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A Quick Fringe Cipher Follow-Up

April 8th, 2009 · 38 Comments

At the end of the previous post, I mentioned a suspicion that merely deciphering the correspondences between the glyphs on Fringe and the letters they represent might not be the whole of the glyph puzzle. Being new to the show, I didn’t know a whole lot about it previously, but I did decide to poke around a bit, and found a recent interview with the show’s producer, claiming that the solution to the glyph cipher would “speak to some of the larger controlling mythology behind the show.” Clearly, the words embedded in each episode so far don’t do anything of the sort, suggesting there’s something more to discover.

Possibly that just means that the words encoded in the first season’s episodes are provided mainly as raw data to enable folks to start cracking—using words like “Observer” and “Bishop” makes it easier to run a targeted attack and readily confirms you’ve got the correct key—while in future episodes, the code words will be more informative or provide the basis for a new puzzle.  But eyeing the glyph key, there’s some reason to think there’s a second puzzle already built in:


Now remember, the folks behind the show are making up these correspondences. They could’ve matched up glyphs and letters totally randomly.  Or they could’ve gone with a more straightforwardly linear pattern: Apples (with shifting dots) for A–D, Flowers for E–H, and so on.  Instead they went with this weird-looking hybrid (after last night’s show, we can apparently add “W” which is a mirror image of “V”), clearly somewhat patterned, but with interesting deviations. The first two (all plant!) lines open with “high dot” and “low dot” mirrored pairs of the leaf glyph. On the first line, though, the Apple glyph itself doesn’t mirror shift; only the dot moves. On the second line, the flower is mirrored, and the dot shifts in a different order. Line three looks like it’s getting ready to move from the 2-4 structure to a 2-2-2. And on the last line, the smoky face assigned to T disrupts the symmetrical pairs we’ve come to expect.

To me, that suggests potential information content. A completely patterned key—like a text rearranged with all its characters in alphabetical order—would be low-information. A completely random key assignment would technically be “high information,” but without some underlying structure or pattern, you’d have no basis for extracting any specific meaning from it. The reason “I’m going to go to the fridge and get a beer” is less surprising (and thus “lower information” in the technical sense) than “I’m going to go to the fridge rhinoceros teacup insipidly jellybean ” is that the very meaningfulness of the first set of terms lets you form reasonable expectations about the likely content of the rest of the phrase, based on the assumption that the sentence forms a coherent expression of an idea.  The sweet-spot mix of pattern and randomness is what hints at meaning and communication.

So how could this work?  Well, those of you who know anything about cryptography know that it’s not only possible to encipher an informative text with a certain cryptographic key, but to embed information in the key itself.  So, to pick a very simple example, suppose I create a basic monoalphabetic substitution cipher with the following key: “J=A, U=B, L=C, I=D, A=E, N=F, B=G, C=H, D=I…” Now I can encipher a text with that substitute alphabet, and given a long enough text,  a combination of frequency analysis and word-guessing should make it simple enough to crack the code and work backwards to the original key.  Anyone who steps back from the particular text and writes down that key in alphabetical order will not only learn the content of the particular enciphered text, but they’ll readily see that I used the word JULIAN as the basis of the substitution cipher. More complex forms of encryption, like the polyalphabetic Vigenère cipher, can also make use of (potentially much longer) keywords or phrases as the basis of their cryptographic keys.

That’s not to say that’s what’s been done here; I just offer it as an example of one way that a cryptographic key can embed information above and beyond that in any particular enciphered text. Someone who wanted to be especially devious could encipher a banal plaintext with the actually significant information embedded in the structure of the key. This key, say, might itself contain another enciphered word, where the letter sequence can be read as (LEAVES)(APPLES)(LEAVES)(FLOWERS)…—or LALF….—though that seems unlikely to be the method here, if only because a single long word doesn’t provide enough raw data for cryptanalysis, unless there’s some other means of guessing the key to the metacipher. If folks want to play with that idea for  while, I’d be interested to see if people discover anything.  I’m going to leave it for now, but perhaps when we’ve filled out the complete key, I’ll take another look.

