Books with Ciphers 21 – J.J. Connington – Tom Tiddler’s Island


Woof, talk about stumbling on trivia gold… Ok, let’s start with the author. Alfred Walter Stewart (1880-1947) was a Scottish chemist, graduating from Glasgow University in 1902 after earning the Mackay-Smith scholarship. He then entered University College, London, in 1903 to pursue independent research. His research work formed part of his thesis, and he received a Doctorate in Science in 1907, then was elected to a Carnegie Research Fellowship (1905-1908). In 1914, he was appointed Lecturer in Physical Chemistry and Radioactivity at the University of Glasgow. He worked for the Admiralty during WW I, and received attention for his work on beta particle change in radioactive elements in 1918. On top of this, he wrote detective novels and SF part-time between 1923 and 1947 under the name J.J. Connington. Two of his memorable detective characters are Superintendent Ross and Chief Constable Sir Clinton Driffield.

Tom Tiddler’s Island (AKA: Gold-Brick Island) came out in 1933. While it’s effectively just a “what’s going on adventure story” like you’d expect from a Hardy Boy’s book, it’s really filled with external references (Sherlock Holmes, Tom Tiddler’s Ground, Charles Lamb’s story of the discovery of roast pork) and some serious cutting edge discussions on radioactivity and the process of uranium decaying down to gold. There’s even a mention of American chemist Stephen H. Emmens, who had invented an explosive he called Emmensite, and claimed to have transmuted silver to gold. He’s not in wikipedia, but there’s definitely a lot of information on him elsewhere on the net.

The story starts out with newly-wed couple Jean and Colin Trent on their honeymoon, going to Ruffa island to stay for a few weeks at the estate of one of Colin’s acquaintances, Mr. Craigmore. The island is about 1 mile long and half a mile wide, with one small rocky-lined port, and almost no one living on it. Craigmore has gone off somewhere else, and is loaning the mansion, Wester Voe, and grounds to the couple, plus the use of his butler and cook (a married couple). Also on the island, in a ramshackle place named Heather Lodge is a very shady guy named Arthur Arrow, his niece Hazel, and a small handful of thug/bodyguards, plus a mysterious man named “Northfleet”. Arrow is supposedly a scientist conducting dangerous chemistry experiments in a compound at the other end of the island, and the guards are there to keep the curious away (most of the guards speak with a German accent). Northfleet turns out to be a chemist that Colin used to know in university (Colin was studying for an art major), and is currently employed by some shadowy group with lots of money to spy on Arrow and find out what he’s doing.

The mansion has a shortwave radio, and Colin likes playing with it. Early on in his stay there, he picks up a strong broadcast signal with a Morse code message. Colin can read Morse if it’s slow enough, and he writes down two messages that appear to be enciphered. Eventually, he and Northfleet decide they can trust each other and exchange information. Colin had encountered a guy with a hairlip who had received a head wound, somehow, and dropped a small gold ingot in his attempt to flee from Arrow. Northfleet, in turn, figures out how to read the ciphers, which are in a modified Complete Columnar Transposition. The book has a very nice walkthrough for how to analyze the cipher and decrypt it. The first cipher states that a particular shipment made its way safely off the island, and the second is instructions to some group of minions to come to the island a couple nights later, after receiving a light signal from shore. The mansion’s caretakers show Colin how to open a secret door that leads from the house down into a maze of tunnels that had been dug underneath a previously existing castle, used by the Jacobites during the Uprising of 1745. The maze exit had been bricked up when the mansion was built, but Northfleet estimates that it originally opened under Arrow’s house.

teiil lfilh tcetu fdhso oenpr yyugo hngof
lovtu gchan noatn aehat isuwe etfst gscad
ofrgh pelpe hasle gasth hgsmr lhlar arnif
thrdl nitfo sswsg nyile efalt odect iesol
ntsnt cooue aodnt iutsi tioom leanr iigot
ahnom finhe ylmfd attts manhh ofeii etodd
otpca motie fmong imcla ttchb yimnn etrox
emcou vsfhe elmpn nctaw etrwo oahee iycna
oirbt rtxet peizn rscsa tikoh nitht emfne
nnruo gotgp enetp syans z

ffeou natnm etiri hatos iorun itcoa
fasoc cnial srytb ghowb tptat adosy
hygoo hamlu dprca ucuts iteao osgra
assfs canes soaim rohat nkeot olgat
cprtm lftsd bbero mlido lwcfa iascu
eenep irnyp

