they didn't exactly pass along more and more complex ciphers to each other during their friendship. This was just a one-shot, and I don't think Elgar meant for it to be *that* complex.  Also, did I/J and U/V not yield anything promising? I noticed the message you posted uses XYZ for the last dial on the clock.

I definitely think the clock dial is a large part of the solution, though.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: tonybaloney on October 01, 2008, 05:07:07 PM
My real name is Tony – Jean Palmer is a pseudonym I used for ‘The Agony Column Codes & Ciphers’ - sorry if I hadn’t made that clear – the ‘hellcat’ solution is mine.

I too doubt if Dorabella would have managed to make sense of the initial set of letters derived but I’m sure she would have recognized my final solution as being basically correct ( I grant the odd word may be wrong)

The whole point is Elgar never meant it to be that complex – to him it wasn’t – he simply wrote out the message (I believe he did it straight off in one go without any prior composition) he could easily have done this if you consider he probably derived his simple substitution system in his school days after coming across a version of the Pigpen cipher, his ingenious ‘clock dial’ mnemonic aid would have allowed him to write it as quickly as someone writing in different symbols as in  say shorthand – it is the combination of the 3 simple systems (simple substitution, backslang & phonetic spelling) that make it complex (each system by itself is trivial) - Elgar only writing it and not having to decipher it would not have realized how complex his little puzzle for Dora had become.

XYZ - The Pigpen ciphers having 26 or 27 squares do not combine letters – Elgar as a teenager would not necessarily have known the convention of combining I/J & U/V and would be just as likely to combine the XYZ – frequency comparison of the 2 arc symbols only, indicate that XYZ were combined.

No offense taken.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on October 01, 2008, 09:04:38 PM
Gotcha, thanks for clearing that up. And you do make a good point... perhaps he hadn't thought to decipher it to check how complicated it would be. I've certainly played around with combining 3 or 4 different ciphering methods myself, and it certainly makes things a mess, especially if they have to be done in a certain order to decipher the message...
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: tonybaloney on March 06, 2009, 10:19:44 AM
The ‘Crystal Palace Saturday Night Concert Programme’ (Liszt fragment) given in context here. This is from a bound volume of programmes – size 8” x 5” (sorry haven’t gone metric yet) – print it of this size and note how tiny Elgar writes his symbols. It is Symphonic Poem No.3 in C Major, “Les Preludes" (after Lamartine) – the only other marginal notes throughout this volume are all in plaintext & are:-

Very good performance; slightly out of tune; poor; beautiful; I think you know this a little; very well done august; this is the thing! It; one of Wagners endings; not so striking as some; no need to say anything about this; this is made of No.4 cello:

The solution can be found using  the same ‘clock dial’ & alphabetical arrangement I give for ‘Dorabella’, the only difference being the perimeter symbols point outwards not inwards & the single arc symbols are in the 3 & 9 o’clock positions as opposed to the 12 & 6 o’clock – the superscript stands for a capital letter & the full stop doubles the previous letter.


PS. Those who have been following this saga for over a year & a half may be amused to know I started a small claims case against the Elgar Society only to be ‘struck out’ by District Judge Stary at a preliminary hearing.

Why is this site called ‘village idiot vs world’?!
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on March 06, 2009, 11:12:44 AM
Why is this site called ‘village idiot vs world’?!
Because that's the name of the webcomic I started on this site many years ago.  I still haven't gotten around to drawing the second strip, but at least I'm practicing my drawing skills now. XD If you check out the main url you'll see all my various creations.

Thanks for all your efforts with the Dorabella Cipher by the way, it's what inspired me to start these forums in the first place. :)
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: tonybaloney on March 08, 2009, 10:25:08 AM
(I shall make some comments upon this later when I've calmed down) Tony

Ignoring all the waffle in Prof. K. Jones’s summary of the competition results given previously – the error he makes is in thinking my proposed alphabet to be a “fairly arbitrary sequence of letters” or/and “group of random letters”
Consider the following list which comes from all the messages in my book which is relevant to the time period & type of message – (226,285 characters - 51,067 words – 1,545 messages)

