Category: Codes

Crossword Puzzle as Musical Notation

     As a part of my ongoing effort to become indistinguishable from a senior citizen while still in my early 30s, I’ve been doing the New York Times Crossword lately. In order to protect myself from feeling like an idiot, I usually only attempt the Monday and Tuesday puzzles. Occasionally I’ll try the Wednesday. Often Sarah and I will work on the puzzle together at a restaurant, intimidating other patrons with our coolness.

     Anyway, it should come as no surprise that my very favorite puzzles are the ones with some sort of “high concept” built in. The best is when the answers not only follow a theme, but when something about that theme is echoed in the visual structure of the puzzle. The NYT recently ran my most favorite concept puzzle of all time. SPOILER ALERT: if you plan to do the March 15th NYT crossword – STOP READING NOW!

     Below is an image of the completed puzzle. The theme answers, in green, are as follows:

  • Composer of 20 across: Beethoven
  • Work by 16 across: Ode to Joy
  • How the circled letters of 20 across are played: In C Major
  • Items you might play 20 across on: Piano Keys

Coded Joy.


     So, yes: the theme is Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Ok, ready to have your mind blown? The circled letters, highlighted in yellow, denote the key musical phrase from “Ode to Joy,” with the letters moving up and down within the crossword grid corresponding to notes moving up and down the keyboard.

     Awesome, right? I know, I was pretty excited. If you’re into stuff like this (And really, who wouldn’t be?) the special features section of the DVD release of Crossword documentary Wordplay has a great collection of theme puzzles being described by their authors. Nerd alert!

More on (Moron) Runes

     Awhile back I wrote a post on albums with coded messages hidden in their liner notes (here). One of these was an Ozzy Osbourne LP (‘Speak of the Devil’) which I was unable to find reference to deciphering on the internet. The image I posted was duly deciphered in the comments, but I’ve since recieved an email detailing a more ‘humorous’ message coded on the interior. I can’t take credit for the title of this post – it was the subject of the email I recieved from Jeff Broderick. He writes:

     “I don’t know whether you’re still interested in this whole thing or not, but some time ago I translated all the runes I could find on that Ozzy album, and the result is kind of humourous, if less than profound. The cover: “Rock and Roll Madman Ozzy Osbourne” The inside: “Dial a Demon Productions in Conjunction with Graveyard Graphics Proudly Present the Madman of Rock Dumping in El Satanos Toiletio Real Tasty Howdy.” Now, I only have this on a scrap of paper, since I don’t have the album itself anymore. Can anyone verify this translation?”

     That’s about it. I’m not particularly compelled to go searching for Ozzy Osbourne Live LP’s in order to confirm that this is accurate, so take this with a grain of salt, I suppose. If you happen to own a copy of the ‘Speak of the Devil’ LP, and are willing to put in the time to confirm this, the ‘key’ can be found here. Now then, if you need me I’ll be dumping in El Satanos Toiletio.


     Turns out the reason I wasn’t finding any reference to the translation at the time was because I was missing the key word ‘runes,’ which popped up in the comments. Without further ado, here’s the complete translated text from the liner notes of ‘Speak of the Devil,’ courtesy of The Complete Ozzy Osbourne Biography.

     “Howdy! Dial-A-Demon productions in conjunction with graveyard graphics proudly presents the madman of rock dumping into El Satanos toiletto. A tribute to Randy Rhoads, the axeman. That kid was my lifeline, you know? He was such a dynamic player and I’d rather not talk about it anymore because it cuts me up every day of my life. Randy Rhoads rest in peace and love.”

     Wow! Totally sincere! Also: worth the effort!

Another Coded Cover

     Several months ago, I gathered a bunch of examples of coded messages hidden in liner notes. Presuming that such passing involvement qualified me to identify examples of such, I was positive that the hideous coverart for Coldplay’s latest album contained a coded message – there was simply no other possible explanation for a cover that bad.

     Turns out I was right – Coldplay fans recently ‘cracked’ the meaning of the colored mess.

     The coded message is “loosely based on a binary code known as ‘Baudot’, which generates a base5 binary representations for each letter or character in the western alphabet.” The Wikipedia entry for Baudot Code is here.

     I found it interesting that the color plays absolutely no role in the code whatsoever – the code would have the same meaning if it had been printed in black and white. This fact implies that tappingofton – the designers responsible for the cover, thought that the color made it look better. Hm.

     Once decoded, the actual content of the message isn’t terribly exciting:

     “What is rather strange though is that … this code actually depicts ‘X-Y’ based on the General version of Baudot’s code (there was no & in the original version) and ‘X9Y’ in the new amended versions of the code.

     UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that the key to this code is included in the actual CD booklet (LAME). I’m also told that there is an additional coded message on the back which (predictably) reads: “Make trade fair.” Meh.

     If this sort of nerdery interests you and you missed it the first time around, here’s a link to my previous collection of coded covers.

Coded Buildings

     I came across the following in a post on the craftster message board:

     “There’s a building on my old campus (western michigan university), that spells out WMU (or something like that, I couldn’t really read it, lol) in [binary using] the windows on each side of the building.”

     “I believe the building you are thinking of spells out “welcome to western.” right now its being used for the math department and then a few other classes that need a space to hold class.”

     “It was designed to look like a punch card spelling out “Welcome to Western”. The building was the original home to all of Western’s computer-y goodness way back in the dark ages (in other words, when I was a student there) when punch cards were used for input/output and storage.”

     I’ve done some googling but haven’t come up with any images. Does anyone out there know of any images online, or is there anyone at Western Michigan University who can snap a photo of the relevant part of the Math Dept. building? I’m intrigued!

     Additionally: are there other examples of hidden messages and codes in architecture?

UPDATE: here’s a building in Ukraine with an empty crossword puzzle on its side. The clues are scattered throughout the city. Apparently if a certain sort of light is shined on the building at night, the answers appear. Nice!