The Voynich Manuscript and It’s Place in Cryptographic History

The Voynich Manuscript came into popular cultural in 1912 when  Wilfrid Voynich (a Polish book dealer) purchased it. It is unclear from where he purchased it so it’s even more interesting when you consider that the vellum it was written on dates it somewhere between 1404–1438! That’s a good solid 500 years it was just floating around somewhere with no one really paying attention to it. It’s particularly remarkable because this codex was written in some unknown script and everyone’s best guess is that it was written in Northern Italy during the Renaissance. So, it’s not Italian?

We’ve put our world’s best–British and American codebreakers from both World Wars–on the task of decrypting this text and yet it is still undeciphered. It ranks right up there with Kryptos and Ricky McCormick’s encrypted notes. We just can’t seem to figure them out. However, looking at the diagrams and illustrations, our best guess is that it had to do with medicine. But if that’s the case, why encrypt it?

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Babes in the Woods

This is an interesting concept, though sad. Traditionally, the title comes from an anonymous tale originally published in 1595. It was later absorbed into Mother Goose and in 1932, Disney created a movie by the same name. If you’ll notice, it’s also pretty similar to the tale of Hansel and Gretel, with two innocent children going into the woods and being preyed upon or left to die. Clearly, this is rooted in some sort of cultural fear, given that it appears in both English and German folktales. Interestingly, it even made its way to North America, entering common language to mean innocents (not necessarily children) entering into unknown, dangerous situations (not necessarily a forest).

We can see this when we look at several murders that had this name attributed to them. This includes one case in Pennsylvania in 1934 and another in Vancouver, BC, in 1953. The murder in Stanely Park was never solved.

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The Ourang Medan Ghost Ship

If you’re familiar with the paranormal, you’re probably familiar with this ghost ship (as well as the Mary Celeste). It isn’t exactly Americana, but it did have an almost global impact, including finding its way into American publications.

So, the interesting thing about this story is that it was initially reported by the Associated Press (AP), a pretty reputable source, when it apparently first happened in 1940. However, after that, it was reported in several different publications and the story was warped and became more and more macabre as most urban legends do. The tale basically says that this Dutch-Indonesian ship was heading to Indonesia when an American ship, the Silver Star, was contacted with a rather distressing message. The message was as follows:

“S.O.S. from Ourang Medan * * * we float. All officers including the Captain, dead in chartroom and on the bridge. Probably whole of crew dead * * *.”

and then, simply:

“I die.”

That’s pretty spooky in and of itself. But apparently, when the crew of the Silver Star located the Ourang Medan, they found all the crew dead in a quite gruesome state: eyes and mouths open in terror. So, you know, the crew of the Silver Star were pretty wigged out when they couldn’t find any explanation for the state of the crew and resolved to tow the ship to the nearest port. But, apparently, before they could even get that far, the Ourang burst into flames.

Sounds pretty spooky, right? It makes for a good story. But it might not have happened. The Ourang Medan may not have even existed. Due to the multiple reports, including Dutch articles published 8 years after the supposed incident and American Coast Guard publications 12 years after the supposed incident, research has been conducted as to the veracity of this tale. No one has been able to find any documents proving the existence of the Ourang, though they have been able to confirm that the Silver Star did exist.

So, if the ship didn’t exist where did this tale come from? How did it come to be so widely publicized and found plastered all over the internet? We have no photographic evidence of the ship yet there’s that one black and white photo of what looks to be a steamer. We don’t even really know what sort of ship it was supposed to have been. What is up with this ship?

(The above newspaper article is supposedly from the November 21, 1940 edition of the Yorkshire Evening Post found on theBritish Newspaper Archive, though it requires a subscription so this blog could not verify this source. If anyone wants to buy a subscription and check it out or just do your own digging, let us know!)

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31 Days of Horror Movies: Day 15

31 Days of Horror Movies

Day 15 | The Babadook (2014)

This is considered a pretty spooky movie and it’s relatively successful. However, it’s more of a “psychological” horror and deals mostly with [spoilers after this point!!]  the aftermath of a woman who is stuck with a child that constantly reminds her of the death of her husband. The child is so smart and it makes him a bit insufferable, especially to the mother who finds him as that reminder and he is constantly acting out in school or with his cousin. A lot of this movie is the tension, the silences and the repetitiveness of the child’s bizarre behavior.

The babadook is pretty terrifying but the idea is that its not a “real” monster or entity, it’s the mother’s stress and depression.Here’s a good article that talks about it on The Daily Beast. I highly suggest you give that a read after you’ve seen the movie (if you haven’t seen it!). And hey, the director of the Exorcist (1973) was pretty impressed–and terrified!–by this movie.

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31 Days of Horror Movies: Day 14

31 Days of Horror Movies

Day 14 | Shaun of the Dead (2004)

This is the first in the  Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy by Edgar Wright andSimon Pegg. It’s considered a “horror comedy” so I’m counting it!

The movie is a zombie so it has the typical “our everyday lives make us zombies” message, which I have to admit I’m not crazy about but I think it is one of the earlier ones to do that? Don’t quote me on that. However, the movie was directed by Edgar Wright so you can expect that the cinematography was spectacular and clever. The zombie apocalypse is always an interesting setting but it doesn’t always end happily–see Night of the Living Dead (1968)–so don’t expect that here either.

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