Tom Tiddler’s Ground is an old British children’s game, where one child stands on a mound of rocks, and the others try to steal the rocks as the first one tries to stop them. The game is similar to tag, and is used as an expression to mean “get rich by picking gold up off the ground.” So, the title refers to Arrow’s plan to get himself free gold. Northfleet describes an old chemistry professor at their university, F.A. Leven, who had expensive tastes, and a love for women that got him kicked out of the school. Leven created a scheme that made it look like he’d found an alchemical way of creating gold, and sold the gold to the government in exchange for sovereigns, until the Royal Mint made a change to the laws. Leven became famous enough that he started worrying about burglars, and came to the island under the assumed name of Arrow, to keep doing whatever it was that he’s doing. His niece apparently has no idea what’s really going on in the house. Colin wants to know what all the fuss is about making free gold, and Northfleet replies that if Leven really has found a way to transmute radioactive materials into gold on a small scale, being able to ultimately do so on a bigger scale would bring about the collapse of the gold market and the mines in Africa. That is, the rich want to protect their investments and stay rich, which is why they brought Northfleet in to find out what exactly is going on.

For the next couple of days, things are brilliant for Jean and Colin. Then, a new guy shows up on the island, Inspector Wenlock from Scotland Yard. Wenlock takes Colin aside to explain that he’s here supposedly as a geologist examining unusual rock formations, but he’s really after Leven, and wants Colin to discourage the others from gossiping about him. Shortly after this, the cook’s mother on the mainland dies, and she and her husband, the butler, take the motorboat to the mainland for a few days for the funeral. Then, a gale whips up, during which a small boat tries to make a landing at the dock in the middle of the storm. The boat starts with 6 men on it, but one is thrown overboard as they near the pier, and a second gets washed off the dock by a massive wave. The boat itself is smashed against the dock, and sinks, but the remaining 4 men make it safely to land. They run into Wenlock and immediately shoot him in the shoulder, then descend on Wester Voe, where Jean and Hazel lock themselves in Jean’s room. Colin contacts Northfleet, and they run to Heather Lodge to enlist Leven’s help, but he thinks his niece can take care of herself. During their conversation, Hazel’s dog arrives with a note from the girl. She can understand Morse code, and Colin and Northfleet take turns using a mirror and lantern to exchange messages with the main house.

The invaders send a greeting party to the lodge, consisting of the hairlip, Leo, and a ferret-looking guy. Leo runs the Nipasgal gang and he’s here to force Leven to make free gold for him. Leven says that he’s out of materials right now, so they’re going to have to wait. Northfleet asks for a few minutes to think over their offer, and he and Colin try to make up plans. Leven and his cook aren’t interested in rescuing the girls, and when Leo comes back into the room, the two heroes learn that Leven’s two bodyguards have flipped sides – they didn’t know about the gold, and Leo promises to pay them better. Northfleet says that he’ll supply the gold for Leven, but it will take two days. Leo’s willing to wait, and he and the 3 other men return to Wester Voe. Wenlock shows up at the door, and Northfleet tends to his shoulder, while Colin sends an update Morse code message to the girls. From this point, Northfleet takes control of everything, borrowing chemicals from Leven, and telling Colin to break through the wall in the basement to the maze, and to create 6′-long wooden poles from the garden supplies.

When the work is done, Northfleet, who has memorized the map for the maze, goes down in the basement, setting up trip poles across the corridors in front of the pits, and greasing the floor at the trip pole closest to the Wester Voe stairs. He comes up in the den in Wester Voe, and grabs some of the signal rockets and the code book, then listens to the villains talk. All of them are drinking, smoking cigars, and playing poker dice in the next room over. One of Leven’s former bodyguards, Zelensky, starts goading the others into going up to Jean’s room and forcing the door open. This gets Northfleet mad, and when two of the men enter the den to get to the stairs up, he shoots the first guy, then bolts into the tunnel. Zelensky follows him down into the dark, trips over a pole and falls into the first pit, breaking his back. Leo enters the tunnel, but hangs back out of Northfleet’s reach. The two men negotiate a truce, with Northfleet promising to give them all the gold they can handle in one and a half hours, as long as the others leave the women alone. Leo agrees, and goes back up into the house. Northfleet returns to Heather Lodge, and tells the others what to do. While he’d been gone, Wenlock had been talking to Leven, telling him what Scotland Yard has on him, and the former alchemist is now a broken man who quietly does everything he’s told to do.