TO   1432     YOU   1844     YOUR   527      WRITE   403      DARLING   340                       
I    1219     AND   987      WILL   464      SHALL   214      LETTER    326                       
OF   600      THE   787      HAVE   370      YOURS   133      ALWAYS    126                       
IN   573      FOR   664      LOVE   331      AGAIN   119      DEAREST   126                       
MY   534      NOT   459      FROM   259      WOULD   104      RECEIVED  116                       
ME   529      ALL   378      WITH   259      THINK   102      THANKS    113                       
A    504      ARE   337      WELL   233      THERE   91       LETTERS   100                       
AT   438      BUT   253      THIS   221      GOING   82       ADDRESS   90                       
BE   407      CAN   224      THAT   189      QUITE   79       BETTER    89                       
IS   362      SEE   174      HOPE   156      ABOUT   78       MONDAY    87                       
IF   312      ONE    165      DEAR   153      AFTER   76       CANNOT    81                       
IT   303      WAS   126      KNOW   152      BLESS   75       BEFORE    67                       
DO   290      DAY   125      SEND   151      HEART   75       PLEASE    65                       
AM   283      HAS   116      VERY   138      COULD   73       TUESDAY   64                       
SO   278      NOW   114      COME   135      WHICH   72       SHOULD    62                       
AS   264      HOW   111      EVER   135      NEVER   70       SATURDAY  60                       
ON   260      OWN   110      WHEN   132      FIRST   65                                 
NO   194      MAY   110      LAST   128      STILL   63                                 
OR   176      GOD   107      HOME   124                                         
WE   153      ANY   101      ONLY   120                                         
BY   149      LET   91       BEEN   119                                         
GO   111      HAD   85       SOON   113                                         
HE   87       TWO   81       TIME   111                                         
UP   79       SAY   78       NEXT   108                                         
..   ...      HER   77       DON’T  105                                         
..   ...      DID   68       WHAT   102                                         
..   ...      OUT   68       MUCH   99                                         
..   ...      ...   ...      MORE   99                                         
..   ...      ...   ...      MEET   98                                         
..   ...      ...   ...      LONG   96                                         
..   ...      ...   ...      HERE   90                                         
..   ...      ...   ...      MUST   86                                         
..   ...      ...   ...      WEEK   82                                         
..   ...      ...   ...      HEAR   78                                         
..   ...      ...   ...      GOOD   77                                         
..   ...      ...   ...      TRUE   76                                         
..   ...      ...   ...      TILL   74                                         
..   ...      ...   ...      TOWN   67                                         
..   ...      ...   ...      SAME   67                                         
..   ...      ...   ...      GIVE   66                                         
..   ...      ...   ...      THEN   65                                         
..   ...      ...   ...      MANY   64                                         
..   ...      ...   ...      WISH   61                                         
..   ...      ...   ...      TELL   60                                                                  

‘Its’ has a frequency of 14 on this list

Or the following which is much more comprehensive (being based on the British National Corpus 100,000,000 word databank) but not period or message type specific

Frequencies per million                                                

of   31109      the   64420     that   9936      which   3893      people      1146
to   26062      and   27002     with   6821      there   2852      should      1105
a    22222      was   9368      this   4506      their   2761      between     968
in   19466      for   8815      have   4416      would   2467      before      896
is   9961      you    4755      from   4360      about   1798      through     846
it   9298       are   4713      they   3754      could   1653      because     715
on   7199       his   4678      were   3282      other   1427      however     664
he   6756       had   4639      been   2756      these   1252      government  660
be   6742       not   4618      will   2598      first   1220      against     597
i    6531       but   4393      when   2069      after   1217      another     575
as   5621       she   3762      more   2022      where   1033      thought     532
by   5528       her   3480      said   2018      years   925       number      488
at   4868       has   2708      what   1936      being   917       without     483
or   3747      one    2609      into   1700      those   861       different   482
an   3613       all   2486      some   1681      still   744       children    477
we   2784       can   2211      them   1572      three   691       system      476
if   2118       who   2086      only   1552      under   648       during      475
do   2016       its   1782      time   1509      world   629       within      472
so   1767       him   1684      then     1378      while   603         
up   1743       out   1452      over   1357      might   592         
no   1601       two   1428      also   1328      right   588         
my   1438       may   1372      like   1264      think   562         
me   1239       new   1323      your   1212      never   542         
mr   683        now   1211      very   1092      since   537         
go   649        did   1210      than   1074      again   529         
us   573        any   1189      most   1048      found   521         
..   .....      see   1033      made   990       house   506         
..   .....      way   925       just   982       place   499         
..   .....      how   915       back   937       going   482         
..   .....      our   914       many   931       great   476         
..   .....      own   724       work   901                 
..   .....      too   710       much   889                 
..   .....      get   709       down   862                 
..   .....      off   645       such   825                 
..   .....      man   639       make   769                 
..   .....      use   637       even   746                 
..   .....      day   594       must   739                 
..   .....      old   545       know   734                 
..   .....      say   512       both   733                 
..   .....      end   481       year   730                 
..   .....      put   475       good   729                 
..   .....      ...   ....      last   707                 
..   .....      ...   ....      well   670                 
..   .....      ...   ....      take   665                 
..   .....      ...   ....      same   611                 
..   .....      ...   ....      life   598                 
..   .....      ...   ....      here   590                 
..   .....      ...   ....      does   587                 
..   .....      ...   ....      used   585                 
..   .....      ...   ....      come   574                 
..   .....      ...   ....      each   539                 
..   .....      ...   ....      long   526                 
..   .....      ...   ....      home   525                 
..   .....      ...   ....      need   521                 
..   .....      ...   ....      part   518                 
..   .....      ...   ....      left   478                         

