cracking the

Agrippa code

{In 1992 cyberpunk author William Gibson wrote a short poem called Agrippa (a book of the dead) that tells about memory, loss, nature and mechanism, all framed by a Kodak photo album. The poem was bundled into a Mac System 7 application and included on a 3.5” diskette in the back of a noir art book by Dennis Ashbaugh and Kevin Begos, Jr.

Once run, the program displays Gibson’s poem just once, and encrypts itself. Never to be seen again, until now.

Based on the pioneering work of Alan Liu and his team at The Agrippa Files, working in collaboration with Matthew Kirschenbaum at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities and the Digital Forensics Lab, a a bit-for-bit copy of this application has been recovered, along with numerous archival documents.

The challenge

The first person to successfully crack the code will win a copy of every William Gibson book ever published (except Agrippa). Every runner-up will have their name (if provided) posted on this website. To win you must submit a technical description of your cryptanalysis below, under Creative Commons usage rights (the results of which will be used to further research on Agrippa). The technical description should explain what kind of encryption is used (if any), how it functions, and how it was reversed or cracked (and what the key is, if there is one). Should there be no encryption at all (a possibility), or should the application merely “scramble” or “destroy” the data, this must be technically demonstrated or proved. Since the plain text is known, the cryptanalysis is purely for fun and academic curiosity, and thus the description should provide technical details.


Thanks to the Agrippa Files website many resources are available to assist in cracking the Agrippa code. Feel free to use any (legal) technique available to you, but here’s a primer of resources available:

  • The Agrippa compiled Mac System 7 binary: available on Agrippa Files
  • The poem: cleartext available on Agrippa Files
  • Incomplete listing of the Lisp source code: facsimiles available on Agrippa Files, partial (OCRed and unreliable) transcription available (send errata to )
  • Some programmer's notes: working scrap-paper facsimiles and letter describing “DES” algorithm, available on Agrippa Files
  • Previous technical analyses of the Agrippa application: available on Agrippa Files by Freek Wiedijk and Fran├žois Grieu
  • Mac System 7 Emulator: Mini vMac (version: 3.2.3), Mac Plus ROM (mirrored), System 7.0.1 operating system (mirrored)
  • m68kdis (680x0 disassembler): the disassembler is of unknown origins (but originally hosted here) (mirrored)
  • Altered binary: once the binary is run in emulation it changes itself, writing a string of genetic code back into the binary (diff)


Your submission may be sent to . You may also drop files, and then email the link. Remember to include your (pseudo-) name and email if you want recognition and a chance at the prize.

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See the successful submissions

DNA Sequence
Research and website by Quinn DuPont