They all go to Wester Voe, with Colin staying outside, near the guard standing under Jean’s window. Leven’s cook had panicked, and tried to leave the island in the remaining boat, accidentally sinking it and drowning in the sea. Inside the house, Leo and his remaining two men are in the lobby, waiting. Northfleet, Leven and Wenlock go to the end of the house with the three bad guys, set up the signal rockets near the wall, and mount 4 small vials of fulminating gold on them. The outside guard decides that he wants to sneak up the outer wall to get up to Jean’s window, and starts climbing. Colin is about to spoil the plan by shooting him, when the first rocket goes off with a deafening boom, followed by the rest of them. The guard is startled, falls off the wall from 15 feet up, and lands on his neck, dying immediately. Colin makes sure the women are safe, then runs into the house. The first rocket had been way too overpowered, and had caused the lobby ceiling to collapse and crush the last of the bad guys. The heroes put out the burning curtains, then go down to the maze to check on Zelensky. He’s not dead, but he can’t move. He convinces his former employer to get closer to the edge of the pit to tell him his dying words, then shoots Leven in the head with his pistol. Colin, Northfleet and Wenlock retreat to let Zelensky die in the dark. They rescue Jean and Hazel, and everyone goes to Heather Lodge for the night.

Northfleet grabs a few more signal rockets from Wester Voe and fires off the signal for SOS, hoping that one of the nearby fishing boats sees it. The exhausted girls crawl into one of the beds and immediately fall asleep. The three men finish off some of the loose ends of the plot. Unlike what Colin had suspected, Arrow/Leven hadn’t been scavenging sunken Spanish Armada treasure. Instead, he’d been acting as a fence, receiving stolen jewelry from gangs in Europe and England, melting it down for the gold, and then sending the gold back to the mainland for sale. The first boat had taken the last of the gold (minus the bar the hairlip had grabbed) back to the mainland, and the yacht had brought in more jewelry that hadn’t been processed yet. On realizing that Scotland Yard was on his trail, and working to get him extradited, Leven had lost his will to live, and had voluntarily allowed Zelensky to shoot him, rather than working up the energy to commit suicide. As the men wait for sunrise, and to be rescued from the island, Northfleet announces that he wants to marry Hazel, and asks if Colin knows what the marriage laws are in Scotland. The other man doesn’t, but does say that there’s an almanac in Wester Voe that has the information in it.

=================

Ok, yeah, compared to the other books I’ve been reading lately, this one’s an actual gem. Lots of trivia, contemporary pop references, and science (especially if you want to learn about shortwave radios of 1933). The adventure itself is fluff, and Stewart telegraphs the plot a bit too much in places. I was anticipating the use of the maze as a trap site well before Northfleet got to work on it, but I do admit that his traps were much more clever than what I had in mind. On the other hand, only one of the traps, the one which had caught Zelensky, actually got used. All of the misdirecting chalk marks on the walls went to waste. Finding out that Leven was just a fence, and that there was no Armada gold, felt a lot like the letdowns I’d get at the end of Scooby-Doo episodes when the ghost or monster turned out to be just a real estate agent trying to scare off the inhabitants of the house. I liked the science parts, though. Colin is a fairly decent lead character, but isn’t that clever, or good at figuring out what’s going on. Leven is a paper tiger that never gets fleshed out; same with Wenlock, Zelensky and Hazel. Northfleet turns into the real superman, falling into the category of scientist-muscleman ala Doc Savage, Sherlock Holmes or Buckaroo Banzi, but a bit more realistic than those three. The book ends way too abruptly, and it’s hard to imagine Hazel being interested in getting married right after finding out her uncle, an international criminal, is now dead. That, and Craigmore’s not going to be happy to find out Colin and Jean had trashed his house, and overstepped his hospitality.

