Code Breakers

In the summer of 2006, New York-based artist Ben Rubin presented a puzzle to the people of San Jose, California with Semaphore, a large-scale work installed atop Adobe's Almaden Tower. 'Semaphore' is comprised of four 'wheels' which can display four different positions (vertical, horizontal, left-leaning, and right-leaning--for a total of 256 possible configurations) and an audio track broadcast on AM radio. The challenge was to crack the code that 'Semaphore' had been broadcasting continually since August 7th, 2006. Merely a month after its launch the code was cracked by two research scientists, Mark Snesrud and Bob Mayo, but the result was only recently made public. It turns out that 'Semaphore' has been signaling the full text of The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon's 1966 novel about a woman's attempt to unravel a mystery through an ambiguous set of clues. No longer a mystery, a fascinating account of how Snesrud and Mayo cracked the code is available on the 'Semaphore' website.