fnalcodeletter

Fermilab’s Strange Letter – Progress

Note to readers: I have a little more detail (including an explanation for the spelling of “BASSE”) up at Fermilab’s Strange Letter – Interlude.

Well, now we’re getting somewhere with the strange letter Fermilab received. For context, Fermilab (a theoretical physics laboratory) recieved a strange letter in code a year ago that they’ve now released to the public. It can be seen here.

Ternary Paragraph

The first paragraph is made entirely of three different symbols, I, II, and III.

If we let I=1, II=2, and III=0 we have:

020 200 001 112 102
000 201 022 120 012
111 001 102 012 200
000 212 120 210 110
011 000 010 001 110
110 000 202 022 100
201 000 112 120 100
201 012

Note that this transcription assumes that the “I” at the end of line 6 and the “II” at the start of line 7 are in fact a single “III”. Now let’s assume that since there are 27 possible combinations in these ternany units, each corresponds to a letter of the alphabet (26 total) or a space (add 1 for 27). A naive mapping would be:

Combination Mapping 1
000 A
001 B
002 C
010 D
011 E
012 F
020 G
021 H
022 I
100 J
101 K
102 L
110 M
111 N
112 O
120 P
121 Q
122 R
200 S
201 T
202 U
210 V
211 W
212 X
220 Y
221 Z
222 (space)

This gives:

G S B O L
A T I P F
N B L F S
A X P V M
E A D B M
M A U I J
T A O P J
T F

“GSBOLATIPFNBLFSAXPVMEADBMMAUIJTAOPJTF” doesn’t seem too helpful. Perhaps a different map would be more appropriate? Let’s vary the first naive mapping slightly.

Combination Mapping 1 Mapping 2
000 A (space)
001 B A
002 C B
010 D C
011 E D
012 F E
020 G F
021 H G
022 I H
100 J I
101 K J
102 L K
110 M L
111 N M
112 O N
120 P O
121 Q P
122 R Q
200 S R
201 T S
202 U T
210 V U
211 W V
212 X W
220 Y X
221 Z Y
222 (space) Z

This is a very simple mapping, we just set space to be 000 instead of 222. We get a very interesting result:

F R A N K
S H O E
M A K E R
W O U L
D C A L
L T H I
S N O I
S E

“FRANK SHOEMAKER WOULD CALL THIS NOISE”. Frank Shoemaker worked on the main ring of Fermilab. It seems very unlikely to me that this is coincidence.

Binary Paragraph

Now if we look at the last paragraph, it’s clearly different than the first in terms of notation. Only I and II are used.

However, if we assume that “II” is a separator and “I”=1 “I I”=2, and “I I I”=0, we get the following:

012 111 121 110 120
221 012 012 000 112
210 111 002 012 200
000 002 001 201 201
012 000 201 100 220
202 012 012 112

Note that this transcription assumes an error. At the end of line 2 and the beginning of line 3 there is a section “I I I I I I I I” that is assumed to mean 000 when it should read “I I I II I I I II I I I”. If we use Mapping 2 to substitute in a manner like before we get the following:

E M P L O
Y E E N
U M B E R
B A S S
E S I X
T E E N

“EMPLOYEE NUMBER BASSE SIXTEEN” – which clicks with the hexadecimal numbers and corresponding symbols in the middle! Note that the mapping is simply the first “naive” mapping offset by one.

So lets assume the single “word” in the bottom middle of the page is an employee number. If we decode it using the symbols, we get (something)FC. (something) is an undefined symbol, and the only undefined numbers are 1 and A.

So the “employee number in base 16″ that “frank shoemaker would call noise” is either 1FC or AFC.

My guess? It’s AFC (employee number 2812), who works on the AFC (Absorber Focus Coil, a component of a “neutrino factory” current being studied at Fermilab) – a coincidence Frank Shoemaker would call noise. The employee number is reasonable and fits with the established pattern at Fermilab, see this Fermilab newsletter (page 5) which states “At 802, with only three digits, Matthews’ employee number reflects the length of his 25-year tenure at the Lab”.

The only thing left is rigorously figuring out the meaning of the hexadecimal section in my opinion. What does everyone else think?

255 thoughts on “Fermilab’s Strange Letter – Progress”

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