The cipher is probably one of the best so far. It’s an honest-to-goodness columnar transposition, although with a fairly odd key. I’ve already posted the youtube video solution. I highly recommend Tom Tiddler’s Island (AKA: Gold-Brick Island) for both the ciphers, and the trivia. Although, the ciphers are kind of riddled with errors.

(In)activity


I apologize for the lack of activity here. Almost all of my energy has been going into making videos for my Black Chamber recreational cryptography youtube channel, and reading fiction containing cipher references prior to writing up reviews for the wordpress Black Chamber blog. There’s been NOTHING going on with the Gakken Otona no Kagaku kits for months, and I haven’t done anything with papercraft, kiri-e or the metal monsters kits. It’s not that I’m intentionally walking away from this blog – I’m just trying really hard to make the Black Chamber youtube channel successful (unsuccessfully), and nothing else I like is going on.

However. The books I’m reading now were all published within the period from 1843 to 1939. There’s quite a range of subjects here, from horror, mystery, crime fiction, detective fiction and war stories. Somewhere around the early 1900’s there was an emergence of the “scientific detective.” To an extent, this includes Jacques Futrelle’sThe Thinking Machine,” but I don’t really include Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes here. The thing about Holmes is that while he made a big deal about classifying dirt samples and cataloging facial features, Doyle never spends that much time discussing the actual science that was coming out from various sources, or the (at the time) cutting edge technologies known to the general public. The Holmes stories continued to come out up until 1927, and that period saw the introduction of an amazing amount of tech, and advances in the forensic sciences, that don’t feature much, if at all, in the Holmes stories. As scientific alternatives to Holmes, I’d recommend The Thinking Machine, or any of the crime procedurals by former Scotland Yard inspector and London CID Superintendent Frank Froest.

There are one or two book reviews that I plan to run here, but I’ll post them over the next couple of days.

Going a little viral


I have three channels. The first, which I called ThreeStepsOverJapan, was created close to 14 years ago, and focused primarily on activities in Tokyo, anime and manga-related events in and around Akihabara, and Gakken Adult Science kit reviews. A couple years later, I set up the second channel, Curtis Hoffmann, to be more about the Gakken kits, and math and science stuff, but I kept forgetting to switch accounts when I uploaded new videos, so it ended up being a catch-all for everything; from live music events, to my Java synthesizer demos, and my Kagoshima fastwalks. The third channel, The Black Chamber, just went live 3-4 months ago, and is only for my cryptography tutorials.

Every so often, I would check my channel stats to see what kind of activity I was getting. I have a LOT of videos between the first two channels, but on average I’d have no more than 10-15 views each. The real exception was with my Java software arpeggiator demo. That was at maybe 600 views the last time I looked, about a year ago. I didn’t really like checking that one, because most of the comments were negative, either about my mispronouncing “arpeggiator,” or that fact that it was essentially a “tutorial for demonstrating a programming technique in Java,” and not a music video. Anyway, I stopped reading the comments for “What is an Arpeggiator”, and there weren’t any real comments on any of the other videos. If I could get the occasional 50 views on any one video, I’d be happy.

Then, when I set up The Black Chamber channel, I discovered that it was a lot easier to switch accounts than I’d remembered, so I went back to the ThreeSteps channel and found that it had picked up about 79 subscribers. I felt a little guilty in not having uploaded anything there in years, and I wanted to let everyone there know that the second channel was the active one. I wanted to make a channel-wide announcement, but Youtube doesn’t provide that feature if you have fewer than 1,000 subscribers. My only choice was to record a “what’s new” video, which I did for ThreeStepsOverJapan and Curtis Hoffmann, mainly to try to get people to subscribe to The Black Chamber, too. Three people responded in the comments in the ThreeStep channel, which was nice (better than no comments at all).

If that’s all there was to write about, I wouldn’t have bothered with this blog entry. So, last week, I was logged in under Curtis Hoffmann, when the “What is an Arpeggiator” video suddenly popped up in my recommended list. That seemed strange, since I’d thought that one had been uploaded under the Curtis Hoffmann channel name. Turns out, though, that I’d uploaded it as ThreeStepsOverJapan, and that it was suddenly up to 100,000 views.

That blew my mind. I started digging into the view stats for the two channels, and the numbers for the top five videos for each one were staggering (to me, anyway).

