The Twelve Cryptograms of Christmas

Jan 5, 2010 by

“Another experimental form in which [Joyce’s] literary urge took … consisted in the noting of what he called ‘epiphanies’; – manifestations or revelations.  Jim always had a contempt for secrecy, and these notes were in the beginning ironical observations of slips, and little errors and gestures – mere straws in the wind – by which people betrayed the very things they were most careful to conceal.”
-Stanislaus Joyce writing about his brother James.

“Wherefore are these things hid? wherefore have these gifts a curtain before ‘em? are they like to take dust, like Mistress Mall’s picture? […] Is it a world to hide virtues in?”
—Twelfth Night, Shakespeare

“On the Twelfth Day of Christmas my true love gave to me…”
—“Twelve Days of Christmas” carol

I originally intended to post a Fourth Fiction “Outtakes” video today. But no longer under the duress of the Fourth Fiction timetable, I reverted during the final fortnight of 2009 to that luxurious state of languid, unhurried contemplation that goes by the ungenerous name ‘idleness.’ During this delicious spell of glorified vegetation, I realized not only that I’d be unable to finish the video by January 4th (the more correct word, I now know, is ‘start’) but also that the material warrants two videos: an Extras (unused footage) video, slotted for January 14th post, and a Bloopers video, relegated to a distant January 24th [out]post. In short, I’m doing my best to mothball any substantive writing. An opportunity for idleness is like bearing the Olympic torch: once it’s been handed to you, just give your thanks and run with it.

Those who’ve glanced at the COCO 12 post in the last ten days know that the second part has been password-protected. For the password, you must follow the directions in the README file from COCO 12 (Part I). Many, possibly most, readers followed the cipher and decoded a message, but my guess is no one took Tess up on her hintness and double hintness in part II of COCO 12 and embarked upon any other cryptographic hunts.

There are twelve more messages. Just the mention that more exist should be clue enough to find the rest, or at least all but one of them. Anyone who can decode the Round 1 message, can decode the following eleven. Now that I’ve arranged the posts chronologically in Fourth Fiction: The Complete Season, the only thing that should impede a swift decryption is a slow Internet connection or an aversion to word games.

As for the twelfth message, it’s wholly within COCO 12 (Part II). Just apply what you know. Fido can’t help you dig up the bone, but he has the answer key, so you can corroborate your findings with him (*hintness*, as Tess would say).

In certain branches of Christianity, Twelfth Night is a festival concluding the Twelve Days of Christmas and heralding the Epiphany (yet another Christian feast day celebrated on January 6th that commemorates, for Western Christians, the manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles through the visitation of the three Magi; for Eastern Christians, the revelation of God to man through the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan; and for Joycean secularists, the sudden revelation one experiences upon pressing one’s spouse for details about a previous lover). According to the Encyclopedia of Superstitions, “[o]f late years” (a phrase that should always be read with an eye on the date of utterance: in this case, 1948, the book’s publication date) a belief arose that it was unlucky to leave tree decorations hanging after Epiphany Eve on January 5th.

Since today (for I have crossed midnight and am now in the early morning hours of the 5th) is the Twelfth Day of Christmas and tonight the Twelfth Night, this seems as good a time as any to allude to the Twelve Fourth Fiction Cryptograms of Christmas. Not to be superstitious or anything (it’s a rule of vapid expressions that one must always add “or anything” after “Not to be [adjective-of-choice])” but I wouldn’t want to jinx myself by leaving any chintzy Fourth Fiction decorations hanging around. For those put off by the Christian symbolism, just view this as some light cryptographic entertainment, which when decoded (and the only cipher you need for this is what Hemingway called a built-in bullshit detector) translates to ‘cheapest way for Fourth Night to buy another Ten Days of Idleness.’

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  1. Good to see your writing in this space – it has been quiet and I have to admit missing the thousand emails downloaded into my inbox every day.

    I couldn’t decipher the first code. I have talents for many things but codes, cypher, word games, riddles etc are something totally beyond me.

    But I will have a go? Does any one need a cypher buddy? I could do with some mentoring.