‘God’ has a frequency of 190 on this list

The words given in the above list comprise about 50% of all words in a text – i.e. take any paragraph and you will find half the words in it will be on this list.

There are approximately the following quantities of English words – (which could possibly be halved unless you’re a champion Scrabble player)
2 letter words 100
3 .................. 1000
4 .................. 5000
5 .................. 9000
6 .................16000

It is true that in any arbitrary or random set of 87 letters/message you will find words occurring by chance – about 10 three letter words per message, about 1or 2 four letter words per message, a 5 letter word only occurs about once every 10 messages, a six letter word about once every 100 messages etc.

The point is that these are any words at all – not just common or high occurrence words that one would expect to find in a message. (It makes no difference that the words are written in ‘backslang’ just as it would make no difference if the message was simply written backwards).
HELP - I have tried to calculate from the above (and from individual letter frequencies of words etc.) the odds of finding 2 common 3 letter words & a 4 letter word in a random 87 letters – ending up with answers varying from thousands to 1 against to millions to one against.
There must be a way of correlating all this but I haven’t the math skills – will someone please tell me what the true odds are?
Also consider how by simply reversing the perimeter etc. The proposed alphabet produces 2 more high frequency words in the Liszt fragment (‘one’ & its)

By the way – the reason ‘dminuneho’ doesn’t follow the backslang rules is because Elgar wanted the sound of the ‘ho’ on the end of it to follow through with the next words as in ‘Oh am sorry you theo....etc’ don’t think I’ve mentioned that before!

He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don't let that fool you. He really is an idiot.
- Groucho Marx

Come the millennium, month 12,
In the home of greatest power,
The village idiot will come forth
To be acclaimed the leader. - Nostradamus (1555)

ps - you should have realised by now I ain't smart enough to have made it up - I can't even get the above lists to line up nicely.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on March 08, 2009, 08:12:00 PM
Nice! And sadly, while I am usually good at math, statistics is my weak point. Also, I fixed your post with the teletype (tt) tag. It forces the text to use a fixed-width font.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: tonybaloney on March 09, 2009, 05:31:35 AM
Thanks for lining that up Aaron
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on March 09, 2009, 08:43:41 AM
No problem. :)
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: tonybaloney on March 14, 2009, 08:57:42 AM
As no one’s offering me any odds and not being able to calculate it I wrote a little (lengthy!) programme in simple basic to substitute letters in the Dorabella message – it would pick a random number from 1 to 1000 – if the number was 1 to 130 it placed E for Elgars highest frequency symbol , if 131 to 220 T ...... etc etc then selected in the same manner for the next highest frequency symbol etc
I ran of 2,500 sample messages (got bored after that having to look at them all manually) – if someone who can link such a program to a dictionary could do the same it might prove illuminating.
58 of them contained YOU or any of its backslang variations
7 of these 58 (given below) also contained a common 4 letter word written in the same manner.








Only 2 of these contain 2 common 3 letter words & a 4 letter word
2 out of 2,500 messages

If Elgar’s writing of his single arc symbols had been more precise (his handwriting left a lot to be desired too) we would have been looking for YOUR as well (end of first line in his message and most common 4 letter word in a personal message) – what odds would that give us?
Multiply this by how many words contain an apostrophe – compare the Liszt fragment (which has word divisions)  etc etc
There’s more chance of me quitting smoking than this cipher solution being wrong.
Prof. Jones may also like to try conjuring up anything at all intelligible out of any of these sets of random letters.
Look at the linguistic contortions Eric Sams had to go through to contrive his effort.
My Dorabella solution contains 27 words – 13 are in plain English, 2 are abbreviations, 12 are phoneticised (most very obvious) – it does not contain any anagrams
I did not solve this because of any cipher expertise, mathematical ability or computer wizardry – the simple fact is I knew immediately I saw it that


is not a random string of letters because since taking up this hobby about 7 years ago I have looked at thousands of similar strings of random letters and knew intuitively how rare it is to find common words in them – hence not rejecting it as nonsense, as others with less practical experience must have done, I came to the solution.