ThreeStepsOverJapan Channel
—————————
What is an Arpeggiator? – 100,000
Jass demo 1 – 6,900
Kaossilator Pro as an effect – 6,000
Fudan Juku 122108 – 3,800
duo rama – 3,600
—————-
Number of videos with over 1,000 views – 17

Curtis Hoffmann Channel
———————–
Yukata Matsuri, 2015, Yuria, Part 2 – 12,000
Kumo Gassen, 2014 – 9.2000
Karuta Competition Sampler – 8.900
Yuria, 150315 – 5,500
Synth Tutorial, Part 5 – 5,400
——————————
Number of videos with over 1,000 views – 18

This is all well and good, I guess, except that I’ve never monetized either of the channels, and The Black Chamber is a lot slower at gaining subscribers than I’d like. I would like to know what it is about the Arpeggiator video that’s suddenly made it so popular, but it is a nice feeling to see that something I’ve done has gotten more than 50 views, and I’m not going to complain now that it’s happened.

Shiroyama Fastwalk video


Direct youtube link

I’ve been experimenting with the GoPro Hero 8 over the last couple of weeks, to see what I can get out of it. Two of the experiments were with time lapse videos of the Sakurajima volcano. On the first one, I used the default of 0.5 second intervals, but the playback was too slow to be interesting. The second was at 2 second intervals, and the wind was too strong, blowing the camera around on the tripod and destroying the shot. Additionally, the wind flattened out the ash plumes, so none of the ash went up very far.

The third trial was for GoPro’s “time warp” function, which you can see in many online videos with sped up footage of events that normally take a long time to experience. While you can manually set the interval times, the camera’s auto setting will calculate how fast you’re moving and automatically set the interval that best matches what you’re doing. I decided that I’d use auto first just to get a baseline video, and that the route would be walking up Shiroyama hill, and then down the other end at the Reimeikan natural history museum.

The weather was perfect on Feb. 3rd, so that’s when I set out. The entire walk took maybe 45 minutes (I wasn’t timing myself), and I stopped in a few places to add narration. The GoPro has a screen button to switch between time warp and real-time, so I’d time warp while walking, and change to real-time when I wanted to talk. Total playback time is 13 minutes, with close to half of that being me talking about the history of the area. When I got back home, I discovered that the camera disables the microphone in time warp mode. I can understand that with interval recording, but I was hoping that changing to real-time would also activate the mic. I also discovered that the camera splits videos into shorter segments with weird-ass numbering (i.e. – GH010183, GH020183, GH030183, GH010184, GH010185, where 10183, 20183 and 30183 are all parts of the same recording session). So, the time warp video has this jump cut right in the middle of when I was talking at Reimeikan. Sigh.

The main differences between time warp and time lapse seem to be that time warp uses digital camera stabilization, and that battery life is extended a little more in time lapse. Normally, the batteries zero out after close to 60 minutes in normal recording mode and time warp, but time lapse looked to take closer to 80 or 90 minutes. That, and time warp has the real-time speed button on the screen. If you’re using time warp and want to record sound, you have to stop recording, switch to normal record mode and start recording again. This is bad if you want to have seamless transitions between moving really fast and then moving normally. It may be possible to use the tablet to remotely control the GoPro, so I don’t have to juggle the camera while pressing physical buttons, but that means having to carry the camera in one hand and the tablet in the other (since I don’t have a second person to walk with and assist me), and that’s not going to be comfortable after a couple of hours of walking.

Anyway, after discovering I didn’t have the narration recorded, I had to go back out the following day to walk the route a second time, with the GoPro in normal record mode. And, I had to roughly time the narrations in my head at each point. Sometimes I talked a little too long, and others a little too short, so I had to do a lot of cutting and stretching to get the timings to more or less work out. But, I also made sure to get background sounds (bird calls, me walking and breathing hard up the steps) that I could splice in for the fastwalk sequences. I had initially planned to use some of the royalty-free music the Lightworks editor offers. I decided on Lightworks based on some reviews of what the free version supports. I can’t afford the $24 or so per-month fee for a monthly subscription, and the music turns out to be $29.99 per song. Yeah, that’s not worth it, given the view counts of my other videos. So, I just used the background sounds instead.

