The Awe of Cryptography

Next: The Birch

Professor Krankenstein has invented the most terrible biological weapon known to humanity. When he realised that should his invention fall into hands of one of the superpowers it could well mean the end of the human race he destroyed all the artifacts in the lab, encrypted the recipe (he couldn't bring himself to completely destroy the work of his life), put it into tungsten box, covered the box with concrete and dropped it from a cruise ship into Marianna Trench.

Couple of months later he learned, to his horror, that one of his collaborators had betrayed him and sold the information about the location of the box to several governments. The news said that an American aircraft carrier is heading in the direction of Marianna Trench. Apparently, there was also a Russian nuclear submarine on its way to the same destination. Chinese government have sent a fleet of smaller, more versatile, oceanographic vessels.

After the initial bout of despair, professor Krankenstein realised that with his superior knowledge of the position of the box he could possibly get to the location first and destroy the box using underwater bomb.

He used his life savigs to buy a rusty old ship called "Amor Patrio", manned it with his closest collaborators and set up for Pacific Ocean.

Things haven't gone well. News reported that Americans and Chinese were approaching the area while Amor Patrio's engine broke and the crew was working around the clock to fix it.

Finally, they fixed it and approached Marianna Trench.

It was at that point that the news reached them: The box was found by Russians and transported to Moscow. It was now stored in the vault underneath KGB headquarters. There was a whole division of spetsnaz guarding the building. The building itself was filled with special agents, each trained in twelve ways of silently killing a person.

Professor Krankenstein and his associated held a meeting on board of Amor Patrio, in the middle of Pacific Ocean. People came up with desperate proposals: Let's dig a tunnel underneath Moscow river. Let's blackmail Russians by re-creating the virus and threatening them to disperse it in Russia. Nuke the entire Moskowskaya Oblast! There was no shortage of wild and desperate proposals.

Once the stream of proposals dried up, everyone looked at professor Krankenstein, awaiting his decision.

The silence is almost palpable.

Professor Krankenstein slowly took out his iconic pipe and lighted it with the paper which had the decryption key written on it.


I would like to write children's book about cryptography. And I would like it to begin, instead of explaning Ceasar's cypher, by a story like the one above. A story that conveys the wonder and fascination I feel every time I approach the topic of cryptography. The absurd, impossible idea that you can bypass the agents able to silently kill you in twelve different ways in the middle of hostile country by a simple, magical act of lighting a pipe.

And while the above may capture child's imagination, surely, grown-ups are less naive and won't be impressed by such a cheap trick?

Well, consider that the content of the box was destroyed exactly at the moment when professor Krankenstein lighted his pipe. The destructive impulse travelled from Phillipines to Russia at super-luminal speed! Take that, Einstein!

It was a quantum eraser experiment done with such macroscopic, mundane tools as paper, pipe and a match!

And if that's not enough to impress you, consider that the desctructive impulse is not only capable of travelling faster than light. It can also do time travel. Imagine professor Krankenstein, instead of being biologist, devoting his life to space exploration. He sent an expedition to Alfa Centauri. It is supposed to arrive at the destination in 100 years and send back an encrypted report. When professor realises that what they will report could put humanity in a great danger (Hm, how exactly?) he once again lights his cigar — pipes weren't popular among space explorers back then — thus destroying a message that will be written 100 years in the future.

Cryptography is the art of impossible made possible. It is the magic of modern age. It never ceases to fill me with awe.

Martin Sústrik, May 21th, 2016

Next: The Birch

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