Have I convinced anybody at all yet? - is anybody even wavering? - or is it a case of Victor Meldrew
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on March 14, 2009, 02:59:40 PM
I do believe your solution has merit, it's just that I wish I knew exactly what the meaning is supposed to be. The solution itself seems as cryptic as the original cipher.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: tonybaloney on March 15, 2009, 02:38:09 PM
The solution itself seems as cryptic as the original cipher.

Aaron – you do me an injustice – which bit is still cryptic to you  –
First I’ll explain that despite what you read elsewhere about Elgar having a fascination with codes and ciphers – his fascination was with the English language and wordplay – his notebooks are full of acrostics not ciphers – there is not another cipher to be found amongst them – crossword puzzles, yes, ciphers, no

the Dorabella solution reads (after converting the half of it that had phoneticised spellings) –
I’ve added some punctuation to make it clearer –

‘B.(Bella) Hellcat i.e. a war usin’ effin’ henshellin’ why your
antiquarian net diminuene-ho/oh -am sorry you
theo, O’tis God then me, so la Deo da, aye’

He rhymes three words in the first line – he uses the childlike pronunciation diminueneho instead of diminuendo to mean diminishes so the sound of the ‘ho’ can also apply to the next word – ‘theo’ (remember Dora is a vicar’s daughter) is short for ‘theological’ presumably so he doesn’t have to struggle with it like he did trying to spell ‘antiquarian’ in backslang  - the last line he inserts a pun by changing the ‘de’ in ‘la-de-da’ to ‘Deo’ – he finishes with ‘aye’ as he does in at least one other letter.
Another letter informs us of an egg fight between them.
Yes he uses childish words in other writings, he even had a childish nickname for his wife
The whole is just an amusing thank you note after their visit – nothing more

The Liszt fragment reads –

“Mes it’s one Frn seezhup”

which is bracketed against a piece of music which has ‘allegro ma non troppo’ (play fast but not overly so) above it and ‘freely treated’ below it.
‘Mes’ is either a mistake for ‘yes’ or Elgar’s way of saying ‘my’ as in ‘My goodness!’
‘Frn’ is his abbreviation for ‘Friday night’ – that is payday over here, the time everyone before the days of television, cinema, radio etc. went down the pub with a little money in their pockets, the evening usually ending in a singsong & dance, the most popular being ‘knees-up mother Brown’ –
‘Seize up’ is what happened to your knees afterwards.
So the conductor’s interpretation of the piece of music must have been a bit too free for Elgar’s taste prompting this amusing comment. 

This is ridiculous – I’ll being having to draw cartoons next like the Americans did to explain 9-11
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on March 15, 2009, 05:25:02 PM
Thanks for the explanation, it makes more sense now. I apologize for being dense, it's just that I have trouble understanding language in general, never mind someone's encrypted shorthand. ;) I'm sorry if I got you all bent out of shape. The only point I was trying to make is that shorthand by itself is hard to read, especially that of doctors. They assume that the person reading their writing has some prior knowledge of the point they are trying to get across. This clearly applies in the Dorabella cipher, which is intended to be a letter to a close friend.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Comedysouth on December 20, 2010, 11:00:52 AM
Just registered here to tell Tony that he must be on crack if he is trying to pass this bs off as a serious solution. Totally fucking delusional.

Believe me, it was worth bringing this thread back just to say that.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: tonybaloney on December 21, 2010, 11:37:37 AM
Merry Xmas to you too -

nicotine is the only substance I have ever used (still do).

I would have preferred the phrase "Totally effin delusional" but never mind.

You wouldn't be a musicologist by any chance?

Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: escher7 on November 11, 2011, 04:20:44 PM
Too many reaches for meaning. It's not that complicated.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: escher7 on November 24, 2011, 07:24:00 PM
I am 95% certain that I have it. Half of my plaintext jumps right off the page, requiring no interpretation other than the odd reversal of a word and a few last letters in a word moved to the front. I have one brief phrase that is driving me nuts, but the rest is done. The letter tells Dora how sad EE is and goes on to comment on how he is aging. There are then two sentences saying "you know I am forever fond of you" and that he is writing "to the one I love". (Paraphrasing for now.)  As I suspected, it contains intimate thoughts that EE would not have wanted public. I have no doubt that he remembered and probably Dora knew how to crack it. I also want to see if there is a key of some kind.