Editing the full video suddenly revealed some limitations of the free version of Lightworks. I’d stripped the audio tracks off of the video files by using Audacity’s “import/export” functions. I had three video files I did use – a normal mode introduction to the video (30-45 seconds) and the two halves of the split fastwalk. Then there were 6 real-time audio tracks for a total of about 45 minutes. I had to cut and splice audio under the fastwalk video segments (anywhere between 3-10 seconds per segment (i.e. – up a flight of stairs, along a flat area, up a different set of stairs, places with different bird songs), plus the narrations, which ran between 30 seconds and 5 minutes each). I’d gotten up to about 10-12 audio segments and 7 minutes of video when Lightworks started crapping the bed. Switching between editing audio and project would cause zoom to jump to max zoom out. The playback position marker would erase the sound tracks on the screen (the sound itself was ok, but I couldn’t tell what audio segment I was on), and at one point, I wasn’t able to select audio segments to move them or do fade-ins/fade-outs. Eventually, I had to give up and export the half-finished project to an mp4, create a new project and then import that mp4 plus my remaining sound files, to edit the second half of the soundtrack. Even then, I started getting the unwanted zoom-jump problem when I had around another 10 audio segments laid down.

Fortunately, the videos I’m planning for The Black Chamber recreational cryptography youtube channel don’t use time warp, or very many audio or video segments (beyond normal editing to remove mistakes or long dead-air gaps). I’m hoping those will go more easily. Overall, I spent a full evening editing in the background sounds and narration (5-6 hours). The final result isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough for the experiment. If you like the video, please press the “Like” button on youtube. If I get over 100 “likes”, I’ll consider making a second fully edited fastwalk video (I have actually done three of these now, but two of them don’t have overlay audio during the time warp segments). There’s a lot of history in this area, and some interesting sightseeing, and I can easily come up with 10 ideas for fastwalk “themes” (including the final battle between Saigo Takamori and the government he helped create, a walk around the volcano island, and caves the military dug for bomb shelters during WW II).

[Edit: While editing The Black Chamber Basics video, I ran into another problem with Lightworks. I discovered, by watching a youtube tutorial video, that LW doesn’t always like mp4s, and that it’s best to save video to .wav format when possible. Well, my Black Chamber videos are heavy on animated text graphics, and I needed some way to do the animation. I hit on the idea of making presentations in Microsoft Powerpoint, and saving the file as an mp4. But, the result in LW was really crappy when slide intervals were less than one second long, with slides dropping out or appearing in the wrong order. I tried saving the ppt output in wav format, but the free version of LW doesn’t support wavs. I had the ppt slide timings matched pretty close to my voice-over audio track, which took me hours to tweak. But, in the end I was forced to save the ppt file as sequential png image files, which tossed out my slide timings. I could import the pngs in bulk to LW, but the shortest interval LW supports is 1 sec. (a lot of my slides are between 0.1 and 0.5 sec.), and this ignores the fact that many of the other slides have timings between 4 and 19 seconds. That is, there’s no “one-size fits all” value I can tell LW to import the slides for to reduce the amount of work it dumps on me. I pulled all the ppt pngs into a temporary LW project, and spent 4 more hours trimming and copy-pasting the slides into the timeline. When I had roughly what I needed, I had to export the project to an mp4 video, then import that into my primary project. I know, I get what I pay for, and “free” doesn’t mean “perfect,” but for something claiming to be “industry award-winning,” I really have to wonder “what industry?”]

Theory 11 Cards


After I finished playing Neil Patrick Harris’ BoxOne, I received an auto-reply email from NPH promoting his deck of cards from Theory 11, and the challenge puzzle attached to it. Eventually, I broke down and went to the site to see what would appeal to me. Once I got started, I decided on getting three decks – Provision, Animal Kingdom and NPH. Provision was designed as a tribute to Philadelphia. Animal Kingdom has fairly simple artwork, but the fact the company donates $1 to the World Wildlife Federation was a plus. NPH worked with a Theory 11 artist to design his cards, which are largely traditional. All three decks have the same card stock and finish. The backs have the same artwork as the boxes. They’re all popular with card magicians and cardistry artists. $9.95 each. But, to get them to Japan cost another $10. So, $40 for the three decks. I can get a deck in Japan for $10 as well, but the paper quality for Japanese decks is just “average.”


