What does the code on the Alan Turing Memorial actually say?

Posted on September 23, 2010


Alan Turing Memorial (courtesy of WikiCommons)From wikipedia:

The Alan Turing Memorial, situated in the Sackville Park in Manchester, England, is in memory of a father of modern computing. … The cast bronze bench carries in relief the text ‘Alan Mathison Turing 1912-1954’ and the motto ‘Founder of Computer Science’ as it would appear if encoded by an Enigma machine; ‘IEKYF RQMSI ADXUO KVKZC GUBJ’.

Simon Singh pointed out on Twitter that this enigma code cannot encode the message above – from his tweets:

“Charlie Scutt pointed out Turing statue says IEKYF ROMSI ADXUO KVKZC GUBJ – Enigma encypted FOUNDER OF COMPUTER SCIENCE … but it can’t be!”

“Enigma can’t encrypt a letter as itself, but U in COMPUTER is a U I EKYF ROMS I ADX U OKVK ZCGUBJ FOUND EROF COMP U TERS CI ENCE”

Obviously, for a memorial like this, someone has to know, so I sent an email to the sculptor of this piece, Glyn Hughes who I found from an article on the memorial from his website.

He very kindly replied to my rather odd email congratulating him n his excellent work while simultaneously inquiring about the code on the back:

Yes, the code does say something. And it was encoded using the code in use
in some particular place on some particular day with a particular type of
machine, the place and type having some special significance, like, Alan’s
birthday or something. The trouble is, I can’t remember what, or where or
when or why or how.

So, it has become a code waiting to be cracked.

Which is quite nice?



[and later:]

(incidentally, the Chinese characters on the back of the st[a]tue just say
“cast at the Tianjin Focus Foundry”)

For those that know me, it will come to no surprise that I wouldn’t stop at this point. Undocumented hidden codes in public view are the sort of thing that *really* niggles at me to solve 🙂

So… I sent an email to Richard Humphry, using an email address of his I found online.

Unfortunately, this was an ex-email address and you may be surprised how many barristers called Richard Humphry there are. However, I did find this page which looks to be have potential. However, without a direct email link I’ll hold off this for the moment.

The next person I decided to contact was Andrew Hodges the maintainer of http://www.turing.org.uk/ – hopefully he checks that email account still!

I’ll post more as the information comes in – if you have any current contact details for Richard Humphry, or anyone else who was involved in production of the memorial, please leave a comment!

======= Update =========

Andrew Hodges has kindly gotten back to me with the following:

Hi Ben – I had nothing to do with this at the time, but I was told something
like what you have heard. I never understood what the point of it was
meant to be, given that there are zillions of ways a text can be
With a 24-letter text, the encodement can be almost anything – except, as you
point out, a sequence where a letter corresponds to itself. Whether it was
a different plaintext or whether something just got copied wrong by the time
it was put into the sculpture, I have no idea I’m afraid. Andrew H

[bold emphasis is my own]

I agree, the 24 characters could be almost anything, which makes it even more important to track down what the message was intended to be!

That leaves me to investigate the more tenuous leads I have…