Tags: Art & Culture · Journalism & the Media · Language and Literature



38 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Marcus Tee // Apr 9, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Didn’t JJ Abrams do this show?
    And didn’t he do Alias? And doesn’t Alias have a code that is shown each time a new location was visited where one letter in the name of the location was highlighted? When you put them all together they too spell something. Has anyone ever cracked that code and if so what the heck did it say?

  • 2 Michael B Sullivan // Apr 9, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Marcus: Yes, yes, and apparently there was some kind of web ARG that had to do with the highlighted letters. Here’s a FAQ for the season 3 version (with a link to the FAQ for the season 1 version).


    (Note that I’m not in that fandom and this is just the result of a Google search.)

  • 3 Phil // Apr 18, 2009 at 8:45 am

    The mention of pairs made me think of base pairs in genetics? Could this be a link, since alot of the show is about genetic modification?

  • 4 Derek McGowan // Apr 22, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    The bottom line is probably entirely mirrored …


    Z is a mirror of S
    Y is a Mirror of T
    X is a mirror of U
    W is a mirror of V


  • 5 Derek McGowan // Apr 22, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Opps, I was wrong, can’t be … look at S and U

  • 6 Ryan // Apr 23, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Any chance there is significance that T and Y are twice as wide as all the rest?

    Or maybe some benefit to looking at them in pairs? For example, left-right dot pairs? I posted my guess for the complete key on the solution page, so using that and keeping like glyphs together:


    Meainingless? Probably. Just throwing things against the wall.

  • 7 4thjet // Apr 25, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    Y is the mirror image of T…the smoke face turned around with the dot on the bottom left.

    So the code for the last show #117 Bad Dreams is BELLY.
    Which is the nickname Walter called his assistant William Bell before Walter was put away.

  • 8 Jxta // Apr 28, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    Tonight’s episode’s code… E I G H T

  • 9 swooftguy // Apr 30, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    What if the glyphs tie in with the “larger controlling mythology behind the show” in a more mathematical way than we’ve considered (or even can without the entire sequence code)? For example, the way the glyphs are patterned may have a direct relation to the Fibonacci sequence. We know this idea has had a great effect on the show, and it could be the “pattern within the pattern” we’re looking for.

  • 10 swooftguy // Apr 30, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    I have to admit when I first saw the arrangement of dots within the glyphs I wondered how it would look if you overlayd the entire alphabet in photoshop. Erica Sadum did use this method to try to derive an alphabetic code, but is it possible that the complete cipher stacked may reveal that the dots fall within the pattern of the golden spiral? I like the idea that everything within the show, including these glyphs and their careful arrangement all ties back in to Fibonacci’s work. It would give it such a sense of completion wouldn’t it?

  • 11 god // May 7, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    could it be related to Braille?

  • 12 dbmerc // May 9, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Maybe the pairs could be related to the Periodic table of elements….

  • 13 Just me... // May 14, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    I was taking a closer look at the seahorse and i think that you can see a golden spiral or a golden square around the belly and neck/spine. Swooftguy may be on to something… Anyway, would be interesting to see your thoughts on this…

  • 14 Liam Alexander // May 17, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Anyone else notice that there are symbols in the opening sequence? They flash pretty quickly so you probably would not always notice them. They appear directly before the “Dark Matter” text.

  • 15 Brad Sedito // Sep 24, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    Liam, you’re right. The symbols flash in the opening sequence – I only caught it after slowing it down in my adobe video editing software. I believe theres always four symbols, and I think theyre different for each episode. I havent delved to deeply into it but I think it would bear some significance to the embedded code.

    Haha, this beats counting sheep.

  • 16 ShadeyLane // Oct 16, 2009 at 3:06 am

    @ Liam and Brad

    The glyphs at the beginning are a butterfly, a sea horse, a frog, a flower, and a hand (straight) . The possibilities are:

    Butterfly – O – It’s on the smalle wing Left.

