As a child of the 70s living in Sacramento, I’ve always been fascinated by the two major unsolved crimes of the times: The East Area Rapist and the Zodiac killer. Watching the History Channel’s Hunt for the Zodiac Killer triggered me to research both the Zodiac’s crimes and ciphers. Not one of the Zodiac’s ciphers has been completely solved. Most cryptographers focus on the high character count ciphers, specifically the Z340. They deem the Z32, the Z13 and the ‘the pines’ ciphers as too short to be solvable. … and they are right. The shorter Zodiac cyphers do not lend themselves to being solved using conventional deciphering tools, context must be considered.
Leaving the Z340 for the professors, I thought that I might try working to resolve one of the shorter ciphers. I thought, ‘what the heck’, solving one of the shorter ciphers might lead to some sort of insight into the construct of the Z340 or even the last eighteen characters of the Z408. Could the Z32 provide clues to his other shorter ciphers as well?
I settled on the Z32 for a few reasons: First, I really had the feeling that the Zodiac wanted this cipher solved; second, the Z32 is surrounded by context; finally, there are only a finite number of ways to describe the location of an object in thirty two characters. I’ll go into each of these aspects in greater detail.
In order to progress towards a solution of any of the Zodiac’s ciphers you first have to come to the realization that the Zodiac actually wanted these ciphers solved. This isn’t a Japanese general in World War II trying to remotely direct his forces without letting the Americans in on his secrets. The Zodiac relished the attention he got from getting his ciphers published. He was able to demonstrate his intelligence to the public. The Zodiac, possibly frustrated by not having the Z32 solved quickly, provides his audience on multiple occasions with additional clues to help solve the location of the alleged bus bomb. I strongly believe that the Zodiac had ulterior motives for having someone find the bus bomb. I won’t go I’ll save that pure conjecture for later.
Before the Z408 was partially solved, we had no idea about its meaning. We had no clue as to what the Zodiac hid behind this collection of upper case letters and Zodiac special characters. For the most part, the same is true to this day about the Z340. The Z32 however has a clear purpose (at least if we trust the Zodiac). Outside of the 32 characters that make up the Z32 cipher proper, the Zodiac provided a map, and numerous additional clues in plain text. This additional context makes it a pretty safe bet that the Z32 cipher contains a location. Whether the bus bomb was ever actually constructed we may never know.
There are only a few ways to describe the location of an object in just thirty two characters. The other Z32 proposals that I have seen tend to be overly complicated or don’t take into account all of the clues that the Zodiac provided. While I won’t claim to have ‘solved’ the Z32, my proposal is the most straight-forward to date, uses every one of the clues the Zodiac provided and is actionable: I’ve been to the spot with a metal detector looking for remnants of the bomb.