Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Solution to the Puzzle on the Back Cover, Lower Left

I picked up my copy of The Lost Symbol at 12:01 a.m. at the Lincoln Center Barnes and Noble in Manhattan, here in New York City. Now, at a little after 2:00 a.m. Eastern time, I've dealt with a few other matters, and I am looking at something that many of us have been wondering about for months: the back cover, which does indeed have puzzles! This blog entry is the solution to one of them. (If you don't want to know, don't read on!)

[Incidentally, for those of you interested in the technical vocabulary and concepts of cryptography, the type of puzzle that we will be working with is a transposition cipher. This means that the letters of the message are all there in plain sight--but they are in a mixed-up order. How can one put them in the correct order? That is the challenge. I think you are seeing cryptographic history made here in The Lost Symbol; I think that forever afterward, this will be called a "magic square" or "Durer" cipher. Read on to see why.]

The lower left-hand corner of the back cover has a 4 x 4 grid of letters, like so:



This relates to a similar puzzle in The Lost Symbol that Robert Langdon struggles with. At one point, Langdon realizes that the solution to the puzzle is the magic square in the artwork, Melencolia I, produced during the German Renaissance by Albrecht Durer. (Durer was the subject of Clue #9; a reproduction of Melencolia I, magic square and all, is above.) Durer's magic square is a matrix of numbers:

16 3 2 13
5 10 11 8
9 6 7 12
4 15 14 1

The trick is to put the letters of the first matrix in the order indicated by the numbers of Durer's magic square. The lower right-hand corner of Durer's magic square is 1; this corresponds to the letter "Y" in the letter matrix, so "Y" should go in the first position (where there is already a "Y," no doubt just to confuse us all). But you get the idea. Sort the letters so that they fit into the following matrix of numbers:

1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16

and when you do this, you get the following matrix of letters:


which leads to the phrase:


What a powerful statement! But what might it mean, in the context of this book? I think it means two things.

Certainly all the many challenges that Robert Langdon has to face in his adventures have to be solved through the use of his mind. In this world, where the forces of irrationality and superstition fight for supremacy, where irrational arguments are used to mold global politics, it is important to remember that our minds are the key.

Secondly, the conclusion of the novel, Chapters 133 and the Epilogue (which I will not spoil here), have some interesting things to say regarding the potential of the human mind.

Finally, the phrase "YOUR MIND" is almost certainly the key in a Caesar shift cipher (a transposition cipher) using the Freemason's cipher (a substitution cipher) that is another puzzle on the back cover. But that is another blogpost.

You can read more about Caesar shift ciphers, transposition ciphers, the Freemasons cipher, and substitution ciphers, in one of my forthcoming books. Australian puzzlemaster Denise Sutherland and I are publishing Cracking Codes and Cryptograms for Dummies in October or November (Wiley Publishing). I'll say more about it in this blog later on, but if you enjoy cryptography, codes, and puzzles, you'll like this book.

Now on to that other puzzle on the back cover . . . .

[I dedicate the solution of this puzzle to my wonderful wife, Kathleen Koltko-Rivera, who encouraged me to go out to pick up The Lost Symbol tonight, and accompanied me on a lovely nocturnal walk to do so. I love you, sweetheart. L., M.]


  1. freemasons cipher or Pigpen cipher?! I still have problems, any clues?

  2. Sorry I mean one on the back cover beside on that you have explained. When I use freemasons cipher I got different results than with Pigpen. I can see the difference, but on the pigpen explanations it said it is Freemasons and yet there is a difference.
    Thank you

  3. And speakeing of Durer and his box, can we refer this box as a Jupiter box. TKS

  4. I need to do a whole post on the other ciphered message on the back cover. For the moment, let me say the following:

    (1) The whole approach to ciphering shown on page 197 (Chapter 49) may be referred to as either the pigpen cipher or the Freemason's cipher. The first name refers to the shape, the latter to the group that largely took over use of the cipher.

    (2) Here's the real bad news: There are many versions of the Freemason's cipher. The code on the back cover uses a different one than the one shown in Chapter 49.

    (3) The cipher shown in Chapter 49 starts entering the alphabet in the upper-left-hand corner of the tic-tac-toe board, and works down to create the cipher key. How about if you start in the lower-left-hand corner, and work up, to create a cipher key.

  5. Agrippa certainly called this magic square a Jupiter square, just a few years before Durer created Melencolia I. See Donald Tyson's edition of Durer's Three Books of Occult Wisdom.

  6. Hi Mark,

    This is an absorbing subject for me, I'm a student on the path and I've gained a lot of very interesting and insightful information from your blog. I notice that there is no mention in your writings about the Rosicrucians who, if I'm to believe what I have been taught, date their teachings back to the Egyptians and were the organisation from which the Freemasons developed.

