The story behind Western’s mysterious cryptograms

Mike Moffatt on what we know so far about the Weldon notes

Crypto 822x462

Photo courtesy Sarah Miu-Ling Chin

From the iPod tax to my response to David Suzuki, I am no stranger to talking about issues in the media. But nothing I have ever done has brought as much attention as a small envelope I found in a library one sunny Sunday afternoon.

Just over two weeks ago, I was conducting some research for my Future of Southwestern Ontario project when I pulled the book International economics: trade and investment off of the shelf. When I opened it, an envelope fell out. At first, I did not think anything of it; I figured someone had just been using the envelope as a bookmark. After about 30 minutes, curiosity got the best of me and I opened the envelope. Inside was a note and a green plastic leaf that had two splotches of paint on it. The note contained a series of weird symbols and a grey square, which I later realized was a picture of a pillow. After about a minute and a half of looking at the note, I realized that I would not be able to figure out what the note meant, so I posted the picture on Twitter. I figured a few people would find the note fascinating, and that would be the end of it.

I was wrong. Since then, the tale of the note has gone viral and I have been posting updates on my website. I have been interviewed about the note over 20 times, and media attention surrounding the note has reached as far as the United Kingdom. Once the Western University community heard of the note, others started to surface. Much to my surprise, other notes had been found in the past, in backpacks and desk drawers. The earliest confirmed date for a note’s discovery is Jan. 25, 2013, but I have been told by others that they have found notes as early as 2010. A number of members of the Western and London community have taken it upon themselves to locate more notes. One particularly enterprising person realized that you would be able to tell which books had notes in them by looking at the top of the book, as the pages would bow out slightly. He managed to locate 11 notes in the span of 2 hours. There are now 19 notes complete with pictures, and I expect I will be receiving more pictures of notes in the next few days.

The notes share a number of common properties. They are all computer printed (appears to be a colour laser) and put into small greeting card-sized envelopes. Most, if not all, of the envelopes were placed between pages 16 and 17 of the book. The notes are smaller than a normal piece of paper and hand cut to fit in the envelope. There are just over 50 different symbols that appear on all of the notes. The font used for the symbols looks like Wingdings or Dingbat, but is different. It appears to be a custom font, though some of the characters may be borrowed from other fonts. All of the notes contain a picture of an object such as a vase, drinking glass or pillow. In each envelope there is an object, either a plastic leaf, feather, or jewel. Each of the objects has paint markings on it, such as dots or lines. All of the notes have been found in Western University’s D.B. Weldon Library. Most of the notes have been discovered in the 3rd floor stacks, but recently some have been discovered on the 4th and 5th floors as well. On the back of each note is the URL 000xyz.blog.ca that contains the title DBW Stack (presumbly standing for D.B. Weldon stack) and a hit counter. When I discovered my note the hit counter was just over 300. Now it is approaching 50,000.

I have no idea what to make of any of this. It could be anything from an art project to a viral marketing campaign to a treasure hunt. Given all the attention these notes have received, I am quite certain that the person that can crack the mystery will receive a great deal of attention and accolades along with a $100 reward I put up back when only 3 or 4 people on Twitter were interested in these notes. I have heard from mathematicians in Japan to linguists in Scotland to art students in Belgium that are working on solving the mystery.

Here are the 19 notes we have so far. Click on the images to learn more about each one. Have any questions about them? Please feel free to leave a comment and I will do my best to answer them.

 


NOTE 1
 
NOTE 2


NOTE 3

NOTE 4

NOTE 5

NOTE 6

NOTE 7

NOTE 8

NOTE 9

NOTE 10

NOTE 11

NOTE 12

NOTE 13

NOTE 14

NOTE 15

NOTE 16

NOTE 17

NOTE 18

NOTE 19

Note 1

Note 1

Date of Discovery: March 9, 2014
Book Title: International Economics
Book Call Number: HF1379.K535 2002
Pages Found on: N/A
Picture on Note: Pillow, Bottom Left
Item with Note: Green Leaf


Note 2

Note 2

Date of Discovery: Summer 2013
Book Title: N/A
Book Call Number: N/A
Pages Found on: N/A
Picture on Note: Vase, Bottom Left
Item with Note: Green Jewel


