Because sometimes life is every bit as exciting and riddled with mysteries as you had hoped it would be as a cunning, hopeful child, a man in southern England has discovered the remains of a homing pigeon carrying an encrypted message for a British intelligence agency while renovating his 17th-century fireplace. The man, David Martin, found the remains of the pigeon back in 1982 but the existence of the message remained a secret until earlier this month.
"I started finding bits of a dead pigeon. We thought it might be a racing pigeon until we spotted a red capsule," Martin told reporters.
The small red cylinder contained a mysterious cigarette paper-sized encrypted message.
Of course there was a small red cylinder! Of course it was rolled like cigarette paper, exactly as a secret code ought to be. We live in days of wonder. Code-breaking experts at the Government Communications Headquarters in Bletchley Park (where there is also, delightfully, a Pigeon Museum dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of military homing pigeons used to send secret messages during the radio blackouts) have so far been unable to decipher the message.
"Without access to the relevant code books and details of any additional encryption used, it will remain impossible to decrypt," an agency spokesman said.
The sender of the message is identified within only as "Sjt W Stot;" its reader was to have been "X02." There is a "small chance" the corresponding code books could still exist somewhere, the agency believes. That sounds like a challenge if ever I heard one.
This could not be a more fitting year for the announcement of the code's discovery, considering it occurred during the Alan Turing centenary. Should you wish to learn more about the famous British cryptologist and mathematician (and who among us would not), Alan Turing: The Enigma is an excellent place to start, after you have cracked the code and sent me the key, of course. Never again let it be said that this age has lost the breed of noble bloods.