A very British mystery, part 5: Gavin Finds a Typo

By Gordon Rugg and Gavin Taylor

The story so far: This is a series of articles about the D’Agapeyeff Cipher, a short ciphertext that’s never been cracked. It first appeared in Alexander D’Agapeyeff’s 1939 book Codes and Ciphers. It’s a good testbed for codebreakers who have to deal with short texts. In the previous episodes, we’ve listed the codes described in the book, plus the worked examples that D’Agapeyeff used. In today’s gripping episode, we focus on a typo that Gavin found in Codes and Ciphers. It’s more exciting than it sounds, though admittedly that isn’t the most difficult challenge in the world…

Opening question: Does anyone apart from sad pedants really care about typos, and if they do, is that just a sign that they really ought to get a life?

In fact, a lot of people care a great deal about typos, in a lot of different fields, and for a lot of very good reasons, most of them involving money and the law. They’re also a serious issue if you’re applying for a job. A high proportion of organisations will reject a job application because of a single typo in the covering letter.

So why do people care so much about typos, and what does Gavin’s discovery mean for anyone interested in the D’Agapeyeff Cipher?

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