(25 November 1998)
[Note: This week's column requires a graphical browser for best effect. Apologies to those reading in a text-only browser.]
Is it a maze? Instructions for a chicken dance? Or perhaps a giant structure in the desert which can be understood only from an aerial perspective, providing evidence of ancient astronauts?
Whatever it is, it can be used for communication (albeit somewhat inane communication):
Unfortunately, as secret codes go, it's not all that great; textual analysis (of a large enough chunk of text) would quickly convince any cryptographer that it's a simple cipher, with each symbol corresponding to a letter. The only hard part there is figuring out where one symbol ends and the next begins.
But a cryptographer applying such a mathematical approach might fail to see the elegance of this particular alphabet, for alphabet it is. Each symbol corresponds to a letter in a specific way; more to the point, you can easily transform each symbol into a letter by performing a particular operation on it.
I suspect the answer is fairly clear by now, but in case not, go find an M. C. Escher print and examine the way Escher signed his work. Then come back and look at this page again, paying special attention to the title bar of the window. Or just go straight to the answers page.
This alphabet was designed by David Van Stone, Vic Cassen, and David Huddleston a dozen years ago; I've reconstructed it from memory, not having the original on hand. I'd welcome any more-elegant versions of any of the letters; several of my versions are kind of clunky. (Try, however, to stick to the lengths and angles of lines used in the letters shown here.)