(Animal Kingdom cards)


(Provision cards)


(NPH cards)

The Provision deck does come with one “gaffe” card, which has two backs, one of a different color. NPH has two “eye” jokers, the challenge card and an “instruction card.” There are a few little touches on some of the face cards that can be used for card reveals (like one queen holding a scroll with 3 “upright” and 3 reversed pips (for revealing a Three, or a Six). But, I haven’t noticed anything else more blatant, like one card actually holding a different card in its hand, or something).

But, I really got the NPH deck specifically for the puzzle. It starts out with the challenge and instruction cards. From there, everything switches to an online site. After playing BoxOne, the NPH cards aren’t that difficult. I did resort to taking hints from the Chris Ramsay video, but I still managed to get the solutions on my own, and in fact I figured out a few of the puzzles much faster than Chris did. If you’ve already played BoxOne, you can probably complete the NPH cards game in a couple hours. After that, there’s no real replay value to the challenge, but you still have the cards for endless hours of solitaire or poker.

I recommend the Theory 11 decks for the feel and paper quality. I’d also recommend the NPH deck if you like Escape Room games, but keep in mind that it’s not all that hard. I’m not going to give the solution here – instead, I’m going to write up a separate blog entry and put hints to the solution in a crypt on The Black Chamber site on Wednesday my time.

The Black Chamber is now on Youtube


Link to The Black Chamber channel page.
Direct link to youtube about video.

I’ve been working at this since December in my free time. Just have the About video right now, but I’m working on the Basics and Terminology video, and hope to get to the first how-to for Railfence next. Please be nice and at least watch the About vid directly on youtube a few times to bring the view counter up. And, I’d really appreciate it if you’d like the video and subscribe to the channel. If you’re feeling really generous, please share the video, too.

Thanks!

Pinterest papercraft ideas


I’ve been getting Pinterest announcements in email for months now, and most of them are crap about Twilight vampire memes, or women’s dress patterns. But just now I got a link to what seems to be old newspaper papercraft sheets. I don’t have time to make any of them, but they do have an amazing retro newsprint feel that I like.

BoxOne – Solved!


I’ve been watching Chris Ramsay’s puzzle solving youtube channel for at least a year, and he’s had some amazing stuff featured there. Back on Oct. 29th, he had a interview with Neil Patrick Harris, to introduce NPH’s new BoxOne game. It’s a solitaire box intended to keep one person busy for a few hours (I spent maybe 4 hours on it total) to a couple days. It’s a combined trivia, cipher, sequential discovery puzzle, and online escape room all rolled up into one, produced by Theory11, and sold only through Target for $29.99 (only in the U.S. right now, but Theory11 says they’re working on getting it to the U.K. “soon”). It’s hard to say how many copies sold (I consider the price extremely reasonable for what you get). There’s a list of people who also solved it, but only 10 for the day I registered. There were roughly 560 reviews on the Target site, too, but that may still be an undercount. I’m kind of torn – 2 months after the game came out, I’d like to think that I’m in rarefied air for solving the game, but I’d also really hope that BoxOne turns into a blockbuster, encouraging companies to come out with even better boxes in the future.

One of the requirements after solving the game is that you don’t give away any of the secrets. Just post about it on Instagram and Twitter, and maybe pass the box on to someone else that will appreciate it (not everyone will).

Is it worth the money? Oh, yeah. Just for the rush of seeing everything unfold. Would I recommend it to people that like solving ciphers and “escape rooms in a box”? Without question. Is the rule not to give away any of the secrets killing me? Yes, even as we speak.

I just wish Target had outlets in Japan. The overseas shipping costs are unbelievable.

News – Jan. 4, 2021


Welcome to the New Year. Not a lot new going on at this page – all the real activity is over at The Black Chamber.

I did get an email from Alexander telling me that the assembler for the GMC-4 microcontroller doesn’t work anymore, and that he has two pages that he wrote, for an emulator and the assembler. So, I updated the GMC-4 page to add those links, and to remove the broken links to my original photos. The video for my tape reader mod still works, though.

Zodiac Cipher 340 Cracked After 51 Years


Youtube Direct Link, Part 1

Youtube Direct Link, Part 2

Youtube Direct Link, Part 3

Youtube Direct Link, Part 4

Youtube Direct Link, Part 5