The Use of Cryptography in Real and Fictional Crimes
2. Cryptography in Crime Fiction
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Cryptography in Crime Fiction
Human ingenuity cannot concoct a cipher which human ingenuity cannot resolve.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849)
The 2004 adventure-heist-mystery film, National Treasure, was a highly successful one at the box office. One of the reasons was, arguably, that it featured cryptography throughout the movie. The plot reaches its denouement after an encrypted map to a lost treasure is finally decoded by protagonist Benjamin Franklin Gates, a historian and amateur cryptanalyst. His name is an obvious allusion to Benjamin Franklin, an expert cryptographer himself. The narrative also includes secret societies, such as the Freemasons and the Knights Templar, adding to its atmosphere of conspiracy and intrigue. The map is found initially on the back of the Declaration of Independence. It is quickly determined that it will lead to the greatest treasure in American history, recalling previous stories of treasure-hunting guided by cryptography, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold Bug” (1843). ← 29 | 30 →
The method used in encrypting the map is an Ottendorf cipher, written in invisible ink on the back of the Declaration. The key is found within the map itself. The hidden message is linked to the “Silence Dogwood” letters—letters written by Benjamin Franklin under this pen name. This is the pivotal insight for cracking the cipher, leading the investigators to the bell tower of Independence Hall where they find a pair of...
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