Skip to main content

Chess, Encryption and Comic Books (Mind MGMT)

Lately, I've been hooked on a brilliant comic book from genius Matt Kindt, called Mind MGMT. In a nutshell, Mind MGMT follows a cold war era intelligence service based on the conceit that Men Who Stare at Goats-style ESP spook tactics work, and have silently and secretly played a role in the machinations of world politics throughout the 20th century. Mind MGMT is really clever, the art is striking and the whole business is worth a read on its own.

Part of the fun of the comic book is that the creators seamlessly weave the sort of subliminal messaging they use in the plot, into the layout of the comic itself. Fake advertisements in the back of issues contain hidden text, while the margins themselves are formatted like Scantron documents with little limericks where the dotted "fold here" lines usually go.

Just today I read through issue 23, which opens with a tale of a man gifted with the fore-mentioned spying super-powers; a reclusive Bobby Fischer type who communicates through the world with messages encoded in the notation of championship chess game layouts. Have a look for yourself (click to enlarge):  
MIND MGMT, Josh Wieder, comic book, chess, encryption
The story fills in the picture a bit, while also providing a series of six chess boards with notation beneath each one. I don't want to spoil the fun of decoding the image for you - what do you think the chess boards spell out? Some things to consider - does each board, or does each notation spell a unique character? Does every board / notation spell the same character every time?

Any way, seeing this inspired me. I don't have much in the way of formal education in cryptography, but even I know that chess boards have been used for cryptography before. What I think would be cool is creating a simple program that would allow you to export a chess board from a computer chess game and use it as part of a cipher for an encryption system. There's even been some more recent publishing being done with chess board cryptosystems (which I have yet to read ... I've got a lot on my plate lately).

Not necessarily the most practical project but IMO a fun distraction / way to sharpen development skills for integrating ciphers into applications.