by Ian Fortey
Remember in the movie A Christmas Story when Ralphie finally gets his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, and then he's able to decipher the secret message from Annie herself, and it turns out to just be some filthy corporate pandering to the Ovaltine conglomerate? Weak as hell, yo. But that's what code breaking is sometimes. Sure, you can find cool stuff like the video we made to show you about deciphering utility graffiti codes, but a lot of other times the codes and secrets you find out in the world are kind of straight up bizarre. They can't all lead to hidden treasure or Nic Cage's house.
The 11th Century Viking Secret Message
Imagine how cool it would be to discover a secret message from Vikings, carved into a piece of wood that dates back to the 11th century. The wood is clawed and scratched up like some kind of ancient, woody armor, and the scratches look like Freddy Kreuger took a whack at your shingles:
"Is your refrigerator running? Because those haven't been invented yet."
The runes are part of a secret code that Vikings used to keep messages on the downlow for their Viking buds. What could it mean? Who can tell us? Who, damn you?!
The answer, of course, is a runologist, which is totally a real thing you can Google. But the secret code of the Vikings is probably a lot less violent hammer-smashing Thor stuff than you'd hope for and more the kind of nerdy crap you did in the 6th grade.
One particular ancient rune was deciphered and translated as "kiss me." No greater message or even cool Viking swearing. Just "kiss me." Why the heck would a viking ever encode that message? Because apparently, encoding messages was a thing that bored Vikings did to pass the time and mess with people.
He's not even mad. He's just screaming for entertainment.
There are many examples of various coded runes that have been cracked over the years -- and others that people are still working on -- but nothing earth shattering has been discovered in them. Some even just make fun of the people cracking the code. We don't have examples of those, but we assume they were message like, "I carved this with my junk."
Props on Melrose Place Were Actually Masked Political Statements
If you watched TV at all in the 90s, we're so sorry. But also you probably remember Melrose Place, which was a show about the places Melroses go. Very gripping stuff. And while most people might have dismissed the show as forgettable prime time drama with cool, sexy folks, there was more than meets the eye on set.
An artist named Mel Chin got permission from the show's producers to work with a team of students, teachers and other artists to replace regular, unassuming props with conceptual artworks as a way to sneak secret messages on screen. That way, they could make political statements without having to trouble the actors or writers with having opinions.
So what kinds of statements were they making? In an episode in which a character is revealed to be pregnant, she knits a blanket that the keen eyed might notice had a peculiar pattern on it:
That would make an awesome tattoo.
It's a visual representation of the chemical structure of RU-486, an abortion drug. Back then, most networks would never address the subject of abortion, but this was a subtler than subtle way of acknowledging the issue without the censors spontaneously bursting into flames.
In another episode, the cylindrical pattern on a character's sheets were actually condoms, because the idea of sexual health and safe sex was certainly something characters on a sexy soap tend to not discuss.
There were all manners of weird and interesting secrets -- from paintings, depicting houses where famous people died, to a crater shaped like a bottle of Absolut vodka in the side of a building as a dig about alcohol advertising. So what appeared on the surface to be a bit of a vacuous show about pretty people doing pretty things hid a good deal of secret, subversive messages, if you knew where to look.
Ikea Product Names Are All Codes
Remember a few years ago, that well-dressed monkey that ended up at an IKEA? Man, that was awesome. This relates in no way to that monkey, other than it's about IKEA ... but that monkey was awesome, and we could all do well to remember that. Once that's been taken care of, you can take a moment to ponder the way in which IKEA names their products. Because there is a story behind it, and it's a lot weirder than just "Swedish words are funny."
The person behind IKEA's names is Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of the company, but not for the reason you'd think. Kamprad apparently suffered some severe dyslexia, and trying to keep the names and numbers of standard catalog items organized was utterly impossible for him. So he devised a system of naming the products in a way that would make it immediately apparent to anyone who understood the system what those products were. Because you can't just call everything "bookshelf" or "crap with too many pieces left over when you're done building it."
The womb of every future college dorm.
If a product is named after a boy or an occupation, it's a bookcase. A Danish or Swedish town? That's a rug. A flower? That's bedding. If you’re in the market for outdoor furniture, you have to find an island. It helps if you know Swedish too, probably.
With this naming system (there are a handful of exceptions, like the few items that are just named after what they do) all of them make sense ... as long as you know the code for why they were named that way. Suddenly the mystery of IKEA has opened up like a book, and now you can master the entire store! Or just know that your sheets are named after a plant of some kind, whatever.
EasyJet Flight Attendant Signals
EasyJet is a budget airline most famous for being the British version of Spirit Airlines. Well, more or less. They fly you places in a way that's faster than walking there, and that's all. But doing so is no easy task, and the flight crew needed to find a way to make things a little simpler when it came to communicating in the cabin. You could just shout from one end of the plane to the other, but that's not very British, and these people like to be polite whenever possible. So they developed a secret code.
Essentially, the EasyJet code was a way for flight attendant A to get a message to flight attendant B across the plane without causing too much of a ruckus. And while they probably have cool signals for things like, "A wing fell off" or, "Help me, Steven Seagal is here," most of the signals are for simple things like, "This passenger needs a ham sandwich," or, "We need a pillow up here. It's for Steven Seagal, so make it a huge one."
There's actually a training video that EasyJet employees watch to familiarize themselves with the system, which was initially born out of convenience for the crew but later adopted by the company. It just made sense and kind of makes the flight more fun. Everyone likes a fun flight, right?
Of all the places in all the world that might use a secret code, Disney World is both the least expected and the most obvious. At first, you might think, "Why would a place based around cartoons ever need to engage in subterfuge?" Until you recall for even half a second what human beings are like out in the wild. Then it becomes clear.
Disney employees aren't particularly allowed to tell a nasty customer where to go and how to get there, nor can they even say anything particularly negative. The illusion of happy fun-time perfection has to sit on everything like a damp carpet at all times. So how do you let Goofy know that someone puked on his foot? You tell him there's a "protein spill" and call in a "Code V" to get it cleaned up.
The soulless gaze of a broken mind.
If someone calls out a "signal 25," you know there's a fire in the park somewhere. A "signal 70" means someone lost a parent. You can't use the word "lost," though; it'd be too unsettling. A "code 101" means something broke down somewhere, while "102" means you got it working again.
And then there's the "White Powder alert," which is in no way related to cocaine ... which is unfortunate, because that would make more sense than the reality. A White Powder alert refers to someone trying to ditch Grandpa's ashes on Space Mountain or whatever ride they felt would help usher them to their eternal rest. There's no data on how often people want to scatter ashes at Disney World, but assume it's more often than you'd think, since they had to come up with a code to address it.