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This was posted in a Facebook group yesterday. It’s also made the rounds on Reddit but all of the commentary seems like scattershot speculation so far. From the post:

This is a painting done my grandfather. I acquired it second hand from my mother. He was an electrical engineer for various government agencies between the 40's and the 80's. He painted a bunch of code like paintings in his retirement. This is one of his best works. Nobody has figured it out so I figured I would throw it out to you guys. The painting is 4ft by 3ft. He graduated from MIT in 1938 with a thesis paper on the band pass filter where the width of the band can be adjusted at will. He loved Morse code and I think this is a good lead on what this is.

Mystery painting

I’m not convinced there’s really a code here but I’d love to be proved wrong.

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  • $\begingroup$ Reminds me of resistor colour codes, but it's 9x8 across (x64 lines down), so maybe binary representation of ASCII (8 words and a check?). In the coloured lines only blacks are whited, so maybe in the "silver" lines only the missing blacks are 1s? $\endgroup$ – pbhj Jan 16 at 20:50
  • $\begingroup$ The colors are in a fixed pattern that repeats -> Blue, Red, Yellow, Green, Yellow. They're all spaced with white. Not sure it is a resistor. $\endgroup$ – Adib Jan 16 at 21:55
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    $\begingroup$ That person's grandfather may be the greatest troll ever :) More seriously, to have a better chance of cracking it, if a hidden code exists, it would be helpful to convert it to a text file or similar, for further manipulation and analysing. $\endgroup$ – Earlien Jan 17 at 0:03
  • $\begingroup$ My eyes hurt from looking at those colors $\endgroup$ – Prince North Læraðr Jan 17 at 0:32
  • $\begingroup$ Do you think we could quickly convert it to text. Eg here's the first line: github.com/DrXorile/painting-code. (I'd be fine with any other place. If a bunch of people do one line each, it won't be that painful) $\endgroup$ – Dr Xorile Jan 17 at 1:27
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For starters, I've rectified the data in the image by manually adjusting UV coordinates in Blender:

Blender screenshot

I edited the rectified image in GIMP, first rescaling to 144x64, then adjusting colors until the resulting image data is perfectly clear (one or two errors may have crept in):

Simplified image, upscaled

Now if you look closely, every second column is just alternating black/white. Since they contain no data, let's delete those columns:

enter image description here

Here's the final image data in copy-pasteable format (1 means white, 0 means not-white, you know which color belongs where):

000000101000000010001000100100010000000001000001001000000010000000010000
000001010010100101000100010010000100101000100100001010001001010000101000
000000101001000100101000010010000010000000000001000100000001000000000010
000100010100100010010100100001001000101001000010100010010000101001000101
000000001000000101000000000000100000001000100000000101000000000000100000
001000100010010100010100001001000101000010010001010010000101000100101000
000000000001000001011000000100100010000000000010000010010000000001000000
010001001001001000100100010010000100010100100001010001001000010100010010
000000000000001000000001000001000100000000000000100000001001000000010000
001010010100010100100010100100001001010001001000010100010010000101000100
000001001010000000010000000010000100100000000000010001000000001000000010
000101001010001000010000000100010010000101001000101000001001010001001010
010000100101001000000000001000001001000000000100001010000000000001000000
010000100100010100001001000100000100010100100001010001001010000010010001
000001000010010000000000000001001000000001000010001000000000001010000000
000100001001000100001001000000010001010000100100010100001001010001001000
001010010010001000000010000100001000000000010001000000010100001000000100
001010100100011001000001000010000001010010001010000100101000100101000010
000000001000010010000000100001001001000000000010000010100000000100000100
000100001001000101000010001000000100010010100000100100010100100001010001
000000000010000000010001000000100010000000001001000000100010000000000100
001000100101010000100101000101001000010100010010100010010000101001000101
000010100010000001000100000010100000000001000100000001010000000001000000
010001010000100101010001001010000101001000101001000010100010010100001001
000010010001000000000100000100000010000000000000100001010000000001000000
000101010010010001000010100100010100010010100001001000101000010010100010
000010000010100000010001000000101000000000001000001001000100000000010000
001001010001010100001001000101000101001000010100010010100001010001001010
000100101000000000100000001000000000000100010010000000000101000000001000
010001010010100001000100101000101010010000101000100101000010010100010010
000000010001000000010010000010000101000000000010001000000100100000000110
000101001000010101000100101000010010100010010100100001010001001010000100
001000001000101000000010000100010000000000101000001000100000000010000000
000010010100010100101000100001001010001001010000100101000100100001010010
000001001000001000000000010100001000000000010001000001001000000000100000
001010001001000010100010010100001001010001001000010100100010100100001001
000100000100010100000001001000010000000001010001000000100001000000001000
010001001000010100100010100001001000101000010010100010010100001001000100
001000001010000000001000000100100000000010000100000000000101000001000000
000100100010100101000010010001010010100001001000101000010010100010010100
000001001000000000100001001000000100010000000001010000100000010000000000
001010000100100010100010010000101000100101000010010100010010100001001000
000001010000000100010000000001001000000100010000000000101000000100001000
010000100101000100100001010010001010010000101001000101000010010001010000
000000101000100001000000001000100000010010000100000000001000001000000010
000010010100010010100001000100101000100100001010001001010000100101000100
000000010010100001000000000100010000001010000100000000010000010001000000
001010001010010000101000100101000010010001010000100101000100101000010010
000100000001001000010000000001010000000000010000100100000001010001000000
000100101000010010100010010000101000100101000010010001010010000100010100
001000000010001010000000001000100000001001000000000010000101000000001000
010010000101000100101000010010001010010000101001000101000010010001010010
000000010010001000000000101000010000000100100000100000001010000100010000
001000101000010010100010010100000100101000100101000010010100010010101000
001000001000100000000100100000100010000000000010010000010001000000000010
000101000100101000010010100010010100001001010001001000001010001001000100
000100001000000010100001000001001000000001010001000000100000000001000010
001010000100100010010100001001010001010000100101000010010100010010100001
000001001000000000100010100000010000000000100010000010010000000001000000
010001001010000100100010100101000010010100010010100001001000101000010010
000000010010100001000000000010010000001000100000000001001000001000000000
000101001000010100100010010000101000100101000010010100010010100001001000
000100000101000000001000100000000100100000100000000000100010100000010000
001010001001010000100101000100101000010100100010100100001010001001000010

