Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Enigmatical,” from Alexander's Weekly Messenger, vol. 4, no. 3, January 15, 1840, p. 2, col. 4


[page 2 column 4, continued:]


Some weeks since, in an editorial article under this head, we mentioned that, with a proper method, it would be easy to decipher any piece of writing in which arbitrary signs were made use of in place of proper alphabetical characters — pledging ourselves, at the same time, to read any thing which should be sent to us thus written. In consequence, we have received the following letter: —

To the Editors of Alexander's Messenger.

DEAR SIR: — Having noticed in a late number of the Messenger, an article headed “Enigmatical and Conundrumical” in which there is a very curious riddle, unriddled by you, and in which you say that you pledge yourself to read any hieroglyphical writing, I have been induced to send you the following specimen of a puzzle, and beg you to give a translation in the Messenger.

Yours, very respectfully, H.


O  9?  9  2ad;  as  385  n8338d—  ?†  sod—3  —86a5:  —8x  8537  95:  37od:  o—  h—8shn  3a  sqd?8d—  ?†  —og37   —8x8539  95:  Sod—3  o—  9  ?o—1708xah—  950?9n  ?†  50537  —8x8537  95:   Sod—3  o[[—]]  378  n9338d—  858?†  ?†  38537  —8x8537  95:  sod—3  H!!ads3—  nos8 ?†  sahd37  sos37  —8x8537  95:  —og37  o—9  Sdho3  ?†  sahd37  95:  80;737  o—  9  !a28dshn  o?!  n8?853  ?†  27an8  o5:otg38—  9  2038  ?95

Our correspondent will know by the date of his communication, that we could only have received it on the morning when we go to press (Tuesday) — consequently we must have read his puzzle instanter. We assure him that it gave us no trouble whatever. He will observe, however, that he has committed several errors in his alphabet. For example “implement” is divided into two words, and “wise” is written “wite” — nor has he made any punctuation. The difficulty of deciphering is, of course, increased. We not only translate his enigma, but give its solution. It is as follows: —


I am a word of ten letters. My first, second, seventh and third is useful to farmers; my sixth, seventh, and first is a mischievous animal; my ninth, seventh, and first is the latter's enemy; my tenth, seventh, and first supports life; my fourth, fifth, seventh and sixth is a fruit; my fourth, fifth and eighth is a powerful implement; my whole indicates a wise man.

The answer is “Temperance.”  




This notice was first attributed to Poe by Clarence S. Brigham in Edgar Allan Poe's Contributions to Alexander's Weekly Messenger, 1943, pp. 22-23.

Originals of this issue may be found in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society and the Koester Collection of the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin. The present text has been verified against copies from both of these institutions. The copy at the American Antiquarian Society has a printing blemish across the paragraph following the cryptogram, caused by a wrinkle in the paper when it was originally printed. This blemish disrupts parts of two sentences, but the text is still clearly readable.

In the original printing, the text portion of the cryptogram is given in seven lines, with all but the last being broken into two lines each. This pattern may reflect the format of the original letter, but necessarily squeezed into the narrow columns of the newspaper. Because the final translation is prose, there is no intrinsic need to retain this odd formation of lines, and the text in the presentation above has been allowed to flow across the page. In case the representation is of interest to some readers, it is rendered more closely to the original printing below:


O  9?  9  2ad;  as  385  n8338d—  ?†  sod—3

—86a5:  —8x  8537

95:  37od:  o—  h—8shn  3a  sqd?8d—  ?†  —og37

—8x8539  95:

Sod—3  o—  9  ?o—1708xah—  950?9n  ?†  50537

—8x8537  95:

Sod—3  o[[—]]  378  n9338d—  858?†  ?†  38537

—8x8537  95:  sod—3

H!!ads3—  nos8 ?†  sahd37  sos37  —8x8537  95:

—og37  o—9

Sdho3  ?†  sahd37  95:  80;737  o—  9  !a28dshn

o?!  n8?853

?†  27an8  o5:otg38—  9  2038  ?95

One em-dash, clearly missing from the original printing but required based on the translation, has been supplied editorially, in double-square brackets. (Square brackets are not used in the original cryptogram.)



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