Patterico's Pontifications


Amateur Cryptographers: Help Break the Da Vinci Code Decision Code [UPDATED]

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 5:24 pm

Via How Appealing’s Howard Bashman (blogging at a new address!) comes a link to the judge’s decision in that bogus copyright case filed against Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown. According to Howard, the judge has said that the decision itself contains a coded message, which he will “probably” confirm to the first person to break it.

Let’s do it. If you want to try to figure it out entirely on your own, be my guest. In the extended entry, I’ll tell you what I know so far and seek your help.

When you read the decision, it jumps out at you that certain words have only one letter italicized. I have gone through and written down every such letter I saw. I can’t promise I got them all; if you have corrections to my list, let me know. Here is what I got:

[S]MITHYCODEJAEIEXTOT[G]PAGREAMQWFKADPMQZV [UPDATE: This is incomplete. See UPDATE x3 for the full string.]

I’m no cryptographer, but no obvious solutions appear to me. With two Q’s and no U’s, it appears unlikely that it is a series of scrambled words. Nor does it appear to be a substitution cipher.

It’s hard to ignore the fact that the word “CODE” appears smack-dab in the middle of the string of letters.

I’m stumped. This is where the famous power of the Web comes. It’s up to you guys now.

UPDATE: Well, I guess I should have read the AP article linked in Howard’s post before setting out to solve the puzzle. It explains what I had to figure out on my own: that the code lies in single italicized letters in words throughout the beginning of the opinion. It also sets forth the first ten letters: SMITHYCODE — a reference to the code of Smith, which is the judge’s last name. I had somehow missed the first “S,” which I have now added in brackets above.

I would feel really stupid, except that the article also says this:

Since the judgment was handed down, [attorney Dan] Tench said it took several weeks – and several watchful eyes – to catch the code. Now, London and New York attorneys are scrambling to solve it.

Now, granted, I was looking for a code — but the italicized letters jumped right out at me.

I find this part puzzling:

After the “Smithy Code” series, there are an additional 25 jumbled letters contained in the first 14 pages of the document, Tench said, adding that he thinks the series can be decoded using an anagram or an alphabet-inspired code-breaking device. Known as a codex, the system is also found in Brown’s novel.

In the compilation of letters I have above, I count 27 2831 letters past the SMITHYCODE letters. There are at least two major possibilities: I counted two letters too many, or the lawyers studying the opinion missed two six. If they have been trying to solve the code for weeks, their failure to solve it could be a result of missing two six letters. Some of them were hard to see.

Even starting after SMITHYCODE, it still doesn’t look like a substitution cipher. I wrote it out on a piece of paper across the top, and completed the alphabet under each letter. (I don’t know if that is the preferred way to solve a substitution cipher, but it makes sense to me.) Nothing makes sense when you read it across.

If any of you are really into this, step #1 is to double-check whether I got the correct letters.

UPDATE x2: Another possibility, which would be clever but which I don’t have the patience to explore, is whether the message is hidden in the nonitalicized letter immediately after (or perhaps before) each italicized letter.

Fun stuff. Stay tuned . . .

UPDATE x3: Make that 28 letters — not 25 or 27. [D’oh! But see UPDATE x3, below!] I couldn’t resist; I went back and found the letters again, after SMITHYCODE, amd memorialized where they are. In the process, I found an extra G, before PAGREAM. I have added that extra G in brackets as well. Here are all the letters and where they are:

8. J a

9. e

11. i e

13. x

14. t

16. o [s]

18. t

19. g

20. p

[21. s]

23. a

25. [c] g r

26. e

27. a

29. m q

30. w

31. f

34. k

35. a

37. d

38. p

40. m

42. q

43. z v

So the final list after SMITHYCODE is:


Okay, guys. I’m pretty sure that’s right. Now go nuts.

UPDATE x3: A commenter has taken the document, copied it into Word, and searched for italics tags, coming up with 31 single italicized letters. These have been added to the previous update in brackets. Now it’s right! It’s really:


That’s final.

12 Responses to “Amateur Cryptographers: Help Break the Da Vinci Code Decision Code [UPDATED]”

  1. According to the AP story it’s SMITHYCODE (etc.) There’s an italicized “S” to be found before the “M”.

    nk (41da82)

  2. Well, it’s not ROT13. Given this was a copyright case and the judge likely read the books involved, it may be a book cipher. However, I don’t own a copy of either book and I’m on the road right now so I can’t check that out.

    Captain Ned (729352)

  3. There are 31 instances of individual italicized letters in the decision. They are, in order,


    The words in which the letters occur, in order, are:


    It’s not good eyesight, btw. Copy the text, with formatting, from the Acrobat Doc, paste it into Word, and do a format search for italics. This list is probably correct

    I think one may be able to make a pretty wry comment simply by stringing the words together.
    Best of luck, and I’ll let you know if I solve it.

    VMC (783448)

  4. Well, I don’t know if Patterico already said as much in his post, but it doesn’t appear to be a pure polyalphabetic substitution cipher. Using SMITHYCODE as a key, the remaining letters translate to:


    Whether these letters could be decrypted by using frequency analysis, I don’t know, but I get suspicious when I see doubled letters in a cipher (like “mm” and “vv.”)

    Andy (6feefb)

  5. There are 31 keys in the three alphabetic rows of a typewriter. That is, ‘a through ‘z’ and the punctuation characters “;’,./” Maybe its a substitution cypher on that set in QWERTY order.

    “SMITHYCODE” could be the coded message that is solved with the cypher, or it could be a header for the cypher.

    Doc Rampage (f06a6e)

  6. Found this on The Times website:

    The judge refers readers to a sentence in paragraph 52 of the judgment saying it would help readers figure out what he meant. That sentence reads: “The key to solving the conundrum posed by this judgment is in reading HBHG and DVC,”

    I’m guessing DVC is Da Vinci Code. I’m clueless as to the other.

    Pigilito (0be124)

  7. Just for fun, I put this blog into an anagram decoder. Now taking into account the hypnotic qualities of the word soporific (as opposed to sleep related), this phrase has a pretty good twist!


    anagrams to:


    A hypnotic site. Nuff said!

    Vermont Neighbor (a9ae2c)

  8. HBHG is “Holy Blood Holy Grail” — it’s an alternative Christ’s legacy book that forms the basis for the Jesus had children part of Brown’s book

    Sheldon (a387a3)

  9. On the other hand, anagram results for another newsworthy name are cryptically apropos:

    MICHAEL HILTZIK anagrams to
    ‘I’m thick, ill haze.’

    Vermont Neighbor (a9ae2c)

  10. (from memory): “Holy Blood Holy Grail” is the book written by the other party in the suit that Judge Smith was hearing.

    AMac (b6037f)

  11. […] Tip o’ the clipboard to Patterico — and if any Institute fellows are cryptographers, please drop by and help him out with his project. […]

    Strangely Silent: De Doc`s Ventures » Blog Archive » “Jolly Fun”? (48930a)

  12. I already deciphered it. It says send money to my site. Really. Would I lie?

    Gaius Arbo (78f19c)

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