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Yet another Grand Unified Theory...
Here's my current Grand Unified Theory, and why I unfortunately can't test
it - as normal, all comments more than welcome. :-)
The basic building block of the code is the metaphor of the *mirror",
similar to the Kabbalistic "albam" cipher, where you write an alphabet in
two halves, and each half maps to the other.
These "mirror codebooks" would have certain properties:-
(1) Symmetry: the encoder process = the decoder process
(2) Rearrangement: each codebook is not so much a mapping as a list of pairs
(3) Compact: would fit on a small area of paper
(4) Readable: the encoder can visually validate what's been written
(5) Ancient: the basic idea is probably 2000+ years old
However, if that were the whole code, then it would (of course) be simple
to crack: but I believe that the VMS' code is second-generation, built
using 8-10 separate mirror codebooks, each one corresponding to a different
state - and that each time a gallows characters (and perhaps EVA ch) is
emitted, it triggers a switch to a new state.
[Though it's no longer *globally readable*, it's still *locally readable* -
and that would have appealed to the code designer.]
This scheme would require 8-10 mirror codebooks (each consisting of a set
of pairs), which I earlier predicted would be somehow encoded in the
"astrological" section in the nymphs' poses (and stars etc).
Close examination of those poses shows that each circle's nymphs are
locally consistent, but are globally inconsistent. This (in combination
with the reduced dataset required to encode a mirror codebook) points to
what I now think the answer is:-
To determine the mirror codebook encoded for a sign:-
(1) catalogue the nymphs on a page according to their distinct attributes, ie
left-facing / right-facing
arm-up / arm-down
arm-behind-hip / arm-in-front-of-hip
legs apart / together / crossed
star exists? (y/n)
star tail exists? (y/n)
number of points on star - typically 7/8/9
star - dot drawn in middle
star - coloured blob painted in middle?
pattern on barrel
perhaps even hair style?
(2) carefully analyse this to form (mirror) pairs of nymphs (some may be
ie, "nymph #2 is-paired-with nymph#28"
(3) compare each pair's labels (in an aggregated alphabet, as in the AAH)
the first characters where the labels differ [probably] forms the mirror pair
Then, I believe that these codebooks are [probably] placed on a 3x3 folding
key [much as described by Steve Ekwall]. There are likely to be other
special-case codes (number-encoding, for example - probably encoded as per
Hebrew, ie 9x3 letters), but I think that the above may well form the
backbone of the coding system.
Unfortunately, the reason I can't test this GUT is simply that all the
astrological images are black-and-white - so any information encoded in the
colour or colouring ain't there for me to see. :-((((
And until we get a decent set of colour scans - or I take a week off work
to go to the Beinecke to exhaustively catalogue the use of colour in the
VMS - that's the way it'll stay. :-(((
This also yields a prediction about the first-generation code that the VMS'
code would have been based on: a simple one-state mirror code, where all
the right-way-up astrological symbols went above the mirror line, and all
the inverted astrological symbols went below the line. This may well have
been the original intent behind the partially inverted character set.
Overall, then: arguments for the GUT:-
Explains astrological pages structure and why 29/30 nymphs
Explains number of astrological pages (why not 12 otherwise?)
Doesn't require Trithemius-style cryptographic techniques
Based on an ancient technique, so fits dates
Symmetrical, so easy for encoder to validate visually
Compact keyset, so not too unwieldy for encoder to handle
Partially explains choice of character set - consistent with mirror metaphor
Cheers, .....Nick Pelling.....