Harold Kravcik’s 340 solution

Harold Kravcik created a stir a few years back when he produced a solution to the 340-character cipher. Some people believed it to be the correct solution, so it was submitted to the FBI, and Harold required others to sign non-disclosure agreements to view his solution. This led to a lot of hype that the decades-old mystery of the 340 cipher had finally been solved. But eventually, confidence in his solution was lost. The drama resulting from all this caused Harold, and others who believed in the solution, to receive ridicule and derision from folks in the Zodiac community who are exhausted by the parade of discredited cipher solutions that have emerged since the Zodiac killer committed his awful crimes.

But what’s wrong with Harold’s solution?

His solution can be found here: http://340cipher.com. I’ve included his solution below to try to make it easier to understand.

First, let’s look at the substitution key he came up with. Below is a table showing the cipher symbols and his substitutions. You can see that he uses a slightly different key in the second half of the cipher.

First half: W N N O E H K S E S I L R O O D
Second half: W N L E H K S E S O G R O O L
First half: L G R A A L L I O N T G O I V F
Second half: L Z R A A A L O N D G O I L H
First half: E I L I F I T L S I N F N O O I
Second half: E I Z I N I W K S I K F N O O I
First half: E E E G I D S W I E R L G I D
Second half: E E R G I D W I E R L G I D

Below is what his solution looks like. The original cipher text is shown in black. Harold’s solution is shown in green. Then, his interpretations of his solution are displayed in blue.

Folly, I left two alive.
Folly, I left two. I live li

fe knowing Noel. Hide-

n-gag, I knive Noels wife.

See Leigh? Freak kill

er. I kill, I do. It knows.

Eagle? I wish. It will go
glee. I wish it will go

work in a ** gov. field.

Solved wife for killer.

I like killing. God, do I

sin? Free killings!

KKKs ol’ lodge gone right?

Magic hoodie. I knew

girls workin’ doing L.A. sk-

yline, good reg. folks.

Goon hoard, golf kiosk.

Lingered. I need girl.

**** Sold a kind ez (easier)

er ending wishes lee.

I’d win all new shin-dig.

light news. I i’m Zodiac.

Here are some of the problems that I see with his solution:

  • The solution permits anagramming. There is no order to the anagramming scheme – it is used when convenient to produce “interesting” words.
  • Worse, the solution permits partial word matches. Again, when convenient, it is used to produce interesting words. In several places, Harold combines anagramming AND partial word matches, increasing the degrees of freedom.
  • We know that Z’s writing contains many misspellings, so we expect to have to permit some degree of partial word matches in potential solutions. But I think this is done way too often in Harold’s solution.
  • Subjective interpretation of words is biased towards producing “interesting” phrases. We cannot know if all the other unexplored variations can be excluded. Example: Line 8 says “ovleds wike foi kilr”. Harold interprets this as “solved wife for killer”. But the same anagramming and partial word matching technique can produce “Devils woke for killer”. Or “Solved if I woke killer”. Or “woe if kids overkill”. Or “love kids, few for killer”. Or “loved swim foe; i kill ‘er!” How do you know which one is right? This is the curse of pareidolia.
  • Resulting phrases form a halting manner of speech, similar to Robert Graysmith’s solution. This is a quality of many subjective anagram-based solutions, due to how much easier it is to subjectively force shorter phrases out of gibberish than it is to force longer ones.
  • Harold appears to adjust the key for the 2nd half of the cipher text, but even so, the 2nd half is filled with gibberish despite the presence of a few interesting words. The solution includes many more examples of selective partial word matches and anagramming to overcome the gibberish.

Because so many degrees of freedom are permitted in the approach, many other such solutions are possible, and are equally fruitless. The main reason for this is that if you use so much selective interpretation of gibberish, you’ve vastly increased the size of the set of acceptable solutions. A competent programmer could write a hillclimber algorithm that optimizes the appearances of scrambled and unscrambled key words, and the appearances of partial word matches. The program could even target specific and arbitrary subject areas, so you could probably make the plaintext appear to resemble Dr. Seuss’s biography.

I think Harold has a lot of confidence in his approach because he claims that no one else has produced a strictly homophonic substitution that has as much readable plaintext as his solution. Graysmith’s solution comes to mind, since it uses a similar approach. But I’m sure other similar solutions can be made. I’m not sure how many people are willing to do that work, though.

