Strange Fermilab Code Nearly Cracked

The Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, hosts the second largest particle accelerator in the world (next to the LHC), and employs hundreds of physicists from around the world.

Hundreds of physicsts, who had no idea what the hell it meant when they received this in the mail last year:So they decided to publish it a few days ago in Symmetry magazine, requesting that curious code-crackers take up the case.

The code has now been nearly cracked by an army of random internet cryptographers. The most progress that I’ve seen has been done by this graduate student, although the Fermilab website says it had several submissions with the message decrypted.

The message was composed of three paragraphs, each encoded with a different cypher. The first and third turned out to be very simple substitution cyphers, with hexadecimal and binary numbers representing letters. At this point, it’s still not clear how the second paragraph was encrypted.

The upshot of the encrypted message so far is:

Frank Shoemaker would call this noise… employee number basse 16… AFC


Frank Shoemaker was an employee at Fermilab, and AFC may stand for Absorber Focus Coil. The employee number (base 16) appears to be S252, which belongs to Pierre Piroue, another former Fermilab employee who was friends with Shoemaker.

Both Shoemaker and Piroue say they know nothing the mysterious message.


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