Originally written on Baseball Prospectus  |  Last updated 3/20/12

Thanks to everyone who reached out to me about the cryptography challenge this week and to those who worked on it silently. I hope it was at least a mildly fun diversion.

The winner of my undying admiration is myshkin, who had already solved the puzzle by the time I woke up the next morning. It's not much of a prize, but it's his!   Before I reveal the actual phrases, I'll describe my encryption method. As I said in the comments earlier, it's not the most bullet-proof encryption, but it works well enough for these purposes. Just don't use this method to smuggle secrets out of Moscow, okay?   The Method   Here are the two encoded phrases again:
Phrase #1 98/21-416-198-9 93/28-75.1-53-1993 90/23-7-.354-.306-16-116-16-30 84/40-16-560-1-1-3 02/28-.374-0 92/31-20-68-268-35-11-65-1992 87/49-7-201-114-15-28   Phrase #2 93/35-41-549-112-54 93/29-261-981-104-104-96-10-4-.314-2 85/41-238.2-6 84/03-308-29-6 96/32-7-110-.307-9-389 05/14-.375-3-3-10-0-1
As you can see, each phrase is made up of 6 or 7 lines. At the start of each line is one pair of two-digit numbers separated by a slash. The rest of the numbers are separated by dashes. Each line is a single word in the phrase.   The pair of numbers at the start of the line is a key. The first two digits before the slash represent a year while the second two digits represent a uniform number. The player wearing that uniform number for either the Cubs or White Sox in the given year is the encryption key for that word.   For example, the first word in phrase #1 is "98/21-416-198-9". Looking at the leading pair, we get the year 1998 and the uniform number 21. Who wore #21 in 1998? Why, Sammy Sosa of course!   From here, we take a look at Sosa's statistics for the 1998 season. Can we find 416, 198, and 9 somewhere in his stats? Of course we can. Sosa had 416 Total Bases and 198 Hits. He also had 9 Caught Stealings and 9 Reached on Errors. To read the word, we take the first letter of "Total Bases" and the first letter of "Hits" to get "T-H-?". We could put the "C" in there for "Caught Stealing", but that doesn't make sense. The "E" in "Errors" fits perfectly, though!   And that's the decryption method. Find the player used as the word's key and then find the stats corresponding to the letter in the code.   It's not perfect, of course. There are no basic statistics that begin with "V", for example, so I had to stretch that one (there are two "V's" in the cryptogram, and they're represented by "saVes" and "aVg"). Other letters, like "M", couldn't even be stretched like that (there are no "M's" in the cryptogram at all). Some letters could only be represented with pitching stats and some only by batting stats. This made words with letters from those two groups difficult to create; in those cases, I tended to use a pitcher and his OBP-against or AB-against stats instead.   The Answer   Using this method, we find the following encoded phrases. Remember, one was for pride and one was for shame.
Phrase #1: The ivy covered walls of Wrigley Field. Phrase #2: Hawk Harrelson in the front office.
(For those who may not know, White Sox broadcaster served as the club's General Manager for a couple of months in the summer of 1986. He fired Tony LaRussa, who was then hired by the A's.)   The players used as keys for each word were:
Phrase #1: Sosa '98, Randy Myers '93, Ryne Sandberg '90, Rick Sutcliffe '84, Mark Bellhorn '02, Greg Maddux '92, Jamie Moyer '87 Phrase #2: Frank Thomas '93, Jack McDowell '93, Harold Baines '84, Alex Fernandez '96, Paul Konerko '05
In my mind, people would need to recognize the key as a player/season combination, so I intentionally went for recognizable seasons, like Sandberg's MVP 1990 or Maddux's Cy Young 1992. If I had wanted to make this too difficult, I would have stuck with bench players from the late-1970s.   So that's it. I know a few people were able to solve the cryptogram completely while a few others figured out the key before getting stuck. If you tried to solve it, did you get that far? Or did you approach it from some other way? Was it way too easy or way too hard? Being as close to it as I am, I really have no way of knowing how complicated it might be to fresh eyes.   No matter what, though, I hope you enjoyed the challenge. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
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