    Looking forward to the next two “4ths” for the videos and I know a small boy who will be pretty darn excited also. He was just asking me today on the way home from the movies what time it was where you lived.

    Welcome back :)

  2. Thanks, Jodi, for braving the void and breaking the silence. This website was returning to its former black hole-like state. As far as a cypher buddy, I don’t think you’ll need one. If you try the README directions again (which have been amended to simplify the process), you’ll get it in a few minutes.

    If you see that small boy, tell him that the time over here is “time to sleep!” I’ve got a couple of things for him, although it’s better you don’t tell him until I actually make it to the post office… I’ll keep you posted on that.

  3. OK – will give it a go again – given I’ll also be in a slightly more functional frame of mind as well.

    As for that small boy – you and he should be sleep buddies. We’re forever up long after bed time here – sleep time is the most flexible of the concepts in our household and one in which Dylan drags out as long as possible. I’ll simply just say hello – that will make his day.

  4. Ok I got them all. Way to tax the brain at 3am! I can’t believe I didn’t see these before. Even if I can’t decode something like these cryptograms on a first read throw, my subconscious tells me it’s there. The only one I had even a hint of was the round 1 one. And that I didn’t get until you told us the key. Good work and thanks for the Christmas puzzles.

    Can’t wait to see the new videos. :)


    Ps. So glad that quite time is over! lol

    • If you had figured any of those out from the very beginning, you’d have a future as a Secret Service cryptographer (code name: Eros). That would have been very A Beautiful Mind-ish. Of course, it does take a feverish mind to do them all at 3am…

      I’m glad to see they all checked through. I was too tired (or I should say ‘idle’) last night to go through and confirm that the words were in the right order and that I hadn’t made any errors along the way. Now it should make sense why some of the opening sentences seemed a bit strange (like for example when littlestar asked Utah why she included “The Hunt for Gollum” as a possible movie seeing that Jacob didn’t strike her as a Lord of the Rings fan. I had to get the word “hunt” in there somehow and, unfortunately, “manhunt” isn’t two words…)

      • No, but Helen Hunt is two words.. although that would have been even weirder.

        PS: I can’t figure out the last challenge! I will try again after dinner..

      • I must confess, I didn’t get the round 12 one, I total skipped it. Lol that’s what I get for doing them so early in the morning. :) But they all do work. It was almost A Beautiful Mind-ish thing there for a minute when the Round 1 sentences all went up. ButI stopped myself and said if it was important I would find out at the end. *kicks self in ass* “Code name Eros” I love it. I think that gives me an idea… no lol.


  5. Jen

    Good to see you posting again! And this sounds like a lot of fun. I’m buoyed by the comment from Eros saying he’s already solved them. Hooray for possible puzzles! Now I just need a spare morning.

  6. Yay! I did it! (c:

    I found all twelve – unless there’s anything else hidden in there, Host? (glares)

    Unfortunately, on my initial reading, I was so shocked, I misunderstood Tess’ Round Two *hintness*es as something else entirely…sorry, Tess.

    I know I’m a little slooooow, but I just got back from holidays…which unfortunately means I’m back at work. Blah. I may *ahem* have spent a few idle moments at work this afternoon decoding the first eleven puzzles…

    …which reminds me, I left the bits of paper with the eleven solutions on it next to my work computer. If anyone gets in to work before me and finds it, they’re bound to think I’ve finally lost it. Oh dear (c:

    I worked out the twelfth tonight. Thanks Fido for helping me out. I always liked that cryptic mutt.

    Host, I hope you’re enjoying your days of idleness! (but, having said that, I’m looking forward to your next post – no pressure or anything…)

    • Now I’m trying to decipher what you thought Tess was *hintness*ing at…

      As for the days of idleness, I’m not sure if they’ll ever come to an end. After the pressure cooker of the second half of 2009, everything that follows inevitably bears an element of indolence. Not that I’ve got a problem with that. Like Kierkegaard said, “Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good.”

      I’m really enjoying the mental image of one of your colleagues reading those eleven pieces of paper by your work computer…

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