Note 3

Note 3

Date of Discovery: Summer 2013
Book Title: N/A
Book Call Number: N/A
Pages Found on: N/A
Picture on Note: Drinking Glass, Bottom Left
Item with Note: Orange Feather


Note 4

Note 4

Date of Discovery: Summer 2013
Book Title: N/A
Book Call Number: N/A
Pages Found on: N/A
Picture on Note: Table, Bottom Left
Item with Note: Green Feather


Note 5

Note 5

Date of Discovery: January 25, 2013
Book Title: Mind Over Matter
Book Call Number: GV1111.B26 1973b
Pages Found on: N/A
Picture on Note: Vase, Bottom Left
Item with Note: Blue Jewel


Note 6

Note 6

Date of Discovery: March 14, 2014
Book Title: Peasants, Land and Society
Book Call Number: HD1333.E8P38 1983
Pages Found on: 16-17
Picture on Note: Drinking Glass, Bottom Left
Item with Note: Blue Jewel


Note 7

Note 7

Date of Discovery: March 14, 2014
Book Title: An Introduction to Community Dance Practice
Book Call Number: GV1588.6.I68 2008
Pages Found on: 16-17
Picture on Note: Drinking Glass, Bottom Left
Item with Note: Pink Feather


Note 8

Note 8

Date of Discovery: March 14, 2014
Book Title: Rolf in the Woods
Book Call Number: GV1217.S5 1930
Pages Found on: 16-17
Picture on Note: Table, Bottom Left
Item with Note: Pink Feather


Note 9

Note 9

Date of Discovery: March 14, 2014
Book Title: Community Sports and Athletics
Book Call Number: GV713.N3
Pages Found on: 16-17
Picture on Note: Picture Frame, Bottom Right
Item with Note: Blue Jewel


Note 10

Note 10

Date of Discovery: March 14, 2014
Book Title: Guinness Book of Olympic Records
Book Call Number: N/A
Pages Found on: 16-17
Picture on Note: Vase, Bottom Left
Item with Note: Blue Jewel


Note 11

Note 11

Date of Discovery: March 14, 2014
Book Title: The World’s Environments; Africa & the Middle East
Book Call Number: GE160.A35H55 2003
Pages Found on: 16-17
Picture on Note: Table, Bottom Left
Item with Note: Pink Feather


Note 12

Note 12

Date of Discovery: March 14, 2014
Book Title: Theories of Financial Disturbance
Book Call Number: HG173.T66 2005
Pages Found on: 16-17
Picture on Note: Drinking Glass, Bottom Left
Item with Note: Orange Feather


Note 13

Note 13

Date of Discovery: March 14, 2014
Book Title: A Free Nation Deep in Debt
Book Call Number: HJ8011.M34 2003
Pages Found on: 16-17
Picture on Note: Empty Box, Bottom Right
Item with Note: Blue Jewel


Note 14

Note 14

Date of Discovery: March 14, 2014
Book Title: Ending Poverty as We Know It
Book Call Number: HD4975.Q54 2003
Pages Found on: 16-17
Picture on Note: Table, Bottom Left
Item with Note: Purple Jewel


Note 15

Note 15

Date of Discovery: March 14, 2014
Book Title: Talent, Competitiveness and Migration
Book Call Number: HD8378.5.A2T25 2009
Pages Found on: 16-17
Picture on Note: Vase, Bottom Left
Item with Note: Blue Jewel


Note 16

Note 16

Date of Discovery: March 14, 2014
Book Title: Talent, Disabling Globalization
Book Call Number: HC905.Z7K8343 2002
Pages Found on: 16-17
Picture on Note: Drinking Glass, Bottom Left
Item with Note: Pink Feather


Note 17

Note17

Date of Discovery: March 24, 2014
Book Title: Genetics and Social Structure
Book Call Number: GN289.B34
Pages Found on: 16-17
Picture on Note: Empty Box, Bottom Right
Item with Note: Green Feather


Note 18

Note18

Date of Discovery: March 24, 2014
Book Title: Climate change : environment and history of the Near East
Book Call Number: GF71.I78 2007
Pages Found on: 16-17
Picture on Note: Vase, Bottom Left
Item with Note: Green Leaf


Note 19

Note 19

Date of Discovery: Fall 2013
Book Title: N/A
Book Call Number: N/A
Pages Found on: N/A
Picture on Note: Brick, Bottom Left
Item with Note: Purple Jewel




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