You’ll never guess this Viking secret message…

I write about codebreaking a lot in this blog. For me, it’s one of the most fascinating real-world applications of puzzle-solving skills. The fact that so many of these stories involve momentous and fascinating times in history — like the Civil War, World War II, and even the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask — is just icing on the cake.

But it’s nice to be reminded that playing around with codes for fun is an equally long-lasting tradition.

K. Jonas Nordby (probably my favorite name that has ever appeared on the blog, by the way), is a runologist — a scholar of runes — at the University of Oslo, and he recently cracked a runic code employed by the Vikings, the jotunvillur code, based on samples scratched into a stick from the 13th century.

From an article on Medievalists.net (though I first spotted the story on IO9):

For the jötunvillur code, one would replace the original runic character with the last sound of the rune name. For example, the rune for ‘f’, pronounced fe, would be turned into an ‘e’, while the rune for ‘k’, pronounced kaun, became ‘n’.

The messages themselves range from simple expressions — “Kiss me” — to taunts by confident codesmiths daring readers to try to crack a given runic code.

Heck, some of the encoded messages even included a Viking cryptographer boasting about his skills!

It’s fun to imagine Vikings toying with various codes and runes during their downtime. Even marauders take time out for some quality puzzling, it seems. =)

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