I don't mean to be coy, but until it is 100% complete, I am holding on to it. I have written to the Elgar Society to see if they are still willing to award a prize. I would like to receive something other than a pat on the back for a month's work, (obsession).  Skepticism is expected as I can't believe I have done it either when so many others have tried, but I was lucky in picking a frequency table for comparison that so clearly gave me the answer that I knew it was correct. The main difficulty is with the vernacular and that is what is giving me trouble with the one phrase I don't have yet. It is tempting to see "Larks" and "hellcats" but EE really wasn't that obtuse. Still, he did mix things up and one has to be careful not to grab at words that aren't intended. As others have done, I read a great deal of background to acquire a feeling for the man's ways with words and that has aided me.

When I hear back (if) from the EE Society and when I finish the damn thing, I will publish it here for criticism. For all my confidence, others may see small corrections that have escaped me as a result of temporary blindness. Then again, I may be way off track.

I picked this forum at random, but it seems as good a place as any to publish.

Rick Henderson
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher (Not)
Post by: escher7 on December 19, 2011, 05:27:28 PM
With great humility I now know that my "solution" to this cypher, while very creative, is quite wrong. While laughing at others who have imagined wonderful things to make their solution fit, most notably blaming Elgar's word games, I fell into the same trap. My solution is as much fantasy as the others.

Ironically, I believe that I have found the correct clear text. Unfortunately the key, while partially coming out, is not consistent. This means that either the "Jones" interpretation of the symbols, (taken from Elgar's own  notes) is incorrect or EE made mistakes in encryption. The fact that part of the key makes sense, tells me that only part of the English cypher text I am using is correct.  The conclusion can only be that Elgar used one of the other variations of his cypher. There are only so many ways the symbols can practically be used and I am now pursuing the variations, hoping to get the correct key.

I have left my self-assured "solution" to remind me how nutty we amateurs can be in our attempts. But I am not finished yet.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on December 19, 2011, 06:36:11 PM
Well, at least you're trying! :) Here's hoping your next attempt hits closer to the mark.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: macnamband on August 12, 2013, 11:17:09 PM
I'm a journalist writing a piece for a science magazine about the Dorabella cipher....  Can I ask you some questions?

Mark MacNamara
San Francisco, CA
415 595 4405
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on August 13, 2013, 01:41:33 PM
Sure thing. I'll send you an email.
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Diane on August 27, 2013, 10:10:08 AM
OK - I'm Dorabella
Fairly young, a bit musical. Probably learned to play the pianoforte among accomplishments proper to a middle-class gel. Not stupid, but my knowledge of ciphers and things runs to the language of flowers, and how to flirt with a fan and stamps.

A minister's daughter, so unused to worker's use of 'f' words.  Mr. Elgar is introduced to me, and I begin a conversation in which we find we are kindred spirits. Something initiates a train of thought which leads Elgar to provide me with a page of curly marks that I cannot understand.

Likely scenario?  As a polite gesture to his eminence, and his profession, I say something like, O Mr. Elgar, I did so enjoy hearing your ....(x piece of music)... that I implored Papa to obtain the sheet music for me.

Says Elgar, 'I should be delighted to hear you play it'.

Say I, who never expected to be taken seriously,

'... But I confess that while I can read the notes I should play, my fingers become terribly tangled and as yet I haven't been able to play it as you deserve it should be'.

Says Elgar,   I daresay I can provide you with an alternative notation, one easier on your delightful digits, though it may prove as much of a puzzle in another way.

At which I flutter my fan, delighted to be off the hook and to be able to say over dinner that this eminent gentleman has been so kind and condescending.

The bit of paper, when it arrives, is certainly beyond me, because I've never seen a piece of Elgar's music written in my life.

So - how about an overlay, point to point, on Elgar's sheet music?

*retires, fluttering ignorant eyelashes*

Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Aaron on August 28, 2013, 10:56:12 AM
That's a good question. Who knows of a good source for scans/photos of Elgar's original handwritten pieces of music?
Title: Re: Intro to the Cipher
Post by: Diane on August 29, 2013, 12:18:06 PM
Nimrod, from Elgar's Enigma variations