Another First

Jules Verne’s 1882 novel La Jangada tells the story of Joam Dacosta, a Brazilian man wrongly accused of theft and murder. In Book Two his friends struggle to save him by solving a cryptogram, whose last paragraph is given in the text:

Phyjslyddqfdzxgasgzzqqehxgkfndrxujugiocytdxvksbxhhuypo
hdvyrymhuhpuydkjoxphetozsletnpmvffovpdpajxhyynojyggayme
qynfuqlnmvlyfgsuzmqiztlbqgyugsqeubvnrcredgruzblrmxyuhqhp
zdrrgcrohepqxufivvrplphonthvddqfhqsntzhhhnfepmqkyuuexktog
zgkyuumfvijdqdpzjqsykrplxhxqrymvklohhhotozvdksppsuvjhd.

In the end this works out to:

Le véritable auteur du vol des diamants et de l’assassinat des soldats qui escortaient le convoi, commis dans la nuit du vingt-deux janvier mil huit cent vingt-six, n’est donc pas Joam Dacosta, injustement condamné à mort; c’est moi, le misérable employé de l’administration du district diamantin; oui, moi seul, qui signe de mon vrai nom, Ortega.

In the article linked below, Miami University mathematician Frederick Gass explains rigorously how the cipher might be solved. In the novel, Judge Jarriquez has a brainstorm: He learns that the writer might have been named Ortega, guesses that the declaration might end with that signature, and works out the rest from there.

“By virtue of this solution, Jules Verne is credited with the first published exposition of the probable word method for Gronsfeld ciphers.”

(Frederick Gass, “Solving a Jules Verne Cryptogram,” Mathematics Magazine 59:1 [February 1986], 3-11.)