crypto
Source: Bokler Software

Edgar Allan Poe was fascinated by ciphers, going so far as to create a story, The Gold Bug, centered around the solution to one. Less well known is an article Poe wrote for Graham's Magazine in 1840 called "A Few Words on Secret Writing," offering a subscription to any reader who could send him cipher he could not crack. After six months, he claimed to have solved 100 entries and then published two additional ciphers, allegedly submitted by a Mr. W. B. Tyler, to conclude the contest. In 1985 Louis Renza of Dartmouth College proposed that Tyler was in fact Poe himself, an idea that gained further support from Shawn Rosenheim of Williams College.

The puzzles soon garnered new interest, and in 1992 Terence Whalen of the University of Illinois at Chicago solved one of them. To provide incentive for someone to crack the second, Rosenheim then established a $2,500 prize, supported by Williams College. In 1998 Jim Moore, a software designer specializing in encryption, built a Web site to promote the new contest. Rosenheim and his team of judges fielded attempted solutions for two years, but never more.

They announced on Tuesday that in July this year, a 27-year-old software engineer living in Toronto, Gil Broza, sent in the correct decryption. The lines were encrypted with a polyalphabetic substitution cipher using six symbols for each English letter. A short sample of the original text appears in the illustration. Although Broza's solution revealed more than two dozen typesetting mistakes, the decoded copy begins: "It was early spring, warm and sultry glowed the afternoon. The very breezes seemed to share the delicious languor of universal nature..." The experts don't think Poe wrote it, raising yet another mystery to be solved.