    Sea Horse N – Lower Dot Right.

    Frog – R – Lower Dot Right.

    Flower – I or L, no dots. Ruled out the K because the DragonFly wing is on the Left.

    Hand – V – It’s standing straight.



    Any meaning? On Riv? On RLV? Roniv, Ronlv, Vonil, Vonrl? Violin? Oh wait, that’s 2 I’s; and I’m kidding. If there’s a meaning,it’s beyond me.

  • 17 224bron // Jan 2, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    flower with dot top right definitely = j.
    there are symbols within the symbols, like the triangle in the leaf, the embryonic seeds in the apple, the extra finger, the smoke that looks like a face eating another, surely they there for a reason??

  • 18 224bron // Jan 2, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    and the omega in the frog.?

  • 19 Gellis // Jan 22, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    All of the glyphs have something “odd” about them, that is no secret. The Apple has human embryos for seeds, the face is made of smoke, the seahorse has the Fibonacci sequence on its tail, the frog actually has the Greek letter Phi on its back (which denotes the Fibonacci sequence), the butterfly is made of human bones (in the wings), the hand has an extra finger, the flower has an insect wing for one of its petals, and the leaf has a “golden triangle” (another related symbol for the Golden Ratio or Golden Mean—Fibonacci). I think there may be something to the idea that the dots form a Golden Spiral, anyone tried that yet?
    And just a note, the Golden Ratio has been a theme of art, architecture, science and Mathematics since roughly 500 B.C. It is commonly found in nature as well.

  • 20 Gellis // Jan 22, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    Oh, and if you’re looking for a collection of all the solutions to the episodes, check this website:


  • 21 Sahar // Feb 23, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    We all seem to have forgotten that the original glyphs included a horn with the golden ratio inscribed on it (1.618….). Perhaps X & Z are mirror images of the horn, rather than the 6-digit palm?

  • 22 Mel // Apr 3, 2010 at 2:14 am

    J.J. Abrams was a PHI DELTA THETA member in college and is just embedding the Greek letters in the show to send his appreciation to all the other PDT’s around the world.

  • 23 Greg // Apr 7, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    If the symbols are letters and the typewriter is a key prop to communicate between dimensions then…

    Try rearranging the symbols into a querty pattern and see if it leads some where?

  • 24 ted // Apr 9, 2010 at 3:01 am

    keys on the typewriter? notice that they are only seen in the see through dimention mirror, the symbols show thenselves in the scene backgrounds

