Lab Note Baffles Code Sleuths

Internet abuzz with strange letter sent to Fermi physics facility
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 12, 2008 1:30 PM CDT
Fermilab is seen in this file photo.   (Wikimedia Commons)
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(Newser) – Amateur cryptographers are racking their brains over a mysterious letter sent to the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. The note, covered in alien-looking symbols, arrived last year and remained under wraps until May, when the lab posted it online for amateur sleuths. Since then part of the message has been decoded—a reference to a legendary lab physicist, suggesting an insider—but the note's main message, if one exists, continues to baffle, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The top and bottom of the message consisted of hash marks that, when decoded using a base-3 numerical cipher, yielded the phrases: “FRANK SHOEMAKER WOULD CALL THIS NOISE,” and, “EMPLOYEE NUMBER BASSE SIXTEEN.” Shoemaker was an early Fermilab scientist, but the second message is unclear, and the letter's middle section, composed of strange symbols, has eluded codebreakers entirely. The ailing Shoemaker, now 86, is said to be amused by the code.