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Breaking Down News: Code Masala

The Lutyens channels on Twitter are about fun and games, not news

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published: November 22, 2014 2:14:37 am

When the top news of the week is the arrest of a babaji who bathes in milk like Cleopatra, “Janta Badshah” Mulayam Singh’s buggy ride to his incredible birthday party and Rajnath Singh’s random thoughts on Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the idle journalist’s mind turns to gossip. That means Twitter, where shadowy handles have been publishing more media gossip than the media publishes news. They produce rubbish endlessly, effortlessly, like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube made out of a Möbius strip.

But sadly, @LutyensSpice has gone off the air, citing irreconcilable differences with the government — “immense pressure from the agencies”, actually. We hacks are mortified at the demise of one of our leading entertainers and educators. But her competitor @LutyensMasala has gleefully marked her passing with an ornate epitaph: “Hic est Sepultus Unctus Odoramentum, Regina de Mendacium, @LutyensSpice. Conquiesco in Tranquillitas Animi.” Or, roughly speaking: “Here lies entombed with perfumed oils @LutyensSpice, Queen of Lies. Relax, enjoy.” And I bet that somewhere out there, Dan Brown is grimly, implacably, noting this down for yet another conspiracy novel about meaningless codes and pointless secrets.

That’s all these Lutyens channels are about, really. Masala is on a roll for the moment, though he almost outed himself yesterday at a summit in Delhi: “Scary Spice, through with her session, asks me, ‘Who all are running these Lutyens’ handles?’ ‘Beats me,’ I tell her. (And now she’ll know.)” Scary Spice is his codename for Barkha Dutt, but does she really know? Because @LutyensMasala appears to be more than one person, all of whom scrupulously avoid conferring funny codenames on Narendra Modi. That’s telling. One has a fine sense of bilingual humour and claims to be a “retired right-wing hack” in Delhi. One is not wholly comfortable with Hindi and Sanskrit but calls a veshti a veshti and not a dhoti, suggesting southern origins. One posts late in the evening Pacific time, and could be working stiff in Silicon Valley. One (possibly the same guy) likes math, codes and ciphers.

Like, he tweeted: “KSHNWIF FQGNHIK ZGCNPRZ FENUDTN WIMJLYD WRVMHEI WHKMNUJ KIFNCOL TPGUSER VJQLFP.” That’s encoded by a method used by the French diplomat Blaise de Vigenére in the 16th century, which was in turn a twist on a substitution cipher used by Julius Caesar during his campaigns. This ciphertext resolves to: “softlio nmetwit hcateri nalastw eekpaym entswer ediscus sedtrou bleahea dforup.” Ignore the spaces and it makes sense, if you understand the codenames. Remember, this is not news or verified fact. It’s gossip.

Let’s try a tougher coded tweet: “LLNXU NHVJH ABIBS SZDDT MLVBX KALSX ROKIX YMQNJ JDLIK AIRQV JMWXZ GWYTV PTGFF JCHGS ZBWST PCJXK WZDTN XJQVU BPPJH DSZVP IDCRH” is in Enigma code, used by the Nazi forces in World War II. It was cracked by a decryptor designed by Alan Turing, and changed the course of the conflict. It was christened the Bombe for the ominous ticking sound it produced in action. Enigma is nearly impossible to decode by hand, so I leant on the excellent software Bombe written by James Lyons. Statutory warning: the executable must be compiled from source on a Linux machine, not a trivial activity for total noobs.

And all it produced when it ran on the ciphertext above was an exasperatingly philosophical quote from Rahul Gandhi.

If you’re new to codebreaking, get in the shallow end with a Morse code, which is used so little now that it’s practically a secret language.

Here’s a sample: “.—- —-. —.. …– / .–. . .- -.-. . ..-. ..- .-.. / …. .- -.– / …. .- -.. / ..— / -.-. …. ..-. / .- -.-. -.-. -. – …”

We’ll save you the bother and spell it out: “1983 Peaceful Hay had 2 CHF accnts.” Remember, this is not The Indian Express talking. It’s just scurrilous gossip from @LutyensMasala. He’s gaming you. Take his advice: “Conquiesco in Tranquillitas Animi”. Or, in English: “Relax, enjoy.”

pratik.kanjilal@expressindia.com

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