by Paul Curzon and Kok Ho Huen, Queen Mary University of London
Summer is here so it is time to start looking for secret messages on the beach. All those stripy deckchairs and windbreaks seem a great place to hide messages.
How might a deckchair contain a message? Well, the Mars Perseverance Rover famously showed how. It encoded “DARE MIGHTY THINGS” along with the GPS coordinates of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in its parachute that allowed it to land safely on the surface of Mars. The pattern in the parachute involves a series of rings of orange stripes. Within each ring are groups of 7 stripes. Each group encodes a binary version of a letter: so A is 1 or 0000001. In the pattern this becomes 6 yellow stripes and then an orange one. G, being the 7th letter of the alphabet is encoded as 0000111 or four yellow stripes followed by three orange. Each letter is encoded using the same pattern. In this way, with enough stripes you can spell out any message.
Back to deckchairs, you can code patterns in a similar way in the stripes of a deckchair. One deckchair could have fourteen stripes, say, with a choice from two colours for each stripe. Perhaps thin stripes of a different colour could separate them. That would be enough to encode a pair of characters per deckchair using the NASA code (your initials perhaps). Line up a long row of such deckchairs on the beach and you could spell out a whole message. An alternative would be to use Morse code, with two different coloured stripes for dots and dashes…or invent your own stripy code.
Alternatively, if you have dress making skills, make a stripy dress that really makes a statement.
Sadly, so far, all the deckchairs I’ve tried to decode appear to have only contained gobbledygook though perhaps I’ve just not tried the right code yet, or found the right deckchair. Or maybe, so far no one has actually coded a message in a deckchair. If you have an old deckchair and some sewing skills, perhaps you could be the first and re-skin it with a message.
If making a deckchair is a bit much for you, more simply you could make an origami deckchair, as we (Ho) did and hide a message in your origami. These videos show how he did it (note his are luxury deckchairs): (template below)
Templates and written instructions
- Written Instructions (pdf)
- Template of our deckchair (pdf)
- Blank deckchair template for your own messages (pdf)
More on …
- More encrypted deckchairs [THIS SITE]
- Mars Decoder Ring [EXTERNAL]
- Craft and Computer Science [TEACHING LONDON COMPUTING]
This article was funded by UKRI, through Professor Ursula Martin’s grant EP/K040251/2 and grant EP/W033615/1.
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