I have a friend who is a self-proclaimed cryptobiologist. Okay, maybe I don't, but if I did, I like to think she would have presented me with this puzzle:

Find the hidden message:

441344•444422•132211 || 111313•114413•221311•221111•134422

The message is the answer to "What is my favorite recently established (though somewhat contested) idea in biology?"

Also, this "friend" of mine is a much better biologist than she is a cryptologist. In fact, she is just about as novice in the "cryptology" scene as one can get.



None of this is required in order to solve the puzzle, but it will probably help.

She told me "You silly chemist, to get you started, consider the elements hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and the halogens; apply their strategy in your strategy. Or consider the behavior those nucleobases you're talking about.

Do you notice any pattern in the numbers? It's small, but it's there. Each number by itself won't mean much.

From there,
44 + 1 = 45
44 + 2 = 51
44 - 4 = 35
15 = E; 21 = F."

  • $\begingroup$ I don't know if the tags are right. I am not familiar enough with them here. $\endgroup$ May 3, 2016 at 12:28
  • $\begingroup$ Is the Offspring reference a clue? Or just an edit note? $\endgroup$ May 3, 2016 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisCudmore No, it's not a clue, I just had my 1s and 3s backwards, and I wanted to point it out, and couldn't resist. I took it out because anyone that would have been affected by that change probably already saw it by now. $\endgroup$ May 3, 2016 at 13:18
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    $\begingroup$ You should most likely tag this science as well $\endgroup$ May 3, 2016 at 15:07

3 Answers 3


The secret message (and answer to the recently established but contested biological theory) is:

RNA WORLD (the idea that the precursors to life were self-replicating RNA molecules)

Reasoning/pitfalls below

Given the hints:

The number strings are perhaps better interpreted as doublets (or maybe alleles based on the Punnett square hint). If you break up the numbers into doublets, you could rewrite the string as:

44 13 44•44 44 22•13 22 11 || 11 13 13•11 44 13•22 13 11•22 11 11•13 44 22

This leaves only four possible doublets, 11, 13, 22, 44. Possibly those could map to A, C, G, T. But given the others hints, it looks like some sort of bonding may need to be used. And a Punnett square represents crosses between two individuals and the potential offspring they could have, so perhaps we're supposed to cross two individuals with these "alleles" but there are still so many possible directions...

Thanks to the nice work by Element118, we can use:

A Polybius square to translate the pairs of numbers into DNA bases:


Then we need to:

Transcribe the DNA (take its complementary strand as RNA, where A pairs with U and C pairs with G)


And since biology has its own:

Triplicate code for converting RNA sequences to amino acid sequences (see pic below) and since amino acids can each be represented by a single letter (again, pic below), we must then translate the RNA sequence.

enter image description here

Doing so, we get:

R N A W * R L D

Since there's no amino acid abbreviated "O", we switch the Stop codon to be an O.

  • $\begingroup$ This seems promising? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nucleic_acid_notation $\endgroup$
    – pedrogfp
    May 3, 2016 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ Nice! The "O" actually does exist as a (rare) proteinogenic amino acid, Pyrrolysine, but you got the answer and I figured this wouldn't be terribly obvious. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2016 at 20:47
  • $\begingroup$ Great answer to the puzzle in general, but the hypothesis isn't exactly recent by any measure. $\endgroup$
    – March Ho
    May 4, 2016 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ @MarchHo It's fairly recent that it became widely accepted, but you're right, I probably could have phrased that better. Plus, 1986 wasn't that long ago, relative to the scientific timeline. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2016 at 21:59

From Dan Russell we have:

44 13 44•44 44 22•13 22 || 11 13 13•11 44 13•22 13•22 11•13 44 22

1 2 3 4 5
1 A B C D E
2 F G H I J
3 K L M N O
4 P Q R S T
5 U V W X Y

Interpreting the pairs as a letter from the above table we have:


I seriously think S should be something else, like T or U.

I suspect the J should be removed from the table, as J does not appear in the periodic table.

  • $\begingroup$ Can you show how you got that? $\endgroup$ May 4, 2016 at 3:00
  • $\begingroup$ I added the table. $\endgroup$
    – Element118
    May 4, 2016 at 3:04
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    $\begingroup$ I/J should probably be combined, but not because of the periodic table. $\endgroup$
    – Will
    May 4, 2016 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Will I think the more familiar one in English puts C/K together, but you guys both seem to have found plausible ideas. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2016 at 12:29
  • $\begingroup$ "I suspect the J should be removed from the table" So do I "as J does not appear in the periodic table" Not for that reason, but because conventionally (even with English text), when the alphabet is put into 25 spaces, J is made to share with I. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polybius_square#Basic_form If we do that, then 44 is not S but T, for the DNA nucleotide thymine. (But if this is RNA, U for uracil would be better, and U's at 45.) $\endgroup$
    – Rosie F
    Aug 5, 2016 at 10:41

Maybe the numbers correlate to

DNA bases - A, C, T and G.

All I got.

  • $\begingroup$ Well, that's a good start! I'd build on this. $\endgroup$ May 3, 2016 at 12:31
  • $\begingroup$ But how did you find it out? $\endgroup$
    – manshu
    May 3, 2016 at 12:32
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    $\begingroup$ Well... it's a 4 element sequence and the subject is biology. Seems like a good guess. $\endgroup$
    – pedrogfp
    May 3, 2016 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ I guessed that too... But no plausible words can seem to be formed. Perhaps this relates to the sequence 1, 11, 21, 1211, 111221...... $\endgroup$
    – Shuri2060
    May 3, 2016 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ I'm assuming that the letters themselves are relevant otherwise there's really no reason to bother with the biology theme? Maybe try converting to hex. $\endgroup$
    – pedrogfp
    May 3, 2016 at 13:08

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