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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cryptographer Solves Psychic Challenge

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Crystal_ball In January, James Randi  secured a mystery item in a specially designated  locker in his Florida office, and challenged clairvoyants everywhere to use their remote viewing skills to divine its nature and claim a million dollar prize.

As usual with Randi's contests, there's weren't a lot of takers in the professional psychic biz. But for perhaps the first time in the history of the supernatural challenges issued by the 79-year-old  skeptic, there was a winner of sorts. Cryptographer Matt Blaze and a colleague correctly identified the contents of Randi's black box from a thousand miles away, using only the powers of their minds.

(The remainder of this post is best read while listening to a midi file of the X-Files theme) .

Blaze identifies the contents on his website, and in a terse e-mail to 27B Stroke 6, Randi conceded that that the cryptographer's conclusion is correct.

This isn't the first secret that Blaze has revealed. In the 1990s, it was Blaze who found the flaw in the Clipper Chip that helped kill the Clinton's administration's misguided key-escrow dreams. In 2003, he published an attack on master-keyed pin tumbler locks that locksmiths had evidently been concealing for years. And last year he went public with a vulnerability in some law enforcement wiretapping gear. 

If Blaze has supernatural talents, we'll have to view these Amazing Feats in a whole new light. In truth, though, this was just another puzzle. It turns out that Randi published an enciphered clue to the contents of the lock box in his newsletter, to provide evidence later that he hadn't switched the mystery item with something else just to foil the psychics.  The clue was this:

 

0679
4388
66/27
5 -14

Blaze and colleague Jutta Degener stared at this puzzle for a bit, then developed a hunch about what the numbers were. That led them to the identity of the mystery object. (They are not asking for the million bucks.)

I won't reveal the secret here, in case you want to try cracking the mystery numbers yourself. For the solution, check out Matt Blaze's blog, which also explains things from a cryptographic theory perspective.

As an aside, I'll says it's a sad state of affairs when the world's best psychics are shown up by a couple math geeks. I assume Sylvia Browne chose not to participate because she's embarrassed about a 15-year-old kidnap victim recently turning up alive, four years after Browne told his parents and a national television audience that he'd been murdered and his body dumped in a wooded area near two large, jagged boulders. How this woman sleeps at night is an unsolved mystery that I'd wager even Blaze can't unravel.

 

Copyright: Wired Blog 

Photo: Savinca

 
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