The Ghosts of Heaven – cipher solved

This post is probably only of interest to anyone who got to the end of The Ghosts of Heaven and wondered what the page of numbers and letters at the end of the book was all about; the page in question being this:

A lot of people wrote to me, asking if it was a cipher, and in response to that, I posted this in April of 2015, just over a year ago, and around eight months after the first publication of the book in the UK. In short; yes, I said, it is a cipher, and no, I’m not going to give any clues about how to solve it; other than stipulating that everything need to solve the thing could be found in the book itself.

I wasn’t giving clues because I like being mean, in fact it was very hard sticking to what I had decided; namely that I wanted to see how long it would take for someone to solve the cipher with no help from me at all, and I could be certain that help could come from nowhere else because no one (not even my editors nor family) knew what it was all about. (Note, you can only get away with this kind of thing if your editors trust you).

It was, therefore, with great happiness a couple of days ago that I received an email from one Erik Kjellgren of Texas, because he’s cracked it: he sent me the solution. So as to give him full credit for his work, I asked him for his own words on how he did it:

Whenever I read a book I have this habit of reading all of the additional information inside of it before beginning on the main content. In the case of The Ghosts of Heaven, this involved your spiral definition, the introduction, and turning to the back to see the cipher you had left. At the time I didn’t think much of it, maybe assuming it to be an unnecessary filler page, and so began reading. I didn’t think of the cipher again until I reached page 310, and a series of artists were mentioned. I took AP Art History this last year and we learned, of course, about Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and The Spiral Jetty. I was completely unaware of Final Words by Rijndael, and so I googled it, only to find the Rijndael Key Schedule. I read through the Wikipedia page and was reminded of the final page of the book. I then googled “The Ghosts of Heaven Code” and was led to your blog post, saw your warning, and saw your hint of it all being available in the book. This basically confirmed for me that I was on the right track. I then googled “Rijndael Decipher”, and found http://rijndael.online-domain-tools.com/ (honestly this felt like cheating, but I can’t imagine anybody deciphering that code by hand). Using that resource, I realized that I only needed the mode and the key. I decided to skim over the beginning of the third quarter to see if I had missed something, and saw that it was said on page 290 that a woman had a “CBC of at least 256”. CBC was clearly what I needed for the mode, and because of this I also needed the initial vector in addition to the key. The key was easy, however. From the Wikipedia page I knew I needed a 16-digit key, and on page 321 Bowman gives a code of the first 16-digits of Phi. I decided that must have been the key (quite fitting seeing as Phi is sort of the key to the entire novel). I assumed the initial vector to be zero just out of hope, ended up being correct, and was able to put in the characters from that page 256 digits at a time to reveal the message.”

This makes me very happy, as I said, because this are exactly the steps I hoped someone might take to figure it out, and Erik explains it all so succinctly there is nothing left for me to add. Except, perhaps, the solution itself… which is no great earth-shattering secret, just something I was thinking as I wrote the book, but nevertheless something which I hope makes the bleaker parts of it, and life, seem much less so.

“‘The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed..’ So said a writer whose work has always been important to me. I would only add one thing; there are those who are destroyed, those for whom life is simply too strong, but as long as they are remembered in the hearts of their loved ones, they shall not die, but shall live forever…”

Not that I’d offered one, but a small prize is being dispatched to Texas very soon. Thanks, Erik, for making my day.

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