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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Solve this real Revolutionary War era code and win a prize

The lyrics to "Cipher Cipher," our new song based on events in the life of Benjamin Church, contain a real Revolutionary War era code. I wrote the song with Arden Gill, a middle schooler I teach electric bass and ukulele. The Deedle Deedle Dees debuted this song at our show at BAM this past weekend -- and Arden helped us perform it.

Church was the head doctor in the Continental Army, but he was also a spy for the British and sent their leaders messages in code. Arden wrote a report about him for English class and her teacher suggested she write a song about him with me.

The chorus to our song is all numbers. The numbers stand for the letters of two words, the names of places where the Continental Army had arsenals (places where they kept weapons). We translated the names of the two places into code using Lovell's Cipher, an actual code used by leaders of the Continental Army. As Church was sending secrets to the British I guess he would have used a different code but I felt Lovell's system was a nice simple one for us to use in the song and to teach kids about how codes work.

Cipher Cipher

Cipher cipher
don't write the words down
else they gonna know
we're down with the crown

benjamin church
yeah my hands are red now

cos you're a surgeon?

nah nah nah take this down...



number one doctor
answer to GEE DOUBLE U
cept when I'm taking money
in the backroom

location of the arsenals
i just sent it to ya
do you know the cipher?
did they explain it to ya?

keyword is "mustache" 
spelled "M-U"
don't keep the letter
i sent you

tear it up
throw it on the fire
else they gonna know
I'm a liar

Here's how Lovell's system works. When you send someone a message, you also include a keyword. This keyword tells you which letter is represented by each number. If you read the link above, you might already understand how this works, but here, in brief, is how you do it:

1. Lay a piece of paper longways. Write numbers 1-27 across the top of the page. Write small because it's hard to fit all those numbers on one line. Why 27 when there are 26 letters in the alphabet? It's because there's an "&" in addition to the 26 letters -- just to make the code a bit more difficult.

2. Write the alphabet starting with the first letter of the keyword on the next line so that the letters line up with the numbers above. The keyword Arden chose was "mustache." In the interest of keeping our code relatively easy to solve we only used the first two letters of this word. So the alphabet you write under the numbers should start with the letter M. When you get to Z, don't write A next. Instead put an "&" symbol then write A under the next number.

3. Underneath this alphabet, write another alphabet starting with the second letter of your keyword, which in this case is U. Don't forget to put an "&" in between Z and A.

(Note: if you need help with steps 1-3, see the example in the picture below)

4. Write down the letter that corresponds to each number BUT switch lines with each new number. Above, for example, the first number is 11 which goes with W on the first line. Now switch to the second line for the second number 22. In the second line of alphabet, 22 goes with the letter O. For the third letter go back to the first line; for the fourth, the second line; and so on.

5. Once you've figured out the first word, return to the first line to start deciphering the second one.

6. Send us what you find out. Send your solution to thedeedledeedledees AT yahoo DOT com. The first person to send us the right answer will win four tickets for his or her family to see us at Symphony Space on March 2nd. The next four people to send us the right answer will win a signed poster for the show.