  • 25 susan // Apr 9, 2010 at 6:20 am

    There is an iota in the frog

  • 26 Todd // Mar 6, 2011 at 1:57 am

    I am new to show and this may be common knowledge so please excuse if so…
    I found hidden items in Subject 13 episode when Elizabeth was looking through the window in the daycare, and cannot find any information on the meaning of them.
    1. The final glyph in previous episode had a yellow heart instead of a dot. 2. In Subject 13, a lady was wearing a heart in act two?? I am not sure what act it was exactly, but I remember it was the scene where Walter was trying to get the blond girl to “cross over” by making her mad, scaring her, etc. It was a brief glimpse only and it was a gold “heart shaped” piece of jewelry that had the same “shape” that is inside the center of the flower. I ant remember what to call the shape, but it is described well in the high resolution glyph code page on this website. It is a mathematical curiosity of some sort. 3. Act 2 ended with a flower glyph. 4. Elizabeth and Peter entered the daycare in Act 3 and there were flowers everywhere amidst other glyph mimicks. 5. Shortly after, there is a scene that begins with a closeup of big flowers on a wall and then pans into the room where Elizabeth was. 6. A lady walks in holding up a “distracting” package of M & M’s wearing that same heart shaped piece of jewelry on her left side of her jacket. 7. Elizabeth went to look for Peter and picked up a notebook and almost seemed to point at a single flower left on torn page. 8. She then walkedmdown the hall where a trash can was on the right with a very small Horn glyph on the front. 9. She then stares through a window on a metal door with a “wooden pane” which caught my attention. 10. I wasn’t sure what that was so i paused the action, and there are hidden items in the window before the light occurs and the switch to the “other side.” 11. There is for sure a video camera with tripod stand and maybe a table to the left of it as well with maybe something on top of it. 12. There are also vague “square” opaque areas… about 3 or 4 of them with uncertain lighted shapes. One of the boxes reminded me of a sailboat in a “negative image” way but capsized. Only reason I probably thought so was that I saw boats in the room on the other side. This is proabably just my imagination though, but thought it may mean something to someone else. At any rate the opaque square regions are strange. 13. I went to the Fringe website and lloked under the “Extras” tab and it took me to a page where it said ” Go deeper inside the world of fringe – decipher exclusive secret messages from the “other side.” 14. I then rewound the episode to where I had seen the other heart… to look for another message. I saw a video camera and stand like the one in the window and somewhere in this area there was a close up of a video tape which Walter was inserting and he said somthing like “See if you cna see something I missed… or similar words to same effect as that.” 15. The room is full of “curious charts” on the wall that may help in some way. I was reading how the glyphs code was broken and that the code breaking author suggested there might be a “higher order” code in the glyphs relative to the yellow dots. 16. I went back and watched the episode again and couldn’t decide how to document the location of the dots on the glyphs so I just used a “clock” method and designated them with numbers (hours). 17. Out of curiosity, I watched the clocks on the wall in that video room and, although somewhat obscure, it seemed like the clock on the wall had the hour hand about 10 oclock, which was the position I had “recorded” for the yellow dot on the flower at the end of act 2. This is “reaching” but perhaps interesting. 18. Additionally, the room is full of “circles” with spinning hands that point to colors, which is also interesting. I felt that some clue was here as I noticed the horn glyph has the pi number on it… which was observed on the trash can just befor the window to the other side. I also read about the horn glyph on the high resolution glyph page, and discovered that the show has never used this glyph at the end of an act, and that it has only been seen once in the three seasons. 19. I plan to try again to solve the room puzzle with the additional information I have found, and wanted to get someone else’s input for help. I found the following information somewhere in the fringe pedia website:
    A. There is a sequence of collors that recurs which is green/green/green/red. Maybe the circles with spinning hands or something else in the room has this color sequence. I do remember vaguely that there were rubics cubes and one was all green facing our viewpoint.
    B. Also, I saw somewhere else where someone saw a minut seahorse hidden on a book in the 6955Hz episode in Markham’s library. If I can access this video I plan to see what the preceding glyph for the act was noting the yellow dot location, and then go from there waiting for clocks, color sequences and glimpses from the other side.
    C. Also i noticed that I saw a 21 on the previous episode 6B and then there was a 22 in episode Subject 13. I have only watched these two, and am wondering why they are counting up like this. The numbers were on something in each episode but I cant remember where I saw them.
    I should have never started down this road… as I can see from this website that this activity is clearly addictive in nature. Impressive website.
    Oh yeah, be careful about looking at the yellow dots on the code page. Example: the dot is in a 10 oclock position for the leaf on act 6 for Subject 13 instead of wherever it is located on the code page. I dont know how many other dots may be in the wtong location if there is someone clever enough to figure out exactly how to use them.

  • 27 steve // Apr 17, 2011 at 1:01 am

    the glyph for for the F is the mirror image of E. Just in case anyone hasn’t figured it out.

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  • 29 AQ1991 // Nov 3, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    im sure this might have nothing to do with it but i can swear there is more to the pictures themselfs. for example there is what i think is the sign for delta in th leaf and omega in the frog (not sure on that one ). this is the crazy part but i seen babies on the apple seeds which made me think of the apple of eden but maybe im wrong. could not see anything else but thought i would contribute my ideas.

  • 30 ゴヤール // Jan 20, 2012 at 2:30 am

    s themselfs. for example there is what i think is the sign for delta in th leaf and omega in the frog (not sure on that one ). this is the crazy part but i seen babies on the a

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