Death is a way out, but perhaps there is a better escape. I won’t say much about this concealment technique except that it has a celebrated (and perhaps apocryphal) origin story.

Find the hidden message that made it past the prison mail censors.

Dear Marcus.

I am very sorry for you. Ethel too. Do know that your family loves you. Ask the warden if he will extend our visit time next Tuesday.

Chris, young as he is, will not understand what is happening. I pray that he will some day. He eventually will know what you did. The bad deeds cannot be absolved, but you should still pray for God’s forgiveness.

The dreaded day is almost here. Time eats away at my resolve. I do ask God every day to ease your suffering. Doctor Bradford tells us that it will be quick and painless.

You have so many good qualities. Your heart is pure. You only lack empathy.

I know you are in pain. You must know that the families of your victims also hurt. We all hurt. We seek some sort of closure; but a tidy end, all desire, few secure. It could be that you alone will secure it.

Salut my dear son,



This concealment technique was named after its first recipient. My letter is an homage to the original.

This is a cross-post from my puzzle blog. (Link in my profile.)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You would do better to give a hint to draw attention to your puzzle. $\endgroup$
    – Quintec
    Feb 13, 2018 at 1:05
  • $\begingroup$ Good point. Will do. $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2018 at 4:55
  • $\begingroup$ Is the recipient Marcus Ranum? $\endgroup$
    – Phylyp
    Feb 13, 2018 at 5:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ No. The name has no significance. But I Googled him and noticed that he blogs on FreeThoughtBlogs, a network I subscribe to on Feedly. That led to 45 minutes of figuring out why I haven't been getting his blog in my reader. That led to me manually adding all the FtBs that the main feed wasn't including for some reason. So, thank you! $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2018 at 7:08

2 Answers 2


The answer is:

vent in lav by death room leads out

It is a

Trevanion Cipher with shift=4
You take the forth letter after each punctuation and put it together.
It originates from the escape of Sir John Trevanion during the English Civil War.

  • $\begingroup$ Congratulations, you got it! I will write more after work. $\endgroup$ Feb 15, 2018 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ Nice job! +1. I don't understand how this is named after the original receipient though. $\endgroup$ Feb 15, 2018 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ The concealment technique is called the Trevanion Cipher, and it was named after John Trevanion who (allegedly) received a letter in prison with a hidden message that told him how to escape. Details on the fascinating original letter are here: cryptiana.web.fc2.com/code/trevanion.htm $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2018 at 0:44

Partial: Some stuff I noticed:

I don't really know if this is really helpful, but I hope it is.

The letter seems to be very disorganized in its idea, transitioning from one idea to another abruptly, and overall sounds very choppy.

The last two sentences are especially random, and is kind of unclear, which I believe is done on purpose. Also the second to last sentence is full of commas: "...but a tidy end, all desire, few secure." That independent clause doesn't even sound like a sentence. It is, technically a sentence, it just doesn't sound like it. Or a sentence like this "Time quickly eat away at my resolve." Seems kind of "out there" given the context, though maybe the father is just anxious that his son is going to die soon. But overall, despite the seemingly randomness, the randomness seems systematic (I know, oxymoron). The reference to "God" and "prayer" comes up quite frequently. I feel that has to do with something, I just don't know what. Or maybe this sender is Christian.The wording for some stuff is kind of awkward in some of the sentences. For example, "Do know that your family loves you." Why not just saying "Know your family loves you? This letter sounds like its a father comforting a son before he is executed, but some stuff like "I pray that he [Chris] will understand [recipient's fate] one day". Why would a father want his presumed grandson to know about his presumed father's fate? Doesn't seem reassuring. I think the most important thing to point out is that it has several hinted or seeming contradictions. For example, Lester writes that he'll ask the warden to extend their time together on Tuesday. However, the third paragraph Lester writes how he is sad that his son will be dead very shortly (though time period unspecified). This can probably explained very easily, if we are hypothetically assuming dates, and trusting the intentions if the sender, but we're not. One thing for sure: It mostly can't be a long string of HTML or complicatedly encased cipher. The prisoner only has a few days (or week at max) to figure this out. So it must be something solvable by hand.This is all probably gibberish, and I'm new to the field of steganography, so what I'm saying is probably inaccurate. But I just figured just in case, if it would be helpful.

  • $\begingroup$ What is wrong with my spoiler $\endgroup$ Feb 14, 2018 at 1:48
  • $\begingroup$ Fixed :) You can't have line breaks in spoilers $\endgroup$
    – Quintec
    Feb 14, 2018 at 1:52
  • $\begingroup$ You can introduce line breaks by adding two spaces to the end of a line, and starting the next line also with the spoiler tag >!. You can insert blank lines for a paragraph effect by inserting >! (again, two spaces). Doing so greatly improves readability and avoids a "wall of text" effect. Take a look at the edit I made just now for an example. @North you can likewise format it appropriately to better convey your thoughts. $\endgroup$
    – Phylyp
    Feb 14, 2018 at 2:42
  • $\begingroup$ Chris could also be a younger brother. $\endgroup$
    – Doomenik
    Feb 14, 2018 at 7:13
  • $\begingroup$ That is Very true $\endgroup$ Feb 14, 2018 at 14:49

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