Have you ever heard of the Voynich manuscript? It’s a mysterious book, possibly created in the early 15th century, that contains weird illustrations and text written in an unknown script and language. Since its rediscovery in 1912 by Wilfrid Voynich, it has eluded the decipherment attempts of generations of cryptographers. The Voynich manuscript is a fascinating piece of history that has inspired many novels, games and films. Amateur cryptographers can find the latest news and research on the Voynich manuscript and other uncracked ciphers on Nick Pelling’s blog Cipher Mysteries. He’s also the author of the readable non-fiction book The Curse of the Voynich.
To celebrate the publication of the 500th Sandra and Woo strip, I have decided to publish “my own Voynich manuscript”. So here it is, The Book of Woo! As you can see, it resembles the Voynich manuscript in several ways. But of course we couldn’t create 240 pages, 4 had to be enough. Unlike the Voynich manuscript, The Book of Woo definitely contains sensible information that can be deciphered. I guarantee it ;-). And I will pay the person who is able to provide a decipherment that’s sufficiently close to the plain text a reward of $350. Send your decipherment attempt(s) to firstname.lastname@example.org. I would also love to hear about your general ideas or statistical analyses that you carried out. There is no deadline. I will not publish the solution until at least strip #1000.
But be warned: It’s a huge challenge and I don’t expect to receive a valid decipherment at all. It’s primarily a work of art, not a puzzle for the general public. I believe that only experienced and dedicated code breakers have the chance to succeed. A lot of time was spent on the encryption. If you think you can simply carry out a frequency analysis on the letters and be able to reconstruct the English or German plain text this way, well, that’s just a waste of time. However, to make things a little easier, I want to give you the following hints:
- The encryption isn’t based on an algorithm only suitable for computers which executes a loop 100 times or something like that.
- The encryption isn’t based on some sort of device or mechanism that is hard to get.
- No “classical” steganographic method was used since that would just be impossibly hard to crack.
- The plain text is some sort of literature, as one can guess from Woo’s comment and the illustrations. A lot of time went into the plain text as well, it’s not just a copy of the first page of Rascal or something like that.
You can download larger versions of the four pages of the Book of Woo here:
[Update: 10 August 2013] Everybody who is seriously interested in deciphering The Book of Woo should read the comment section. There is a lot of interesting information in it.
[Update: 31 March 2015] The Book of Woo Wiki, maintained by our reader Foogod, also contains valuabable information for anyone who’s trying to break the code. In case the wiki should go offline sometime in the future, I created a complete backup of the wiki’s content on 31 March 2015.
In other news, the winners of the Sandra and Woo and Gaia fanart contest 2013 have been posted.
Thanks to everyone who participated!
- Sandra: Hey, Woo, what are you writing?
- Woo: Oh, just a little story.
- Sandra: Really? Can I have a look?
- Woo: Sure, I’ve just finished it.
- Sandra: What in Voynich’s name…?!