From the comfort of your own home, you could solve ciphers and coded messages that have baffled even our best experts. Some of these 10 coded messages hold the key to solving murders and mysteries. At least one reveals the path to buried treasure. But each one offers the simple pride of knowing that you were the first to crack a puzzle that no one else could solve.
10 Forest Fenn’s Buried Treasure
When wealthy art dealer Forrest Fenn contracted cancer, he resolved to leave a legacy that would remind people he had once been here. He buried more than $1 million worth of gold and treasure in a mountain range north of Santa Fe. In 2011, Fenn released a memoir containing nine riddles that give away the location of the buried treasure.
The treasure chest is filled with golden coins, nuggets, statues, and jewelry that have become more valuable since Fenn buried them. People have literally risked their lives trying to find Fenn’s treasure. In 2016, a man named Randy Bilyeu died while hunting for the gold.
“The treasure is not hidden in a dangerous place,” Forrest Fenn announced after Bilyeu’s death. “I’ve said many times not to look for the treasure any place where an 80-year-old man couldn’t put it.”
9 The Somerton Man Cipher
In 1948, the body of the Somerton Man was found on an Australian beach. No one knew who he was. In his pocket, though, was a mysterious piece of paper with the Persian words “Tamam Shud” (“It is finished”) printed on it.
Sixty-eight years later, you could still solve one part of this mystery from home. According to police, the Somerton Man had torn the paper out of a book called the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. In the back of the book, he had scribbled a coded message:
Gordon Cramer, a former UK detective, believes that micro-writing is hiding between the letters, making 1,100 characters in all. He also believes that a code between the letters gives away secrets of the British military.
Cramer’s theory isn’t widely accepted, though, and the code remains unsolved.
8 The D-Day Pigeon
When the Allied armies stormed the beaches of France on D-Day, the British army was under a total radio blackout. Officers had to send carrier pigeons to England with coded messages attached to their legs.
One lost her way. She got stuck in a chimney and stayed there for 70 years until David Martin uncovered the bird’s skeleton during home renovations. Attached to the bird was a coded message in a small red capsule:
AOAKN HVPKD FNFJW YIDDC
RQXSR DJHFP GOVFN MIAPX
PABUZ WYYNP CMPNW HJRZH
NLXKG MEMKK ONOIB AKEEQ
WAOTA RBQRH DJOFM TPZEH
LKXGH RGGHT JRZCQ FNKTQ
KLDTS FQIRW AOAKN 27 1525/6
In 2012, the experts gave up on trying to crack the code and put this message on their website: “Without access to the original code books, details of any additional encryption, or any context around the message, it will be impossible to decode.”
7 Tatjana J. Van Vark’s Haiku
Tatjana J. van Vark is something between an engineer and an artist. She develops complex machines, often imitating or even copying the technology of bygone days.
These are more creations of art than function, but they still show an incredible technical ability. Van Vark has a reputation as a gifted engineer, legendarily creating an oscilloscope from scratch when she was just 14 years old.
She has also developed a cryptographic device that she describes as an improvement on the Enigma machine. She has promised to share the details of how it works if someone can decrypt this coded haiku:
-AFF1 SGU65 0-KME YKCL7
76PRO LIKNY /WVSZ X-JYI OS6GN 9GLYL
CTOSE -UBO6 OFD7P I+M3J
IOP59 O0/6T 10G2Q
The message is short enough that it almost looks like it should be easy, but nobody has cracked it yet. To date, van Vark’s machine remains as much a mystery as her encrypted poem.
6 The Devil’s Handwriting
This coded message was first printed in 1539, but it has never been solved. According to legend, it was written by a man named Ludovico Spoletano. He conjured up the Devil, who took control of his hand and forced him to write this strange, scratched message.
The story is full of the type of supernatural magic that excited the imaginations of 16th-century people. Even the alphabet used by Spoletano looks like Amharic, which was believed at that time to be the language spoken in the Garden of Eden.
Of course, most people don’t really believe that his message was written by Satan. Instead, it seems to be a cipher that we could read and understand—as soon as someone cracks Spoletano’s code.
5 Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 90
An ancient Egyptian papyrus from AD 180 carries an encrypted message that no one has ever solved. The paper itself is just a receipt for the purchase of corn from the public granary. Etched at the bottom, though, are two lines written in Greek characters that are completely incomprehensible.
As shown in the image above, those two lines seem to be a coded message.
The papyrus was first shared with the world in 1898. Nine years later, Frederic Kenyon, a handwriting expert at the British Museum, took it upon himself to decipher the message. But neither Kenyon nor anyone else has ever cracked the code.
4 The Cipher Of The Zodiac Killer
In 1968 and 1969, the Zodiac Killer plagued San Francisco. While he preyed on the innocent, he also ordered local newspapers to publish a series of coded messages. This sent the public into a frenzy as everyone tried to decipher the serial killer’s code.
The first message was deciphered within a few days, but they got harder and harder. One—which is 340 characters long—remains unsolved, and people around the world are still struggling to figure out what it means.
In 2012, Corey Starliper believed that he had cracked the code. He replaced the symbols with similar-looking letters and then replaced each letter with the letter three places down in the alphabet.
His method came up with an eerie message from the killer that ends with these words: “Please help me stop killing people. Please. My name is Leigh Allen.”
Experts have written off Starliper’s theory as “not valid.” They think that Starliper just created the message he wanted to see by changing his own rules whenever it was convenient.
3 The YOG’TZE Case
Before his death in 1984, Gunther Stoll told his wife that he was being stalked by an unspecified “they” and that his life was in jeopardy. She feared he was losing his mind.
On the day he died, he cried out, “I’ve got it!” He wrote “YOG’TZE” on a piece of paper and rushed out of his home.
That night, Stoll was found dead in a car that had crashed into a ditch. Naked, he was at the wheel with only the paper that read “YOG’TZE” on him. At first, police figured that he had just gotten drunk and crashed.
But the autopsy revealed that he wasn’t the driver. Stoll had been run over by a car and placed naked inside of it by the person who killed him.
Nobody knows what “YOG’TZE” means. His mysterious death, though, makes it seem possible that someone really was stalking him. “YOG’TZE” might just hold the key to the identity of this person.
In 1990, sculptor Jim Sanborn set up a sculpture, Kryptos, at CIA headquarters. On Kryptos are 865 characters that make up four coded messages, set up as a challenge for the nation’s brightest to solve.
The first three have already been deciphered. An NSA employee actually cracked it first, as early as 1993. By 1998, a CIA analyst had solved it, and in 1999, Jim Gillogly became the first private citizen to crack the code.
The fourth part, though, has never been solved:
In 2010, Sanborn gave away part of the code: “NYPVTT” should be deciphered as “Berlin.” Four years later, he revealed that “MZFPK” means “clock.”
“There are several really interesting clocks in Berlin,” Sanborn hinted. “You’d better delve into that.”
1 The Blitz Cipher
During World War II, German bombs exposed a set of papers in an East London cellar. The pages are covered in beautifully written characters that someone took great care in writing. But the alien alphabet is indecipherable.
The first page is emblazoned with a plaque with strange coded writing underneath. The second page is covered in diagrams, and the third gives a grid full of cipher letters.
Eight pages have been released so far. But no one knows what any of it means or who wrote it. Some theorize that the pages could be more than 100 years old, holding a coded message from a secret society. Others say that it’s just gibberish scribbled down as a hoax to keep people entertained.
Whoever deciphers it, though, will be remembered as the first to uncover the mystery.