Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Cracking the Mysterious Code

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There is a mystery that’s keeping the scientific community and code-breakers, the world over, in suspended animation. Not so long ago, Fermi Lab, a suburban Chicago research center for high-energy physics, received in the mail a piece of paper with writings, which to many might as well be gibberish. Puzzled with letter and eager to solve the code, the science institution named after 1938 Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi, solicited people throughout the world to help crack the code. It set up a frenzy online, and resulted in some preliminary solutions. Still, the mystery remains. Here’s how the Chicago Tribune reported it the other day:

Hundreds of people from around the world responded and several of them quickly deciphered part of the hidden message, discovering to their surprise that it named an 86-year-old retired physicist from Princeton University who designed some of Fermilab’s first experimental tools.

But one section of the cipher continues to resist any solution, and no one knows the sender’s identity—though many suspect the author was a lab insider.

The keys to the mystery have taken code-breakers on a romp that encompasses Fermi’s earliest days in the 1960s, the cryptic jargon of computer programming and high-energy physics, and the power of “crowdsourcing,” or unleashing a problem on the collective intelligence of an Internet community.

Can you crack the code?

Photo via Symmetry Breaking


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