Here are a few interesting observations:

  • In this reduced image, there are almost no two horizontally adjacent white cells.
  • It is extremely rare that a horizontal black or colored run between two white cells has the same size as the next run.

Here are the run lengths, again for your copy-paste convenience:

6 1 7 3 3 2 3 9 5 2 7 8 4
5 1 2 1 2 1 3 3 2 4 2 1 3 2 4 1 3 2 1 4 1 0 2
6 1 2 3 2 1 4 2 5 12 3 7 10 1
3 3 1 2 3 2 1 2 4 2 3 1 2 4 1 3 2 4 1 2 3 1
8 6 1 12 7 3 8 1 12 5
2 3 3 2 1 3 1 4 2 3 1 4 2 3 1 2 4 1 3 2 1 3
11 5 1 0 6 2 3 11 5 2 9 6
1 3 2 2 2 3 2 3 2 4 3 1 2 4 1 3 2 4 1 3 2 1
14 8 5 3 14 7 2 7 4
2 1 2 1 3 1 2 3 1 2 4 2 1 3 2 4 1 3 2 4 1 3 2
5 2 1 8 8 4 2 12 3 8 7 1
3 1 2 1 3 4 7 3 2 4 1 2 3 1 5 2 1 3 2 1 1
1 4 2 1 2 11 5 2 9 4 1 12 6
1 4 2 3 1 4 2 3 5 3 1 2 4 1 3 2 1 5 2 3
5 4 2 15 2 8 4 3 11 1 7
3 4 2 3 4 2 7 3 1 4 2 3 1 4 2 1 3 2 3
2 1 2 2 3 7 4 4 10 3 7 1 4 6 2
2 1 1 2 3 0 2 5 4 6 1 2 3 1 4 2 1 3 2 1 4 1
8 4 2 7 4 2 2 10 5 1 8 5 2
3 4 2 3 1 4 3 6 3 2 1 5 2 3 1 2 4 1 3
10 8 3 6 3 9 2 6 3 10 2
2 3 2 1 1 4 2 1 3 1 2 4 1 3 2 1 3 2 4 1 2 3 1
4 1 3 6 3 6 1 10 3 7 1 9 6
1 3 1 4 2 1 1 3 2 1 4 1 2 3 1 2 4 1 3 2 1 4 2
4 2 3 9 5 6 13 4 1 9 6
3 1 1 2 2 3 4 1 2 3 1 3 2 1 4 2 3 1 4 2 1 3 1
4 5 1 6 3 6 1 11 5 2 3 9 4
2 2 1 3 1 1 4 2 3 1 3 1 2 4 1 3 2 1 4 1 3 2 1 1
3 2 1 9 7 12 3 2 10 1 8 3
1 3 1 2 1 4 3 2 1 3 1 1 2 4 1 3 2 1 4 2 1 3 2 1
7 3 7 2 5 4 1 10 3 6 2 8 0 1
3 1 2 4 1 1 3 2 1 4 2 1 3 2 1 2 4 1 3 2 1 4 2
2 5 3 1 7 4 3 10 1 5 3 9 7
4 2 1 3 1 2 1 3 4 2 1 3 2 1 4 2 1 3 2 4 1 2 1
5 2 5 10 1 4 10 3 5 2 9 5
2 1 3 2 4 1 3 2 1 4 2 1 3 2 4 1 2 3 1 2 4 2
3 5 3 1 7 2 4 9 1 3 6 4 8 3
1 3 2 4 1 2 3 1 4 2 3 1 4 2 1 3 2 1 4 2 3 2
2 5 1 9 6 2 9 4 11 1 5 6
3 2 3 1 2 1 4 2 3 1 2 1 4 2 3 1 4 2 1 3 2 1 2
5 2 9 4 2 6 3 9 1 4 6 10
2 1 4 2 3 1 3 2 4 1 3 2 1 4 2 1 3 2 1 4 2 3
5 1 7 3 9 2 6 3 10 1 6 4 3
1 4 2 1 3 2 4 1 2 3 1 2 4 1 2 3 1 4 2 3 1 4
6 1 3 4 8 3 6 2 4 10 5 7 1
4 2 1 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 3 2 4 1 3 2 1 4 2 1 3 2
7 2 1 4 9 3 6 1 4 9 5 3 6
2 1 3 1 2 4 1 3 2 1 4 2 3 1 4 2 1 3 2 1 4 2 1
3 7 2 4 9 1 11 4 2 7 1 3 6
3 2 1 4 2 1 3 2 4 1 3 2 1 4 2 3 1 2 4 3 1 2
2 7 3 1 9 3 7 2 10 4 1 8 3
1 2 4 1 3 2 1 4 2 3 1 2 4 1 2 3 1 4 2 3 1 2 1
7 2 3 9 1 4 7 2 5 7 1 4 3 4
2 3 1 4 2 1 3 2 1 5 2 1 3 2 1 4 2 1 3 2 1 1 3
2 5 3 8 2 5 3 11 2 5 3 10 1
3 1 3 2 1 4 2 1 3 2 1 4 2 1 3 2 5 1 3 2 3 2
3 4 7 1 4 5 2 8 1 3 6 10 4 1
2 1 4 2 3 2 1 4 2 1 3 1 4 2 1 4 2 1 3 2 1 4
5 2 9 3 1 6 10 3 5 2 9 6
1 3 2 1 4 2 3 1 2 1 4 2 1 3 2 1 4 2 3 1 4 2 1
7 2 1 4 10 2 6 3 10 2 5 9
3 1 2 4 1 2 3 2 4 1 3 2 1 4 2 1 3 2 1 4 2 3
3 5 1 8 3 8 2 5 11 3 1 6 4
2 1 3 2 1 4 2 1 3 2 1 4 1 2 3 1 2 4 1 3 2 4 1

