Cracking the Scarlet Code

It was shortly after taking in a James Bond movie that I began seriously considering a career in espionage.

I was attracted by the possibility of consorting with fellow operatives like Honey Ryder, Tiffany Case, and Pussy Galore, each of whom would, I knew, find me utterly irresistible. However, I was considerably less interested in taking some of the risks that came with the territory, most notably being targeted for assassination by a series of fiendish homicidal maniacs bent on world domination. Even worse, said sociopaths came equipped with an army of insanely strong hired goons, each of whom was even more sadistic than he was grotesquely physically deformed.

Subsequently dialing down my career ambition from spy to detective, I envisioned myself and my comely partner, a Ryder/Case/Galore hybrid, being assigned to get to the bottom of particularly tricky murder cases that had flummoxed local authorities, not to mention confounding the Feds as well. Of course my shapely, photogenic sidekicks and I would always catch the killer(s), but our 100% effective investigations would be done covertly, thanks to our ability to communicate via a brilliantly-conceived secret code I had shrewdly created in my spare time, when I wasn’t suavely but firmly fending off an endless parade of overly amorous admirers.

Some people design secret messaging systems with the aid of devices like decoder rings. I never got one of those when I was a kid. My family didn’t buy the product that was giving away that particular prize, but in addition I misunderstood the TV ads that explained exactly what it was that came free inside those specially marked boxes. The voice on the commercial never specified which Decoder it was. I might have considered choking down that nasty cereal if there had been a ring featuring some New England state inside the box, but I had no interest at all in a bauble featuring North Decoder or South Decoder.

In my imaginary detective scenario my curvaceous assistant and I were tasked with tracking down diabolically clever murderers, each of whom thought they’d committed the perfect crime. But our determined investigations, all of which were conducted surreptitiously, would inevitably bear fruit. One particularly challenging case ended when my uncharacteristically-stymied partner sent me a memo (in invisible ink, of course) reading, “Icicle mammoth simple top umbrella mandible pirate elevator diamond.” Upon reading her memo I responded with, “Dinner stick awful paper essay small tiny issue asset essence scrub table truck elbow hen stagecoach, twice nice strike shovel stud chemist health crisp road spell herd, pillow snack street chalk sell charm mattress cleaver blender.” Shortly thereafter we made the appropriate arrest(s), then subsequently sailed (or in our particular case were chauffeured in a solar-powered, carbon-neutral limousine) off into the sunset.

Of course, the lesser law enforcers would remain utterly Clueless about our uncrackable code. It was too bad they hadn’t thought of the board game by that name; if they had perhaps they’d have deduced I deciphered incoming messages by simply reading the first letter of each word in my colleague’s missive, and responded with what looked like gibberish, but was in actuality easily discerned by my partner. That’s because the second letter of each word, when read in order, spelled out my cryptic meaning.

I never did get to indulge my detective fantasy. But I still enjoy designing clandestine communication systems, and hope to donate one to the CIA someday.

In fact, I recently devised a cryptograph, tentatively code-named “Kayak,” that’s so diabolically clever I’ll bet no one can ever crack it.

sselnU yeht nac daer sdrawkcab.

Andy Young
February 12, 2023

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