    Enlighten me


  7. I cracked the cipher on the back page that is in red using the Freemason's Cipher in Chapter 49. You have to hold the book with the spine down, and the cipher translates to be "All Great Truths Begin As Blasphemies." I can be most easily reached at ndkpa@yahoo.com

  8. Mark,
    I am still trying to find the other 3 ciphers on the cover. I only finished reading the book yesterday, and I solved the Dan Brown site mystery this morning to get the message that there are 5 puzzles. If you locate the other 3, please let me know.

  9. Bernard Scala: Thank you for your comment. As it happens, the relationship between Freemasonry and other esoteric movements is a complex subject. You might find it helpful to read my article, "The Transmission of Esoteric Knowledge and the Origins of Modern Freemasonry, or, was Mackey Right?", in volume 15 (2007) of Heredom: The Transactions of the Scottish Rite Research Society. An uncorrected 'proof' version of this article, with incorrect pagination, is available on-line at:


    My own feeling on the subject (see the article for references) is as follows: in the 17th century, a number of learned men were interested in the idea of the Rosicrucian fellowship. These men in turn found that Freemasonry was a convenient place in which to explore their ideas in private. This construction does not require any suppositions about the reality of the Rosicrucian fellowship, or its origins. It does fit the facts about the interest of early Masons in Rosicrucianism. Best of good fortune to you on the path.

    ndkpa: Thank you for your contributions to the discussion here. I am still struggling with the puzzles myself. As I discover anything, I shall post it on this blog, you may be assured.

  10. Bernard Scala: Having said what I said, I would also mention that there is a lively discussion among Masons about the connection between Freemasonry and actual esoteric movements. Timothy Hogan has written two books on the subject, both available from lulu.com:

    "The 32 Secret Paths of Solomon: A New Examination of the Qabbalah in Freemasonry"

    "The Alchemical Keys to Masonic Ritual"

    These are fascinating works, as are the works of others (like W. Kirk MacNulty's article on Kabbalah in York Rite Freemasonry, published a couple of years ago in Heredom). I hope to add my own two cents to this discussion some time in the foreseeable future. In the meantime: good study to you.

  11. hey, my friend and i just did the symbol quest thingy, and we need help with the next. do you guys have the answers?

  12. hi thanks fo the explanation, i was thinking bout it all day long, and i gave up, so much thanks for you....

  13. There is another puzzle with letters and numbers is scattered on the cover.


    Then a series of numbers: 22, 65, 22, 97, 27
    22, 23, 44, 1, 133, 97, 65, 44
    these are to the left of the phoenix seal on the cover. puzzle #5 i have yet to find, got the book recently, dont want to finish, its too good...

  14. I was reading The Lost Symbol (again) and on page 96 there is a dot in the margin (left hand side),anyone know if this means anything,


  15. Googled ,page 96 dan brown,dot page 96 dan brown etc etc ,and this came up


    Brown, Dan Illum , wonder what this is all about?


  16. Lost Symbol is a great book. Although the book is obviously fiction, it has caused a lot of new men to knock at the door of our Masonic Lodge. Many have become interested in Freemasonry because of Dan Brown's books.

  17. @ Utah Masons: I am delighted to hear that some readers of The Lost Symbol have been seeking to know the truth about Freemasonry. I've been trying to alert lodges to this possibility since first I heard details about the then-forthcoming book, using one of my other blogs, "Freemasonry: Reality, Myth, and Legend"; I know Chris Hodapp has been doing the same on his blog.

    Come on over and visit at "Freemasonry: Reality, Myth, and Legend"--you can get there through my Blogger Profile page--and, if you like, check out my new book, Freemasonry: An Introduction at this post: http://themasonicblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/available-now-freemasonry-introduction.html
    S&L, Mark

  18. the numbers (without letters) are speaking of chapters the code is broken to reveal "Pope's Pantheon"

    the other one with numbers (and letters) is a phone number. i called it. it was gibberish. then i played it backwards using audacity. its Latin. not sure what it says, since i don't speak it. i would love to send the audio to someone who could though? any takers?

  19. @TimidRedPenguin: send it to me, as an audio attachment. I _do_ work with Latin. Send to e-mail address on my Blogger profile.

  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  21. One of the oldest known Latin Squares is the Sator Square. This Square was supposedly found amongst the ruins of Pompeii in the volcanic ashes resulting Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, pressed in clay or carved in stone. Read more about it on my blog: http://www.glennwestmore.com.au/category/latin-squares/.


No spoilers, please!

Remember the rules: No profanity, and no personal attacks, especially regarding anyone who has posted a comment. In addition, please do not discuss Masonic passwords or signs of recognition in your comments. Thank you.

The entire content of this blog is Copyright 2009-2013 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.