Note that the black stripes contain many more gaps than the colored stripes, and that black stripes are almost always some length between 1 and 4.

As far as I can tell, the few cases where the aforementioned observations are violated seem like transcription errors.

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  • $\begingroup$ I didn't think the bw rows were data free. It looks like a similar pattern to the colored rows but with the space done by a long white. So basically groups of black stripes (same as the colored lines which also seem to be groups of black stripes) $\endgroup$ – Dr Xorile Jan 17 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, the b/w rows are not data free, as seen in the reduced image, but the b/w columns are perfectly regular. $\endgroup$ – Magma Jan 17 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ Based on those run lengths (many of them very long), I think we can rule out Morse code. $\endgroup$ – Earlien Jan 19 at 2:18
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    $\begingroup$ Suppose it's a 6-bit code, converting to hex and then to CDC1604 Magnetic (a hunch that didn't work). Then the first line gives me " Q28M_1182 _" which would fit " UNWRITTEN I" (Professor E, Processor E) also fit ... in all likelihood the " " isn't a space though. Replacing " " with "=" for the first 3 lines I get "=Q28M_1182=_1SN4S4QM09_Q8N_N58USK_R5". $\endgroup$ – pbhj Jan 19 at 23:29
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    $\begingroup$ Yo, great job done here. Just FYI, the 31th line (4th blue row) has a single mistake - the 3rd bit, right to left, should be 0, not 1. The rest of the data is correct. $\endgroup$ – araraonline Jan 20 at 0:10
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On the black/white rows, there is 6-bit code/encoded data (the original orientation is up-side down.) Here are 'paste bins' of the data/code in various formats:

ASCII: https://pastebin.com/mAF7M8pA

HEXADECIMAL: https://pastebin.com/H0tSJaY1

IBM Punch-card data: https://pastebin.com/dGH8Lxam

Secondly, the colored rows create a pretty decent musical sequence. Whether or not that's what they actually represent, I'm not sure, but they do sound pretty good:

All Colored Rows - https://onlinesequencer.net/1359351

All Colored Rows besides yellow - https://onlinesequencer.net/1354805

Lastly, I created a tool to help with manipulating the data in the painting, such as creating musical sequences/morse code, and decoding the data as binary in a programatic fashion.

You can find that tool here: https://scret.net/encoded-painting/

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