1:46pm

Fri January 24, 2014
The Two-Way

How An 18-Year-Old Code Was Cracked On The Web In 13 Minutes

A fascinating story that our friends at Minnesota Public Radio posted about earlier this week seems to be spreading fast and resonating with many.

Here's how The Associated Press, which picked up on the news a day after MPR's Bob Collins and some others, begins its account:

"MINNEAPOLIS — When a brain tumor took away Dorothy Holm's ability to speak, she picked up index cards and began filling them, edge to edge, with seemingly random, indecipherable sequences of letters. Her grandchildren saw her scribbling and thought she was leaving them a code — but it was one the preteens couldn't crack.

"Eighteen years later, the puzzle has been solved after one of Holm's granddaughters posted images of a card online. In just 13 minutes, a MetaFilter.com user figured out that as Dorothy Holm was dying, she was writing out prayers."

The first code to be broken:

"OFWAIHHBTNTKCTWBDOEAIIIHGUTDODBAFUOT
AWFTWTAUALUNITBDUFEFTITKTPATGFAEA"

The code crackers' conclusion: That's the Lord's Prayer — "Our Father, who art in heaven ..."

Janna Holm, the granddaughter who posted about Dorothy Holm's index cards Monday at 4:13 p.m. CT, was astounded to see that solution pop up on the MetaFilter thread at 4:26 p.m. the same day. "Holy cow!" That fast an answer to something "that has been bugging my family for 20 years ... is amazing!"

The work on decoding Holm's cards continues on MetaFilter.

One big mystery still remains, though. Why did Dorothy Holm spend time during the final weeks of her life in 1996 filling 20 index cards with capital letters?

Janna Holm emailed MPR with this theory:

"My dad thinks that [Dorothy Holm] was so worried about losing her memory that she was just copying down the first letter of words to remind herself of common prayers. I think everyone has just been a little curious about the mysteries that she left behind, and even just knowing that it was a prayer (whether or not we can decipher it) is kind of comforting."

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