Challenge: can you crack 17th-century code?

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Times readers who fancy themselves as amateur codebreakers are invited to decipher a 350-year-old message sent by French spies conniving to strike a killer blow against England’s allies in Europe. Only one man, a 17th-century master cryptographer, has ever been able to crack the message but his method remains a mystery because he refused to say how he did it.

John Wallis, whose breaking of the French codes was pivotal in thwarting England’s longstanding enemy, shared his techniques only with his son and grandson, who took the secret to their graves. He claimed he was obliged to guard his methods to prevent rival European powers from improving their codes but he also knew that his knowledge ensured that those in power would always need him.

Philip Beeley, editor of Wallis’s correspondence at Linacre College, Oxford University, has called upon Times readers to use their skills to break the code so that Wallis’s techniques may be revealed for the first time.

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