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Flemish warehouse worker cracks 350-year-old code

Part of the code that remained unsolved for more than 350 years.

A Flemish warehouse worker has become the first man in 350 years to crack the cipher known as the Code of Langren, which has baffled scientists and mathematicians since the 17th century.

But the code-cracker, Jarl Van Eycke, is a reclusive warehouse worker already known to cryptographers the world over, thanks to his work late last year in solving the 51-year-old mystery of the Zodiac Code, left behind by the Zodiac Killer, who murdered at least five people in California in 1968-69, and who himself claimed to have taken the lives of 32 more.

He was never arrested and brought to justice.

Now, no sooner had he made world headlines by cracking that code, together with an American and an Australian, but he has now gone one step further, by cracking the Code of Langren (or Langrenus), a measure of measuring distance at sea which has remained inscrutable for nearly four centuries.

Michiel Florentius Van Langren (1598-1675) was a cartographer – a maker of maps – born in what is now the Netherlands but later active until his death in Brussels. It was Van Langren, known by his Latin name of Langrenus, who in 1645 made the first map of the Moon, and the Langrenus crater still bears his name.

Langrenus also tackled the problem of calculating longitude to help with navigation at sea, and his Code is related to that study.

Jarl Van Eycke, unlike the codes he tackles, remains a mystery. According to De Morgen, he lives alone in the Antwerp area and works in a warehouse. He used a self-made decoder machine to break two-thirds of the Zodiac code. He is entirely self-taught, he told the paper.

Jarl Van Eycke is simply a genius,” said Dirk Huylebrouck, mathematician and professor of architecture at the university of Leuven.

For at least ten years I have been messing about with the Langren Code. I have already posted it on countless internet forums, and always in vain.”

When he read the news of the Zodiac Code he went in search of Van Eycke, and eventually tracked him down.

But when I was able to send him the code via email, he managed to solve the riddle in one week. You heard it right: what no one managed for 400 years, he cleared up in seven days.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times