Still, there is an interesting mystery lingering in this: Did Harold get some of the phrases right? Is there a correct partial solution somewhere in his solution? And, if so, why does the rest of the solution go wrong? Is there some other step that will clear the fog?

Harold has been corresponding with me via email, and he’s been a good sport during this analysis process, despite the drama that broke out when he first showed people his solution. Harold, keep plugging away at the cipher — maybe one day you’ll discover something interesting.

UPDATE (August 26): Harold has been refining his solution in an attempt to improve it. Visit his updated site to view his new solution.

8 comments on “Harold Kravcik’s 340 solution

  1. Hello Dave, I would like to agree at least in part with every concern you voice in your article. If it falls short anywhere, it would be in the qualifying and quantifying. Anagrams for instance, you say have no scheme when indeed they do. The sliding of single letters in multiple places create whole correct words, and there are several. Some, if you spy them first, and only them, represent your statement correctly. I’m going to be making efforts as time permits to publish my methodologies and arguments. Then perhaps, a move forward in solution matrices can be discussed. Below is a better view of one of this solutions permutations. They’re subtle and entertaining variations. Your work, gentleman-ship, and considerations have been appreciated. It’s obvious the cipher falls apart exactly at the midway point. But mild key changes -6%- radically improve the readability.


    N9 +B12O@D WY.) D1

    2!+K Q@ J )U CXG V.ZLI

    1G)JFR 2O+5 NYZ +4L%

    D <M+B +ZR)FBC YAO*K

    -ZLU V+AJ +O93<FBY-

  2. …the example did not paste correctly…
    It can be seen at http://www.340cipher.com.

  3. In my quest to solve the cipher, I found the cipher changes where there are vertical lines on the beginning and ending of one line.

  4. Sorry, vertical lines.

  5. Hello Peggy,
    I’m running some new ideas in my software that I believe will reveal the possibility of a significant change in patterns at that point as well. Have you already found or published these changes and might you be able to share them?

  6. The above representation is not the one I have published on my site so folks must disregard the above key and interpretation for the sake of discussion and should visit my site to see its accuracy.
    …when you do you will see that David is mistaken about the anagrams (4 small words) not being ordered and used when convenient, and they are patterned….and partial word matches… 2 . What defines taking liberties? Can we call Aliv, Alive? If the sentence reads ‘leftwo Aliv? Count the misspellings and ask could they be anything else in proper context and are the letters in order? Don’t imagine Z at an airbook…. imagine him at a scrabble board.
    A sample:
    I hate my wifes family, especially my (omhtreniwal) ‘hitler wife’..nope…. ‘mother-in-law’ … yes.
    Readers should know I agree with Davids criteria and the need for focusing on the points he makes…I defer to his expertise and knowledge in the field completely what they should also do, is visit my site and decide to what extent I violate the rules he has in place, that I agree with….. 4 ordered anagrams…only one letter off in each word? Not Bad. Count the misspellings…. and are they phonetically correct? Also David references line 8… go look at it on my site.. its been updated. What is never mentioned or shown in Dave’s (and my own) solution criteria matrices about anagrams like he represents about line 8 is this… when you change the anagram it affects the entire solution in such a way that it needs to be Quantified and Qualified. 17 characters can make MANY places rite or wrong in the solve. An anagram messy as hell when it corrects a large enough percentage of the solve begins to look more like a key. I’ve been working harder to prove that methodologies need to be reviewed than I have been working to prove this is the solve. It’s not the solve. But look at the first 10 lines at my site. If it can be this correct…. then the solve may be in the methodologies I have been maligned for. Dave has been open minded and patient with me and it is humbly appreciated. I think a serious look at the bullet points in this article is in order. Go to the site… and quantify and qualify what David defines.
    What I’m saying is this: Is it possible someone has or will breach the solve and be shuffled off into the “keep trying” club because those who have acquired positions of authority in our community have locked down to hard on their solve criteria. In this, in my experience, no one deserves higher praise than folks like Mike Elliot and Dave Oranchak.

  7. Let me qualify…. move 4 letters, one time. 4 moves… and the first 10 lines are homo-phonically 95% accurate….Thats 95%….. only 5 of every 100 letters is off.

  8. …is that something interesting?

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