Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Prophetic Cryptoquip

My kids and I usually spend at least one evening per week over my mom's house. One evening in particular (just a week ago from this post), I took interest in the daily puzzle section found in our local newspaper. My mom keeps weeks, sometimes months of newspaper back issues laying around. So, I just grabbed an old one out of the pile.

At first, my eyes fixated on the daily sudoku puzzle; The number grid was just begging me to try and solve it.

But then, something else caught my eye: the daily cryptoquip.

I had never tried a cryptoquip before. I never liked puzzles much until sudoku won me over. Besides, the unintelligible word chunks of the cryptoquip always intimidated me. I had wished that I could get the nerve to solve one, but cryptoquips just looked too hard.

But after reading the game description and rules again, I was drawn by the irresistible call from the puzzle.

If you never saw one, a cryptoquip is a substitution cipher where each letter in the words of a meaningful sentence is substituted with a different letter; thus, encrypting the phrase. You see letters, but only as an unreadable mess. You can make out words only by the spaces. In it's unsolved form, the sentence before you makes no sense nor is it readable in any coherent way.

In this particular cryptoquip puzzle, one clue was offered-- a single letter substitution was reveled to help the solver get started.

As for the rest of the clues, you're on your own. No other clues are given except for those subtle clues which the encryption might offer-- little helpful hints like short words or words with an apostrophe.

And much like sudoku, each discovery you make becomes a new and important clue necessary to further your ability at solving the puzzle.

But cryptoquips seem to require a little more trial and error that sudoku. Spelling skills, context clues, and vocabulary skills seem to matter a lot, too.

As I toiled away on the cryptoquip, my mom decided to read aloud a passage from the Bible to my son. She read to him the story of Samson.

For the most part, he listened quietly. Occasionally, he would interject remarks like, "why did he do that?" "how is that possible?" "Why didn't he just . . ."

I haven't really read the Biblical account of Samson in a while. So as I was hearing it this time, the story of Samson's seemed glaringly fictional for the first time in my life. I felt like I was hearing the words of an ancient story teller whose purpose was only to deliver a moral lesson.

Not a history lesson.

See, I once took the story of Samson as literal, historical fact. Now, the story only sounded something of a parable, a fairy tale, or a fable. All of a sudden, Samson's heroics and folly were no longer an authentic piece of history as I once believed. I felt like I was hearing literary devices like repetition, foreshadowing, and a fictional plot moving towards a literary climax.

Samson's silly behavior also seemed like a plot hole. Everything came to him so easily. And Samson knows his adversaries are constantly trying to catch him. Samson toyed with them by misleading them each and every time that he gave one of his riddles or lied about the secret to his strength. He taunted everyone-- even Delilah. Samson had to know that she was out to get him. Every time Samson lied about the source of his strength the Philistines tried to destroy the source. And Samson had to lie to Delilah each time for this to happen.

Ever watch a TV show or read a book and ask "why'd he make that choice?" Or, "why'd she do that?". I call them plot holes. Places in the plot of a story where if the main character had simply made one phone call, or used their powers, or went to the police, the story would be over in five minutes.

So when Samson gives in to Delilah simply because she worried him until he couldn't stand it, he gives in. Why? Because he was weak? Or, because the plot could not continue otherwise?

I didn't say anything. I didn't disturb my mom's reading to my son. I simply listened quietly with one ear while working away on the cryptoquip puzzle in front of me.

Also, I didn't realize the story of Samson was so long. My mother read the whole life of Samson as written in the Bible to him, not simply the popular part about Samson and Delilah.

As my mom finished reading, I found a breakthrough in solving my puzzle. Everything became easy and I solved it just about the same time.

Cracking the cipher reveled:


Was some force prophetically confirming that the story of Samson was simply a "foible"-- no different from the ancient stories of Aesop?

And I was thinking this all along before I even solved the puzzle!

Out of the whole history of the universe, these two moments intersected as though they were meant to be. I solved an encrypted message about ancient stories and fables with characters who have flaws just as my mom finished reading such a story aloud to my son.

But I'll stay true to form. I'll have to answer that this moment was nothing more than coincidence.

But, what a strange coincidence indeed!
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