Page 2 (cont.)

I started with the assumption that if this was intended for a mass audience to figure out, there had to be a relatively simple solution lurking out there. My first thought was that this "code" was concocted out of thin air, designed to look old. Cryptonomicon had taught me some things about codes, and assuming each symbol stood for a particular letter of the alphabet, I knew that frequency analysis was a tool often used for decoding simple substitution ciphers. This is the process whereby one counts the occurrence of each symbol and compares it with a normal letter distribution for written English. Therefore, with the letter "E" being the most common, I should then be able to substitute it for the most common symbol; likewise for the next most common letter, "T," then "A," and so on. Unfortunately, this strange alphabet seemed to have well more than 30 letters and only a few of them were used more than once. Mr. Stephenson, one – Todd, nada.

I was still convinced the solution was a simple one, so my next thought was to try looking at TrueType fonts of ancient languages, reasoning that if I found the correct one, all I had to do was key in the ciphertext and change the typeface to say, Times Roman, and the translated message would magically appear. But more than a hundred or so unsuccessful attempts later, this line of thinking was also abandoned. It was starting to get ugly.

I needed to take stock of the situation; it occurred to me that there no longer appeared to be a simple solution I could arrive at with basic guesswork. The only clues I had to work with were derived from the excerpt, and it had to somehow be tied in with the people or ideas from that period. Therefore it was probably pretty old, had something to do with alchemy, Kabalism or the occult, and it might have been the product of one of the leading scientific minds of the 17th century, etc.

The key to deciphering the message seemed to be predicated on finding a real-life example of this strange writing. Once that happened, the pieces would fall into place, and the mystery would be solved. But how to go about it? The problem—a rather immense one, in fact—meant taking something that was graphic in nature and trying to conduct research using text-based tools. I had in front of me an entire page of these squiggly lines and no real way to come up with decent keywords to use in a search engine. How does one ask, for example, "What can you tell me about this symbol, comprised of a horizontal line with two crooked arms attached to it, bisected by a funny S-shaped line with a tiny circle at its base?" It wasn’t gonna work. First I was going to have to figure out who had created this monster.

The only thing I could think of was to search for examples of ancient writing and cross-reference the results with names like Newton, Liebniz, Hooke, et al. As I had feared, nothing seemed to turn up graphically; plenty of information was available in text form, but nothing seemed to be visually helpful, leaving me with a big fat goose egg. While it was interesting to read about, I had no idea whether I was on the right track or not. The net result meant having to pore over copious amounts of material in hopes that eventually something would show me the way.

Many, many dead ends followed, including that of Dr. John Dee, a Renaissance astrologer and mathematician, whose interests also carried over into the arts, navigation and the occult sciences. While he was well known for having rigged up a system for communicating with angels, I was more interested in his methods for secret writing. The symbols and characters I came across were the closest yet to those found on the Baroque Cycle site, but I was never able to make a solid connection.

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