Monday, January 12, 2015

Dorabella Cipher

The Dorabella Cipher – Enciphered Letter 

The Dorabella Cipher is an enciphered letter which was written by composer Edward Elgar to Dora Penny which was accompanied by another dated July 14, 1897. Penny did not decipher the letter and its meaning remains unknown. Elgar was an old music teacher of forty years who was yet to become a successful composer and Dora Penny was his junior by seventeen years.

They liked each other and remained friends for the rest of the composer’s life. Elgar had sent the short encrypted note to his young lady companion consisting of 87 characters which were written over three lines. The cipher seems to be made up from 24 symbols each consisting of 1, 2 or 3 approximate semicircles oriented in one of 8 directions and a small dot seems to appear after the fifth character on the third line. His nickname for his lady companion being `Dorabella’, the note had acquired the name of `The Dorabella Cipher’,He named Variations 10 of his 1899 Variation on an Original Theme – Enigma and Dorabella was done in dedication to Dora Penny.

Elgar’s Secret Writing 

Elgar seems to be fascinated with secret writing and also cracked a supposedly `uncrackable’ cipher which was published in Pall Mall Magazine and his fame rose from the way he would conceal identities of various friends in his famous Enigma Variation which was named in homage to Elgar after the German Enigma machine. Musicologist too managed to decrypt several of the secrets of Enigma Variation.

The mystery of this cipher is not a `whodunnit’ since Elgar had signed and had mentioned the date, nor a `howdunnit’ since it seems to have the key to the cipher but more on `whodunnwhat’ since it is a mystery to decipher its text. Presently the most persuasive reading is of Tony Gaffney who had proposed that the mysterious text was a written version of Elgar’s and Dora Penny’s shared private language which could be really as a tricky combination of backslang, contraction, abbreviation , in-jokes, puns or much more and inspite of it all, it still remains a mystery.Various attempts to solve the Dorabella Cipher were made with varying levels of success.

Three Rows of Symbols of Squiggles

The cipher has three rows with 24 various symbols of squiggles, which amounts to 80 characters, most of which resemble the letter `E’ which could relate to `Edward Elgar’s initials `EE’. Computers, in 1887, were not capable of spitting out complicated encoding systems and hence it is unlikely that Edward could have expected Penny to decipher anything which would be complicating.

Hence many were of the opinion that it was enciphered using a substitution method. With regards to substitution encoding method it would seem that each squiggly symbol would represent another letter of the alphabet and though there are 26 letters in the alphabet, with 24 other characters in the cipher, Elgar could have worked with ease using infrequent letters like Z, X etc.

The cryptanalysts tend to often use frequency analysis that would match the common squiggles in the cipher to common letters like A, E, T as a form to decode substitution ciphers and this frequency analysis shows that a substitution cipher seems reasonable for the Dorabella Cipher. This discovery supports what Elgar could probably have employed, in a more complicated enciphering method and inspite of frequency analysis usage, the cipher still tends to remain enigmatic.

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